My thoughts on “A Sunday Programme Special from Jerusalem”

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1. A Sunday Programme Special from Jerusalem. / Sun 13 May 2018, BBC Radio 4, 7:10AM (partial transcript, especially of the final conversation)

That was a really nice programme. What I liked was the variety of the perspectives to look at the story of the 70-ieth Anniversary of the State of Israel . However the program seems to be balanced more towards the Palestinian side. Evidences: 1) just one weak voice rejoicing in the State of Israel — Holocaust survivor. 2) Not enough time for the Jewish party to respond in the final conversation. Anyway this programme opened my eyes wider on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and BBC Radio 4 perspective on that. (AK)

P.S. If I would make the last interview, I would try to find a less noisy environment.

As Israel turns 70 this programme examines how those years have impacted on the three great Abrahamic faiths.

Edward Stourton meets Dr Micah Goodman, of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, to discuss the complex religious history of this land and the current mix of challenges and opportunities.

Edward visits Bethlehem to hear how the anniversary is viewed by Christians and Muslims living in the city.

Trevor Barnes reports on what the creation of the State of Israel has meant for British Jews.

Yolande Knell visits the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem to hear how Armenian Christians are trying to retain a presence in the city.

Orthodox Jewish comedian Yisrael Campbell talks religion, comedy and the ultra-Orthodox with Edward Stourton.

Robi Damelin and Ikhlas Shtayeh, members of the Parents Circle Families Forum, which is a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost family members due to the conflict, share their stories.

Ahmad Budeiri is a Palestinian Analyst and Nathan Jeffay is Associate Israel Correspondent for the Jewish Chronicle. They join Edward to discuss the changing religious landscape and what that means for wider social and political change.

1. Celebrating 1900 being stateless, having no sovereignty, no independence, and those were not great years and Jews have no great memories of those years. Their experiences being as lonely, many times persecuted and Jews were wondering around the world. After 70 years of independence they Jews expect something better than what they did during the 1900 years.

2. Holocaust’s remembrance?

Zionism which goal was to create the State of Israel started way before the Holocaust, meaning the conditions of living in exile, of being Stateless and having no sovereignty, Zionists understood from the very beginning: these are not sustainable conditions way before the Holocaust. The Holocaust proved Zionism was right, but the Holocaust started a lot after Zionism.

Both Ben Gurion and Herschel had secular mentality, they were not religious. Because for religiously minded Jews it was: “God will do it for us, we don’t have to do anything.”

Ben Gurion was not proud of the views themselves, but of the Scriptures as the book written in that land. 

Dr Micah Goodman: 

Relation between State and religion. The State of Israel enabled a secularisation of Jewish people in this sense. For Israeli, being Jewish is belonging to a nation, for other Jews outside of Israel, the first impulse many times it is, it’s not being a part of a nation, it’s being a part of a religion . So what is Judaism? Is it a religion or is it a people? Zionism enables Jews to identify with Judaism for the category of belonging to a people and not believing in a faith. In that sense Judaism is more about belonging, and less about believing. Zionism in the State of Israel has its tremendous impact on Judaism. It enabled Jews to identify with Judaism without necessarily believing in God and in Bible. So that is a tremendous impact of the State of Israel on Jewish identity. On the other hand thr Jewish State for many political reasons has certain levels of religious power. And it promotes through legislation religious practices and religious ideas. So the same State, that enables secularism philosophically is promoting Jewish law practically. So you are right, it is very complicated.


  1.  Guesthouse. Arab historian. Terrace. Bethlehem musk. 7 quarters. 6 of them of Christians of different denominations: Catholics, Orthodox and Armenian and 1 quarter of the Muslims. 15-17 century even before that, there were Muslims. Before 1948 – all the relations were quite harmonious. Especially in Bethlehem. 9:46 


What is your view on celebration of the 70-ieth anniversary of the State of Israel?

This is our catastrophe. The war will continue, whether we celebrate it or not.

The war of 1948 which is being remembered this coming week in Israel as the foundation of the State changed everything in Bethlehem.

The town emerged in Arab hands, but dozens of villagers between here and Jerusalem fell to the Israelis. And refugees, many of them Muslim poured in from the country sides. The camps built to look after them are still here. The hisha a sproul of concrete buildings on a hillside, houses some 17 000 people in a square kilometre. Many of them are the grandchildren of the original arrivals. But they are still classed as refugees.

Lidgy Alda: People they lost everything during 1948. They don’t have the land, work, they don’t have any agriculture whatever. No. They come and live in a very crowded spaces without anything.

Lidgy Alda is a Palestinian political activist and youth worker, from a family that arrived here 70 years ago during the Nakba, or catastrophe, as they call it.

Lidgy Alda: Now for people there is only one joy — how they can develop themselves, how they can educate themselves, how they can find another way, alternative way to continue their life. Before that they went to the school and many people they graduate, the get the Master, they get the PhD, whatever, study all the science.

Question from Edward Stourton: 11:26

And what keeps people here? I mean it’s a long time since 1948. Why do the people stay here? Particularly if they study and are getting degrees?

Lidgy Alda: Yeah. For me I believe in to stay at the camp, because it is my identity it is my hope, to retain back in my homeland. Even if this is a question I ask my mum: “Why are we staying here?” And she told me exactly clear: “If we come now we prefer to die, not to move. But we will not move from here. We have our rights to return to our homeland.”

The number of Christians in Bethlehem started shrinking decades ago. But those that remain say the the conditions are getting tougher in time and they are now a minority.

“We thanked God that we have a country that we can call our own.” (Holocaust survivor)

“We have affection to the Israel, but no to the modern State.”

Rabi Abram Pinto, an official spokesman for the ultra-orthodox Haredi Community leader in North London: “I look at Israel, the country that I love, the country were my children live, the country if the chips are down I will go to. But it doesn’t define, modern Israel doesn’t define my Judaism.” But others within his community go further, branding the modern State of Israel ungodly and to be shunned by those who would keep the Biblical commandments.

Rabi Abram Pinto: They feel that because it is not religious it will delay the coming of the Messiah. They don’t have any affinity to the modern State. And if they would have to leave the country, they would be more likely to go to New York. But I believe as the majority of the community probably share my view and they prefer Jerusalem to Brooklyn.

Armenia: Year 301 acceptance of Christianity, visitation of Jerusalem. Some stayed to live there. Ottoman empire. Killings of Arminians. Population on the decline now.

Why did you go all that long way? Means from Catholic to Reform Judaism, from Reform Judaism to Conservative Judaism, from Conservative Judaism to Orthodox Judaism.

Yisrael Campbell: “A way to be in relationship with God”: Irish-Catholic convert to orthodox Judaism.

Robi Damelin and Ikhlas Shtayeh

Robi Damelin: I lost David my son. He was killed by a Palestinian sniper. He was doing reserve duty. He was a student at the Tel Aviv University studying for his Masters at the Philosophy of education. 

“You might not not kill anyone in the name of my child!” Robi Damelin

That’s how she started working in Parents Circle Families Forum.

And the fact that occupation is killing the moral fibre of our country, and I love Israel, don’t make any mistake, I don’t become a Palestinian, but I think that if we don’t end this occupation, I hate to think of what is happening to our nation. And I think that much of the violence is the effects of the occupation…For me this is not a celebration until we settled the conflict.

Edward Stourton: Role the religion is playing in this conflict. I mean you are a Muslim, what do you think about the role of religion?

Ikhlas Shtayeh: In fact I am a secular woman. I am sorry to say that I became secular, because region, whether it is Islam or Judaism, has brought us to this big conflict, which every day makes us loose more and more people from both sides.

Edward Stourton: Robi, what about you?

Robi Damelin: Well, I am certainly not religious in any way. And the thing that disturbs me so much, and I think if your listeners would really listen to this message, they would stop taking sides,k being pro-Israel, or pro-Palestine, because actually what they are doing is importing our conflict into your countries and creating hatred between Jews and Muslims, and

I don’t think that this is about religion, our conflict, I think it is about land. And if your religion teaches you to hate, then choose another religion.

Edward Stourton: Robi Damelin, Ikhlas Shtayeh (Achlas Ashtaya)

Ahmad Budeiri Palestinian Analyst (Washington Post, BBC)

Nathan Jeffay. Israel Correspondent (Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Week – New York)

Edward Stourton: I’ll begin with you Nathan. In the beginning of the program we’ve been reminded that Zionism in its earliest form was pretty much a secular movement. Is it fair to say (with certain pressure from outside) that it acquired a much more religious character, the idea of the land of Israel and its relationship with the Bible, and the idea that this was given by God.

Nathan Jeffay: I think we see a move in 2 directions. So for some religious Jews they very much seeing great religious significance in establishment of the State of Israel and they will refer to it as the process of the redemption, a redemptive process that is going on. Whereas for many Israelis, they’ve become increasingly secular and relate to Judaism and the State of Israel in more cultural and more general terms in a very changing identity. So what we actually see is a process of polarisation I would say.

Edward Stourton: What about the Palestinian side? Because of course Hamas, which have risen to prominence in the recent years is an explicitly religious movement. Does that in a way reflect a mirror of what’s been going on on Israeli side?

Ahmad Budeiri: Well, it’s a bit different. The social fabrique of a Middle East especially Eastern Palestine, since the Crusades actually, until now, it was quite good. Jews, Muslims and Christians used to live here in a very lovely way. We had some problems here and there, but it was fine. But since the last 100 years, since the establishment of the Zionist movement, we started to feel that there is a shift that’s happening to the Jewish-Palestinians living here. And the ideas that came actually are not from the Middle East – Zionist idea, it came from Europe, after slaughter of the Jewish people in Europe, especially in Russia. And that idea started to change the Middle East and especially in Palestine. And things are now in a very difficult situation because of this strange ideas to the Middle East.

Edward Stourton: But my question is whether that has been mirrored on the Palestinian side by a more radical religious taint to Palestinian lives and Palestinian politics, Hamas being a very obvious reflection of that?

Ahmad Budeiri: Hamas is new. Hamas is like 30 years ago it was established. A new political party. And don’t forget it’s a political party. It’s not part of the whole social system…of course, of course. And in every country where religion is trying to win political party. It’s not the Palestinian aspiration. It’s not the Palestinian will to go to a religious issue.

Edward Stourton: What abouts… why that’s ordinary life here has become something of a battle ground between different religious perspectives on the way Israeli society should develop. I think in particularly of the whole, but some of the orthodox parties have over the way government runs? 39:46

Ahmad Budeiri: Yes. There are religious parties at government. This actually goes back to the time of the British, when there was kind of laborious system of proportional representation which emerged in the way that the Jewish people here would represent themselves to the British and that became Israel’s political system. So what we find here in the politics is quite sectarian. So Arab-Israeli citizens, that’s on in five Israelis are Arab tend to vote for Arab parties, religious Jews will tend to vote for religious parties. This turns things to political issues. Are stores going to be non-Sabbath? Who should be in control of conversion? Who can come into Judaism? And this does lead into a lot of tensions, you are absolutely right.

Edward Stourton: And is it also true that in some parts, well certainly Gaza if not the West Bank, it’s a more Conservative society on the Palestinian side because of religious influence?

Ahmad Budeiri: Wherever you will have poverty, wherever you have despair, you will find radicals, you will find right wing people to take over. Because the secular part of the Palestinian people now who chose to go through the peaceful means of negotiations which obviously failed, so now the right wing people, especially Hamas, they want to go to more theoretical and more metaphysics issues and speaking about the future, and how things will be very good in the future. But on the long term I do believe that the religious issue is not our problem in Palestine, because we had this religious issue for many many years. if things get back to normal I think the right wing people will disappear.

Edward Stourton: I suppose the reason I’m pursuing this with both of you, is part of the mix, the complicated mix is the holy places in the city where we are in. Do you think it will become more difficult to deal with? What’s the direction of the society?

Nathan Jeffay: Yes, I think that if we see radicalism and extremism kind of across the Arab world today, it is safe to say it is a result of a State of Israel, and to point a finger at Israel. You know there is an element which is related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but what we see here is a wider phenomenon to do with faith in the Middle East. So I think it’s important not just to see a linear…

Edward Stourton: I think this is an important point. Would you like to respond to that Ahmad?

Ahmad Budeiri: Yeah, I will respond. Especially after the Crusades, and I will be very frank…

Edward Stourton: No. more recently…

Ahmad Budeiri: I will tell you…I will tell you…When we had the Crusades — we had very radical Islam.

When the Crusades did ended we didn’t have any radical Islam for 1000 years.

Now why the problem is becoming a religious problem? Because the Zionist idea is taking the problem from a political…. which it used to be, a political problem, about land etc etc and now its talking about the Temple Mount, the religious places. And this is bringing people wherever you are come to talk about religious places and who is going to control and to destroy the social fabrique and traditions — people will become even more radical.

Edward Stourton: I’m afraid we are running hugely out of time and I’ve got to let Nathan respond to that. 

Nathan Jeffay: Yeah. I think that in reality if we talk about Temple Mount, we have a very unusual situation, where it’s actually the anniversary today, when Israel took control of Temple Mount. And I don’t think that at that time any people would have guessed that Temple Mount would have actually be put in control of an Islamic trust, which is the reality today, where Arab people have freedom of access and worship and Jewish people are more limited and their access to that. So simplifying it down I think… 

A Sunday Programme Special from Jerusalem.Sun 13 May 2018, BBC Radio 4, 7:10AM

Original source.