FMC Blog: Free Speech Zone

Muslims Must Protect Arab and Middle Eastern Christians

Muslims Must Protect Arab Christians

By Kamal Nawash

The last 10 years have not been easy for Arab & Middle Eastern Christians. Numerous events, including the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Israel's continuous killing of Palestinians with the perceived support of the United States, have inspired the belief that the "Christian West" has declared war on the Muslims of the Middle East.

Unfortunately, some radical Muslims have attacked Christian Arabs in retaliation for America and the West's attacks on majority Muslim nations. Most notably, churches have been attacked in Egypt, Iraq and Syria by extremists who now view their Christian countrymen with suspicion because they share the same religion as the West.

Christians and their Churches have also been attacked in Israel. Christian lands have been confiscated by Israel at a disproportioned number and Christians have been prevented from returning to their native villages in Israel.

The relationship between Arab Christians and Muslims has not always been tense. In fact, the history of Christian/Muslim relations in the Arab world has been historically remarkable and beneficial for the entire world. In the early days of Islam, Arab and Middle Eastern Christians translated scholarly Greek philosophy and religious work into Arabic. This helped propel the Muslim nations into a global power with advances in science, mathematics, astronomy, and arts while Europe was blinded by the dark ages.

Moreover, in a major contribution to the world, Arab Christians translated scholarly Muslim work in the sciences; mathematics, astronomy, medicine and the humanities from Arabic into Latin and Greek, which helped kick off the European renaissance and transformed Europe into a leading world power. This wealth of knowledge could not have existed had it not been for the unique Islamic-Christian relationship.

Most of the Arab Muslims in countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have Christian ancestry. The family relations between Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians have historically produced unprecedented positive results. During the height of the Muslim Caliphate(s), it was not unusual for a Christian to be a commander of a majority Muslim army.

In modern times, Arab Christians continue to be leaders in the Arab world. In the early 20th century, the leaders of Arab nationalism were Christians. The founder of the Baath Party (Renaissance) in Iraq and Syria was a Christian named Michel Aflaq, who named his son Mohammad. Christians such as George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh were among the major leaders and founders of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

The second in command in Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a Christian by the name of Tarek Aziz. In Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine Christians continue to hold high positions in government. In Lebanon, Christians hold the highest position where the President of the country must be a Christian. Even Arab countries that are 100% Muslims rely heavily on Arab Christians. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and UAE depend heavily on Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian Christians as managers in commerce, construction, education, engineering, healthcare and media among other industries. In the United States, the founders of Arab American organizations which defend Muslims and advocate for Arab civil rights are Christians i.e. James Zogby, James Abourezk, Khalil Jahshan and Naila Asali, to name a few.

Thus, the recent attacks on Christian churches in Iraq, Syria and Egypt are an exception to a history where Christian-Muslim relations benefited each other and the world. Attacks on Arab & Middle Eastern Christians are absolutely unacceptable under any circumstance. Accordingly, it is the duty of every Muslim to protect and preserve Middle Eastern Christians whether they are Assyrian, Chaldean, Maronite, Copts, Catholic, Orthodox or any other denomination for these Christians are the natives of the Middle East and the extended family members of Arab and Middle Eastern Muslims.

As to Middle Eastern countries that are weak and unable to defend their Christian citizens, such as Iraq and Syria, Christians must be given the tools to defend themselves until the central governments are strong enough to protect all their citizens.

According to the Holy Qura'an (Quran), Muslims must defend and protect all people who live amongst them. Middle Eastern Christians don't just live with Muslims; they are family. The number of Christians in the Middle East has been dwindling, in part, due to attacks by radicals. This must be stopped. Middle Eastern Christians must be preserved because Christians have historically been essential to the prosperity of the Middle East. Muslim leaders must voice their support and offer their protection for their Christian neighbors as they would protect their own families.

Middle Eastern Christians are precious jewels in the Middle East. They were the first followers of Jesus Christ who Muslims believe was without sin and is in fact their messiah. Muslims refer to Jesus Christ as the son of the Virgin Mary who is considered by the Holy Qura'an as the purest woman in the history of mankind. Furthermore, Middle Eastern Churches are the first churches to be established anywhere in the world. The Middle East is the cradle of Christianity and Middle Eastern Christians are a living history.

Kamal Nawash, President
Free Muslims Coalition

Posted October 17, 2014 by Kamal Nawash | 1 Comments

A Christian's Perspective on Israel-Palestine

Pastor Howard Gardner

Bel Air Assembly of God

Friends, please understand from the start that I Have no background in either law, political science, business or economics. Please keep that in mind as you review this article and anticipate that there may be points that I make which will be highly naive and in need of correction. Still I think I may be able to present some points that may be significant. My main strengths are in the area of theology with some background in historical studies and sports medicine and, since religion plays a highly significant role in the Middle East, I think I might be able to make some valid points.

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To begin with, I am supportive of Kamal Nawash's assertion that a two state plan in the Mideast has been tried and failed often enough to justify trying another approach. When I expounded upon this in an article for Charisma Magazine in 2010, a Jewish lady lacerated me over her blog site; claiming that I was "attempting to destroy Israel." Her logic was that any sort of plan that did not completely segregate Israelis from Palestinians would ultimately result in Israel's destruction since they would immediately become a minority. Her logic failed to take into account (and perhaps I did not adequately state) that Kamal's "Two-State-One-Nation plan" is based on the same concept seen in the United States Senate by which smaller states are given the same number of representatives as larger states. Such a structure has worked well here in the U. S. I am not aware of situations in which citizens of smaller states have made accusations of discrimination against them on this basis. In fact our present and former Vice-Presidents Joe Biden and Dick Cheney are from small states (Delaware and Wyoming) and former President Clinton was from the smaller state of Arkansas.

Nonetheless, one cannot overlook the fact that the woman has a legitimate concern. Hebrew history is littered with examples of their being the subject of abuse by those in greater number. They have endured slavery in Egypt, forced breeding under Assyria, exile under Babylon, humiliation and forced apostasy under Greece, captivity under Rome and near extinction under Nazi Germany. When the number of Hebrews grew, Egypt attempted to kill off all the firstborn males and the Nazi's plotted their annihilation. To any reader questioning the validity of the Holocaust, all I can say is that, after the battle of Normandy, my father was sent into the Auschwitz prison camp and exposed to the thousands of Jewish corpses burned alive in Hitler's ovens. Dad would never go into detail about the horrors he saw but did often speak with despair about the cruelty that human beings have committed against one another.

It was after speaking with this lady that I began to lay greater emphasis on this aspect in Kamal's concept of "Two-State-One-Nation." Again, bear in mind that my qualifications do not lend to total certainty in this area but I feel it is the most logical plan I have yet seen as far as relieving the concern of minority status.

HOW CAN WE ALL JUST GET ALONG ???

Some years back one of our Church planting teams began investigating the inner city of Baltimore to establish the prospects for planting a Church in that area. One of the first revelations that would eventually stall such a project was the realization that the people on 51st Street had a tremendous animosity and dislike for the people on 61st Street just ten blocks away. Both consisted of basically white families with similar incomes but the fact that human beings rarely associate with other human beings unless they are brought together had caused a great divide between both groups. One lived in row homes with the front steps right out in front. The other had an alley way separating every third home and a front porch but no steps. Other than this, the only major distinction between them seemed to be a favoritism toward one political party over another. Getting both groups to come together proved to be quite a task and this is likely to be the case in combining Israel and Palestine into one nation. In the case of Baltimore, the most workable solution seemed to be to get the children to come together for fun times.

In July of 2011, I was invited down to Orlando, Florida to meet with Imam Muhammad Musri; head of the Islamic Society of Central Florida (ICSF). The invitation had come about mostly because of the enthusiasm of his secretary Dianah who insisted "The two of you just have to meet!" Imam Musri and I discussed the distinctions between Islam and Christianity and I was impressed by his humility and openness. Still what impressed me the most were two things I learned about ISCF and their school:

(1) On the day prior to our meeting, a rather hot day, Randall Terry and individuals from his "Operation Rescue" movement had camped outside their Mosque carrying anti-Muslim signs. "Killer Cult", "Religion of Death", "God hates Muslims" and "All Muslims Go to Hell" were phrases seen in the parking lot of the ISCF. Inside, Imam Musri's staff asked him "what should we do?" and he responded "Well, if I were out carrying a sign on a hot day, the one thing I would want most would be something cold to drink. Let's make some lemonade." So they did. They brought a large jug of ice cold lemonade out into the parking, sampled it themselves to show that it was not poison, and then began passing it out among the hot thirsty demonstrators. Most accepted and ultimately went away in embarrassment. I applauded this action greatly, comparing their actions to Jesus telling His followers to carry the Roman soldier's bag a second mile and ultimately turn their enemy into a friend.

(2) The other thing that so greatly impressed me about Imam Musri and his operation was their school "The Leader's Preparatory School" in Orlando. The school is jointly operated by Imam Musri together with a local Pastor and Rabbi. Students and faculty are made up of one third Muslim, one third Christian and one third Jewish children and adults. At the suggestion of the Rabbi, on the first day of second grade, students are divided into groups of three - one from each faith - and given the assignment of planting a tree. The thinking is that, if later on in life, they hear someone make the statement "You just can't work together with those people", then they will remark "Oh yes you can. I planted a tree with two of them back in elementary school."

With this in mind, consider the following analogy:

Some years back a stray cat took up residence on our back porch. It had apparently been abused as it was the most vicious animal I have ever encountered. The cat would snarl and claw at you if you just got within ten feet of it. So I left food on the porch which it accepted only after I had left. Then winter came and the temperature dropped well below freezing. The cat came up to me and began to shout "meow meow meow!" Now I do not speak a fluent cat but I know enough to understand that this meant "Help me, I', freezing!" So I let it come in the house. I gave it some milk which it accepted only after I was a safe distance away. Shortly afterwards I realized that the cat I had invited in was a pregnant mother-to-be. When the kittens came, I cared for them under the suspicious eye of the mother. And the kittens warmed up to me. Children never have the hatred and suspicion ground into them that are far too frequent in adults. Then one evening I was sitting on the sofa reading with one of the kittens curled up on my lap asleep. The mother sat at a distance away observing us. Finally she began to creep slowly toward us. She put her head on my knee and looked up. The she hopped up on the sofa beside me. Now I do not know if it is physically possible for a cat to smile but I honestly thought I saw her smile. Next she laid down on my lap beside the kitten. I stroked her fur and she began to purr. Finally she went to sleep on my lap. - - - This is how I feel we can win the war on terror. We will win the children over first. Some but not all of the adults will follow but what is most important is that we win over the children since they are the next generation.

It was these two events that helped inspire a recent children's video which we have put out in the hope of reaching the next generation. We will begin a mass promotion of it beginning May 20th. It is entitled "Bob and Larry Solve the Mideast Crisis" and centers around the misadventures of Veggie Tale characters Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Junior Asparagus and Laura the Carrot. A draft of it can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wK9dnJ2HC-U . We are hopeful that the video will be translated into Arabic, Hebrew, French and other languages and that other companies will produce similar spin-offs. We hope to persuade Al Jazeer Television, Music 24, Israeli Plus International and other stations to carry it as well. Since it is focused on children, the video is full of slapstick humor to hold their attention. Super hero Larry Boy (a take-off on Batman) sets out to unscramble an egg and to put the tooth paste back in the tube but is distracted by arch villains; the Pigeon, the Broker and the Fiddler. Meanwhile Junior and Laura are students at Imam Musri's school and given the tree-planting assignment. These events are interwoven with subtle inference about the importance of living together in peace and valuing all persons. Ultimately the Veggies seek the advice of the always wise Grandpa George who downplays the eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth concept that so many follow today and briefly describes Kamal's "Two-State-One-Nation plan.

We are hopeful that both Big Idea Productions and their parent company Classic Media will consent to upgrading the computer graphics and voice-overs. Currently Big Idea has expressed a willingness to do so but we have received no response from Classic Media.

Two songs come to mind in this regard: The first is Sandi Patti's "Love in Any Language and the second is B. J. Thomas' "Common Ground." The words to both are as follows:

LOVE IN ANY LANGUAGE: We teach the young our differences Yet look how we're the same We love to laugh, to dream our dreams We know the sting of pain .

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From Leningrad to Lexington The farmer loves his land And daddies all get misty-eyed To give their daughter's hand Oh, maybe when we realize How much there is to share We'll find too much in common To pretend it isn't there Though the rhetoric of government May keep us worlds apart There's no misinterpreting The language of the heart

Love in any language, straight from the heart pulls us all together, never apart.

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And once we learn to speak it, all the world will hear Love in any language, fluently spoken here

COMMON GROUND:I live down in a valley. You live on that mountain above. And although we live in different places, the common ground we share is love. If we met as total strangers and if we came from different lands and if we didn't speak the same language, Love's one thing we both would understand. Because love is our common ground

BUT RELIGION CAN SURELY DIVIDE US

It has been accurately claimed by atheist groups that religious differences have led to many destructive actions between various groups of people. Their solution is, I think, to basically throw the baby out with the bath water. Or, if you are not acquainted with that phrase, then how about the analogy of tearing down the house because a light bulb burned out? Do you see the point here? Religious faith can be either a great divider of the human race or it can be the one thing that puts meaning into the life of an individual and causes them to go out and do good for all people. So we don't want to throw it out but rather to fix in such a way as for it to accomplish the latter and not the former.

As I have already acknowledged, a purely theological (or religious) solution to the Mideast Crisis can never be successful. Such a plan would result in some sort of theocratic government; of which there are some currently in the Middle East. They are for the most part intolerant dictatorships and certainly are not the model we would wish to follow. (After all, if your neighbor's house fell down, would you hire the same contractor?). Past history certainly demonstrates the insufficiency of Theocracy as well. The Inquisition and the Crusades both arose from Papal Rome and are a huge embarrassment in the history of Christianity. While every theist (and I know that term does not apply to all people) will agree that God can never be either wrong or unjust, it is never wise to place an individual or individuals in the position of speaking for or representing God. Such power corrupts and ultimately results in the individual plagiarizing God and making self-serving proclamations that misrepresent Him. I should also note that certain Mideast nations have opted for the implementation of Sharia Law in governing. This I believe is equally unwise. For a more thorough evaluation of Sharia Law, see my article at http://openlettertoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/redda-and-sharia-law/

Nonetheless, religion (be it Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) plays a vital role in the lives of many or even most of those involved in the Mideast situation. With that in mind, let me make several points and suggestions concerning characteristics and often misunderstandings of the three Abrahamic religions which I think would better help arrive at a satisfactory solution:

THE EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH CONCEPT

One of the greatest obstacles to peace in the Middle East has been the reaction of militants who feel they are obeying the law of God as set forth in Exodus 21, the so-called "Eye-for-an-eye-tooth-for-a-tooth" law or the 'Law of Retaliation' - that is, " you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." This principle has been the determining factor in how one side will respond to the attacks of another. If they blow up one of our aircraft carriers then we blow up on of their aircraft carriers. The problem with this concept is threefold: (1) it fails to present any sort of peace initiative. Instead it simply provokes the other side to respond with similar violence in an unending cycle. (2) The passage is simply a quote from the ancient law code of the pagan king Hammurabi and has no relation to scriptural instruction. (3) It is a total misunderstanding of the passage in Exodus 21. In context the Hebrew people were traveling through the wilderness in lands already governed by secular law codes. What they are basically being told here is that, while you are on the other guy's property, you will be expected to abide by his laws. We still follow this principle today. The reader may in fact recall that back in the 90's a young American boy was arrested in Singapore for breaking car windows. He was tried in court and sentenced to be cained six times with a martial arts weapon. The young boy responded to the judge "Your honor, you can't have me cained. You see, I am an American and in America that is considered cruel and unusual punishment." In effect the judge responded " "This ain't America boy." You see, that is why the eye-for-an-eye rule was given to the Hebrew people. While in Hammurabi's back yard, they would be subject to it. But the moment they entered into the Promised Land, it became irrelevant. And it should still be irrelevant today. .

BUT DON'T THE TEXTS OF SCRIPTURE CALL FOR VIOLENT ACTS?

Here is a great misunderstanding and the unfortunate reason why so many people today adhere to no religion at all. Prominent atheist groups are quick to point out that both the Bible and the Quran call for attacks upon certain groups of people. In fact both the ancient Hebrews and the followers of Muhammad were told to completely annihilate specific groups of people. There is a reasonable principle at stake here. It would be completely out of character for a just and holy God to demand the killing of "innocent" people. So let's focus on the particular problem verses:

In the Bible, Numbers 31:7 & 8, Deuteronomy 7 and I Samuel 15:3 list occasions upon which the Hebrews are given instructions on how to deal with certain corrupt tribes; namely the Midianites, the Caananites and the Amalakites. These groups not only advocated the extermination of the Jews themselves but also the murder of their own first born child as a sacrifice to the pagan god Baal. That is to say that Baal-worshippers sacrificed their own children. Indeed ancient texts speak of the Caananites placing a new born baby on a hot iron and watching it die as a form of worship to Baal. And archaeological discoveries have confirmed these atrocities as having happened. The solution that God gives to the Hebrews concerning these tribes of people is to wipe them out - kill them - remove them from the face of the earth before they can kill one more innocent child.

Now let's look at the Quran. It is here that passages such as Surah 2:193 & 216, 5:33 & 51, 8:39 & 65, 9:5 & 29 advocate attacks upon infidels. And admittedly certain Islamic terrorist groups have used these passages to justify their attacks upon Christians and Jews. However both they and those accusing the Quran of being a predominately violent book are ignorant of the historical setting in which the passages were written. History tells of heretical groups known as the Quraish and the Collyridians who existed in Asia at the time. This latter group taught that three gods existed in the heavens. In the beginning a father god was said to have impregnated a goddess named Mary and their ensuing offspring was named Jesus. Muhammad is almost certainly describing these people in Surah 5:73, 75 and 116; passages often mistakenly seen as being directed to the Christian concept of the Trinity. It is known that the Quraish practiced human sacrifice in their worship and, because the Collyridian practice of offering cakes to Mary in worship seems to have evolved from the worship of Artemis and since the latter religion was also characterized by human sacrifice, it seems likely that the Collyridians sacrificed human beings as well. With this in mind, it would have seemed quite reasonable for Muhammad to have decreed war upon them. However, by contrast, he seems to have been at peace with the Christian community.

For more detail on this, see my debate with Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney at http://openlettertoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/islam-according-to-robert-spencer-fact-or-fiction/

When the above facts are taken into account, does it not seem likely that the devil himself has used confusion among both groups to promote violence when we should instead be working together in harmony?

BUT DIDN'T GOD GIVE THE LAND EXCLUSIVELY TO THE HEBREW PEOPLE?

This is an interesting question because the passages of Isaiah 51 and Ezekiel 37 & 38 do seem to predict a time in which the Jewish people will be allowed to return from captivity and become the sole occupants of the Holy Land. "Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." (Isaiah 51:11). These passages however overlook four important points:

(1) The inherent Jewishness of the Palestinian people which we will deal with directly

(2) The fact that both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 18 speak of the covenant between Israel and God as being conditional upon obedience; an obedience that obviously was not kept prior to the exile under Babylon

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(3) From a Christian Perspective, the fact that Jesus, in Matthew 21:43, said that the Hebrews had again violated this covenant and that the land was to be taken away from them and given to those who will bear its fruit (note that fruit in the Bible generally refers to the 'fruit of the Spirit' which is love and produces joy, peace, patience kindness and temperance). This prophecy came to pass in 70 A. D. when Titus and the Roman legionaires overran Jerusalem and sent the Jews into exile once again.

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(4) Some time back Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inferred that the 1948 approval of the Balfour Declaration and the ensuing establishment of the present governing system was actually a fulfillment of the prophecies of both Isaiah 51 and Ezekiel 37 & 38. While his words were certainly sincere and well intended, Mr.Netanyahu was actually echoing the position of pop-authors such as Hal Lindsey and John Hagee; neither of whom represent the position of the more prominent theologians. Rather the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel would seem to have been fulfilled in 445 B. C. by the proclamation of the Persian king Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1 & 2) and have no relation to the present situation.

ALLAH?

One of the most significant questions that comes up in the Christian community is as to whether or not Islamic people worship the same God as we do. Like Muslims, both Christians (with the exception of cultic groups such as the Mormons) and Jews are inherently monotheistic. However this simple point of agreement does not adequately address the question. The name "Allah" which Muslims frequently use in referencing God is often viewed as simply the name of an alien or mythical god such as Zeus, Apollo or Dionysius. Such is a false assumption as evidenced by the fact that Arabic translations of the Bible use the word Allah to simply mean "God." Genesis 1:1 begins "In the beginning Allah . . .", John 3:16 reads "For Allah so loved the world . . .", etc. Now it is true that the ancient Quraish tribe acknowledged the existence of a moon-god who was named Allah. This however was simply the result of the religion devolving from monotheism to polytheism over generations.

BARCLAY: "YOUR GOD IS MY DEVIL"

But this in itself does not fully answer the question. It can be argued that the best way of identifying an individual is not by a specific name but by a specific nature. For example the aforementioned Mormon cult acknowledges Jesus Christ as a historic individual but defines him as the brother of Lucifer and a spaceman from the planet Kolob. The Christian is quick to respond "That's not the Jesus of the Bible and not the One we serve" and they would be quite correct. This is a problem that transcends individual religions though. The famous theologian William Barclay once told a deviant man "Your god is my devil." Subsequently when certain individuals say something like "God told me to blow up a building full of people", it can be argued that the individual is simply using the term "God" to identify (and often justify) some evil desire from within and that this is not the true God spoken of in scripture.

It is here that I think we need a very basic description as to the true attributes of God. And this is dangerous because we approach the same errors made by the leaders of various Theocracies who have attempted to speak for God. Nonetheless, and bear in mind that I am speaking through the eyes of a Christian, I think we can view the nature of God through basic qualities outlined jointly in I John 4:8 and I Corinthians 13: The former tells us that "God is Love"; that is to say that His very nature is one of Agape or unconditional love. I Corinthians 13 then gives us a basic definition of love:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

But please don' t think that this same description of God's nature is absent in either Judaism or Islam. Within Judaism, Deuteronomy 7:7-13 speaks of God's love for the people of Israel. Isaiah 63:9 speaks of God saving saving His people due to His love for them. Often called the Hymnal of Judaism, the book of Psalms speaks over and over about the love and mercy of God. See for example Psalm 57:3, 59:10, 62:12, 86:13, 100:5 and 106:1.

Nor is it absent in Islam. Consider for example Surahs 2:195 & 222, 3:76, 134, 146. 148 & 159, 5:13, 42 & 195, 9:4, 7 & 108, 49:9, 60:8 and 61:4.

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In fact human nature itself seems to have an unconditional law written on its heart; that being that love always leads us to the answers of life regardless of what the question is.

JUST WHO ARE THE JEWS?

Just who in fact the Jewish people are is quite an important question to ask. Scriptures held sacred by all three faiths emphasize that the Biblical Hebrews were descendants of the Patriarch Abraham upon whom the promise was given that he would be the father of many nations and that the Promised land would be their property:

"On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates- the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites." (Genesis 15:18-20)

Then Allah said to the Israelites: 'Dwell in this land [the Land of Israel]. When the promise of the hereafter [End of Days] comes to be fulfilled, Allah shall assemble you all together in the Land of Israel." (Surah 17:101)

Question has been asked though as to whether or not the people comprising the current nation of Israel are in fact the Hebrews of scripture.

It has been asserted that the modern day nation of Israel consists not of descendants of the Biblical Hebrews but rather of the ancient Turkish people known as the Khazars. While the vast majority of Khazars did indeed opt for conversion to Judaism, recent DNA testing indicates that no more than 12% of the present-day

Israelis bear any genealogical relation to the Khazars. A 2005 study concluded that "if the R-M17 chromosomes in Ashkenazi Jews do indeed represent the vestiges of the mysterious Khazars then, according to our data, this contribution was limited to either a single founder or a few closely related men, and does not exceed 12% of the present-day Ashkenazim (Nebel, Filon, Brinkmann, Majumber, Faerman & Oppenheim The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East; "The American Journal of Human Genetics 2001, volume 69, #5 pp. 1095-1112. See also Nebel, Filon, Faerman, Soodyall & Oppenheim Y Chromosome For a Founder Effect in Ashkenazi Jews "European Journal of Human Genetics 2005 #13, pp. 388-391).

So, since it is quite hard to argue with DNA evidence (present day crime labs assert that DNA evidence either pardoning or implicating criminal suspects is of greater than 99.99 % accuracy), it should be logical to presume that the vast majority of present day Israelis are in fact descendants of Abraham; the very one to whom the promise was given.

JUST WHO ARE THE PALESTINIANS?

This is an equally important question. Who are these people who are called Palestinians? Are they themselves descendants of Abraham or just opportunists who came into the land when it became available? Well here again the science of DNA seems to provide us with an answer and it is a shocking one to many people throughout the Mideast; including many Palestinians and Israelis themselves.

An Israeli scientist, Tzvi MiSinai, has examined the DNA evidence and concluded that present day Palestinians are actually Jewish themselves. Again, this is news that has not been readily accepted by either side. Those maintaining that the land belongs exclusively to Israel are quite repulsed by the implication that the Palestinians might be their own blood relatives and thus equally entitled to live in the land. And the Jerusalem Post has printed an extensive number of editorials in opposition to Tzvi. And in addition, many Palestinians find it objectionable and even a bit scary that they might be of Jewish ancestry. The reason for this is that, since the Oslo period, anti-Semitism has become very widespread. Slurs like "Jews are the sons of pigs and monkeys, are colonialist invaders, or are trying to harm the Palestinians through poisoned wells, specially-bred rats or aphrodisiacal chewing gum" are regularly featured in public discourse. Calls for genocide are distressingly common, as in a recent hadith entitled the Hamas Charter which states "The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him."

So there is opposition coming from both sides. But again, DNA evidence is quite difficult to argue with.

But how could Palestinians possibly be of Jewish ancestry? I believe I know the answer. There is a specific portion of ancient Israel that history seems to have lost track of; that being the Jewish Christians described as being quite numerous in the Book of Acts and the epistles of Paul. Whatever became of these converts? Again, I believe I know the answer.

In the first century AD, there was a great anticipation in the Jewish community regarding the promised Messiah of scripture Who it was hoped would deliver them from Roman rule. However there was also controversy among the Jewish community as to just what sort of Messiah to expect . Many, particularly from within the Zionist movement, wanted an all out war with Rome and an ultimate declaration of independence. So they rallied behind would-be messiahs such as Barabbas. Others felt that such a war could not be won and the teachings of Jesus about turning an enemy into a friend had great appeal. This latter group would eventually combine with many from the Gentile community to comprise the Christian Church. With Jesus now departed, they would select James, a disciple of Jesus to head the new assembly. Herod Agrippa I, who had been given authority to approve any new High priest of Judaism, responded by having James beheaded. This gave added incentive to those seeking a military messiah and the rift continued into the second century. By 135, an Emperor by the name of Hadrian had ascended to the Roman throne. Seeing that he was a rather likeable sort of of fellow, the Jews requested that Hadrian give them permission to reinhabit the land. He responded favorably but insisted that they would have to share the land with the Philistines; a giant warrior race that had since inhabited the land. Hadrian even offered to have his own priests of Jupiter rebuild the Temple and dedicate it. Having pagans rebuild the temple was acceptable to none of the Jews and sharing the land with the Philistines was repugnant to the Zionist fraction of Israel. So Hadrian offered to build a duplicate of Jerusalem in a portion of Ethiopia which he now controlled. Apparently a small segment of Jews accepted this offer as DNA tests indicate that a bedouin tribe in Ethiopia with Jewish cultural practices is indeed of Jewish descent. But it was not acceptable to the majority of those in Judea.

Finally in 135 AD, the Zionists felt they had located a messiah who would be more to their liking. A leader by the name of bar Khoba promised an all out war with Rome and eventual independence from both Rome and the Philistines. However the Jewish Christians still regarded Jesus as their Messiah and anticipated His ultimate return. Not wanting to be a part of any movement declaring bar Khoba as Messiah, they apparently departed to both Jordan and Morocco. It was at this point that Hadrian became incensed. He ordered an all out attack on the Zionists. As had been feared, the Romans were too heavily armored and proved victorious. Bar Khoba was killed as were his two sons. And Hadrian declared the land to be the exclusive property of Philistia. He renamed the land "Palestine"; which means "land of the Philistines." All stayed this way until 1270 when the Mamluk Sultan Baybars lost patience with the warrior race of Philistines and had them wiped out. They do not exist as a people anymore (a fulfillment of Jeremiah 47:2-5 and Zephaniah 2:5).

With the Philistines out of the way and the Zionists still banned from the land, descendants of the Jewish Christians apparently decided to migrate from Jordan and Morocco back into Jerusalem. Since the land was still known as Palestine, these new settlers became known not as Jewish Christians but a Palestinians. However by now the horrors of the crusades, orchestrated by Papal Rome and people like Godfrey and Raymond of Touslouse, had left many of them convinced that the cross was a symbol of evil. This same feeling was shared by the Muslim community as a whole (Raymond had made a practice of apprehending Muslim families, having them bound hands and feet and then burning their homes to the ground with them trapped inside; all of this in the shadow of a large crucifix.). If there was a crucifix in the sky, it meant ensuing danger. And again, the cross became a symbol of evil. I would personally maintain that it was at this point that Surah 4:157 in the Quran was reinterpreted to imply that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus had never occurred but rather had simply appeared as such. The verse reads "And for claiming that they killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of GOD. In fact, they never killed him - they were made to think that they did . . . for certain they never killed him." Arabic linguists have informed us that the verse is actually a paraphrase of Jesus' statement "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above" (John 19:11) but was likely reinterpreted after the horrors of the crusades. Regardless, apparently a large number of these descendants of Jewish Christians converted to Islam as a result.

Now, as noted, it seems highly unlikely that the present generation of Palestinians or Israelis will accept the DNA findings and accept the apparent Jewishness of the Palestinians. In the United States, even after a Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, it took a generation or two before the black man was considered human. Efforts such as the Jim Crow Laws were initiated in order to restrict blacks from voting. And "whites only" signs were placed on restaurants and even restrooms. As late as 1951, when Jackie Robinson became the first black to play major league baseball, one of his own teammates remarked "I really don't think negros should be considered human."

One thing that will help in speeding up this process would be certain forms of job incentives being given to employers. At present a great many Israeli companies opt to hire European workers for positions which could easily be filled by Palestinians. Thus the unemployment rate among Palestinians is unduly high. Job incentives would not only relive this problem but also help to lessen tensions between both parties. Having an occupation ultimately results in an individual having a higher sense of self-esteem and a more patriotic loyalty to the nation itself. Now please do not confuse the term "self-esteem" with "pride." Self-esteem says "I may make mistakes but am trying hard and doing my best. Therefore I deserve your respect and support." Pride, on the other hand, says "I am better than you are." Pride is always self-serving and results in a "what's in it for me?" attitude. Self-esteem results in one having enough confidence to support and build up the other individual. The individual with self-esteem will be far more likely to both support and defend a nation to which he or she owes their livelihood and to demonstrate the aforementioned fruit of the spirit in every day life..

One other aspect that we would recommend being initiated into the new Israel/Palestinian government would be to avoid a mistake in wording made by our forefathers here in the United States. That being the phrase in our Constitution that "All MEN are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable right; among them life liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This statement echoed sentiments from the former Magna Carta document. However the term "All men"; while it's intended purpose was "ALL mankind" was later taken to infer some sort of racial or gender inferiority among slaves, women and unborn children. Indeed one court judge proclaimed that the black slave Dred Scott was only 3/5 of a human being. Also as a result women were initially denied voting rights and often found themselves in the position of performing the same work task with identical tenure to men while at the same time receiving lower wages. Further, an unborn child was deemed "only a potential human being" with no such right to even life itself. Thankfully our Constitution allows for amendments to be made and people such as Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony were able to make such strides as to insure equal rights upon woman and to deem slavery illegal. Presently the unborn child still has no legal status regarding life however informed consent bills have been enacted in 22 states and women, upon viewing their sonograms, are electing in mass numbers to forego an abortion.

In time, we would hope that things such as the "Bob & Larry" project and Imam Musri's Leader's Preparatory School will change all of that. But for the present, it would seem that the Nawash plan of two states combined into one nation with all having equality and equal representation regardless of population size would seem to be the most and perhaps the only workable solution to bring peace to the Mideast. Since we are far removed from the present situation - Bel Air Assembly of God is two continents and an ocean apart from Israel/Palestine - there are areas in our proposal which are likely to be justifiably regarded as naive. From our perspective though, the Nawash Plan would seem to be the best way to proceed forward.

Posted May 10, 2013 by Kamal Nawash | 375 Comments

Proposal for Ending the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict

UNITED FEDERATION OF ISRAEL/PALESTINE

Preamble

This is a road map for creating a Cooperative Union of Israel/Palestine. This proposal allows Israelis and Palestinians to pursue a shared future based on a compromise arrangement that give both Israelis and Palestinians most of what they would have if they had separate an independent countries but organized in a manner that allows them to function as a united country to reap the benefits of a union that guarantees permanent peace and prosperity for Jews and Palestinians. The basis of the proposed Union shall be a federation that ensures a Jewish state and a Palestinian state with security, equality and respect for all citizens regardless of religion, gender, race or ethnicity.

Currently, there are approximately four (4) million Palestinians (Muslims and Christians) living in areas controlled by Israel (West-Bank and Gaza), who do not hold Israeli citizenship. On the other hand, there are 750,000 Jews who live in the West Bank and are Israeli citizens. There are approximately six million Jews in Israel, and 1.5 million Palestinians in Israel proper who hold Israeli citizenship. Thus, there are 6 million Jews and 5.5 million Palestinians in Israel/Palestine.

These demographic statistics are an essential element of the conflict. While Israel controls the borders of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians (non-Jews) living there have no rights in Israel and are unable to travel freely while settlers living in the same place are able to travel and have full rights in Israel. According to Israelis, the unequal treatment is due to security concerns and the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state even though Israel, West Bank & Gaza are not 100% Jewish.

When Israel became an independent country, many Jews believed that the non-Jewish demographic dilemma was solved after most Palestinians in Israel either ran away or were kicked out of their homes. However, the demographic dilemma reemerged 29 years later when, as a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza which substantially increased the number of Palestinians under Israel's control.

Currently, Israel isolates the Palestinians behind huge walls without freedom of movement, employment or commerce. Since 1967, Israel has exercised control over Palestine as if it was an Israeli province but treats its Palestinian residents as if they were citizens of a foreign country. This contradiction has driven Palestinians to seek statehood and total independence from Israel.

Two State Solution

Over the last 30 years, the world has pursued the two state (two country) solution without much success. However, contrary to common belief, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis are to blame for the failure of the two state solution. The two state solution failed because the concept of creating two separate countries by dividing Israel/Palestine is very difficult for Israelis and Palestinians. It is a fact that Israelis and Palestinians have religious, historical and emotional attachments to every square inch of the land that includes Israel and Palestine and neither side is eager to embrace permanent amputation. Practically speaking, it should be obvious that there is not enough room to support two separate countries that are contiguous, and viable.

Currently, the Palestinian Authority is requesting an independent state in the West Bank & Gaza, which are approximately 23% of original Palestine. Since 1948, Palestinians have wanted to return to all of Palestine which includes Israel. It was only in the 1980s that some Palestinians began asking for a state in the West Bank & Gaza. However, this caused a split between Palestinians and is unlikely to be accepted by a sustainable majority in perpetuity.

Many Israelis also reject a Palestinian state in the West Bank& Gaza. They argue that withdrawing from the West Bank & Gaza would leave Israel vulnerable while others argue that the West Bank & Gaza are integral parts of Israel and Palestinians should move to Jordan.

Many Israelis & Palestinians believe that Israel/Palestine is indivisible and both claim Jerusalem. Thus, the two state solution requires compromises that neither side can make sincerely. This is why the authors of this proposal have devised a plan based on a shared future in the form of two states one country organized as a federation similar to the United States of America and the European Union. The following proposal was designed by Palestinians and Jews over many years.

ROADMAP

TWO STATES = ONE COUNTRY

The Roadmap envisions one country designed as a federation of two States, Israel and Palestine, where each State contributes 50% to the federal parliament regardless of population. Both states shall have sovereignty within their borders.

This road map envisions two people sharing one united country where each side is guaranteed equality, freedom, civil rights and security. The reference to"States" is not to two independent countries but rather two sovereign entities similar to New York and New Jersey linked together to form one country similar to the United States of America.

The road map envisions several tiers of government: federal, State and municipal. The federal government will have limited powers that are given to it by the constitution.

PHYSICAL AND POLITICAL BOUNDARIES

This proposal envisions no physical barriers between states. However, administration of a federation requires legal boundaries to determine the jurisdiction of State government and to give people the security and satisfaction that comes from being in a Jewish or Palestinian State.

As to the boundaries of the states, this should be easy to agree to since boundaries do not affect freedom of movement or commerce. As a default position the boundaries should be the 1967 lines. However, in limited circumstances, the borders may be based on the location of the people. For example, many Israelis want a state with a Jewish super majority. This can be achieved by including borderline Palestinian Israeli cities such as Um Alfahim to the legal boundaries of Palestine which would increase the percentage of Jews in the State of Israel and Palestinians in Palestine without curtailing the rights or privileges of the people of Um Alfahim. If this transfer occurs, then the people from the borderline cities and towns of Israel shall maintain all the privileges and services they currently have in Israel, which includes but not limited to healthcare, unemployment benefits and access to universities, for a period of 30 years after the transfer. Thus, the only consequence of the transfer is that they will no longer be able to vote in the state elections of Israel. All else remains the same.

Despite the possibility of shifting borders to create super majorities, this proposal envisions a country where the states have a substantial number of people from the other side. For example, all the settlers should remain part of Palestine and most Palestinians in Israel should remain part of Israel. This type of demographic diversity is necessary for a shared future. It does not serve anyone to have states with 100% Jews or 100% Palestinians.

FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Federal

The federal parliament shall be divided 50/50 regardless of population, (similar to the U.S. Senate). Israel and Palestine will each contribute 50% to the federal parliament regardless of which State Jews and Palestinians choose to live. For most Palestinians and Jews, this equation works out fine because each resident has a representative in the federal parliament who represents their interest and will be of their ethnicity. However, for Jewish settlers or Palestinian citizens of Israel, they get an additional representative. For example, a settler will have his general Jewish identity represented by the 50% Jewish parliament and a specific Jewish Parliamentarian that he can approach for assistance. In addition, the settler may approach his Palestinian representative to the federal parliament if he needs a service. The settler's actual representative is a Palestinian but as a safeguard there will also have a Jewish representative who is assigned to a particular settlement. The same rule applies to Palestinians in Israel.

The purpose of the 50/50 split is to provide each side with security, equality and to make certain that the legislature will not discriminate against a particular state or group and to generally legislate for the best interest of the country as a whole. Consequently, as an added safeguard, legislation will require a minimum of 55% of the Parliament to pass.

The federal government shall have specific authority that is given to it by the constitution. It will not interfere with states governments but will guarantee certain fundamental rights for all people. One of the responsibilities shall be the protection of any group from violence. As with any part of the world, there may be a small group who rejects a peace agreement. The goal is to have a peace agreement sincerely accepted by the majority so that the federal government and the governments of Israel and Palestine will have the legitimacy to jointly fight and prevent violence from any militia or terrorist group.

The Federal government shall also use its resources to assist Palestine in building its infrastructure and of implementing joint construction and engineering projects to connect the highways, railways and other infrastructure of Israel and Palestine.

State Government

All citizens of a state shall have the right to vote and run for public office regardless of religion. The state government shall be responsible for the general welfare of the citizens of the state. Thus, the governments of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine shall have near absolute authority to deal with all issues and legislation that concerns the state and it citizens.

The state governments shall assume special responsibility to protect its minorities, especially in the early years of the union. There must be a zero tolerance to any bigotry and violence directed against any religious, racial or ethnic minority in Israel or Palestine.

Moreover, states may not discriminate against any citizen of the federation when it comes to healthcare or colleges and universities. All citizens of the federation shall have access to all public health facilities, colleges and universities in any of the states.

Municipalities

As to municipal elections, they will be based on man/one vote. There will be no limits on any community in municipal parliaments. However, municipal districts may be created around specific community concentrations. For example, Jews who live in Bethlehem or Palestinians who live in Tel Aviv shall have the right to vote and run for municipal elections regardless of their religion. However, community concentrations such as the Har Homa Jewish settlement which falls within the jurisdiction of Bethlehem or Beit Sahour may become their own municipality since they are large and 100% Jewish. In other words, Har Homa will be allowed to run itself. Most importantly, Municipal governments may not discriminate against residents based on religion, ethnicity or gender. Municipalities must provide all residents with equal services. The federal, state and municipal governments shall have the authority to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

President or Prime Minster

The federal President or Prime Minister shall be selected by the parliament. Having the parliament make the selection is appropriate because a 50/50 parliament is more likely to produce a leader who will strive to serve all the people rather than just his community and will ensure that no community dominates the top office.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem shall be the Capital of the federation and there shall be no restrictions on the number of people who travel, visit or reside in Jerusalem. The size of Jerusalem shall either remain the same or even expanded to include some of the Jewish settlements. This approach may make it easier to negotiate borders because Palestinians cannot give up one more inch from the West Bank and Gaza unless it is for the maintenance or expansion of Jerusalem, which would be more acceptable since Jerusalem is their capitol and is an open city. With this solution Jerusalem will remain an undivided city forever.

Police (Municipal, State and Federal)

There may be municipal police, State police, federal police, a national guard and a federal military. All police and military institutions shall specific responsibilities to ensure no violence is ever committed against any minority or group in any of the states.

Federal

The federal police shall have specific federal jurisdiction throughout the entire country and shall enforce laws that are within the jurisdiction of the federal government. The federal government will recruit and train federal police from both communities, preferably in equal numbers. In addition to federal jurisdiction, the federal police shall have resources to fight and prevent attacks against any religious community, group or ethnicity.

There shall be State police and municipal police. The jurisdiction of the State police shall have general police powers and cover the entire State it belongs to and the municipal police shall have general police powers but limited to the municipality. Both municipal and state police forces shall be responsible for fighting and preventing attacks against any religious or ethnic group.

Federal Military and State National Guard

National Guard

The ideal situation will be for the federation to have one federal military. However, in light of the current mistrust, the states may want a State national guard to feel secure in the early years of the union. Thus, Israel and Palestine may keep their existing armed forces for their state only and at the same time develop a joint federal military made up of Palestinians and Israelis.

Similar to other police forces, national guards shall have resources to fight and prevent attacks against any religious community, group or ethnicity. In limited circumstances, national guards may cross state boundaries to protect their coreligionists in the other state from terrorism or other violence.

Federal military

The Federal military should be made up of new recruits, whereby the recruits are developed into a professional army over the years and decades. To the extent possible, the federal government shall recruit military personnel on a one to one basis, with equal numbers of Palestinians and Jews.The goal of the federal military is to protect the country from external forces. The federal military shall also have authority to fight and prevent attacks against any religious community, group or ethnicity anywhere in the union.

MIGRATION AND RIGHT OF RETURN

The federation shall accept the return of all Jews and Palestinians from all over the world. However, to avoid sudden changes in demographics the states may impose limitations. Thus, while the basis of the country is the free movement of people, to reduce the anxiety from sudden changes in demographics, a state may limit the number of people who emigrate from one State to the other for permanent residency. However, the state cannot limit the number to less than 50,000 per year or another agreed upon number. The 50,000 limit shall NOT apply to labor or travel for anything other than permanent residency. In addition, each State shall have the right to insist that the new returnees first reside as permanent resident in their respective State for five years before seeking to become permanent residents of the other state. For example, a Palestinian who is a resident of the United States may want to return to Israel/Palestine. The family of that Palestinian may have originated from Haifa in 1948 which is in Israel. He shall have the right to return to Palestine at any time. He shall have the right to travel and stay in Haifa at any time. However, if he wants to reside in Haifa permanently, the state of Israel shall have the right to insist that he first reside in Palestine for five years before seeking to move to Haifa as a permanent resident.

Economy

There shall be NO restrictions on interstate commerce within the federation. This means that the federation shall act as one economy in every respect. No State may favor its industry to the detriment of the industry of the other State. No State may restrict the flow of goods from the other State or tax goods from the other State differently than it taxes goods of its own State.

Israel/Palestine shall have the same currency, no tariffs and free trade. The job of the federation shall be to facilitate jobs and economic prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians. This should be easy to do. A nation that is the birth place of western civilization and immensely revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims, tourism alone should guarantee a healthy economy. However, the economy will have more than tourism to secure its prosperity. A union at peace with its neighbors shall have unlimited opportunities. The technical know-how of its people, the available capital in the Arab world and a geography that is at the intersection of three continents can produce an economic power house that is second to none on a per capita basis.

Courts and state/federal law

The States shall have general governing powers to enact laws. The States may use religion as a basis for law in family matters or any other matter that the people of the State feel that religion plays a role. However, a State may not compel religion or religious based laws on any resident of the State. Each resident of each State shall have the right to opt out of religious based laws and rely on secular law by seeking the jurisdiction of the federal courts.

The federal courts shall have parallel jurisdiction to State courts but the federal courts shall only apply secular law which is the law of the federal government. The residents of the federation shall have the right to submit their legal matters to the State courts or the federal courts. For example, a Muslim, Christian or Jew who wants a divorce may file in State court which may apply Islamic, Christian or Jewish law. However, if she wants to submit her dispute to the secular federal court, she shall have that right.

EDUCATION REFORM

There shall be a committee on education reform to study the school curriculums of the States. The curriculum must encourage respect among the religions and among Israelis and Palestinians.

COMPENSATION AND REPARATION

To help Palestinian refugees reverse the economic loss from being stateless, the federation shall at a minimum assist Palestinians by allowing all qualified students to get a college education at no cost and allow Palestinians to purchase housing with a 30 year, zero interest loan. Palestinians, whose land was confiscated after 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza, must be compensated using the current fair market value of the land.

Both states must allow citizens of the other state to use their public health and education facilities on the same terms as their own citizens.

The federation must also contribute to building the infrastructure of the Palestinian state.

Words of empathy and understanding

To summarize, this roadmap requests the Palestinians to reach out to their Israeli and Jewish partners and say:

Palestinian to Israeli

"We understand why the state of Israel is important to you. We understand that the Jews - as a people- have a right to self-determination and to rule themselves under their own national institutions. We are fully aware of the persecution that Jews suffered throughout history and the necessity of having a safe haven for Jews. We mourn your losses, we are pained by your pain and we want a future with no losses and no pain due to this conflict. We recognize that because of desperation and self-defense, both sides committed atrocities that should never be repeated. We also understand that Jews have historical and religious ties to the land of Israel/Palestine. We believe that every Jew shall have the right to move to Israel and become a citizen immediately. We also welcome Jews to live with us in our cities, towns and villages. We want the Palestinians and Israelis to live together as neighbors, friends and countrymen. In return, what we want is freedom, liberty and equality for the Palestinians. Will you meet us half way?"

Israeli to Palestinian

The roadmap is also requesting Israelis and Jews to reach out to their Palestinians Partners and say: "We understand why Palestine is important to you and we understand that the Palestinians - as a people- have a right to self-determination and to rule themselves under their own national institutions. We are fully aware of the suffering the Palestinians have experienced over the last 100 years and the necessity of having a safe haven for Palestinians. We mourn your losses, we are pained by your pain and we want a future with no losses and no pain due to this conflict. We recognize that because of desperation and self-defense, both sides committed atrocities that should never be repeated. We also understand that Palestinians have historical and religious ties to the land of Israel/Palestine. We believe that every Palestinian shall have the right to move to Israel/Palestine and become a citizen immediately. We also welcome the Palestinians to visit and to reside in our cities, towns and villages. We want the Palestinians and Israelis to live together as neighbors, friends and countrymen. In return, we want permanent security, liberty, equality and total freedom for the Jewish people. Will you meet us half way?"

Task Force on Israel/Palestine

By Kamal Nawash
www.freemuslims.org
202-776-7190

Posted April 13, 2013 by Kamal Nawash | 16 Comments

An American Citizen Everywhere in the World BUT the State of Israel

I have been an American citizen since 1996. My husband, also an American citizen, and I have been married and living in Michigan for over 16 years. My son and daughter, ages 14 & 13, respectively, were both born in Michigan. Though I was born in Palestine and do cherish my heritage, my family and I have been nothing less than loyal and devoted Americans. Home for my family and me is indeed here, in the heart of the USA. These feelings of love and loyalty to my new country did not come overnight. They took many days, many years, and lots of hard work and community service to take hold. Today, when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I fully and wholeheartedly mean it and it brings me great pride. This is why what happened to me and to my children during our recent travel to Israel is not only horrifying, but extremely hurtful as well.

As a Palestinian-born American, I have returned to visit my family many times. However, my recent trip was very different. It was a nightmare! I arrived with my children at Ben -Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, at 12:30 am after an 8-hour layover in Paris. Already exhausted from my long travel, I approached the Israeli passport control. I knew what to expect. I had been through this routine many times. I have always been subjected to search, delay, investigation, detention and interrogation. However, this time the harassment and terror went beyond anything that I ever could have imagined. I was immediately escorted with my children into a detention room in which we were to wait until my name was to be called for questioning by the soldier on duty. My children became tense and anxious. While my son was putting on a brave face, my daughter was ready to burst into tears. I tried my best to calm them down, telling them that this was normal and they had nothing to fear. Living in the US all their lives, they were taught to respect different people and not to discriminate against anyone. I had a hard time explaining to them why they had to go through this humiliation to visit our relatives.

Finally, I was called in for questioning. The officer on duty asked question after question about where I was born, who my parents where, when did I did I leave the country, why I am coming back, and where are my Palestinian identity card and passport? My answers were the exactly the same as they had been in previous years; it's not like I could change where I was born and the names of my parents in their computer system! The only difference was that this year I was returning to attend my only brother's wedding.

I sensed that things were turning bad when the officer asked me in a sarcastic way, "Don't you know that you are Palestinian? " I was shocked by the tone of his question and terrified about where it was leading. "You cannot enter Israel through this airport," he continued. "As a Palestinian-born American, you are considered to be Palestinian in the State of Israel regardless of your American citizenship and therefore you cannot use this airport. You have to go back to the United States."

I could not believe what I was hearing! I tried to reason with him. "I have done nothing different from the last few years that I have came to visit," I explained. "I was always given a three month visa after the security and passport control checks. You mean to tell me that they did not know I was Palestinian-born before? "

Sarcastically again he said to me, "You just got lucky in the past and your luck just ran out". I was going to be DEPORTED back to the US as if I was some sort of a criminal! After all the reasoning failed, and I was not going anywhere with my negotiations with the officer, I asked him about my under age children. He said, that they would be allowed to go through on their own but without me! My kids were still outside the detective room at that point. They heard what was taking place and became terrified. My son, feeling that he needed to stand by his mother and sister at a time of crises, stormed into the room with anger and tears in his eyes. I looked at him and asked him to go back outside to the waiting room. He strongly said to me, "Mom, no…I have to say this…You have to let me say it." I saw that he was choking on his own tears and did not know what to say but allowed him let vent his anger and frustration. He said to the officer, "I do not understand this! You Jews have been prosecuted all your lives. What happened to you is ugly and unfair. But please tell me, how is what happened to you different from what you are doing to my mother and to us right now? Please answer me that, Sir," he pleaded.

Unfortunately, my son's brave attempt to help failed. By this time my daughter was crying hysterically. I was baffled, helpless, and weak. I did not know what to do or what to say. I started crying as well. I begged and pleaded. The officer insisted that I would not be allowed to use the airport. But because I had my kids with me, he was going to check into my being allowed to buy a ticket to go to Amman, Jordan. He could not promise me that I would be able to do so as he didn't know whether there would be a place for me on the plane. He asked me if I had the cash to buy the ticket. I said that I did. He further explained that the Royal Jordanian plane was scheduled to take off at 8:00 am and the Air France plane was leaving at 6:00 am. If the Royal Jordanian staff did not come in early enough to inquire about a space for me on that flight, then I would have to be deported back to the US on the Air France. Meanwhile, my kids could leave the airport to go with our family. I was to be escorted by the airport police to a room in which I could rest till morning. I asked to wait at the airport terminal and was denied.

We were escorted to the back alleys of the airport where all of our personal belongings were searched piece by piece. I was instructed to go into a small private room with a female soldier in order to be body searched. The soldier felt my body with her hands from head to toe. She then went over it with her magic wand. But the surprise was when she told me to take off my clothes! "You have got to be kidding me?" I stammered. Apparently, I would have to eventually do this the easy way or the hard way. I was not sure which way harder -- to voluntarily let her exploit my body or to forcefully let her do so! With my children right outside of the room, I chose the first. I was humiliated and felt as if every inch of me was being violated.

After a quick and extremely emotional goodbye that was filled with instructions on what to do when my children got out of the airport, I was ready to be escorted to the police car in which I was to be driven to a nice room to get some rest awaiting my fate. Walking towards the car while surrounded by my three bodyguards, one on each side and one in the front, I could not help but feel extreme anger, frustration, and yes, hate! I normally extol a peaceful philosophy of life. I never thought that hate and resentment could so easily be acquired when suddenly robbed of my dignity and respect. Driving out of the airport, it dawned on me that I was only few minutes away from my mother's arms if only I weren't blocked by these gendarmes. Thinking of her, I burst into tears. I could not stop crying, I did not want to stop crying.

Finally, we arrived at our destination. The building did not look welcoming at all. It was surrounded by a tall wall with metal wires on top and there were soldiers who were guarding the place as well. I thought to myself, "No…it can't be? This could not be what I think it is?" I fearfully asked the soldiers with terror in my voice, "Where are we?" I was told that this was the prison! As I took my first steps inside, I kept pleading to go back to the airport. But sure enough, there was no other option. The soldiers checked me in, confiscated my personal belongings and escorted me to my jail cell. When a soldier opened that steal door, I just collapsed. "This cannot be happening to me? This is just a nightmare…Please take me back to the airport…Please I want my mother and father…Please, I want to see my children…I want my husband," I cried. With a paralyzing feeling in my legs, I fell onto the floor of the jail cell that was filled with trash overflowing from the garbage basket. "I want to go home…I just want to go home," I pleaded. The steel door was slammed shut.

Refusing to lay down on the filthy bunk bed, I sat on a chair thinking of my children. My mind was in a state of confusion. Ideas and possibilities of what could have happened to them, what could happen to me, kept running through my head in split seconds. Without my realizing it, the dawn broke. Sometime around 6 am, the cell door opened. "There is a seat for you on the Royal Jordanian flight; do you have cash to buy it?" the soldier inquired.

"Yes, I do, thank God" I cried. Again with three solders escorting me on the sides as if I were the biggest terrorist in the world, we walked through the back alleys of the airport where I was taken to purchase my ticket. I was surprised a bit. I thought I would be buying it from the Royal Jordanian agents. A lady told me that my ticket would be $ 270 and said that I would have to pay in cash. I did not care; I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. The boarding pass was not handed to me; instead, it was handed to the soldiers. I glanced at my receipt only to notice that it was written for $20 dollars! I looked at the soldiers and said, "This receipt is for $20 dollars and not for $270 which you saw that I paid."

He asked me if I would like to go back and inquire about the situation. By that time, it was close to 7:30 am. The flight was leaving at 8:00 am. I was not going to take a chance. If I missed it, I got deported back to the US. I replied, "No…it is ok, I do not want to check into it." With that, I thought I would be heading towards the gate where I was to board. Apparently, in this trip, nothing worked the way I thought it would. I was escorted to the police car parked by the airplane stair. I was then accompanied up the plane where the soldier gave my boarding pass to the flight attendant and told me to "have a good flight!"

I arrived at Amman, Jordan, at 10:00 am. I paid for my entry visa and made my way successfully through passport control and customs. I took a deep breath of relief along with my first steps outside as a free woman! It did not take me very long to find a taxi to take me to "El Jiser," the land border at Elenby Bridge between Jordan and Israel. After all, there would be a hefty fee for the trip and I surely looked tired and willing.

It was extremely hot that day and the air conditioner was not working in the car. What else can go wrong in this trip? I thought to myself. Still, however, I was counting my blessings, thinking that at least I was a few hours away from my children and family and not oceans and days away. "We are here," the driver said. And just when I thought this day could not get any worse, it did. There were hundreds of people waiting under the hot sun. Kids and babies were crying. People were shouting and screaming. Trash looked like it was part of the landscaping of the border. My jaw dropped! I did not know what to say or where to begin. There was nothing but tons of people with no signs or directions telling them what to do. Looking disoriented and dazed, a gentleman approached me and advised, "You know you can buy a VIP pass."

The VIP pass cost about $100 dollars and with it, I could wait in an extremely crowded room equipped with fans and some chairs till my name was called to get on the bus to cross over to the other side. I could also bypass some of the other crowds waiting in line that could not afford to pay the hefty fee. Astonished by the amount of people there, hearing their stories and how long they had been waiting, I felt helpless and yet empowered with anger and frustration. My heart ached for the kids who were thirsty and tired. I actually realized that I was "lucky" my kids did not have to go through all of this. After a 4 hour wait, my name was called. I anxiously hopped in the van thinking that I was yet one step closer to seeing my family. Driving to the Israeli side of the boarder, the VIP van passed 27 long busses filled with people crossing to the other side. They must have been waiting for hours to pass through, as only one bus at a time could enter the check point. I only had to wait in the van for about 45 minutes. Finally, around 4:00 pm, I got to the Israeli border.

Going through Israeli security can be time extensive. Only the best and most sophisticated equipment is used for potential terrorists like me. Armed with peace, I calmly went through all the security checks. Anxiety was fast kicking in, however, after I saw the line waiting for the passport control entry. Looking around and seeing all the people traveling with children, I knew I was relatively lucky and waited calmly for my turn. One of the security agents noticed my American passport with my VIP sticker on it. She then told me I could wait in a room and took my passport to get it cleared with security. Not surprisingly though, she came back with her officer asking me for my Palestinian travel documents. I explained that I did not have any, and that I had traveled through Ben -Gurion airport the past years. I also told her that I had left the country before the Palestinian Authority was in place and since then had traveled through all the proper Israeli channels. I asked why things were different for me this time when I was told at the airport that I could only pass through this border. The security agent looked at me then and said calmly, "No, you cannot enter through here."

Astonished, I had to ask him to say it again. I couldn't believe his words. "But your people at the airport told me I could enter through here," I begged. He further explained that I could only enter through the border if I had Palestinian documents. All I had to do was to contact my family in Bethlehem, ask them to make me those documents and send them to me in Amman, and then and only then could I enter. He also mentioned that these documents could take a few weeks to establish!

I lost all feelings in my legs and collapsed. On the floor, crying hysterically, I asked for a paramedic. I knew I was soon going to pass out. At first, I wasn't taken seriously. Maybe they thought I was faking it. Ten minutes passed by without help. Finally a female police officer came up to me and asked me if I was ok. I told her that I was not ok and that I felt like I would throw up and pass out soon. She left and came back with yet another captain and a paramedic. The paramedic checked my blood pressure and asked me if I had anything to eat and drink that day. I explained to her that I had not had anything to eat or drink for close to 3 days as that was how long I had been traveling. She wanted me to drink some orange juice but I refused. I knew I was going to vomit as soon as anything touched my stomach. She then warned me and told me that she could hardly detect my pulse and that I would pass out soon if I did not get something in my stomach. The captain took notice and started to ask me questions about my story. He looked at my passport and looked again. He asked me to please stop crying and to come with him to his office.

After checking my status extensively on his computer, he said to me, "Mona, I am going to be very honest with you. I send people back all the time from this border. But honestly, I do not know and cannot find a reason why this was done to you." I felt so relieved that all my problems were going to be solved. This was the first person that talked to me like I was a human being and seemed to truly care. He spoke Arabic very well and with no accent. I was surprised and asked him how he was able to speak the language. It turned out that he was an "Arabic/Israeli Durzie" enlisted in the Israeli army. He then called my family and told them that I was in his office, a little tired, and that he was going to let me in on humanitarian reasons. He asked them to come and pick me up as soon as possible.

I was escorted out, gratefully avoiding all the other security stops. I was placed in a taxi that would take me to Palestinian grounds where my family was to meet me. As soon as I took my first glance at my mother, my two sisters, and brother, I smiled for the first time in three days. After all, my mother was doing all the crying now for me…

Driving to my hometown, my sister and mother, who are also American citizens, filled me in on all the details from their side. They told me that my children made it out ok and that they were enjoying their time with their cousins at that moment. They also explained how they had been inquiring about my whereabouts via our American Consulate. What I came to realize on my way back "home" was by far the most disappointing news I had received in the past three days throughout this whole ordeal.

My sister Abby who has lived in the United States for over 22 years, arrived to Bethlehem two weeks ahead of me. A strong and sharp minded Arab American, she got right on the ball as soon as she realized I was in trouble. She had started making phone calls to both the US and to our American Consulate in Jerusalem.

She first contacted my husband and updated him on the situation. Worried sick about me, my husband started calling our Local US Congressman office, US State Department in Washington D.C, and US embassy in Tel Aviv. The answers were all the same! It was the same answer my sister received from our US Consulate in Jerusalem as well.

My Family was told that there was NOTHING that could be done on my behalf. The American Embassy could not intervene in Israeli policies. Though, I was an American citizen, in the State of Israel, I was NOT considered to be one and therefore, my country, cannot intervene on my behalf. The only thing that they could do for me was to make sure that I was given something to eat and drink!

Apparently, in the State of Israel "the ONLY democracy in the Middle East", I was NOT considered to be an American Citizen. I was Palestinian born and therefore, will be entitled to all the "wonderful" privileges that come along with it. You see, a "true" American Citizen, would be initiated to travel freely without restrictions in the State of Israel. An American Citizens would NOT be subjected to being harassed, stopped, investigated, and humiliated by the State of Israel. BUT, I was Palestinian born; people like me could not possibly be permitted to enjoy all of these extravagant privileges that are given to "true" Americans!

As I was listing to my mother and sister filling me in on all these details on our way home, I could not help but feel very sad and hurt. Hurt by the lack of response and help from my own beloved county! I was extremely disappointed when my sister continued on to tell me that the Embassy actually told her that if it were my children (who are American born) that were in my situation, then, they would have been able to intervene on their behalf! Suddenly, I felt speechless and betrayed!

I am back "home" now. Living and enjoying all the comforts and rights given to me by my country. However, I can't help but think sometimes, am I living in a lie? Do I truly enjoy the same rights? And can I truly overcome my disappointments?

As it took me time to build my allegiance and love for my country, I imagine that it will take me even more time overcome the feeling of inferiority that was reinforced by my beloved country during my time of hardship.

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Posted January 27, 2013 by Kamal Nawash | 12 Comments

Egypt's Draft Constitution Part One: Religion And State

MEMRI

Introduction

In the past two weeks, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi

has accelerated the process of approval of the new Egyptian

draft constitution. On December 1, 2012, following marathon

meetings of the Constituent Assembly, he announced that

the draft would be put to public referendum in two

weeks' time, on December 15, 2012. This was despite

widespread public opposition to the composition of the

assembly and to the substance of some of the constitution's

articles, and despite the fact that some 40% of the

assembly's members - representatives of the liberal factions -

had withdrawn from it.

In his December 1 speech, Mursi took pride in the

completion of the draft constitution, presenting it as "a further

step in the completion of the revolution" and as "the first

time in Egypt's history that the constitution is in keeping

with the people's will."[1] In actual fact, however, this was

just one more step completing a series of measures taken

by Mursi to impose the will of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)

upon the constitution of post-revolution Egypt.

On November 22, 2012, some ten days before the Supreme

Constitutional Court was scheduled to issue its ruling in

liberal lawsuits against the legitimacy of the Constituent

Assembly, Mursi issued a new constitutional declaration -

a kind of interim constitution - in which he granted himself

sweeping judicial authorities, after already having gained all executive and legislative powers. Through this constitutional

declaration, Mursi was trying to maintain the MB's

dominance in the Constituent Assembly. He gave the

assembly a two-month extension to complete its work, as

well as immunity in an effort to preempt the Supreme

Constitutional Court from dissolving the assembly on

grounds that it does not represent the entire population.

The court faced a conflict of interests, since it, too,

opposes certain articles in the draft constitution that

undermine its status; consequently, it is reasonable to

assume that it would have ruled in favor of the assembly's

dissolution.

The constitutional declaration sparked an unprecedented

popular protest against Mursi, with tens of thousands of

demonstrators taking to the streets. In response, hundreds

of thousands of Mursi supporters staged counter-protests.

Mursi took advantage of the turmoil to expedite still

further the process of approving the constitution, stating

that such approval would put an end to the concentration

of powers in his hands. To appease the protestors, he

promised not to make use of his legislative powers before the

referendum either.[2]

However, even his announcement of the referendum on the constitution aroused the protest of his opponents, and especially of former presidential candidates 'Amr Moussa, Hamdin Sabahi, and former IAEA secretary-general Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. The anti-Mursi protestors in Tahrir Square responded to his call for a referendum with boos, saying that he had lost his legitimacy and was betraying the revolution with a constitution that reflected the will of the MB alone.[3]

The MB is interested in passing the constitution out of the assumption that its approval in the referendum would mean the successful completion of the interim stage and would consolidate the MB's rule, while the process of formulating the constitution was making the situation in the country even more volatile, exacerbating social polarities, and sparking widespread demonstrations and protests. In addition, through the proposed draft constitution, the MB hopes to send a message - both within Egypt and internationally - that Egypt under its helm is not bowing to Islamic radicalism. At the same time, it is trying to leave the formulations of articles pertaining to religious status vague and convoluted, giving room for maneuvering and making it possible to grant the constitution a more radical interpretation at a later date. The approval of the constitution would be an achievement for the MB in its clashes with the judiciary. While it would divest the president of some of the unlimited authorities that he holds today, it would still leave him with substantial powers.

This report, the first in a series dealing with the new Egyptian constitution, analyzes the constitutional articles pertaining to several issues and compares them to the Egyptian constitution of 1971. Part I deals with the articles relating to the status of religion in Egypt. Future installments will deal with articles pertaining to the president's authorities, to the role of the judiciary in post-revolution Egypt, to the status of the military, and to general freedoms and human rights.

Past Constitutions - From A European To An Islamic Orientation

Egypt's first constitution was passed in 1882 during the era of Tawfiq Pasha, who ruled Egypt and Sudan at the time. In 1923, with the end of the British protectorate era in Egypt, a new European-influenced constitution was drafted, which defined the state's parliamentary structure and set out the political powers of the king as head of the executive branch. This constitution was in effect until 1953, though it was suspended by the king in 1930 as part of his struggle against the Wafd Party, which opposed him, and reinstated in 1935 in response to public pressure.

The 1923 constitution was overturned following the 1952 Free Officers Revolution. In February 1953, a Temporary Constitutional Declaration was issued, lending constitutional legitimacy to the rule of the Revolutionary Council, and in January 1956 a new constitution was adopted that defined Egypt as a presidential republic and as part of the Arab nation. In 1958, with the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR), which was a political federation between Egypt and Syria, a joint constitution was endorsed, which remained in effect until 1964 (though the UAR itself was dissolved in 1961). In 1964 a temporary constitution was passed, which was replaced by a new constitution in 1971, during the Sadat era. The latter remained in effect until the ouster of Mubarak in 2011, though some amendments were made to it over the years.

An important and controversial feature of the 1971 constitution is Article 2. The first part of this article, stating that "Islam is the state religion [of Egypt] and Arabic is the official language," is based on Article 149 of the 1923 constitution, which was abolished after the Free Officers Revolution; the second part of this article, stating that "the principles of the Islamic shari'a are a main source of legislation" [our emphasis], was an addition, representing an attempt by Sadat to appease the Islamic factions whose power was on the rise at the time following the failure of Nasserism and Egypt's defeat in the 1967 war with Israel.

In 1980, following a decline in his status in Egypt, Sadat rephrasing Article 2 as yet another concession to the Islamic factions. The new version stated that the shari'a was "the main source of legislation," instead of "a main source" [our emphasis]. This amendment was regarded by many in the Islamic factions as a historical achievement and a real constitutional revolution - one that put an end to imperialist Western dictates superseding the laws of the Islamic shari'a.

However, under Mubarak, Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court gave Article 2 a reading that displeased the Islamic factions. The latter favored a broad interpretation of this article, according to which all laws that had been previously passed in Egypt, as well as all laws that would be passed from then on, had to conform to the Islamic shari'a. The court, on the other hand, imposed a narrower interpretation: it applied the article only to laws passed from that point (1996) onwards, and decreed that these laws had to conform only to a limited number of shar'ic texts of absolute validity, namely texts about which the various jurisprudent schools of thought within Islam are in agreement.

In 2005, the 1971 constitution underwent further amendments. This time the presidential election process was changed, allowing the direct election of the president from among several candidates, instead of the referendum process that had been used until then. In 2007, following tensions between the Mubarak regime and the MB, and the latter's intention to form an official party, further amendments were made to the constitution, including the introduction of a ban on forming denominational parties and of an article on combating terror.[4]

Following the January 25 revolution, the 1971 constitution was suspended by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which ruled Egypt after Mubarak's ouster. An abbreviated version of this constitution, with amendments aimed at limiting the powers of the president and the duration of his term, was ratified by referendum in March 2011, and a constitutional declaration was issued setting a timetable for transferring power to an elected parliament and president. On the eve of the June 2012 presidential election, the SCAF issued a supplementary constitutional declaration ensuring the continuation of its rule and vesting it with many of the president's military and security powers.[5] Following his election in August 2012, Mursi revoked this supplementary declaration,[6] and, as mentioned, on November 22, 2012 he issued a new constitutional declaration expanding his powers at the expense of the judiciary branch. This latter declaration decreed that no decision by Mursi could be challenged though the courts until the endorsement of a new constitution and the election of a new People's Assembly; granted the Constituent Assembly a two-month extension to draft the new constitution and stipulated that nobody is authorized to dissolve it or the Shura Council; and dismissed the Prosecutor General, appointing another in his place.[7]

Muslim Brotherhood Takeover Of The Constituent Assembly

The constitutional declaration issued on March 30, 2011 required the Egyptian parliament to form a 100-member Constituent Assembly, which was to draft a new constitution within no more than six months from its establishment and put it to referendum.[8] This task turned out to be difficult, however, since the political forces could not agree on the assembly's composition. The assembly was eventually formed by the parliament only in late March 2012, and was headed by Dr. Sa'd Al-Katatni, of the MB, at the time People's Assembly chairman. Half of its members were MPs, and 65% of its members were from the Islamic factions.[9] The assembly's composition sparked public outrage and demonstrations, and about one month later, in late April 2012, it was dissolved by the Administrative Court on grounds that the assembly's members must be appointed based on their qualifications rather than merely by virtue of their membership in parliament. The court also pointed out that the constitutional declaration did not explicitly specify that they must be MPs at all.









Islamic takeover of the Constituent Assembly

The present Constituent Assembly was appointed by the parliament ahead of the June 2012 presidential election. Headed by Supreme Judicial Council head Hossam Al-Ghariani, it officially includes an equal number of representatives from the Islamic factions and from the civil (i.e., non-Islamic) factions, and comprises 33 representatives of Egyptian parties (eight parties in all); seven women; seven representatives of the youth movements and the families of the revolution victims; 10 members of Al-Azhar and other shari'a institutions; eight Copts; 28 legal experts representing the judiciary system and the universities; 10 writers, thinkers, and academics; seven labor union representatives; four representatives of the workers and farmers; and one representative of the Egyptian diaspora.[10] Like the previous Constituent Assembly, this one too had an Islamic majority, since some of the "civil" representatives are members of Al-Azhar and of the Islamic-oriented Al-Wasat party. In fact, many of the civil representatives resigned from it in protest over this inequality.[11]

Consequently, the assembly has been operating in the shadow of a legal battle by liberal circles to dissolve it as well. The Supreme Constitutional Court was scheduled to rule on their lawsuits on December 2, 2012, and was expected to dissolve the assembly, since this court itself objects to several articles of the draft constitution that undermine its status.[12] However, on November 22, 2012, in a new constitutional declaration, Mursi stripped the court of the authority to dissolve the assembly, thus rendering the assembly immune to judicial oversight. This sparked unprecedented outrage in Egypt against Mursi, leading tens of thousands to take to the streets. The protesters accused Mursi of granting himself even more powers than the ousted president Mubarak and demanded to revoke the latest constitutional declaration. Mursi refused to back down; moreover, despite the deep controversy over the constitution, he expedited the process of approving it and announced it would be put to referendum on December 15, 2012, explaining that its approval would put an end to the concentration of powers in his hands. [13]

Controversy Over Constitutional Articles Pertaining To Status Of Religion

The draft constitution currently on the table is more Islamic than any of previous constitutions, even if it is not as far-reaching as the Islamic constitutions of Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example - as the Salafis would have liked it to be.[14] The articles pertaining to religion in the new Egyptian draft constitution reflect an effort to find common ground upon which both liberal and Islamic camps could agree, one that would be acceptable both to the moderate and the more extremist circles within the Islamic camp. In the course of the formulation process, the MB managed to impose its will with regard to most articles of the constitution, while still giving an impression of moderation compared to the more extremist proposals raised by the Salafis, and while appearing to be taking the desires of the liberal streams into consideration. This impression was achieved by leaving some of the articles pertaining to religion vague and ambiguous, and leaving it to Al-Azhar, which enjoys wide support, to wage the battle with the Salafis and the liberals in the Constituent Assembly - thus making it appear as if it was Al-Azhar, rather the MB itself, that was waging this battle. This is suggestive of an alliance between the MB and Al-Azhar, in which the latter would continue to back the regime in exchange for the safeguarding of its role as Egypt's supreme religious authority.

Unlike the Document of Constitutional Principles, drafted in November 2011 by former deputy prime minister Dr. 'Ali Al-Silmi on behalf of the SCAF, which reflected the liberal voices in Egyptian society,[15] the draft constitution reflects the weakening of the liberal voice - which is heard more loudly in the media than in the Constituent Assembly - and the decline in the standing of the military elite and in its role in the decision-making in Egypt. The controversy over the constitution also reflects the power struggles within the Islamic camp - between Al-Azhar, which is trying to maintain its role as the main religion authority in the state, and the Salafis, who have become politically prominent since the revolution and who are trying to gain influence in the religious establishment. Al-Azhar is trying to maintain the delicate status quo, in place in recent decades, which provides for partial implementation of the shari'a, whereas the Salafis are trying to gain constitutional endorsement of the full implementation of the shari'a, a move that would lead to the Islamization of Egypt.

President Mursi recently declared commitment to implementing religious law. According to Mursi, "all agree that the Islamic shari'a is the constitution that rules all aspects of life. Only what was conveyed in the honorable Koran will be read and only it will be heeded… [The Koran] will be the basis for all matters pertaining to the general populace - not only Muslims - and to their activities in politics, agriculture, economy and all other fields."[16] In practice, however, the MB has generally sided with the relatively moderate Al-Azhar in the partial (rather than full) implementation of the shari'a. Its stance on this matter points to the movement's pragmatism and its willingness to make compromises on its ideology as it makes the transition from a persecuted opposition to the ruling power responsible for the country's stability. Nonetheless, senior MB officials have made it clear that they still consider full implementation of the shari'a to be their end-goal, but one to be achieved at a later stage, once the people's hearts and minds have been gradually attuned to this.

Following is a summary of the articles in the draft constitution pertaining to the status of religion.[17]

Article 1, which deals with Egypt's orientation, was amended. It now defines the Egyptian people as "part of the Islamic nation," a definition that did not appear in the previous constitution.

Article 2, which defines Islam as the "state religion" and "the principles [our emphasis] of Islamic shari'a" as "the main source of legislation," remains intact. The decision to leave it unchanged was a compromise between the Salafis and the liberals. The Salafis wanted the word "principles" either deleted or replaced with the word "directives"; in other words, they wanted full implementation of the shari'a, as in the early days of Islam. The liberals would have preferred to see the entire article deleted and Egypt defined as a civil state, or, at the very least, to leave the article with its original wording and to interpret the term "principles of the Islamic shari'a" as universal principles of justice, liberty, and equality. Leaving this article unchanged also reflects an effort of the MB to convey to the West and to the Egyptian citizens that its rise to power did not portend a radical Islamization of Egypt.

Article 219, added to the constitution to clarify Article 2, states: "[The expression] 'principles of Islamic shari'a' refers to the general methods of juridical argumentation, to fundamental juridical rules and principles, and to the [written] sources recognized by the Sunni juridical schools." Its role is to prevent a narrow reading of Article 2, like the liberals want or like the interpretation given by the Supreme Constitutional Court in 1996, according to which legislation from then on would be in keeping only with limited parts of the shari'a about which the various jurisprudential schools within Islam are in agreement. Article 219, in contrast, gives Article 2 a broader reading, which would enable the implementation of a larger part of the shari'a and require legislation to conform to the principles of Sunni law. The article was intended to appease the Salafis and to dispel the charges leveled against the MB that it had given up on implementing the shari'a by its opposition to the amendment of Article 2. Out of consideration for liberal circles, this article was placed toward the end of the constitution, and not immediately following Article 2, in order to indicate that it was of lesser importance. Article 219 allows the codification of the shari'a and enables discrimination against all who are not Sunni Muslims, including Shi'ites. It is not clear at this point how it will affect legislation in practice.

Article 3, newly added to the constitution, defines "the canon principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews" as "the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, their religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders." This article was introduced in order to create a semblance of tolerance and to appease the Copts, who claimed that Article 2 would serve as a basis for discrimination against them; however, it does not refer to other non-Muslim religions, such as Bahais.

Article 4 was added to the draft constitution in order to consolidate the status of Al-Azhar as the state's religious authority. It defines Al-Azhar as "an encompassing independent Islamic institution, with exclusive autonomy over its own affairs" and the Al-Azhar Sheikh as an "independent" position-holder who "cannot be dismissed." In other words, this article recognizes Al-Azhar as the supreme religious body of Egypt and presents it as an apolitical body independent of the regime. Nevertheless, Article 4 states that Al-Azhar's Supreme Council of Clerics is to be consulted in matters pertaining to Islamic law - a notion that appeared in the platform of the MB's Freedom and Justice Party.[18] The inclusion of this clause in Article 4 reflects the great influence of the MB on the draft constitution. Its inclusion is also aimed at requiring the Supreme Constitutional Court - the sole body with the authority to interpret the laws and determine whether they are in keeping with the constitution, including with the principles of the shari'a mentioned therein (Article 175) - to consult with Al-Azhar on matters pertaining to the shari'a. At the same time, the opinion of Al-Azhar in matters of Islamic shari'a is not binding. The phrasing is the outcome, on the one hand, of pressure by the Salafis to divest the Supreme Constitutional Court of its exclusive authority to interpret principles of shari'a, and, on the other hand, of taking into consideration the liberal voices that call to refrain from giving the religious establishment legislative authorities.

Article 5 states that "sovereignty is for the people; it is they who exercise and protect it, and safeguard national unity, and they are the source of authority, in the manner specified in the constitution." This phrasing is contrary to the position of the Salafis, who insisted upon writing that sovereignty is for the Lord.

Article 6 states that "the political system is based upon the principles of democracy and shura (an Islamic principle obligating the ruler to consult with authoritative advisors)." This addition, too, represents an attempt to please both the liberals, who wished to define Egypt's regime as democratic, and the Salafis, who wished to avoid the term democracy and use the term shura instead. The inclusion of both terms represents a compromise between the two approaches. The Salafis on the Constituent Assembly agreed to this phrasing on the grounds that it distinguishes Egyptian democracy from Western-style democracy and defines Egypt as a parliamentary regime subject to Islamic tradition, which means that practices such as same-sex marriage, for example, are not permitted. Conversely, moderate Islamic and liberal circles accepted this phrasing on the basis of the rationale that shura is a component of democracy and does not detract from the democratic character of the regime. The article goes on to state that the political system is based upon the principles of "citizenship (under which all citizens are equal in rights and duties), multi-party pluralism, peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers and the balance between them, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and freedoms." This was intended to clarify that despite the inclusion of Islamic principles, Egypt is not a theocracy.

Article 6 also abolishes the prohibition on forming denominational parties - which was part of Article 5 of the previous constitution - specifying instead that "no political party shall be formed that discriminates on the basis of gender, origin, or religion." The ban on denominational parties was added by Mubarak in 2005 to the 1971 constitution in order to prevent the MB from forming a political party and running for parliament. The new phrasing means that a party may not restrict its membership on the basis of religion.

Article 10 states: "The family is the basis of society and is founded on religion, morality, and patriotism. The state and society strive to preserve the genuine character of the Egyptian family, its cohesion and stability, and to protect its moral values, all as regulated by law. The state shall ensure maternal and child health services free of charge and shall enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman toward her family and toward her work..." This article omits the clause, present in the previous constitution, that specifies that the state shall ensure equality between men and women without violating the directives of the Islamic shari'a. This clause was rejected by women's organizations, which feared that subjecting women's equality to the directives of the shari'a would lead to lowering the legal age of marriage, mandating the hijab, denying women the right to divorce, etc. The Salafis, for their part, insisted upon the inclusion of the reference to the shari'a, refusing to let the equality clause stand without it. The clause in the 1971 constitution that ensured women representation in parliament was also removed from the draft constitution. There is, however, some attempt to address the issue of discrimination - albeit not specifically with regard to women - in Article 33, which states: "All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination."

Article 43 states that "freedom of belief is an inviolable right" and that "the state shall guarantee the freedom to practice religious rites and to establish places of worship for the divine religions [our emphasis]." Human rights organizations wanted the article to include the words "absolute freedom of belief," claiming that the weaker phrase "freedom of belief" prevented one from converting to another religion. Moreover, this article provides for the worship of monotheistic religions only, in contrast to the previous constitution, which did not restrict freedom of worship to specific religions of any kind.

Article 44 states that "insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets shall be prohibited." This article was added on the initiative of Al-Azhar in order to prevent blasphemy. The original proposal was to prohibit affront to the essence of God and to the Companions of the Prophet, but, following pressure by Shi'ites and Copts, only part of Al-Azhar's proposal was accepted.

A more detailed discussion of the controversy over each of these articles will be presented in an upcoming MEMRI report.

* L. Lavi is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 2, 2012.

[2] Aljazeera.net, December 3, 2012.

[3] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), December 2, 2012.

[5] On the supplementary constitutional declaration, see Inquiry & Analysis No. 865,

The Egyptian Revolution Is Only Starting: Will Power Be Transferred From The SCAF To The Elected President And Parliament?, July 30, 2012.

[6] On the revoking of the supplementary constitutional declaration, see Special Dispatch No. 4908, Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi Rescinds The SCAF's Authority, August 24, 2012.

[7] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), November 22, 2012.

[8] Egypt.gov.eg, March 30, 2011.

[9] Al-Ahram, Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 26, 2012.

[10] Ikhwanonline.com, June 13, 2012.

[11]Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), March 26, 2012, June 13, 2012.

[12] Al-Ahram (Egypt), October 24, 2012.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 2, 2012.

[14] According to the Iranian constitution (in place since 1979), the regime is based upon belief in a single God, His exclusive sovereignty and right to legislate, and upon the necessity to submit to His directives and to divine revelation, and to return to God in the Hereafter. See http://www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/Government/constitution.html. The Saudi constitution (in place in 1992) defines Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state with Islam as its religion and the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad's Sunna as its constitution, to which all state institutions are subject. It also states that the rule in the Kingdom is based upon justice, shura, and equality, in accordance with the Islamic shari'a. See http://ar.wikisource.org.

[16] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 18, 2012.

[17] This report is based upon the latest draft constitution (http://egelections-2011.appspot.com/Referendum2012/dostor_masr_final.pdf), posted on the official website of the Constituent Assembly on November 30, 2012 (http://sharek.dostour.eg/sharek/).

[18] For the platform of the Freedom and Justice Party, see MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 753, Egypt's Islamic Camp, Once Suppressed by Regime, Now Taking Part in Shaping New Egypt - Part II: Muslim Brotherhood Prepares for Parliamentary, Presidential Elections, October 25, 2011.

By: L. Lavi

Posted December 15, 2012 by Kamal Nawash | 9 Comments