I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree
THERE’S an element of poignancy, and not a little irony in the opening lines of (Alfred) Joyce Kilmer’s poem, Trees, given the news that a deranged Christian organisation, God-TV, is conspiring with Israel to use a tree-planting programme to oust Bedouin Arabs from a village near Beersheeba, the Negev’s main city.
The JNF, an international non-profit organisation in charge of forestation and developing Jewish settlements in Israel, received $500,000 from God-TV to plant some of the trees, according to the channel’s filings to US tax authorities last year.
No one from God-TV was available for comment, but in a video posted on its website, Rory Alec, the channel’s co-founder, said he had begun fundraising for the forest after receiving “an instruction from God” a few years ago. He said God had told him:
Prepare the land for the return of my Son.
Standing next to the “God-TV Forest” sign, Alec thanked thousands of viewers for making donations to “sow a seed for God”, adding:
I tell you Jesus is coming back soon!
Part of the forest has been planted on land claimed by the Aturi tribe, whose village, al-Araqib, is nearby.
Al-Araqib has been demolished eight times in recent months by the Israeli police as officials increase the pressure on the 350 inhabitants to move to Rahat, an under-funded, government-planned township nearby.
Efforts to move 90,000 Bedouin off their lands close to Beersheba have been intensifying since 2003, when the Israeli government announced plans to move them into a handful of townships.
The Bedouin have resisted, complaining that the official communities are little more than urban reservations that languish at the bottom of the country’s social and economic tables.
Earlier this year, Joe Stork, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, criticised the repeated attempts by Israeli authorities to eradicate the village and displace its residents.
Tearing down an entire village and leaving its inhabitants homeless without exhausting all other options for settling long-standing land claims is outrageous.
Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, said the JNF, which has semi-governmental status in Israel, had set a “dangerous precedent” in accepting money from God-TV.
The Israeli authorities are playing with fire. This dispute between the Israeli government and the Bedouin is a long one that until now focused on the question of land rights. But the involvement of extremist Christian groups like God-TV is likely to turn this into a religious confrontation, and that will be much harder to resolve.
The channel, which has become one of the most popular global evangelical stations since its founding in Britain 15 years ago, claims a potential audience of up to a half-billion viewers, including 20 million in the United States.
Stephen Sizer, a British vicar and prominent critic of Christian Zionist groups, described God-TV as part of an evangelical movement that believes Israel’s establishment and expansion are bringing nearer the “end times” – or the moment when, according to Christians, Jesus will return for the second time.
Its followers, he added, believed that, by dispossessing Palestinians of their land and replacing them with Jews, Jesus’s return could be expedited.
Funding aliyah [Jewish immigration] and planting trees in the desert may look innocuous but it’s actually their way to side with the Israeli right’s hardline policies towards the Palestinian population.
Hat tip: Alan