Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders are Presbyterian missionaries working with Palestinian communities in the West Bank. They receive support from over two dozen Presbyterian churches across the United States. They also run a web site that is intensely hostile toward Israel and whose statements, as we shall see, occasionally cross the line into anti-Semitism.
The web site is large and contains much information about their activities as well as links to other sites they consider "interesting and informative." Their travel updates frequently refer to the hardships Palestinians endure as a result of Israeli security measures, but make no effort to explore the reasons for those measures.
The Sanders phrase their criticisms in extremely self-righteous language:
I am a preacher. I believe that I have been given gifts of insight, wisdom, and faith to teach people the ways and visions of truth. This is not a humanitarian ideal, but a burning in my heart that seeks expression. As with any good preacher, I know my context and I know my audience - an American audience who is constantly fed an unwholesome diet of shallow and often biased analysis. So we offer a vision that seeks to call Israel into accountability in the same way - and, quite frankly, more so - than the Palestinians have been called into accountability....
I believe with every fiber of my being that the Palestinians have every political, philosophical, moral, and theological right to resist the Israeli Occupation - it is unjust, cruel, dehumanizing, and illegal. I also believe that they have every political and philosophical right to do so by military means - for their oppression is military at its core. I also know that this is not only bad strategically, but, more importantly, totally wrong morally. And I will proclaim this from the top of the roofs in Zababdeh, Palestine, where God has placed me and has told me to preach these words of truth.(1)
These words - especially "and, quite frankly, more so" - attempt to justify a double standard in judging Israel. And while Marthame Sanders insists that God has told him to preach these words of truth, the truth here seems a bit muddled - how can the Palestinians have "every political and philosophical right" to resist the occupation "by military means" (which in current practice means terrorism), if it is "totally wrong morally"? And what exactly is "totally wrong morally": the Israeli occupation or the Palestinian resistance to it? The statement is not really clear. What exactly is it that he will, at God's instruction, "proclaim from the top of the roofs in Zababdeh"?
The Sanders also proudly proclaim they have "raised their voices"(2) to protest Israeli injustice. For example, they have written a number of very strident letters to members of the U.S. Congress condemning Israel but often omitting crucial details. The site contains several examples; I will mention just one.
In a letter to Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-Illinois) the Sanders write the following (the emphasis is theirs):
The Israeli Army (IDF) is preventing medical care for the ill and wounded; it has attacked and obstructed ambulances, medical personnel, hospitals, and humanitarian aid convoys....
ISRAEL'S RIGHT TO SELF-DEFENSE AND SECURITY IS NOT A BLANK CHECK TO COMMIT WAR CRIMES....
OUR NATION MUST ACT TO FORCE THE IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL OF THE IDF FORCES BEFORE THE HOPE FOR PEACE IS LOST FOREVER.(3)
This letter is remarkable. The shrillness of its tone substitutes emotional intensity for careful analysis. The solution it proposes is hopelessly simplistic. The U.S. Government has never proposed unilateral Israeli withdrawal as a solution to the conflict, for good reason. If Israel were to stage a complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territories without any Palestinian commitment to peace and the cessation of terrorism, the terrorists would establish a stronghold where they could conduct their activities without restraint. We already have ample evidence of this from what transpired during the Oslo years.
Indeed, the "WAR CRIMES" to which the Sanders refer are essentially measures Israel has taken to root out terrorists and their arms stockpiles and thus prevent horrendous attacks on its civilians. They occurred after a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed many innocent people. Yet the Sanders do not speak of Palestinian terrorism as "war crimes" or as crimes of any kind. To demand unilateral Israeli withdrawal without even mentioning any actions that Palestinians must take to curb terrorism betrays a very strong prejudice and an indifference to the lives of Israeli citizens.
Let us consider one specific example of these "WAR CRIMES," Israel's obstruction of Palestinian ambulances. As with other charges they make against Israel elsewhere, this one suffers from a crucial omission. What is omitted is the provocation for Israel's actions.
Palestinians have used ambulances to transport weapons as well as the terrorists who use them, in violation of international law. In one incident an ambulance driver ignored signals to stop, and only did so after Israeli soldiers fired warning shots. Inside the ambulance they found a sick child, but underneath the stretcher they found a suicide bomb belt and explosives that the driver was attempting to smuggle to Ramallah.(4) There have been other such incidents.(5)
Condemning Israel for stopping ambulances without mentioning Palestinian abuses of those ambulances is misleading and deceptive. It makes Israel's motives seem predatory when its actions are in fact defensive, whether or not one agrees with them. Israel does not target sick people. Palestinian terrorists, on the other hand, have always preyed on the most helpless civilians. Israel has never had any such policy, and taking these precautionary measures out of context is an attempt to put Israel on the level of the Palestinian terrorists, whose behavior flouts every rule of civilized society.
The Sanders also express their bias in a reckless use of language. In many places they accuse Israel of being "racist" and practicing "apartheid," a charge often incorporated into the worst Arab propaganda:
The Tayasir checkpoint is completely closed. Hamra is tougher than usual. Every passenger and every bag was being inspected when we arrived. The driver wanted us to insist on our VIP status as Americans - we were less anxious to jump places in line and to reinforce the Israeli apartheid any further.(6)
This is called Apartheid, the belief that the life of one person (of one race) is worth more than any number of people from another race. This was something our valiant brother in Christ Desmond Tutu fought to eliminate, as many devout Christians joined him in ending this idolatrous practice.(7)
We cannot help but be reminded of the battles for desegregation in America, or the struggles against Apartheid in South Africa.(8)
I do believe there is a particular promise of God to the people of Biblical Israel. But I fail to see how a modern, militaristic, unjust and racist nation replaces these people as heir to the promise.(9)
The apartheid charge is based on a flawed and superficial comparison with South Africa. It can easily be refuted. It distorts the facts and ignores the deep anti-Jewish racism that has motivated Arab rejectionism ever since Israel's founding and that has forced thousands of Jewish refugees to flee Arab countries. Arabs residing in Israel are at least citizens with the right to vote. There are no longer significant numbers of Jews living in Arab countries, and those who still do are deprived of such privileges. To call Israel "racist" while saying nothing of the anti-Jewish racism and incitement that permeate the Arab world today shows an insensitivity to racism directed against Jews that is more than just a double standard. It is deep hypocrisy, if not actual anti-Semitism.
Peace with Realism