Thursday, June 28, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 28: A Petition to the UN Secretary General

The ICEJ, Jerusalem, has put together a petition to the Secretary General of the UN, Mr Ban Ki-moon.

The petition is:

TO: The Honorable Ban Ki-moon
Secretary General of the United Nations

We, the undersigned Christians, wish to express our outrage and alarm at the repeated threats of genocide against the State of Israel emanating from the government of Iran. These constitute a clear violation of the UN Charter and the international convention for preventing and punishing the crime of genocide.

We also register our extreme disappointment at the resounding failure of the United Nations and its organs to take any serious measures to redress this hostile campaign of public incitement to genocide. This campaign not only endangers Israel, but also is a threat to the peace and security of the world community.

Iran's threats of annihilation against Israel and its renegade efforts to acquire the nuclear means to carry them out, pose a very serious and grave peril that the United Nations must confront forthwith.

We call upon the United Nations to act without delay to censure and penalize Iran to the fullest extent possible, lest the very body founded to shield nations against such heinous crimes shamefully stands by while another disastrous genocidal attempt against the Jewish people takes shape.
I am often not sure what good mere words do in such a situation, but I believe we must at least not be silent as storm clouds gather in our day, as once they gathered in the 1930's. Few people took Hitler very seriously, and dozens of millions -- including six million Jews -- paid with their lives.

I am now No 8159, I believe; I urge you to sign the petition, and to add your own polite but firm and informed

Here is my own comment:
Dear Sir:

Seventy years ago, a madman in control of a country with great wealth and technical capacity breathed out threatenings against the Jews.

Few took him seriously.

It cost sixty million lives to stop that demoniac madman. Six million Jews and also millions of Gypsies, Poles, Russians etc, paid with their lives in his extermination camps.

Today, after years of talk-talk, the Iranian leadership, having openly denied that the holocaust took place, now have declared that they wish to see Israel wiped off the map [or if you prefer that translation that makes no material difference, that it be erased from the sands of time].

Only a few months ago, "experts" confidently told us that Iran would take years to master the technicalities of nuclear material enrichment. Within a matter of months, they credibly have 3,000 centrifuges online, and they reportedly are enriching such materials in industrial quantities.

From general reports, they already have credible ballistic missiles, and they have legions of willing would-be suicide bombers.

I therefore have but one question: When will we learn and act in good time to avert bloodshed on the scale of 1939 - 45, or even worse?

We must learn from history, or we will be doomed to repeat it.

Let us learn from history, lest we be doomed to repeat it.

May God grant wisdom and courage to world leaders, so that tragedy on an unimaginable scale can be averted. END

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 27: Perils of "Pottermania" as Book No 7 comes out in July

In the early years of the Harry Potter phenomenon, several major Christian leaders praised the general moral tone of the writings of Ms Rowling.

However, as one who has monitored the series to date, I must note that the moral and general tone of the series has got darker and darker over the years, as Harry and the other characters have grown up. Indeed, as of the last two books, it is safe to say Harry Potter has become not just a hero who occasionally steps over the border on principles and rules, but that he is now an outright anti-hero.

Now -- as the always worth a look (but sometimes erratic) WND news-site informs us -- even more troubling questions have to be faced, now that the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is due for release in July.

As Jennifer Carden observes in the just linked article:

If early buzz proves accurate, however, the whirlwind of Pottermania accompanying the July release of J.K. Rowling's seventh and final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," will catapult the series to new heights in the world of literary accomplishment.

But, contends author Steve Wohlberg, what many people don't know is that when Harry Potter and his Firebolt whoosh off the shelf, he's not alone. A victory for Harry Potter means a victory for Wicca, a religion that practices various forms of witchcraft.

And the acclaimed DVD program, "Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged, dramatically documents Potter references to evolution, reincarnation, sorcery, divination, spells, curses and other occult factors.

Wohlberg's new book "Exposing Harry Potter and Witchcraft: The Menace Beneath the Magic," asserts that "Harry Potter" purchases are often accompanied at the sales counter with materials on Wicca. Increasing numbers of young readers also frequent Wicca websites, cast "Love and Money Spells," and practice "white magic." . . . . The Potter readership is comprised of a wide demographic, from children well under eight years old to adults, but Rowling's use of juvenile themes specifically markets witchcraft to a young, impressionable audience, Wohlberg says . . . .

"There's a big difference," said Wohlberg, between Harry Potter and other children's fantasy fare. "J.K. Rowling has publicly admitted that at least 30 percent of her novels is based on real occultism. The 'Harry Potter' novels are a unique blend of fantasy and reality."

"They refer to real places, real occultists (Aldabert Waffling and Nicholas Flamel), real practices (astrology, palmistry, fortune-telling, divination), and real occult philosophy. Based on my research, the extent of real occultism embedded into 'children's literature' is unprecedented" . . . [Read it all . . .]

So, we should note the caution, and take time to look at the possible dangers.

Now, too,while I will of course read the book when it comes out, that will be as a part of my ongoing monitoring on spiritual influences on our region and the wider world.

I strongly urge parents, youth ministers and other church leaders to take note of the warning above, and counsel caution.

But also, isn't it high time for Christians (including in our region) to produce a new generation of high quality children and youth fiction, to match C S Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, or J R R Tolkein's Lord of the Rings -- which all date back a half century now? END

Monday, June 25, 2007

Montserrat update: June 25, 1997, ten years on

Today is the tenth anniversary of the volcanic dome collapse of June 25, 1997, in which by official count nineteen lost their lives here.

As the Chief Minister, Dr Lowell Lewis, noted on radio just this morning, many of those lives were lost because an Airport in an obviously dangerous situation, was kept open because no proper alternative was available. (Indeed, the first scientists' account describes how a chartered plane carrying the then Governor was on the tarmac when the devastating flows came down, and had to gun its engines, and run for its life! Similarly, a Texaco gasoline tanker in port Plymouth, on realising the dangerous events in progress, cut the hoses to the tank farm in the designated unsafe zone -- which was still in use after two years of crisis -- and ran for its life, too.)

Let us all reflect soberly and prayerfully on the hazards we face as a region, and let us promise before God that those who died so horribly and needlessly that day will not have died in vain.

So, as Montserrat now moves on to rebuilding and redevelopment, let us renew our commitment to truly sustainable development of our region under God. END

Monday, June 18, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 46: Cyber College, 3 -- building education capacity in our churches and communities

Over the past week or so, given the significance of the Six Day War, we paused to look at it from a balancing perspective. Even just for me, that was a quite illuminating exercise.

While that was happening, my attention was drawn to a thread on the JFK terrorism plot story over at Barbados Free Press. During the course of this, the Six Day war -- surprise [NOT] -- came up, and I made some remarks. Latterly I have had to respond there on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.Again and again, the desperate need for building up capacity to address critical thinking, and to have a fund of balanced knowledge and information on important matters has been underscored.

This brings us right back to the issue of the need for a new approach to education and capacity building in our region, as has been raised, introduced and further discussed previously. So, let's get back to the idea of setting up a Cyber College in the region, linked to local micro-campus centres (and, hopefully, to existing Colleges in the region).

Thus far, we have:
1] April 11: suggested that there is a need for and an opportunity to create such a click-and-brick based college, with credible resources to get it started then to sustain it. In particular, the existence of a vast church-based infrastructure across our region, and the existence of tens of thousands of tertiary level graduates was seen as providing a potential base for micro-campus centres for course delivery in the local community, and also for course and programme development.

2] May 24: laid our a general framework for a curriculum, showing how it would help to inform and transform "individuals, families, churches, institutions, communities" through developing courses and credible certification that targets: [I] basic discipleship and life skills, [II] preparation for small-group oriented leadership and service, [III] preparation for community level leadership and service; this last including links into general post-secondary, bridging and tertiary education and skill-building in the region.

3] June 2: Launching on a shoestring through triggering a movement, in the era where open source courseware like Moodle [Used by UWI for its Distance Education programme] or other similar packages that are not explicitly educational but are adaptable to that purpose offer us significant capacity to create, deliver, support and sustain effective online-based courses. We therefore looked at several sources of empowerment to do that: vision, volunteers, example, webs, micro-campuses, open-source software, acceditaiton, standardisation of offerings, and access to education.
This framework on the face of it shows that such a regional college based on a Main, Cyber Campus integrated with local micro-campus centres and partnerships with existing institutions and campuses is plainly feasible and has a lot of promise. It can also start-up on a shoestring, with materials adapted form existing courses and using open source software.

Once that happens, it can snowball -- how many school teachers, Bible teachers, public lecturers, seminar deliverers, Human Resources Management trainers and College lecturers "out there" across our region have in hand powerful, effective, tested materials that can with some further development easily become course materials structured towards credible certification and even relevant external exams?.

The answer is obvious! ( A lot!)

As well, there are many capable people across our region who, perhaps with some assistance, can generate substantial course content [including online/multimedia readers and viewers that can easily be turned into books . . .] and delivery systems. Beyond, there are the many retirees and practising people who have a wealth of wisdom, expertise and experience that can be tapped by a bit of interviewing and arranging.

But, training does not simply happen out of a reading a book or clicking on a web site, or even doing that in a cyber cafe and chatting about it.

Effective training requires active processes of exploring and using knowledge, then learning from mistakes -- in settings that minimise the dangers of such mistakes! -- and incrementally improving performance through a spiral learning process. Where attitudes are involved, there may need to be counselling and prayer, carefully built up mentoring relationships, and more. Work skills development often needs apprenticeship or internships with appropriate supervision and monitoring. All of this will need a structured framework of learning objectives that can be observed, measured and certified based on reasonable objective evidence.

In turn that needs qualified -- as opposed to merely certificated -- educators who are actually capable of curriculum development and working with performance-oriented assessment systems. But, thankfully, our region is not at all short of such!

So, how can we operationalise the process?
a] We can credibly and fairly easily identify many key education and training foci based on the three educational levels already identified, and we can integrate these into the sort of needs of our churches, businesses, institutions, communities, and the needs, talents and desires of many individuals looking to upgrade their life skills, ability to serve, lead, work and start up businesses and projects in areas that require identifiable and trainable skills.

b] These can then be prioritised relative to the "shoestring and snowball" principle: what we can target to set out with, and what we can roll on into as we pick up momentum and support.

c] Certain key sites out there can sign up as founding micro-campus centres and partner institutions, which would work with the first wave of offerings. [Let's say, that discipleship and life skills, leadership training and ministry (or small business . . .) project development and implementation would be such likely start-up areas, which can lead to standalone certificates that could then fit into the wider system of training under development. It so happens that there are relevant materials already in hand for such topics.]

d] With the aid of some good techies [probably on a volunteer basis to start with!], we can develop the online site based, say, on Moodle or a similar package. That gives us a startup Cybercampus, maybe over the course of six to eight weeks of development time. (In short, we could, technically speaking, be ready in time for September!)

e] Likewise, based on cheap desktop PC and networking technologies, and the low-cost good performance multimedia projectors that are now out there, we can get a few microcampus centres going in churches, community centres, schools, colleges and even the training units in some firms. Basic teleconferencing -- great for bringing the whole regional classroom together -- can probably be done though say Skype to begin with; the OECS is actually already doing this. Each site will need appropriate broadband internet access; which is now increasingly affordable through DSL and Cable access technologies. (Of course, the partners would have to in the first instance source the equipment.)

f] Site tutors, admin assistants and course facilitators can be signed up on the local micro-campus centres, as well as of course the first classes of students.

g] For each of the courses, there would be a principal course developer/coordinator (Maybe with co-coordinators and assistants), who would oversee course development and implementation, lead teleconferences and see to it that the course runs to a basic schedule, etc.

h] Assessments would be mainly based on locally assessed learning logbooks, with set-piece exercises and mini-projects, backed up by a main project that would at least on a sample basis be centrally assessed. (Project based assessments are inherently very valid, as they are a realistic sample of the sort of skill and performance to be developed/achieved. Of course, since projects are usually relevant to the goals of the local institution, that too is a benefit of hosting such a microcampus centre! And, reports can be harvested for research information and useful content, helping to form a do-it-yourself, growing library of resource materials.)

i] Based on the results, we would have a first wave of graduates, awarded credible, practically oriented course certificates that also reflect a process of thinking through and discussing then working out problems on the area being studied, and creates a pool of students for the next level of courses, as well as tested, further developed first-level courses.

j] The snowball would roll on from there.
Such an approach is on its face very feasible and is desirable as the costs would not be outregeous, and the skill gaps are there for all to see.

So: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

Friday, June 15, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 26: 2007, back to the future?

As we close off this retrospective on the 1967 Six Day War, it is appropriate to look at how the present situation echoes that of forty years ago -- complete with the President of Iran declaring intent to wipe Israel off the map/erase it from the sands of time [or however we wish to translate what he said and obviously means].

Daniel Pipes' June 12th article on Israeli Jets vs. Iranian Nukes is a good -- but disquieting --place to begin:

Barring a "catastrophic development," Middle East Newsline reports, George Bush has decided not to attack Iran. An administration source explains that Washington deems Iran's cooperation "needed for a withdrawal [of U.S. forces] from Iraq."

If correct, this implies the Jewish state stands alone against a regime that threatens to "wipe Israel off the map" and is building the nuclear weapons to do so. Israeli leaders are hinting that their patience is running out; Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz just warned that "diplomatic efforts should bear results by the end of 2007."

Can the Israel Defense Forces in fact disrupt Iran's nuclear program? . . . . Whitney Raas and Austin Long studied this problem at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published their impressive analysis, "Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities," in the journal International Security.

Raas and Long focus exclusively on feasibility, not political desirability or strategic ramifications: Were the Israeli national command to decide to damage the Iranian infrastructure, could its forces accomplish this mission? The authors consider five components of a successful strike . . . . Intelligence: To impede the production of fissile material requires incapacitating only three facilities of Iran's nuclear infrastructure . . . . Ordnance: To damage all three facilities with reasonable confidence requires . . . twenty-four 5,000-lb. weapons and twenty-four 2,000-lb. weapons . . . . Platforms . . . Raas-Long calculate that the IDF needs a relatively small strike package of twenty-five F-15Is and twenty-five F-16Is . . . . Routes: Israeli jets can reach their targets via three paths: Turkey to the north, Jordan and Iraq in the middle, or Saudi Arabia to the south. In terms of fuel and cargo, the distances in all three cases are manageable . . . . Defense forces: . . . the Iranian defenders minimally must stop 16 of 50 planes, or one-third of the strike force. The authors consider this attrition rate "considerable" for Natanz and "almost unimaginable" for the other two targets.

In short, there is an existential threat on the table, time is running out, diplomacy without teeth is running its almost predictably futile course, and, again, the Israelis may just have the capacity to decisively intervene.

If they do so, it will not be costless, as the Iranians have already threatened to strike both Israel and the USA if such happens. They have the means to do so in Iraq, and in Lebanon, and in Gaza -- h'mm: they have already been striking against the US and Israel there, so what this really means is a renewal of further, probably more intense attacks. Also, they probably have ability to deliver terrorist strikes around the world, and just might have a few ex-Soviet so-called "tactical" nukes -- big enough to blow the heart out of say Manhattan, New York.

Compounding this, we see where the Syrian proxies of Iran have just plainly had a hand in the assassination of yet another Lebanese politician, even as they want to ward off an investigation into the murder of a Prime Minister. Going yet further, after Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, 1,300 rockets have been launched into Israel, and thanks to last year's kidnappings of Israeli soldiers, we saw campaigns in both Gaza and Lebanon. Just now, the Hamas group, which stridently declares its intent to wipe out Israel, has now seized control of more or less all of Gaza in the ongoing civil war with the only slightly less murderous Fatah.

The only relatively bright spot is the fact that the majority of especially the young people of Iran, having experienced rule by radical Islamists, want to move to a more democratic and liberal system of Government. But of course, they don't have the guns.

So, further war seems predictable -- all but inevitable, and if the Iranians insist on their nuclear programme, it will involve a major Israeli strike against it, probably timed to the point where the centrifuges are assembled and put into action. (I suspect that the Israelis will probably make use as well of volleys of cruise missiles from their Dolphin Class submarines, so the actual strike pattern may not be simply a re-run of Moked and the Osirak strike against the Iraq programme in the early 1980's.)

And yet, if we would but listen to one another and take the legitimate needs of our neighbours seriously, all of this could be averted overnight.

Let us pray for peace, and let us see how we the people of the Caribbean can teach the wider world some of the lessons we have learned over the centuries on how to move on beyond oppression and live with one another in peace and even, I daresay, love of neighbour. END

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Matt 24 watch, 25: Towards a balanced biblical perspective on the Six Day War and its context

About a week ago, one evening I turned on my bedside shortwave receiver, which happened to be tuned to TBN's Radio Paradise [AM 820 in the EC].

Just then, self-confessed former Palestinian Arab terrorist Walid Shoebat was on-air, speaking (I believe, with Matthew Crouch). He was speaking of his experience some years ago when he set out to convert his wife to Islam, in 1993; for, in so doing he began to read the Bible. As he did so, he came across the desperate prayer for relief we now known as Psalm 83:
PS 83:1 O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God, be not still.

PS 83:2 See how your enemies are astir,
how your foes rear their heads.

PS 83:3 With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.

PS 83:4 "Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation,
that the name of Israel be remembered no more."

PS 83:5 With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you--

PS 83:6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
of Moab and the Hagrites,

PS 83:7 Gebal, Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia, with the people of Tyre.

PS 83:8 Even Assyria has joined them
to lend strength to the descendants of Lot . . . .

PS 83:13 Make them like tumbleweed, O my God,
like chaff before the wind.

PS 83:14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,

PS 83:15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.

PS 83:16 Cover their faces with shame
so that men will seek your name, O LORD.

PS 83:17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace.

PS 83:18 Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD--
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.
He spoke of his shock: why were "the good guys" -- the descendants of the surviving peoples of these nations are now Arabised peoples -- the bad guys here? And why were "the bad guys" -- the Jews -- the good guys?

Giving more details, he wrote in the October 2006 Jerusalem Post, as cited here:
The Psalms of David, especially Psalm 83, reminded me of the Six Day War I had lived through. 'They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from the being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.' 'They' are a confederacy of Ishmaelites (Arabs), inhabitants of Tyre (Lebanese), Philistines (Gazans / Palestinians), and Assyrians (Syrians, Iraqis, Turks).

[NB: Elsewhere, he notes: "in a Zola Levit Television program, Mr. Husseni bluntly claims that the Palestinians originated from the Jebusites before Abraham moved to Israel, he clearly changed the historic fact to an American audience who lacks in Eastern History to the [falsely claimed] fact that today's Palestinians are immigrants from the surrounding nations. I grew up well knowing the history and origins of today's Palestinians as being from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Christian from Greece, Muslim Sherkas from Russia, Muslims from Bosnia, and the Jordanians next door . . . . In my city I remember everyone able to give his/her origin, a family with the last name Bolous knows that he is originally from Greece, Khresto (Greek), Roza (Latino), Mughrabi (Maghreb), Bannurah (Egyptian), Tio (Latino), Qumsieh (Greek), Hourani (Syria), Hilal (Turkey), Batarseh (Greek), Shoebat (Jordan). This example is typical of all the Palestinian Arabs. All these people came no [more?] than 150 years ago and even the Arab immigrant families like Al-Nashasheebi, Al-Khalidi, and Al-Husseini settled in Palestine in the same period and were given the status of "Efendi" which made them an upper class taking over the lands while the rest of the lower class "Falaheen" were exploited . . . The city I lived in was desolate until my great grand father with 6 other families settled in our village which is now inhabited by 40,000 people . . ."]

The outcome of this battle? The prophet says God will rebuke Israel's enemies, and 'fill their faces with shame, that they may seek thy name, O Lord' (Psalm 83:15-16). For the first time, I began to recognize that in this world we have two cups to choose between: one that is filled by th forces of evil, and the other by the God of Israel. I knew if I chose the second cup I would be declared a traitor by the people I had grown up with, and would have to run from an angry family. But I also knew that I would be appointed as a watchman to speak all over the world, declaring the Jews' right to Jerusalem and Israel. From that moment, I changed from being a terrorist to being an ambassador for the coming Messiah . . .
That is, Shoebat saw the Six Day War as an example of precisely the sort of situation envisioned in that Psalm of desperate plea for deliverance, a plea answered by an amazing and generally unexpected victory. Such a view is of course highly controversial (especially among Arabs who are "Christian"), and so it is no surprise to see his further words in response to his critics, on the web site
I am an Arab, and a Palestinian, and I'd rather stick with saying that I am a Christian when speaking on The Bible. I do not like this idea of Arab Christian point of view at all. I'd rather use the best of my ability to say and write exactly what I see and understand as to what God said and regardless to whose point of view I hurt. Truth should be truth, it does not matter if it fits or pleases certain political points of view, I do not seek to be politically correct at all, and on the contrary I seek to be absolutely politically wrong when politics disagrees with scripture. As far as I am concerned when the human point of view does not agree with the Bible it belongs in the trash. And if we take that there is an "Arab Christian" point of view, I would imagine that the majority of what call themselves "Christian Arabs" would hold the point of view on Israel that it should be destroyed. Just look at The Palestinian Charter for yourself and see. Ask Palestinian Christian Arab leaders like Hanan A'ashrawi and George Habash who claim to be Christians and holders of the so called "Palestinian Christian" point of view, as to what is the Christian Arab point of view is, and if you were a Bible believing Christian, you will be amazed at the response you will get from such individuals, and I'll bet that the majority of the Palestinian masses Muslims and Christians alike would agree with the[ir] point of view which is purely full of hate and is anti-Semitic which is evident in The Palestinian charter as well as the Palestinian actions Christians and Muslims alike . . . .

The idea of ignoring Bible Prophecy concerning The Jews and Israel since it is offensive to certain groups is forgetting that the cross itself is offense as well? Why not blot it also to serve certain other groups? What these groups argue is that it is not essential for salvation, so we must drop this subject altogether, that we must use wisdom, when in reality they are using human smarts and flesh . . . It was God himself that spoke in prophecy in Psalm 83: "Fill their faces with shame, That they may seek Your name, O Lord." addressing the Muslim Arabs who tried to destroy the state of Israel as a nation right from it's birth; "Come let us cut them off from being a Nation that the name of Israel be remembered no more" (Psalm 83:4). God was laying down His plan and also telling these masses who oppose the creation of the state of Israel as to why they have lost the wars. One of God's reasons for allowing these people to [lose] is to show them that He is God and that He desires them to know Him. This is His method whether I like it or not. It is His way of proving His point of view, and I will be very frank with everyone, the hell with any point of view that opposes God's and I say it without any apology, fear, or guilt. [Bold emphasis added.]
A provocative answer indeed!

Perhaps, though, we can and should broaden and balance the issue by making reference to a presentation at the 2003 Caribbean Conference on Islam, the Gospel and the Caribbean, in discussing the three-way quarrel across the three Great Faiths that look to Abraham for spiritual ancestry.

There, we may first of all note:
Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the world’s three great (but mutually quarrelling) Monotheistic Faiths -- are sometimes viewed as the “Abrahamic Faiths.” This is because each is traditionally held to derive from Abraham’s relationship with God, more or less as described in Genesis. Thus, the debate among the three may be characterized as a family quarrel; naturally this raises the question: can it be amicably resolved?

Given the current Arab/Palestinian-Israeli dispute and the wider resurgence of the 1400-year long clash between Islamic and Western Civilisations, this is not just an academic or theological question, but one with significant geopolitical overtones for the prospects for peace in the emerging global world of the 21st century. It is therefore of great interest to the Caribbean church as it seeks to fulfill the Great Commission in the Caribbean and the wider world in the 21st Century.

The thesis of this paper and presentation is that the key to the answer lies in Paul’s Epistle to Galatians:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith . . . . Christ redeemed us . . . in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit . . . .

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ . . . . if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.” [Gal 3:6 – 22.]

In short, the biblical teaching is that the way to reconciliation is through Jesus, the crucified and risen seed of Abraham by whom all nations may access the blessing of the Father of the Faithful. How that blessing can be practically achieved in the nations of the Caribbean and beyond in our time is therefore the proper focus for our considerations.

Now of course, this immediately raises major theological disputes and questions about theological exclusivism, religious bigotry, and attempts to use deceptive "evangelistic" tactics to recruit people to a different view. This, we can address right away, by making reference to Paul in Romans 2:
6 God "will give to each person according to what he has done." 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger . . . 11 For God does not show favoritism . . . . 14 . . . when Gentiles . . . do by nature things required by the law . . .15 . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
In short, the central issue is not "doctrine" and debates, but the truth and the right, and living towards the truth and the right by whatever light one may have. That light starts with core morality written on our hearts, aptly highlighted later in the same epistle [13:8 - 10] where we see that neighbour-love does no harm and so fulfills the requirements of the decalogue. So, if we would all first pause and look at the planks in our own eyes [instead of being so finger-pointing over sawdust in our neighbours' eyes], and penitently, humbly and persistently turn to God however much or little we may know of him, then we can all start afresh on a better footing. (My suspicion is that as we do so, we would all meet at the feet of the Cross, but that is a matter of how I see it by the best light I have. So, why not dialogue with me to see why?)

Back on topic, I think that "unless we first understand, acknowledge and balance three key biblical concepts – (1) our creation in the image of God, now marred by our sinful fallen state; (2) God’s sovereign election of people he calls, gifts and covenants with to carry out specific parts of his redemptive plan for mankind; and, (3) the loving Fatherhood of God that energises his work of saving us through Christ – we will be unable to make sound sense of the sometimes strange and yet unfolding story of the fractured family of Abraham; the man elected by God so that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed."

1] Creation: "it is our creation in the image of God that gives us the dignity, rights and worth that are our due as human beings. When we look at a fellow human, apart from our finitude and sinfulness, God is like that. [cf. Gen 1:26, Jas 3:9.] "

2] Election, Calling and Gifting: "At the same time, through God’s Election, he has sovereignly made us diverse: as individuals, sexes, families, tribes, peoples. This reflects his calling placed on each of us, and the resulting multifaceted talents and gifts he has given us to fulfill these varied callings and roles in the whole world; towards the achievement of his overarching purpose for creation." In particular:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight . . . In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins . . . And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ . . . . God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. [Eph 1:3 – 23.]
3] God as Loving Father: "But most of all, God is our common, loving Father; whom we should trust, respect, love and obey. Thus, in love, God sent Jesus to be our Saviour so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life . . . . that they may know . . . the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [he has] sent.” [Jn 3:16, 17:3.]"
In that context, we can plainly see through the Scriptures, generally:

The God who made the world and everything in it . . . from one man . . . made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times [Gk. kairous] set for them and the exact places where they should live . . . so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . . For in him we live and move and have our being . . . . we are God’s offspring. [Ac 17:24 – 28; cf. Deut. 32:8 - 9.]
Thus, regarding Abraham and his seed:

Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you . . . all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. [Gen 12:1 – 3.]

. . . a son coming from your own body will be your heir . . I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it . . . . your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions . . . In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. [Gen 15:4 – 16.]

You will be the father of many nations . . . and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant . . . to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God . . . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year. [Gen 17:4 – 8, 19 - 21.]

Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. [Gen 18:18 – 19.]

I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have . . . not withheld your son, your only son [i.e. the son of covenant, Isaac; cf. vv. 2 - 12], I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. [Gen 22:16 – 18, contextual note added.]

Much of this is of course not exactly politically correct today, but if it is what God has to say onteh matter, as authenticated through His Son whom he raised from the dead, it will stand above all the opinions and machinations of angry men who reject it. Indeed, even beyond the sins of Israel which have brought it under his regretted but necessary and just judgements time and again. For, we may read in Ezekiel:

O mountains of Israel, . . . This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The enemy said of you, "Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.” . . . Because they ravaged and hounded you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people's malicious talk and slander, therefore, O mountains of Israel . . . In my burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against all Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.' . . . .

But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home . . . you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel . . . and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children . . .

[W]hen the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions [Cf. Deut. 31:14 – 32:47] . . . So I poured out my wrath on them because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries . . . And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the Lord's people, and yet they had to leave his land.'

I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone . . . It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations . . . Then the nations will know that I am the LORD . . . For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean . . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees . . . You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God . . . . I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! [Ezekiel 36:1 – 32, emphases added; cf Chs 35 - 39.]

Nor should we Gentiles look on with gloating. As Paul warns us in no uncertain terms:
I am talking to you Gentiles . . . . If some branches have been broken off [through judgement on unbelief and rebellion against God], and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap . . . do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you . . . . Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For is God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. [Rom 11:11 – 21; NB: cf. 22 – 31.]
Sadly, this warning has too often gone utterly unheeded -- I for one tremble when I think of how often we in our region have walked in willful disobedience to God; especially my homeland, Jamaica.

I also think it is a rebuke to an attitude of resentment and even contempt to Israel and to Jews that is creeping in among many Bible-believing Christians. For, to whom should we look for our understanding of the things that God has his hands on -- his Word, or those who walk in open defiance of God even as they boast of their learning, knowledge and wisdom?

So, let us all soberly think, and let us repent and set out to do the right and the truth in love and purity by the power of God's Holy Spirit.

Food for thought, I believe, and for discussion. So, why not let's talk this over? END

Friday, June 08, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 24: 1967, forty years on . . .

This week is also of course the sixty-fifth anniversary of the decisive June 4 - 7 1942 battle at Midway during which in five minutes, the tide of war in the Pacific theatre of WW II turned to the Americans and away from the Japanese.

For, through cracking the Japanese codes [NB: they were evidently using a version of the German Enigma coding machines cracked by the Poles and British], the Americans were able to rush their last three Carriers to the scene, at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian chain of islands.

Then, after having lost wave after wave of attacking torpedo bombing aircraft -- along with their brave but hapless crews, a group of dive bombers arrived on the scene just in time to be able to make uninterrupted dives from 15,000 feet on the Japanese Carriers. This was because the famous Mitsubishi-manufactured "Zero" fighters had gone down to sea level to shoot down the waves of torpedo bombers, and the Japanese did not have radar at that time to spot the bombers until they were diving on them. So, in five minutes, Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu were hit and burning; all being lost. While Yorktown was also sent to the bottom [many of the returning planes form the dive-bombing raid landing successfully on the other US Carriers, Enterprise and/or Hornet], Hiryu was found the next day and also sunk.

This historical note, of course, underscores the destructive power of modern weaponry, in which a numerically and even somewhat qualitatively inferior foe can achieve stunning upset victories once surprise is in their favour, often based on intelligence breakthroughs. Here, four Carriers were beaten by three [one of which had been hastily repaired after the Battle of the Coral Sea] and that in a context where the American aircraft at that time were by and large not only fewer in number but inferior to the Japanese.

Operation Moked, through which Israel achieved air superiority by mans of a pre-emptive air strike even against odds of 4:1 in aircraft, underscores this lesson.

(Indeed, we should also note here that in May 1940, the Germans actually had fewer, and inferior tanks to the French and British, as well as fewer men overall. Even in aircraft, the numbers and quality balances were not at all decisive in Germany's favour. It was surprise, multiplied by firepower and spreading command paralysis on the other side, which led to the decisive victory by the Germans in France. And once the Germans had seized territory, taking it back took a lot of time, effort and blood going up against a seasoned and well-equipped opponent using firepower to extract a terrible price.)

Similarly, the same point was made again when in October 1973, 150 Israeli tanks in the Golan were able to hold off 1,100 - 1,500 attacking Syrian tanks and so demoralise them that even when the Syrians did break through the field commander pulled back, apparently in fear of yet another devastating ambush. [Reportedly, he was later shot by the Syrian authorities for doing this.]

That tells us that in the modern heavy-firepower world (now multiplied by the power of smart weapons), military confrontations are inherently extremely unstable, with a heavy premium going to the one able to surprise the other or otherwise gain an advantage for the moment.

So, we can easily see the rationale behind the Arab strategy in 1947 - 73: as long as the Israelis have to more or less win every military campaign, sooner or later, at one time or another they will come up short on the odds, and they will be beaten. That would be the end for Israel, and on the plain record of declarations to carry out mass murder, for most of the Jews in Israel too. (Nor does the consistently ineffectual international community responses to mas murder in Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Southern Sudan and now Darfur give us any confidence that such a slaughter would have been prevented.)

In 1973, the strategy almost worked, as just outlined. (It also nearly triggered a regional nuclear war and brought the superpowers to the edge of direct confrontation.)

The implications of that sudden escalation evidently caused a shift in focus of the Arab policy and associated strategy, to a slower but more credible "national liberation struggle" by the Palestinian Arabs; which exploits the West's guilty conscience over its colonial past and the resentment of the South over that resulting history of oppression -- never mind that the actual record is that the modern Jewish nation is the fruit of the effort of a legitimate nationalist movement, one willing to live and cooperate with its neighbours, as has been long since recognised at the Versailles talks, and then in the League of Nations and the United Nations.

Hal Lindsey has summed up some of the lingering issues, just today:

It has been 40 years since the miraculous Israeli defeat in six days of the combined efforts of the Arab world to destroy the Jewish state. It was at that time Israeli forces recaptured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control and established sovereign control of their ancient capital for the first time in more than 2,000 years.

But now, 40 years later, the battle for Jerusalem still rages . . . . former [Israeli] Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly summed up what was gained and is now being given away: "That victory transformed Israel from a feeble and fragile country whose existence was questionable, into a state that could not be defeated. … Israel's conquest of the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula in the Six Day War actually brought the region closer to peace by convincing the Arab side that it could not destroy the Jewish state. However, the recent unilateral withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza Strip, as well as ongoing talk of a pullout from most of Judea and Samaria, has again given hope to the Arabs that their ultimate goal is attainable." . . . .

This week, [current Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert again promised to make "painful concessions" to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, in accordance with an Arab peace plan endorsed by the Saudis in March. "I am ready to discuss the Arab peace initiative in an open and sincere manner," Olmert wrote. "But the talks must be a discussion, not an ultimatum."

Israel said on Wednesday that a summit between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled for Thursday and expected to discuss aspects of Palestinian statehood had been postponed at the Palestinians' request. Hamas leader Ismail Hanieyeh said several agreements had to be settled before talks reconvened.

Nothing too sweeping, really. Hanieyeh outlined Hamas' position in an op-ed piece published in Britain's Guardian newspaper. He didn't propose a discussion; he delivered an ultimatum. (What a surprise!)

Haniyeh said if Israel was serious about peace, it had to recognize "the basic rights of our people," including the right of refugees who fled or were driven out by Israel when it was founded in 1948 to return.

Haniyeh wrote, "In the 1967 war, Israel conquered the land of Palestine but it did not conquer the people. ... The 1967 war has over 40 years engendered successive wars and destabilization of the Middle East."

For the climate to change, he said, Israel had to withdraw from all lands occupied in 1967, dismantle all the settlements in the West Bank, where around 250,000 Jews live among 2.4 million Palestinians, free all 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and recognize the right of refugees to return.

"If Israel is serious about peace, it has to recognize these basic rights of our people," Haniyeh said. "Nothing will stop our struggle for freedom and to have all our children reunited in a fully sovereign state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital."

What does Israel get in return? . . . . Said Abbas: "Hamas is not required to recognize Israel. ... It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front to recognize Israel."

But, he does propose a form of "recognition" that requires PA government officials "recognize their counterparts" to "solve people's problems," making clear that this does not constitute an inherent recognition of Israel, just a functional recognition that allows the PA to get what it needs from Israeli counterparts.

Abbas notes the Palestinian finance minister has to come to an agreement with the Israeli finance minister regarding the transfer of that money, but asks, pragmatically, "So how can he make an agreement with him if he does not recognize him?"

"So I do not demand of Hamas nor any other [organizations] to recognize Israel. But from the government that works with Israelis in day-to-day life, yes."

In other words, Abbas, Hamas and the Palestinians in general don't recognize Israel's right to exist. But they do recognize that $500 million is $500 million. And Israel has it and they don't.

All it takes to get it is to recognize the temporary existence of Israel on Palestinian land.

Sadly, Lindsey's sarcasm is well-warranted.

Plainly, there is a refusal on the part of the Palestinian Arab leadership to recognise that Israel has a basic, even obvious legitimacy rooted in the same nationalist considerations they wish to cite for themselves. Secondly, they obviously refuse to recognise the implications of the attempted wars of annihilation in 1947 - 49 and 1967, which created the Palestinian Arab refugee populations, and in fact forced 820,00 Jews out of their homes across the wider Middle East, 620,000 of whom found refuge in Israel. (That is, there credibly were at least as many Jewish refugees as Arab ones from the 1948 war. Israel absorbed its Jewish brethren, invited back the Arab refugees on condition that they would not wage war on it from inside, and contributed tot he care of Arab refugees. The Arab states, with the exception of Jordan, did little or nothing other than to exclude the Palestinian Arabs from any real resettlement, announcing that they intended this to be a long festering sore in the international community, to "justify" ongoing hostility against Israel.)

No wonder, then that even unilateral withdrawals by the Israelis from zones they held and occupied in Gaza [2005] and Southern Lebanon [2000], in the context of defending themselves from attacks and terrorist campaigns, have simply led to more of the same: perception of weakness, renewal of attacks. Thus, we can make sense of last summer's war, and of the current clashes as Palestinian Arabs continue to rocket Sderot.

Unfortunately, the long term result is predictable. At some point, there will be a major terror attack, and the Israelis' patience will snap. Then, even in the face of the steady build up of missiles and rockets in Gaza and Lebanon, they will surge out again, and will simply ignore the usual one-sided demands of the international community that they stop.

The probability of that rises, as Iran -- contemptuously brushing aside the usual ineffectual UN protests and making a mockery of oh-so-confident predictions that they would take years to make the technical breakthroughs, rapidly crosses the nuclear threshold.

And, in turn, that brings us . . . right back to what the ancient Jewish prophets spoke of in Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 35 - 38, ever so long ago now.

To that, let us next turn . . . END

Minor cleanups -- I forgot the USS Hornet!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Matt 24 Watch, 23: An Eloquent Plea by Abba Eban to the UN, June 6, 1967

Yesterday was the 63rd Anniversary of D Day, Normandy, 1944. It was also the 40th Anniversary of the eloquent plea by Abba Eban, Israel's Foreign Minister, before the UN the day after the Six-Day War began.

The speech should be a lot better known than it is, so here are some excerpts:

1] The situation:

Two days ago Israel's condition caused much concern across the humane and friendly world. Israel had reached a sombre hour. Let me try to evoke the point at which our fortunes stood.

An army, greater than any force ever assembled in history in Sinai, had massed against Israel's southern frontier. Egypt had dismissed the United Nations forces which symbolized the international interest in the maintenance of peace in our region. Nasser had provocatively brought five infantry divisions and two armoured divisions up to our very gates; 80,000 men and 900 tanks were poised to move.

A special striking force, comprising an armoured division with at least 200 tanks, was concentrated against Eilat at the Negev's southern tip. Here was a clear design to cut the southern Negev off from the main body of our State. For Egypt had openly proclaimed that Eilat did not form part of Israel and had predicted that Israel itself would soon expire. The proclamation was empty; the prediction now lies in ruin

2] The declared intent:

. . . there could be no doubt about what was intended for us. With my very ears I heard President Nasser's speech on 26 May. He said:

"We intend to open a general assault against Israel. This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel."

On 2 June, the Egyptian Commander in Sinai, General Mortagi, published his Order of the Day, calling on his troops to wage a war of 'destruction against Israel. Here, then, was a systematic, overt, proclaimed design at politicide, the murder of a State.

The policy, the arms, the men had all been brought together, and the State thus threatened with collective assault was itself the last sanctuary of a people which had seen six million of its sons exterminated by a more powerful dictator two decades before.

3] The trigger and the spreading of war across three fronts:

. . . as time went on, there was no doubt that our margin of general security was becoming smaller and smaller. Thus, on the morning of 5 June, when Egyptian forces engaged us by air and land, bombarding the villages of Kissufim, Nahal-Oz and Ein Hashelosha [cf. correctives and caveats below] we knew that our limit of safety had been reached, and perhaps passed. In accordance with its inherent right of self-defence as formulated in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, Israel responded defensively in full strength. Never in the history of nations has armed force been used in a more righteous or compelling cause . . . .

To the appeal of Prime Minister Eshkol to avoid any further extension of the conflict, Syria answered at 12.25 yesterday morning by bombing Megiddo from the air and bombing Degania at 12.40 with artillery fire and kibbutz Ein Hammifrats and Kurdani with long-range guns. But Jordan embarked on a much more total assault by artillery and aircraft along the entire front, with special emphasis on Jerusalem, to whose dangerous and noble ordeal yesterday I come to bear personal witness.

There has been bombing of houses; there has been a hit on the great new National Museum of Art; there has been a hit on the University and on Shaare Zedek, the first hospital ever to have been established outside the ancient walls. Is this not an act of vandalism that deserves the condemnation of all mankind? And in the Knesset building, whose construction had been movingly celebrated by the entire democratic world ten months ago, the Israel Cabinet and Parliament met under heavy gunfire, whose echoes mingled at the end of our meeting with Hatikvah, the anthem of hope.

Thus throughout the day and night of 5 June, the Jordan which we had expressly invited to abstain from needless slaughter became, to our surprise, and still remains, the most intense of all the belligerents; and death and injury, as so often in history, stalk Jerusalem's streets.

When the approaching Egyptian aircraft appeared on our radar screens, soon to be followed by artillery attacks on our villages near the Gaza Strip, I instructed Mr. Rafael to inform the Security Council, in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. I know that that involved arousing you, Mr. President, at a most uncongenial hour of the night, but we felt that the Security Council should be most urgently seized.

4] The UN's role and failure:

. . . the Government and people of Israel have been disconcerted by some aspects of the United Nations role in this conflict. The sudden withdrawal of the United Nations Emergency Force was not accompanied, as it should have been, by due international consultations on the consequences of that withdrawal. Moreover, Israel interests were affected; they were not adequately explored. No attempt was made, little time given, to help Israel to surmount grave prejudice to its vital interests consequent on that withdrawal. After all, a new confrontation of forces suddenly arose. It suddenly had to be met and at Sharm el-Sheikh at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, the Strait of Tiran, legality walked out and blockade walked in. The peace of the world trembled. And thus the United Nations had somehow been put into a position of leaving Sinai safe for belligerency.

It is not, I think, a question of sovereignty that is here involved. The United Nations has a right to ask that, when it assumes a function, the termination of that function shall not take place in conditions that would lead to anti-Charter situations. I do not raise this point in order to linger upon that which is past, but because of Israel's general attitude to the peace-keeping functions of this Organization. And I confess that my own attitude and those of my colleagues and of my fellow citizens to the peacekeeping functions of the United Nations have been traumatically affected by this experience . . . . People in our country and in many countries ask: What is the use of a United Nations presence if it is in effect an umbrella which is taken away as soon as it begins to rain?

5] Tiran:

. . . the closing of the Strait of Tiran gave no benefit whatever to Egypt except the perverse joy of inflicting injury on others. It was an anarchic act, because it showed a total disregard for the law of nations, the application of which in this specific case had not been challenged for ten years. And it was, in the literal sense, an act of arrogance, because there are other nations in Asia and East Africa, that trade with the Port of Eilat, as they have every right to do, through the Strait of Tiran and across the Gulf of Aqaba. Other sovereign States from Japan to Ethiopia, from Thailand to Uganda, from Cambodia to Madagascar, have a sovereign right to decide for themselves whether they wish or do not wish to trade with Israel. These countries are not colonies of Cairo. They can trade with Israel or not trade with Israel as they wish, and President Nasser is not the policeman of other African and Asian States.

Here then was a wanton intervention in the sovereign rights of other States in the eastern half of the world to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to establish trade relations with either or both of the two ports at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba.

When we examine, then, the implications of this act, we have no cause to wonder that the international shock was great. There was another reason too for that shock. Blockades have traditionally been regarded, in the pre-Charter parlance, as acts of war. To blockade, after all, is to attempt strangulation; and sovereign States are entitled not to have their trade strangled. To understand how the State of Israel felt, one has merely to look around this table and imagine, for example, a foreign Power forcibly closing New York or Montreal, Boston or Marseille, Toulon or Copenhagen, Rio or Tokyo or Bombay harbour. How would your Governments react? What would you do? How long would you wait?

6] Israel's basic legitimacy:

. . . the situation to be constructed after the cease-fire must depend on certain principles. The first of these principles surely must be the acceptance of Israel's statehood and the total elimination of the fiction of its non-existence. It would seem to me that after 3,000 years the time has arrived to accept Israel's nationhood as a fact, for here is the only State in the international community which has the same territory, speaks the same language and upholds the same faith as it did 3,000 years ago.

And if, as everybody knows to be the fact, the universal conscience was in the last week or two most violently shaken at the prospect of danger to Israel, it was not only because there seemed to be a danger to a State, but also, I think, because the State was Israel, with all that this ancient name evokes, teaches, symbolizes and inspires. How grotesque would be an international community which found room for 122 sovereign units and which did not acknowledge the sovereignty of that people which had given nationhood its deepest significance and its most enduring grace . . . .

the central point remains the need to secure an authentic intellectual recognition by our neighbours of Israel's deep roots in the Middle Eastern reality. There is an intellectual tragedy in the failure of Arab leaders to come to grips, however reluctantly, with the depth and authenticity of Israel's roots in the life, the history, the spiritual experience and the culture of the Middle East.

This, then, is the first axiom. A much more conscious and uninhibited acceptance of Israel's statehood is an axiom requiring no demonstration, for there will never be a Middle East without an independent and sovereign State of Israel in its midst.

7] The basic pre-requisite for lasting peace:

When the Council discusses what is to happen after the cease-fire, we hear many formulas: back to 1956, back to 1948 - I understand our neighbours would wish to turn the clock back to 1947. The fact is, however, that most clocks move forward and not backward, and this, I think, should be the case with the clock of Middle Eastern peace - not backward to belligerency, but forward to peace.

The point was well made this evening by the representative of Argentina, who said: the cease-fire should be followed immediately by the most intensive efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. In a similar sense, the representative of Canada warned us against merely reproducing the old positions of conflict, without attempting to settle the underlying issues of Arab-Israel co-existence. After all, many things in recent days have been mixed up with each other. Few things are what they were. And in order to create harmonious combinations of relationships, it is inevitable that the States should come together in negotiation.

8] Some key questions:

. . . world opinion, before whose tribunal this debate unrolls, can solve this question by posing certain problems to itself. Who was it that attempted to destroy a neighbouring State in 1948, Israel or its neighbours? Who now closes an international waterway to the port of a neighbouring State, Israel or the United Arab Republic? Does Israel refuse to negotiate a peace settlement with the Arab States, or do they refuse to do so with it? Who disrupted the 1957 pattern of stability, Israel or Egypt? Did troops of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait and Algeria surround Israel in this menacing confrontation, or has any distinguished representative seen some vast Israel colossus surrounding the area between Morocco and Kuwait?

9] Closing invitation:

Israel has in recent days proved its steadfastness and vigour. It is now willing to demonstrate its instinct for peace. Let us build a new system of relationships from the wreckage of the old. Let us discern across the darkness the vision of a better and a brighter dawn.

Now, of course there is a serious question on whether the three villages identified above were in fact attacked by Egypt, and/or whether Egyptian aircraft [and armour] were approaching Israel. (Indeed, there are claims that this was a fabricated, intentionally false and deceptive account.) Of course, it is easy to have confusions in a tense situation, but more to the point, the underlying and entirely reasonable basis for Israeli action was an existing causus belli, the closure of Tiran joined to the creation of a ring of steel, as well as the barely called off intended offensive of May 27/8, joined to the manifest failure of diplomatic efforts by June 3 - 4.

Further to this, it is reasonably clear that it was Israel which launched major offensive operations on June 5, 1967, though in a context in which the other parties had initiated acts of war -- closure of Tiran (with all that it implied, as in 1956) -- and encirclement with a declared intent of annihilation. Such fighting may well have been strategically defensive, but was definitely tactically offensive [i.e attacking]. Indeed, that is just what Nasser hoped to provoke by closing Tiran, declaring intent to annihilate Israel and slaughter many of its citizens, and then closing in with a ring of steel that plainly threatened to cut off Israel's oil lifeline -- his miscalculation was that the Israelis were much more effective in their response than he expected.

Having duly noted these caveats, corrections and observations on questionable actions by the Israelis -- who are finite, fallible, fallen and sometimes ill-willed just like the rest of us all, it is plain that the underlying core points and issues are valid.

In particular, we need to hear a serious response from those who view Israel as an illegitimate entity, as to what they have to say in response to Mr Eban's acid comment that:
"It would seem to me that after 3,000 years the time has arrived to accept Israel's nationhood as a fact, for here is the only State in the international community which has the same territory, speaks the same language and upholds the same faith as it did 3,000 years ago."
There is much food for thought in that . . . END


UPDATE, June 9:
Further key documentation through Walt Rostow's recollections and Michael Oren's summary of the diplomatic and military situation, thence how all of these affected the Israeli leadership in the run-up to war.

Of particular significance in the former are the following excerpts:

Editorial note at no. 150: At 5:09 a.m. on June 5, 1967, Secretary of State Dean Rusk telephoned President Johnson. He read a draft message to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko, saying that he thought it was better to send a message of this sort without waiting until the question of responsibility for the war was clarified. The President agreed. (See Document 157.) Johnson asked Rusk whether it seemed to him "reasonably sure that these tanks kicked it?" A reference to an Israeli report indicates that a UAR armored force had initiated the fighting. Noting that the fighting occurred initially over Egypt, Rusk said it was "a little hard to sort out", but they had intelligence that five Egyptian airfields in the Sinai were not operational. He added that he would put more weight on the Israeli claim that there had been a large number of Egyptian aircraft headed for Israel from the sea, but he thought it was too early to say. He continued, "My instincts tell me that the Israelis probably kicked this off, but I just don't know yet. And I don't think we ought to make a preliminary judgment on that because it's just hard to say." Johnson asked if the Israelis were saying the Egyptians "kicked it off." Rusk replied that each side was claiming publicly that the other started it but that no direct message had been received from Eshkol or Eban. He thought the Israeli claim of a tank advance looked "just a little thin on the surface" but he thought they would soon have more information. He stated that the Department had asked U.S. representative on the NATO Council Harlan Cleveland to keep a group of permanent members available for consultation, and he noted that the Security Council would meet and would probably call on both sides for an immediate cease-fire. He repeated, "My guess is the Israelis kicked this off." He suggested that they might want to arrange a meeting of the Congressional leadership to bring them up to date on the situation. Johnson agreed, and the conversation concluded. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of a telephone conversation between Johnson and Rusk, June 5, 1967, 5:09 a.m., Tape F67.11, Side B, PNO 1) According to the Johnson Library, the dictabelt, with a June 7 note stating that it might have been made the previous day, was found with post-Presidential material. The date and time were taken from the President's Daily Diary. (Ibid.)

Note at 152: At 6:15 a.m. on June 5, 1967, Walt Rostow telephoned President Johnson and read to him a draft Presidential statement Rusk sent to the White House, expressing distress at the outbreak of fighting in the Middle East, noting that each side had accused the other of aggression, stating that the facts were not clear, and calling on all parties to support the UN Security Council in bringing about an immediate cease-fire. Rostow said he had read the statement to McNamara, who approved. The President agreed that the statement was all right. Rostow said that the evidence on who had started the fighting was not definitive, but that there was an interesting report from Cairo of indications of unusual activities in the UAR forces before the first Israeli strike at 9 a.m. Cairo time, including a report that a large number of pilots in uniform had been seen at the Cairo airport at 4:30 a.m. Rostow commented that this was "not much but it's something, the only evidence that this is a UAR put-up job." He added that McNamara was inclined to feel the same way because of the reports, and because he thought a UAR public announcement of the plan to send UAR Vice President Mohieddin to visit the United States would be a "good cover." Rostow reported that Foreign Minister Eban said the Israelis had been attacked and he then gave orders to counter-attack. Rostow said that according to Eban, the Israelis were drafting a message to Johnson that would state Israel had no intention of taking advantage of the situation to enlarge its territory and hoped that peace could be restored within its present boundaries and that the conflict could be localized; in this regard, the message would ask U.S. help in restraining any Soviet initiative.

CIA Memo at 169: SUBJECT The Arab-Israeli War: Who Fired the First Shot

1. An analysis of presently available information suggests that Israel fired the first shots today. The Israelis, however, claim they were responding to a movement by Egyptian air and armored forces "toward" Israel which they interpreted as an attack. Cairo says flatly that Israel attacked Egypt.

2. The Egyptian army's foreign liaison officer informed the US Defense Attaché in Cairo that Israel started raiding the Suez Canal Zone and El-Arish Airfield in northeastern Sinai at 9 a.m. Cairo time (2 a.m. EDT). An announcement on the Israeli army radio service at 9:05 Cairo time (2:05 EDT) said the Israeli army was clashing with an Egyptian armored force "moving toward Israel." An Israeli army spokesman later announced that the Egyptians had "opened an air and land attack." He said Egyptian armored forces moved at dawn "toward" southern Israel and that Israeli forces "went out to meet them." He also said that Egyptian jet aircraft were seen on radar "coming toward the country's shores," and that a similar air movement was occurring along the Sinai border. Air clashes developed, he added, when Israeli planes flew to meet them.

3. Israeli Foreign Minister Eban told Ambassador Barbour that Egyptian ground forces began the fighting by shelling Israeli border villages. An official Israeli report passed to the US Embassy, however, said Egypt's 4th armored division plus a mobile task force had teamed up "with the apparent intention" of striking across southern Israel toward Jordan. The report said Israel armored forces had moved to engage the Egyptian armor, and that Israel had attacked Egyptian airfields.

4. [9 lines of source text not declassified]

It is therefore clear that "Who fired the first shot?" was uncertain at the time, with the general weight of informed judgement leaning to: the Israelis. However, it is not at all impossible that the Israeli complaints about shelling of villages, movement of armoured units and of Egyptian aircraft are without objective foundation, and even moreso, it is plain that such perceptions may have been a part of the fog of war, which leads to actions under confusion, want of accurate information and stress that look very different in the cool distance of history.

In any case, it is clear that surrounding Israel with a ring of steel and cutting the straights of Tiran, then making blood-curdling declarations of intent to annihilate were acts that quite properly provoked strong -- and for the Arabs, unanticipatedly successful -- Israeli action in self-defence.

So, Oren's point is well-made:

On May 21 Eshkol told his cabinet, “I believe the Egyptians plan to stop Israeli shipping or bomb the atomic reactor in Dimona. A general attack is liable to follow.” Rabin, similarly glum, warned that “it will be a hard war.... There will be many casualties,” and recommended that Israel take the minimal step of calling up more reserves, while continuing to pursue its diplomatic options to the end.35 Heeding this advice, Eshkol addressed the Knesset the next day on the need for “reciprocal respect for the sovereignty, integrity and international rights” of all Middle East nations.36 Again, Eshkol used the opportunity to attempt to defuse the crisis. He purposely stopped short of condemning Egypt’s buildup in Sinai and later, secretly, sent U Thant another message for Nasser, urging him to refrain from any action in Tiran.37 Such conciliatory gestures by Israeli leaders, designed to mollify the Egyptians and entice them into mediation, had the opposite effect: Nasser took them as signs of weakness. Emboldened by Israel’s failure to respond forcibly to UNEF’s ouster, and dazzled by the praise being heaped on him throughout the Arab world, he took the step that would vastly increase the chances of armed conflict. On May 22, while U Thant was en route to Cairo, Nasser visited one of his air bases in the Sinai. Telling a rapt assembly of fighter pilots that “the Jews threaten war and we say ahlan wa-sahlan (welcome),” he announced a renewal of the Tiran blockade.38

Nasser’s decision to close the Straits was a defining moment in the crisis. By the late 1960s, the port town of Eilat on the Red Sea had become a vital factor in Israel’s economy as a center for commerce and shipping, the terminus for imports of Iranian oil and other essential goods, and for exports of Israeli products to Africa, Asia and beyond. More than the financial blow it dealt Israel, however, the blocking of Israel’s access to the Red Sea was an immense political victory for Nasser: It was an overt act of war, one that bolstered his popularity in the Arab world, and thus his ability to wage an actual armed conflict. Until then the Israeli government had been willing to live with the expulsion of UNEF and even with the Egyptian army’s buildup in the Sinai, but now the stakes had changed dramatically. No longer a matter of a potential military clash along Israel’s southern border, the threat had become, as Chief of Staff Rabin observed, “a question of ‘to be or not to be.’”39 . . .

States facing existential threats react strongly. And, for good reason.

So, whatever the sins of Israel are in the matter, the underlying justice of what they did in 1967 -- in defence of their literal existence -- is plain.