James D. G. Dunn on Gaza

James D. G. Dunn on Gaza August 3, 2014

Here’s a letter to the editor written to The Guardian by James D. G. Dunn, New Testament scholar and my doctoral supervisor, about the situation in Israel and Gaza:

Dear Sir,

I count myself as a supporter of the state of Israel, of its resettlement in its historic setting.   But I have been distressed not only at the news of what is currently happening in Gaza, but also at the unwillingness of reporters and commentators to bring into the discussion the history of Israel’s re-establishment.

2013_Dunn_Lecture  I never thought that even the relative precariousness of Israel’s position in the Middle East justified the degree to which the Israeli state has been manifestly unfaithful to what I regard as its own Torah teaching on righteousness and justice, as reinforced by the prophets. I used to assume that Deir Yassin was an anomaly in Israel’s otherwise glorious fight for statehood, until I read Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine some years ago. The fact that so few voices of eminent Israelites and Jews have been willing to admit the illegality and injustice of Israel’s West Bank settlement policy, pursued so relentlessly since 1967, I have found deeply disturbing.   I acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel’s concerns in building the security barrier, but am distressed that no Elijah-like protest (1 Kings 21) is to be heard or given publicity against the land-grab of the positioning of the barrier or at the abuse of traditional rights of Arab landowners and olive groves.   Nor can I defend the Hamas policy of firing rockets into Israel, but neither can I defend Israel’s policy of treating Gaza as little more than an extended prison camp.   We must surely set the current catastrophe within its historical context.

Since Israel owes the legitimacy of its status in the Middle East to a United Nations resolution, would it not be an obvious step forward for a properly representative UN panel to review the rights and wrongs of Israel’s expansion since 1948 and 1967, including the impact on the previous inhabitants of the region, and to recommend how Israel and Palestine might coexist both peacefully and to the mutual benefit of each other in the future.

Yours sincerely,

(Prof.) James D. G. Dunn

This is not the first time he has written about this topic. He had an opinion piece published in The Guardian in 2009.

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  • Jaco van Zyl
  • “Israel owes the legitimacy of its status in the Middle East to a United Nations resolution…” REALLY? That’s it? Wow!

    • Your comment is not self-explanatory. Perhaps you’d care to elaborate and make your point clear?

      • I consider that statement to be over-simplistic at least. Israel owes very little if anything to UN regarding the legitimacy of its status in the Middle East. First of all from historical reasons, then from many other reasons. BTW if we suppose to consider that statement to be true and real, why that legitimacy has been rejected by Palestinians from the very first day? What’s doing UN represent empty talks… and nothing more. They move papers. Israel is there because of David Ben Gurion and his brave people. And I believe that Israel is there because The One who write the history still has a plan with them. That’s my point.

        • joriss

          UN decided by majority of votes that Palestine would be a homeland for the Jews and that it would be divided in two parts, the other part for the Palestinians. Israël accepted, the Arabs did not.
          Ofcourse it was the merit of David Ben Gurion and many others in that time and in times before. But thanks to the resolution Israël got an internationally recognized status. So nobody can deny Israël has the right to live in their land. But still Hamas and others do.
          And yes, I do believe God is the One who is preparing the way for the fulfilment of the promises, given to Abraham, David, Maria, although we shouldn’t speculate about when or how far in the future. But the mere fact that Israël is a nation again after 1900 years of non-existence, is a miracle and a sign to the world.

          • UN issued that “decision” as a simple formality, unable to stop the process that already happened: the massive flood of Jewish people towards Palestine (despite the huge efforts to stop it done by the criminal British administration during the WWII and right after – google for “Struma”, please – as an example). That UN decision was just a proposal that never was accepted by the parts involved… so a proposal that is not accepted by both parts is a dead proposal. Israel exists there not because of UN but because Jewish people decided to not wait anymore solutions from others. When they were accepted as the 59th member of UN, Israel already owned twice as much land as was proposed by the United Nations. After hundreds of years of persecution, pogroms and extermination camps I do not believe that they were looking for international recognition but for a homeland. And they built it, not UN. That’s the miracle!

          • Gary

            “That’s the miracle!”…don’t get carried away. Israel was founded by war and killing. Just like every other country, past and present. U.S. included.

          • Frank
          • If you find it plausible that most displaced people and emigrants from the occupied territories (as well as other places such as Jaffa) left their homes and went into exile because they wanted to, you cannot have actually spoken to many Palestinians. Some may have done so, but the suggestion that most or all did would be immediately recognizable as ludicrous, even if we did not have the actual testimonies of Arabic speakers who left.

          • Gary

            Wow. Shmuel Katz? Quick scan of his articles…if he was a bird, he could only fly in a counterclockwise circle. He only has a right wing.

  • Michael Wilson

    The sad irony is many of the innocents in Gaza died because of articles like Dunn’s. Hamas hides its weapons in schools and other civilian sites in the hopes that the resultant casualties will get soft headed individuals like Dunn to condemn Israel and hopefully persuade the international community to throw the geoncidal fascist in Gaza a life line to save their weapons and tunnels. Dunn has done his part to ensure more children are killed. Fortunately Egypt and Israel did not stop until the rockets and tunnels were dismantled. Hopefully the Palastinians will realize Hamas has brought them nothing but death and poverty and expel them from power.

    • mattdabbs

      Pretty sure he criticized both sides,

      “Nor can I defend the Hamas policy of firing rockets into Israel, but
      neither can I defend Israel’s policy of treating Gaza as little more
      than an extended prison camp”

      • Michael Wilson

        Not critical enough. Dunn reminds me of confederate sympathisers that say that sure slavery was bad but then explain at length what a fiend Lincoln was an slavery wasn’ really that bad.

        • I don’t see the basis for the comparison. How exactly is being opposed to people being bombed in their homes and schools within what is essentially a giant prison camp equivalent to supporting slavery?

          • Michael Wilson

            Because apologist for slavery say they are opposed to Lincolns illegal arrest, say he trampled rights, was racist, could have avoided the war altogether, and that he commited war crimes, like Sherman’s destruction of Atlanta. These may gave all been bad things, but we ought not to lose sight of the horror of slavery. When people complain that Israel is bombing people in their homes or turning Gaza into a prison they make people lose sight of the horror of Hamas’ war aims and tactics. They lose sight of the fact that Gaza is embargoed to stop the importation of war material to fire at Isreali civilians like those Hamas has been firing at civilians in Israel. They lose sight of the horror of Hamas traing children to be suicide fighters and use civilians a screen to hide their terror weapons so that senstive souls will demand thst Israel let the rockets keep pouring in until their will is broken, economy ruined, and the door opened for Hamas to fulfil their compact for genocide. Dunn doesn’t want genocide and lots of confederate sympathisers don’t want slavery or JiM Crow, but it is for these that this argument is fueled. Believe me, the hard left understands what is at stake and the are ok because “thus all imperialist”

            Have you had a chance to read Sam Harris’ article? Tell me where he is wrong.

          • Harris’ article – despite the title – is quite critical of Israel, and its overall point is that Hamas is countless times worse. Few would disagree with that point. But if the United States had not merely created reservations for Native Americans but had walled and fenced them in and denied those confined there citizenship and freedom of movement outside those camps, and if the result had been that terrorist movements arose among the Native Americans, and if the US responded by shelling the reservations and killing many innocent people, would you honestly say that there is no one to blame in all this except the Native Americans?

          • Michael Wilson

            Yes, but it is proportional critcism. That is what is lacking from Dunn and progresive Christians. It is misleading.

            James, your order of events is reversed. The walls, fences, restictions, and embargoes gave come as a result of the inhumane attacks launched by Palestinan fighters. If Palestinians want the restictions removed, they should cooperate with Israel in eliminating Hamas personel, rocket sites and tunnels. I have seen no evidence to support the notion that Israel’s attacks are indiscriminate shelling like that used by Hamas. Were it so Israel could have influcted 10X as many civilian casualties and would not need to send in ground troops. The casualties are consistent with opperations to target Hamas artillery and infrastructure in a situation where the enemy attemps to use its own population as a screen.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “The walls, fences, restictions, and embargoes gave come as a result of
            the inhumane attacks launched by Palestinan fighters. If Palestinians
            want the restictions removed, they should cooperate with Israel in
            eliminating Hamas personnel, rocket sites and tunnels”


            Actually, the American Indians are a great example. The conditions at some reservations at the turn of the century was as bad or even worse than in Gaza, and we had done nothing but rape, murder, and lie to indigenous tribes for hundreds of years. In the 20th century, did you see some Natives band together and start bombing buses of school kids visiting Washington DC? If anyone had an excuse . . .

            The over-arching problem is a fundamentalist Arab Muslim culture which glorifies violence and is incredibly racist/anti-Semitic. Until a strong majority reject that message, there simply won’t be peace because peace is impossible without affirming the other’s right to exist.

          • While I appreciate your point in reference to the present, I would point out just how long ago the Native Americans had their land taken from them, and that violent struggle was very much part of the early response of some of them. I suspect that when as much time has passed for the Palestinians as for the Seminole, we’ll see better how similar or different things seem in the longer term.

          • Michael Wilson

            Hopefully they will come to use civilized means to achieve their ends the same way the Zionist attained their first state in the levantine territories of the Ottoman then British empires which the future Palestinians tried to wipe out. Until then I see no point in extending sovereignty to a nation dedicated to genocide and happy to murder their own citizens or any other in cold blood to achieve that genocide. I can’t understand why progressive Christians think we should.

          • Andrew Dowling

            There’s a difference between violent struggle and purposeful killing of civilians. I’ll concede the point that many Native American raids killed innocent women and children, but that was at a time when both sides were basically trying to wipe out the other completely. To claim Israel has been acting like the U.S. government did towards Indians circa 1820s-70s would be disingenuous . . the better analogy would be once the reservation system was dominant; and at that point you did not have bands of Sioux dynamiting wagons full of white children.

          • Michael Wilson

            Andrew, I think the anti-semitism of the Islamic world is the most important part of the equasion. Had the Turks settled Persians, Turks, or other Arabs in Palestine their would not have been this reation as we see with the Jews in Palestine. Even while the the Jews were not persecuted and evicted as in Europe, the Islamic world codified that Jews were second class citizens and those in Palestine still cannot accept Jews as legal and social equals as has happened in the west over the past few generations. But I have optimism that there as here the absurdity of racism will be exposed and the Islamic world is just a couple generations away from accepting Jews as equals.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Until the majority of Palestinians stop supporting groups that vow to eradicate all of the Jews and cheering the deaths of Jewish civilians in the streets, they IMO have conceded any moral authority.

    The Progressive community’s response to Israel and Palestine makes me sick as one who is very progressive. Yes, much of America’s support of Israel is based on ridiculous supercessionist theology . . yes, Israel has some Jewish hardliners who want to put the Palestinians under their boot . . but ultimately, whether you are indigenous peasants in Guatemalan villages, Irish Catholics in the ghettoes of Belfast, or Palestinians in Gaza, you have to decide whether your reaction to repression will be legitimate struggle or fundamentalist zealotry. So far, unlike my other two examples, Palestinian culture has embraced the latter . . political correctness be damned.

    It’s like (not a perfect analogy but bear with me) after the Civil War, if some African Americans had gotten together and formed a black state of Mississippi. Whites tried to invade and crush the state government, which defeats them and annexes a small white section of Alabama. Eventually Mississippi allows the small section to form their own government . .who promptly elect the Klu Klux Klan as their elected public administrators and policy makers, who vow to eradicate black people from all of North America. The KKK before and after getting elected also funds terror cells that blow up buses and cafes full of African American men, women, and children. So if the black state of Mississippi responds swiftly and strongly . . .who deserve the majority of the blame here?