“A Taboo on Telling the Truth About Palestine”

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By James M. Wall

Psalm 2:3 is sung in George Frideric Handel’s Messiah before the arrival of the triumphant Hallelujah chorus, when audiences rise to their feet, following the tradition set by England’s King George II at the Oratorio’s first London performance.

Handel’s Sacred Grand Oratorio, which had its first performance in Dublin, Ireland, on April 17, 1741, has been described as “the most famous piece of sacred music in the English language”.

John Pilger

Recently, while listening to a live performance of the Messiah, I remembered an article by John Pilger (right) which he adapted from his Edward Said Memorial Lecture presented in Adelaide, Australia, September 11.

The Adelaide lectures have been presented annually since 2005 in honor of the late Edward Said, the Palestinian scholar and political activist who was as a major face and voice of Palestine. 

I had been thinking about the absence of Christian outrage and action from the institutional Christian church over this summer’s Gaza massacre. Pilger, an Australian-born film-maker and author, who now lives in England, connected Said for me, to Psalm 2:3. He did so with a statement Pilger quotes from Said:

“There is a taboo,” said the visionary Edward Said, “on telling the truth about Palestine and the great destructive force behind Israel. Only when this truth is out can any of us be free.”

Handel chose Psalm 2:3 to deliver this same wisdom in Part Two of his Messiah: “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast away their yokes from us”

Our refusal to speak and act on the truth about Palestine’s physical and mental bondage imposed by the military might of Israel is a manifestation of our last taboo.

edward_saidWhat exactly is this taboo?

Said (left) believed the “great destructive force behind Israel” demands that we honor the taboo against telling the truth about Palestine.

During this Christmas season, what does the Christian church say and do, in its individual and corporate forms, about this bondage? 

We sing about angels in Bethlehem, and we thrill to the musicality of the Hallelujah chorus that follows Psalm 2:3 in Handel’s Messiah.

We preach about loving our neighbor, but we say and do nothing to love our Palestinian neighbors enough to speak out and act against the Israeli occupation bondage which our nation defends, endorses and finances.

Bethlehem is not a stage setting for a fairy tale envisioned by Walt Disney. The birthplace of Jesus is a real city surrounded by a gigantic prison wall.

The birthplace of Jesus is a city held in bondage by the taboo against telling the truth about Palestine

This cannot continue. The time has come when the intimidation and fear must end. Pilger writes,

“For many people, the truth is out now. At last, they know. Those once intimidated into silence can’t look away now. Staring at them from their TV, laptop, phone, is proof of the barbarism of the Israeli state and the great destructive force of its mentor and provider, the United States, the cowardice of European governments, and the collusion of others, such as Canada and Australia, in this epic crime.”

Pilger reminds us that Nelson Mandela called the struggle of Palestine “the greatest moral issue of our time”.

Pilger denounces the “mass murder” in Gaza this past summer, as an act “sponsored by the same godfather in Washington that answered the cries of children in Gaza with more ammunition to kill them”.

The psalmist instructs us that we will remain in bondage to an “epic crime” so long as continue to honor the taboo against telling the truth about Palestine.

Television writers remind us in sci-fi films, “the truth is out there”. True enough, but the psalmist reminds us that the truth of our bondage is part of our daily existence, a bondage that keeps us from smashing down those taboos that keep us blind to the suffering that cries out to be heard.

It is that taboo which keeps us from seeing, as journalist Chris Hedges writes, that the current tangible force of evil that haunts us is a creature of our own making, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).Hedges

ISIS is “our Frankenstein” Hedges (left), writes:

“The United States after a decade of war in Iraq pieced together its body parts. We jolted it into life. We bathed it in blood and trauma. And we gave it its intelligence. Its dark and vicious heart of vengeance and war is our heart. It kills as we kill. It tortures as we torture.

It carries out conquest as we carry out conquest. It is building a state driven by hatred for American occupation, a product of the death, horror and destruction we visited on the Middle East.

There is no taboo against speaking of ISIS.  The taboo related to ISIS is its connection to another American creation, the modern state of Israel.

Hedges opens a door into the darkness of our refusal to acknowledge our major role in Israel’s creation myth. He sees ISIS as an emulation of the modern state of Israel.

“ISIS now controls an area the size of Texas. It is erasing the borders established by French and British colonial powers through the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. There is little we can do to stop it.

ISIS, ironically, is perhaps the only example of successful nation-building in the contemporary Middle East, despite the billions of dollars we have squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Its quest for an ethnically pure Sunni state mirrors the quest for a Jewish state eventually carved out of Palestine in 1948.”

Why have we not seen the parallels between the creation of ISIS and the earlier creation of Israel?  The taboo against speaking the truth about Palestine is enforced by our mainstream media, our churches and our political leaders.bethlehem-wall-2010cropped

The bondage of the people of Palestine and the attacks by Israel are not limited to Palestinians. As Pilger points out:

“The attack on Gaza was an attack on all of us. The siege of Gaza is a siege of all of us. The denial of justice to Palestinians is a symptom of much of humanity under siege and a warning that the threat of a new world war is growing by the day.”

Hedges, a former New York Times correspondent who was based in Jerusalem, makes the connection between the rise of ISIS and the creation of the modern state of Israel:

“[ISIS] tactics are much like those of the Jewish guerrillas who used violence, terrorism, foreign fighters, clandestine arms shipments and foreign money, along with horrific ethnic cleansing and the massacre of hundreds of Arab civilians, to create Israel.

Antagonistic ISIS and Israeli states, infected by religious fundamentalism, would be irreconcilable neighbors. This is a recipe for apocalyptic warfare. We provided the ingredients.”

We are complicit in the creation of the modern Middle East. By honoring the taboo described by Edward Said, we made and now sustain Israel, not as a democracy which it claims to be, but as a war machine designed to extend the American empire over the bodies of dead children in Gaza and the West Bank.

John Pilger’s documentary film, Palestine is Still the Issue, is distributed in two parts, the first in 1974, the second in 2002. They are both still relevant. Part two is below. It runs 52 minutes.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Gaza, Human Rights, Israel, Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Palestinians, Religious Faith, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to “A Taboo on Telling the Truth About Palestine”

  1. Jim, this may be the best of all your masterpieces. I was transfixed in reading it.

    We dishonor the Palestinians every day with every manifestation of honoring the taboo. You do your share and more in exposing and dissolving that dishonor. Many, many more Christians and non-Christians alike need to emulate you, but where are they?

    Thank you.

  2. Jim, your writings enforce the seeing and illuminate the blind. Those who stand for the truth will remain in the memory of time and shall receive their reward in and out of time. The Noble are but few, according to the Pre-Islamic Poet, Al-Samawal, Ishmoel, in Hebrew and Ismail, in Arabic.
    The snowball starts a little, the it grows huge.
    We, the people of Palestine, and Gaza in partiuclar, are empowered by your writings.

    Thank You.

  3. Anthony Joseph Geha Yuja says:

    Kudos to you for a splendid article .

  4. judy neunuebel says:

    Excellent piece, Mr. Wall. Certainly one of your best, if not THE best. Sharing it with everyone I can think of. Thank you.

  5. Tom Cook, Jr. says:

    Wednesday, December 17, 2014

    “And ‘freedom’ (as well as peace) shall destroy many”
    Your latest, as usual, illuminates the situation which has outgrown the boundaries of the Middle East and begun to penetrate the bastions of freedom we Americans cherish and take for granted. The warning in Daniel 8:24-26 comes to mind. For far too long those entrusted with our well-being have devised “fudge-factor” understandings of what peace and freedom mean and how these modified concepts are to be maintained and explained. The power structure(s) in DC need more repair than the capital dome. Visible scaffolding around the dome is symbolic and encouraging. Maybe 2016 will reveal some other repairs under way to renew our stated purpose as a nation. The “choir” has heard the diagnosis but we await the prescription that goes beyond hand-wringing.


  6. Samia Khoury says:

    Thank you Jim. This is excellent. All along it has been the taboo of the truth that has enabled Israel to get away with all its violations of the rights of the Palestinians including their exodus in 1948. Now that the truth is out, will we see the rhetoric of the international community as well as the church translated into action to put an end to the occupation and to grant the Palestinians the right to their own state and to self-determination?

  7. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    This was one of your most POWERFUL articles, Jim. Thank you so much for so eloquently saying it like it is, shouting it out from the roof tops for people to wake up and touch the truth somewhere.
    As a child of six, when my extended family were thrown out of Haifa, Palestine, by terrorist Jewish militias, and until this day, I have felt explosions of anger in my body, mind and spirit at the powers, leaders, organizations, and individuals who created or supported Israeli occupation, that led to ethnic cleansing of 80% of the Palestinian Natives of Palestine.
    Israeli occupation started on May 15, 1948, when it unilaterally declared itself a state, with support from Britain the US, France, and the USSR. With few exceptions, church organizations were “silent” and most Western religious leaders exhibited moral cowardice and hypocrisy not seen since the days of Pontias Pilate. I feel more anger at a great many of our churches than at most politicians whose DNA is already immersed in moral cowardice. They pretend that they feel guilt for Jews because of the Jewish Holocaust, but they simultaneously support with their silence, the Palestinian Holocaust going on under their own noses.

  8. Manuel Tarsha says:

    great article, one question do you send your articles to the Pennsylvania Ave.? if they could only see the facts like you do, the cancer of the occupation will end, and you will be nominated to be the next Secretary of State that has a clear understanding of the real issues and bring a long awaited peace and prosperity to all countries in the Middle East.
    Unfortunately President Obama did not live up to his Cairo speech promise, and his legacy will be tainted when the History of the Middle East is written.
    Thank you for speaking for justice.
    Manuel Tarsha

  9. Janet Lahr Lewis says:

    Thank you for this posting. It touched me on many levels. After weeks of rehearsals we recently performed Handel’s Messiah as well, and it was extremely difficult for me to sing those scriptural texts without relating them to my “home” in Palestine on both the spiritual and political level. In fact, not being in Bethlehem at this time of year has been harder for me than I expected. Singing “Oh Come all ye Faithful” makes me want to shout “And DO SOMETHING!”

    Your posting also brings to mind two special men who I have had the privilege to meet and work with during my time in Palestine and with our partnerships in the UK. Dr Said was someone I continue to admire as one of the few who was willing to “say it like it is”, despite the repercussions his words brought on himself and his family. John Pilger does the same. We should all work to that end. Perhaps the misconceptions and flat out lies that have allowed this conflict to continue will be challenged loudly enough by more and more voices crying out in the wilderness that the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will finally bring an end to the conflict and open the way for what happened in South Africa; peace and reconciliation. Insh’Allah!

    Janet Lahr Lewis
    Methodist Liaison to Palestine and Israel

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