By Rev Dr Russel Moffat, Church of Scotland minister, Killin and Ardeonaig Parish Church

THIS week, the Church of Scotland’s Strategic Review of its presence and properties in the Holy Land is being presented and discussed at the General Assembly in Edinburgh. The report was written by people with genuine concerns and convictions about a troubling situation. It contains some insightful comments with some laudable aspirations. However, there are aspects of the report which many will find disturbing. The backdrop to this concern is the growing level of anti-Semitism in Europe and the Muslim world, and the complete lack of media balance in the reporting on Israeli and Palestine matters.

Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying that the Christian community does not want to delegitimise the state of Israel. But this report will play into the hands of those who do. For many of its critics, the State of Israel was illegitimate from the beginning. This is the position of the political left as well as the Muslim nations in general and the Arab nations in particular. The report calls the West Bank “occupied territories”, but for many that term means the whole of Israel “from the Jordan river to the sea”. Downplayed is any real understanding of Israel’s strategic concerns which are existential and real and which frame the proximate issue of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas in Gaza explicitly states in its charter that Israel must cease to exist. But even Fatah in the West Bank does so implicitly, not least in the regular incitement on Palestinian Authority TV for the killing of Jews – even, horrifically, on children’s TV programmes. How can there be peace in such a climate? How can Israel alone be to blame for the lack of progress, as our report sadly implies?

The report says that on the issue of Israel and Palestine the Church of Scotland cannot be neutral, advocating “accompanimen” of the suffering and “speaking truth to the powerful”. But within Gaza Hamas is all-powerful and we do not speak truth to power about the vicious repression of all dissenting Palestinian voices in Gaza, instead, we offer only silence. Although the report advocates “the right of peoples to elect their representatives”, where is the criticism of Hamas and Fatah, now both well into the second decade of supposedly four-year terms? Surely, in the interests of consistency and credibility, we should challenge even-handedly or not at all?

The meme “Jesus was a Palestinian” appears to be gaining traction in some quarters. The report cites Bishop Naim Ateek’s claim that Jesus in his “historical context” addressed the issue of Justice for the Palestinian People who lived “then” under Roman occupation and links that with the needs of the Palestinian People “today.” So much for the heralded “imperative to recover the Jewish Jesus” in interfaith dialogue! Then the final barb: the report proclaims that throughout this turmoil over the centuries in the Holy Land, “The Church of Jesus Christ remains” and has, “retained its presence and witness”. Entirely written out of the narrative is Jewish history in the Holy Land, including subjugations by empires, armies and conquerors, experiencing life and faith as a minority under both Christianity and Islam with all that entailed. Absent too was any reference to the relentless de-Christianisation of the Palestinian Territories. The Christian population of Gaza has fallen by 75 per cent to barely 1,000 over the last six years.

The Kirk can help, but first we must question our willingness to castigate Israel and our reluctance to criticise the Palestinians, otherwise we risk diminishing our voice and devaluing our mission.