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Baath apparatchiks abandon Assad as bloody crackdown escalates

203 members of Syria's ruling Baath Party announced their resignations on Wednesday, protesting the recent bloody crackdown on protesters. The resignations are a major emberresment to the Assad regime, which has unleashed security forces in a rampage which has killed over 500 Syrians in six weeks.

"The security services have demolished the values with which we grew up. We denounce and condemn everything that has taken place and announce with regret our resignation from the party," the resigning members said in a statement. "Practices of the security services against our unarmed citizens... are against all human values and the slogans of the party."

The internal pressure on the regime is likely to exacerbate the regimes increasingly isolated international diplomatic position, as the EU and several individual European governments have joined the US in calling for diplomatic and economic sanctions against members of the ruling elite as well as several state owned business interests. Meanwhile, an umbrella group of over 150 anti-government activists and opposition groups calling itself the National Initiative for Change (NIC) warned Assad to institute real democratic reforms or risk "violence, chaos and civil war."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, protesters gathered in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Wednesday demanding an end to the 1979 Camp David Accords and a return to the state of belligerency between Israel and Egypt.

Chanting, "the people demand the cancellation of normalization" and "the gas must stop!" they also demanded that Egyptian supplies of natural gas to the Jewish State be discontinued.

Next door, NATO air strikes have made some progress in lifting the siege on the Western city of Misrata, but thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city and reportedly taking heavy fire from troops loyal to dictator Moammar Gadaffi. An aid ship took advantage of a brief lull in fighting to evacuate wounded civilians.

"Despite heavy shelling of the port area... about 935 migrants and Libyans have been rescued and are now safely en route to Benghazi," the International Organization for Migration said.

In Yemen, several people were reported killed in ongoing internecine violence Thursday as factions begin to stake out positions ahead of the imminent departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Palestinian factions announce unity government

The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas overcame their ideological differences and announced on Wednesday that they will form a government of national unity for the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, causing alarm in Israel and dismay in the US and Europe.

Although the deal has not been signed and there are still details for both sides to work out, Hamas has already announced that by joining with Fatah, which dominates the Western backed Palestinian Authority, they are not joining in the recognition of Israel or participation in peace negotiations with the Jewish State.

"Palestinian divisions can't continue while efforts are being made to ensure recognition of a Palestinian state," agreed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby, who helped broker the deal.

Later on Thursday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, indicated that he was still theoretically interested in negotiations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the PA needed to choose between a peace deal with Israel and one with Hamas.

"Peace with both is impossible, because Hamas aims to destroy the State of Israel and says that openly," Netanyahu said. "It fires missiles at our cities and at our children. He added that the current situation led to questions as to "whether Hamas will gain control over Judea and Samaria, the way it did over the Gaza Strip (but) I hope that the Palestinian Authority will make the right choice - that it will choose peace with Israel. The choice is in its hands."

Other Israeli officials cautioned that such deals have been announced before and fell apart before they could be fully implemented, so it's best to wait and see what develops.

Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi declared on Thursday that the unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah is a "blessed, positive line with the Palestinian nation's historic objectives (including) resistance against the Zionist occupiers."

He also praised the new Egyptian government's role in mediating between the two factions and added that he hoped the agreement would "lead to acceleration of the developments in the Palestine region and to acquiring great victories in confrontations with the ruthless occupiers."

In Washington, several members of Congress denounced the deal and declared their intention of reviewing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) declared the deal to be "a recipe for failure, mixed with violence, leading to disaster."

Iranian ties with Arab states has Israel worried

In a sign of warming relations between Iran and its former enemy Iraq, Justice Ministers from the two countries signed an extradition agreement on Monday in Teheran, a move sure to cause unease among other Arab governments worried about the growing power and aggression of the Islamic Republic.

On the same day however, Iran suffered a diplomatic setback when the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain expelled an Iranian diplomat, Hujatullah Rahmani, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Manama. The action was taken as part of an escalating war of words between Iran and the Sunni dominated Arab countries of the Persian Gulf region.

The moves also follow the dispatch of a Saudi led contingent of paramilitary troops from GCC countries to assist the Bahraini government in containing unrest by Shi'ite groups which the government fears are being supported by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Tehran denies this and has roundly denounced the GCC intervention force, which Saudi Arabia recently announced would be a semi-permanent phenomenon.

Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf was in Kuwait on Tuesday, where he attempted to alleviate fears that the transitional government in Cairo's own warming relations with Iran will come at the expense of its Arab brethren. The visit comes after a month in which several Iranian and Egyptian officials declared their intentions to open up a new era of closer cooperation between the two countries, leading to dismay in several Arab capitals, as well as in Washington and Jerusalem.

Inside Iran, officials have denied that a growing wave of strikes and protests by disgruntled workers is going on, despite massive crowds gathering almost daily in front of government buildings to demand back wages and other promised benefits.

"Because the authorities do not want to confirm strikes at factories, they refuse to answer questions about why workers were dismissed or arrested for protesting," said Javanmir Moradi, head of the Electrical and Metal Workers' Trade Union in the western city of Kermanshah.

Bloody crackdown continues in Syria despite sanctions

An increasingly violent government crackdown on anti-regime protesters in Syria has resulted in widespread condemnation as leaders from major powers as well as the UN and the Arab League called on President Bashar Assad to halt the escalating use of force and implement reforms.

The US and UK have both indicated their willingness to implement sanctions against the Assad regime, and several other countries are reportedly considering the move. Efforts are also being made to get the UN to condemn the crackdown, a possible precursor to a UN mandate for armed intervention such as UNSCR 1973 authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya.

Military and security units loyal to Assad have shown little notice of the diplomatic manuevers, raining heavy barrages of artillery down on the southern city of Daraa and infantry units backed by armored vehicles and helicopters moved into neighborhoods in several other Syrian cities. The death toll was reportedly over 400 on Wednesday as leaders of expat opposition communities in Turkey and Europe begged the world to help their countryman.

Meanwhile, a US State Department spokesman announced on Tuesday that the US has quietly discontinued pressuring Israel to work towards a peace deal with the Assad regime in Syria, having decided in light of recent events that it is not a reliable partner for peace.

"The weakening of Syria, of the regime, is a blow for Iran and this, from a strategic point of view, is a positive development not only for Israel but for Jordan and for other forces," said Michael Eppel, a Middle East expert at the University of Haifa. "But there is always the possibility, and this you cannot predict, that maybe there will be a temptation to bring a crisis to Gaza or southern Lebanon in order to divert public opinion."

Elsewhere in the Arab world, the military stalemate in Libya showed few signs of change on Wednesday.

"Militarily, the fact is, the situation is not much different from what it was at the very beginning of the war," said French strategic analyst Francois Heisbourg. "Qadhafi is essentially controlling the same territory as he was at the beginning of the war, so he is not likely to leave power readily as part of a negotiated deal. So from the standpoint of the coalition it's not a great result."

Finally, officials in Yemen announced on Tuesday that a plan put forward by the Gulf Cooperation Council for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to give up power could be finalized within a week, leading to hopes that the shattered but strategically important country might soon be able to start putting itself back together.

Obama Administration in bid to avert Palestinian UN action

The Obama Administration has launched a new diplomatic initiative with Israel and the Palestinian Authority aimed at avoiding a PA threat to take its case for statehood to the UN in September, but PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo declared on Monday that the PA was determined to go ahead with the plan regardless of what Israel or the US does.

"The Palestinian leadership won't back down unless real and serious peace negotiations are launched on the basis of the 1967 borders," Abed Rabbo told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, adding that the PA was also prepared to make a deal that would include a land, and not a population, swap with Israel.

"Without this, we will go to the UN, and after winning recognition [for a state] we will demand that Israeli military and settler presence [in the West Bank] be considered an act of aggression on the sovereignty of a full member of the UN," he added. "We don't have a third option."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are both scheduled to make trips to Europe in the coming months to lobby for acceptance and denial, respectively, of the idea by the major democracies. The US and Germany have already come out publically against a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in September.

The PA has been joined by its rival, the Iranian backed Islamist terror militia Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip, in sharply criticizing Obama and flatly rejecting the idea recently put forth for a Palestinian State with eastern Jerusalem as its capital but without guaranteeing the right of millions of Palestinians to "return" to the homes of their parents and grandparents in pre-1948 Israel.

Relations between Israel and the PA took a big hit on Sunday when a PA police officer shot and killed a Jewish man after praying at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. Four other Jewish worshippers were also wounded in the shooting attack on their vehicle which took place as they were leaving Nablus.

Ben Yosef Livnat (Yeshiva World News)The killed man was Ben Yosef Livnat, 24, father of four and nephew of Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat (Likud). Of the four wounded, two were in serious condition on Tuesday. After the shooting, a crowd gathered and vandalized the Tomb.

The IDF said that the group of Breslov Hassidim worshippers had entered Nablus, which is in Area A and under the security jurisdiction of the PA, without permission of the authorities and the PA police claimed that they had refused to obey instructions and tried to run through a roadblock. The Breslov group has a history of disregarding the instructions of the IDF in regards to visiting sites of historical and/or theological significance in the West Bank. But Gershon Mesika, head of the Samaria regional council, told Army Radio that precisely because the PA police knew this and knew that the worshippers were unarmed they should have known that there was no reason to use deadly force.

"Prime Minister Netanyahu sharply condemns the murder of Ben-Yosef Livnat and demands that the PA take tough steps against the perpetrators of this criminal act against Jews who were on their way to pray," the Prime Minister's Office said in the statement.

The PA has admitted that the officer "fired erroneously" and has expressed embarrassment over the incident but so far they have refused to transfer custody of the officer to Israel.

Israel's Friends in the Nations

The video featured here is a recording of ICEJ's USA Director, Susan Michael, speaking on Israeli Night at the Feast of Tabernacles 2009.

Some 1,000 Israeli guests in the auditorium that night were hugely impacted by this message of hope and friendship at a time when many feel they are alone in the world.

The History of Christian Zionism

The Christian Zionist Movement has grown in numbers and in impact in recent years. Today, thousands of Christians from all over the world are, more than ever, ready to declare their love and support for the nation of Israel. Each year they come in their multitudes to Jerusalem to join the International Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. But the roots of this movement go back throughout Christian history.

In a sense, Christian Zionism goes right back to the 1st century period, as there have always been men and women who have believed and taught its tenets. Many examples of this from history could be quoted, but an article of this nature does not allow us to do it. As a definite theology, however, Christian Zionism had its beginnings among the pietistic Protestants of the 16th century and the 17th century Puritans of England. In 1587 a man named Francis Kett was burned alive for expressing his belief that the Bible prophesied a return of the Jews to their land. Moreover, in 1607, Thomas Brightman published a book in Basel called “Revelation of the Revelation”. In this book he wrote: “What, shall they return to Jerusalem again? There is nothing more certain; the prophets do everywhere confirm it.” Others of the same period frequently expressed a similar belief. For instance, Isaac de la Peyrere (1594-1676), who served as the French Ambassador to Denmark, wrote a book wherein he argued for a restoration of the Jews to Israel without conversion to Christianity.

By the time of the 18th century, the Christian Zionist Movement, known then as the Restoration Movement, included many theologians, writers and politicians. Noteworthy was Thomas Newton, the Bishop of Bristol. He believed Jews would be restored to their native city and country and at the same time he condemned anti-Jewish prejudice. The movement grew with the onset of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.

In the 19th century the movement continued to gather momentum and one of the outstanding personalities in this regard was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. He noted in his diaries that the signs were right for the return of the Jews to Palestine. A certain Charles Henry Churchill, a British resident of Damascus, also became a zealous propagator of the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. In 1841 he wrote a letter to the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore in which he stated: “...I consider the object to be perfectly obtainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly, that the Jews will themselves take up the matter unanimously. Secondly, that the European powers will aid them in their views...”

Another popular figure in the Restoration Movement was George Gawler (1796-1869). He wrote a book in 1845 and in it, concerning the Jewish people, he states that they were to replenish the deserted towns and fields of Palestine.

As the 19th century drew to a close, many prominent men were involved in Christian Zionism. Men like the British industrialist, Edward Cazalet (1827-1883), Lawrence Oliphant (1829-1888), a most active restorationist, and the American, William E. Blackstone. Blackstone was once dubbed the American Christian “Father of Zion¬ism”. The most interesting Christian Zionist of the period was, however, William H. Hechler (1845-1931). Hechler, Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, worked very closely with Theodore Herzl, considered to be the founder and father of the Jewish State. In fact, Hechler dedicated 30 years of his life to the great task of realizing the Zionist goal; the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine. Unfortunately he died only seventeen years before this became a living reality. However, he was privileged to attend the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897, at which the foundation stone of the restored Jewish State was laid.

The 20th century saw the Zionist dream come true as a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic word. Sadly, some tragic events preceded this realization, the most terrible and evil of which was the Nazi Holocaust. Out of the ashes of six million Jews rose the restored Jewish State.

From the very beginning of the century, Christian Zionists were in the forefront of the struggle on behalf of the Jewish People. Their influence upon statesmen and men of power was great. It is no secret that this influence played a major role in producing the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which His Majesty’s Government viewed “with favor the establishment of a Jewish national home” in Palestine.

Time will not permit us to talk of famous Christian Zionists such as Charles Orde Wingate, John Hayes Holmes, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr and Corrie Ten Boom who, at great personal risk during the Second World War, rescued Jews from the hands of Nazism. All these believed that scripture promised the restoration of the Jewish State in Palestine. Most of them died in hope but some, like Corrie Ten Boom, lived to see the impossible come true.

Christian Zionism has a long history. Today the movement has swelled to embrace thousands. All of them see their task as being far from over, since the same forces that sought the destruction of Israel in decades past are still at work today. The survival and preservation of Israel is dependent upon the same kind of help and support that made her existence a reality. Christian Zionists believe that in seeking her peace they are in the long run working for the world’s peace (Isaiah 2:1-4).

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.


©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

In Bethlehem of Judea

Most Christians who have answered the call to live and serve in Israel sorely miss our families back home during the Christmas season. But we certainly don’t miss the commercialization of the holidays. There are no incessant jingles about Santa’s soon arrival and the airwaves don’t bombard us with great ideas for stocking stuffers. Today, Christians are less than two percent of the population in the Holy Land, and the Jews and Muslims have their own festivals. So it’s rather a quiet time; but that actually allows us to concentrate more on the “reason for the season” here in this special land where the Nativity story really happened.

Still, it has been interesting to observe over the years how Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors approach the historic figure of Jesus and his lowly birth long ago in Bethlehem. Most Jews here are indifferent to the season, although there are some, drawn by curiosity and love for music, who venture into the handful of public caroling services held on Christmas Eve. Yet for various reasons, as a whole they have trouble claiming Jesus as one of their own. This is slowly changing, however, as some have begun re-capturing his Jewishness. The late Prof. David Flusser of Hebrew University, the leading Orthodox scholar on the second Temple era, even embraced the historic Jesus as “my favorite rabbi.”

The Palestinians are a different story. Many are proud that he was born in their “country” and even Muslim crowds flock to Manger Square in December. But the Jesus they identify with has been deliberately stripped of his Jewish heritage. He is a “Palestinian Jesus” and he serves an important role in building support for their nationalist cause.

Even though the local Arab Christian community is small, it has a highly symbolic value, and certain Arab clergymen have exploited that symbolism to bolster the Palestinian narrative. They claim to be descended from the ‘first Christians,” even though nearly all the earliest believers were Jewish. True, these ancient faith communities have lived in the Holy Land for many generations and they’ve paid a steep price to maintain a Christian presence and witness here over the centuries. But it is a gross distortion of history and the biblical accounts to deny the Hebraic roots of Jesus and the early Church.

Nonetheless, even the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat embraced the historic Jesus, calling him the “first Palestinian revolutionary” who had come to fight Roman oppression. This same Jesus is a role model for fighting the oppressors of today “the Israelis.” Even his disciples get co-opted; Arafat once greeted Pope John Paul II as the “successor of Peter, the first Palestinian pope.”

Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of this Palestinian Jesus is when its adherents both Muslims and Christians deliberately conjure up classic Christian anti-Semitic motifs by portraying the Palestinian people as the “Body of Christ” which is still being “crucified” by the Jews.

The Time and Season of Light

No, my friends, let there be no mistake! Jesus was a Jew and he cherished that heritage as well as his own people. My Bible says he was born “in Bethlehem in Judea.” (Matthew 2:1). It also says he was “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) We could fill volumes proving the case for a Jewish Jesus, and most of us know this well. But what would surprise many Christians is the way this Jewish identity is preserved when the historic Jesus is transformed into the risen and glorified Lord.

For instance, when the two disciples walked with the resurrected Jesus on the way to Emmaus, they finally recognized him in the way he broke bread. No doubt he had a special way within this ancient Jewish tradition of blessing bread and wine, and he followed it even after his death.

When he restored Peter on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the risen Jesus tested him three times: “Peter, do you love me?” For such is the manner of the Jews, based on the story of Ruth, to test someone three times before allowing them to “convert” and follow.

Even at the end of Revelation, the glorified Jesus is still declaring: “I am the Root and Offspring of David.” (22:16)

Surely, he was born a Jew and a Jew he remains…

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

In Defense of Christian Zionism

Pushing through the “doors” opened by the so-called divestment campaign and other such efforts, proponents of Replacement Theology are working feverishly to discredit their fellow believers in Christ who view Israel’s modern- day restoration as evidence of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham 4,000 years ago.

The Presbyterian Church-USA, for example, at the same General Assembly two years ago in which it voted to consider divesting from Israel, was also induced to pass a resolution committing the church to “actively oppose Christian Zionism,” citing works that branded such beliefs as “heretical.”

These are Christians who, without any biblical grounds, consider the Abrahamic Covenant abolished or reconstructed. They also generally tend to ignore the Islamic roots of the terrorism that has plagued Israel for nearly 60 years. Even when the late Yasser Arafat scoffed at the Oslo Accords in a Johannesburg mosque in 1994 - affirming that he was merely using Oslo as a means to destroy the Jewish state - these Christians had little to say.

Recent history has brought the real Palestinian agenda into the open, in that a terrorist government led by Hamas is the expression of the will of the people. This, after all, is the meaning of democracy - that the people are responsible for whom they put in office.

Sadly, these Christian adherents to Replacement Theology have few qualms about aligning with a radical Islamist agenda that espouses terrorism, and are calling upon the wider Christian Church to reject, ignore and even expel those Christians who hold a solid biblical view on Israel. Indeed, they want these Christians branded cultic and excommunicated!

To support their position they are making outlandish assertions about their brethren, claiming that we:

  • are constantly calling for conflict in the region as the means to achieve “Greater Israel”;
  • are dual-covenant, and therefore deny the essentials of our faith;
  • hate Arabs and desire the liquidation of the local Palestinian church;
  • are guilty of idolatry by worshiping state power in Israel and benefiting from its praise;
  • deceive Israel because our real agenda is an eschatological thirst for Armageddon;
  • constitute the greatest threat to world peace;
  • and that we are a new phenomenon without any tradition in the historical expression of Christianity.

EVERY ONE of the above charges is wrong! Christian Zionists are mainstream Evangelicals upholding all the vital and accepted tenets of biblical faith. We can easily trace our belief system to the early church and throughout church history. Our views are not strange, deviant or new. No, they were held by prominent Christians through the centuries, including the great Wesley brothers, the Anglican Evangelicals of the 19th century and many prominent Christian leaders of the 20th and 21st century.

As to the early church, even a casual reading of surviving documents from that period reveals that believers fully expected a restored Jewish state before the close of time. Nevertheless, the “new” proponents of Replacement Theology have decided to hatch a sinister plan that, as noted, would see the excommunication of their brethren. While determined to press on with the effort, one Replacement colleague said he suspects what holds back many denominations from using the word “heresy” and “unchurching” us is the simple fact that there are so many of us.

Of note is the fact that they never sit down with us and engage with us personally, as Scripture requires. Instead, because they have become so totally politicized, they exaggerate, misrepresent and flatly lie about Christian Zionist positions.

Their efforts have not gone un-noticed in the Palestinian camp. The Supreme [Islamic] Judicial Council, an official organ of the Palestinian Authority, recently published an article by council member Hamed al-Tamimi insisting that Christian Zionists have “adopted Satan as God” and that “this destructive movement, together with her Zionist Jewish ally, comprises the greatest danger to world truth, justice and peace.” Tamimi’s statement cited an Arab priest who maintained that Christian Zionists should be “expelled by the World Church.”

It really is a grim day when Christians end up supporting the agenda of militant Islam and people who, by public plebiscite, have voted for the destruction of Israel.

This all goes to remind us that nothing is new under the sun, and indeed it harks back to the same sinister plan “democratically” hatched in Germany in the 1930s. It was unpopular then to stand alongside the Jews, as it is now. The silence of the Church in the 1930s was largely driven by theological notions that God was totally finished with the Jews as a nation, and indeed that they, by virtue of being Christ-killers, were beyond redemption. Sixty years later the same misguided theological system has again taken root. Left unchecked, it may well bear the same evil fruit!

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

The Divinity of Jesus

ICEJ Executive Director, Rev. Malcolm Hedding tackles one of the most crucial issues at the core of the Christian faith; Jesus' unique claim to be both man and God, validated throughout scripture starting from the opening pages of Genesis chapter 1.

The Divinity of Jesus Part I

The Divinity of Jesus Part II

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem