In 1981 Grace Halsell published “Journey to Jerusalem” which took a close look at Israeli torture, Israel’s illegal settlements and the oppressed lives Palestinians were forced to lead under occupation…
The New York Times obituary for Journalist Grace Halsell, notes her curiosity about ”a wider world” led her to experience life on society’s fringes by disguising herself as women of different races.
She wrote official statements for President Lyndon B. Johnson but after the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ms. Halsell left the White House to ”embrace the Other. I wanted to strip myself to see who I was, to see if there was anything there.”
In her 1969 book, “Soul Sister” she described the anonymity and degradation of being a black domestic in a world of white employers. In 1973 she wrote ”Bessie Yellowhair,” based on her life on a Navajo reservation and as an American Indian nanny for a Los Angeles family. In 1978 in ”The Illegals,” she wrote of crossing the border with a group of Mexican immigrants. In the 1980’s she lived undercover with a group of Christian fundamentalists.
In 1981 she published “Journey to Jerusalem” which took a close look at Israeli torture, Israel’s illegal settlements and the oppressed lives Palestinians were forced to lead under occupation. She was dropped by mainstream publishers and her lectures were sabotaged.
Grace wrote, “despite obstacles to prevent it, the presses had started rolling. After its publication in 1980, I was invited to speak in a number of churches. Christians generally reacted with disbelief. Back then, there was little or no coverage of Israeli land confiscation, demolition of Palestinian homes, wanton arrests and torture of Palestinian civilians.”
Halsell died on August 16, 2000, but her work continues to inspire and Grace was an inspiration for the character Terese in my first book, from which I excerpt:
A CONFRONTATIONAL CONVERSATION
“Father Paul, you cannot possibly be telling me that an Episcopal priest has been taken in by fundamentalist theology?” Terese incredulously asked the new assistant to the rector at St. Joan of Arc Episcopal Church in Orlando, who also served at the noon mass every Wednesday.
Father Paul Hendricks was a passionate evangelist on a mission to convert every Jew he encountered to become a Christian. Terese had kept her silence for the first six months she had been listening to his Wednesday noon sermons, but finally broke her silence after the rest of the parishioners had departed.
Paul sighed and shook his head. “Look, Mrs. Hunter, I read your op/ed in the newspaper about Israel and Palestine, and we both agree we want peace; we just go about it differently.”
“Father, let me say that the fastest growing cult in the U.S.A. is the cult of Christian Zionism. Approximately 25 million U.S. Christians believe as you do, and I am most depressed to see that the simple answers of fundamentalism have reached their tentacles into the thinking man’s church. You just preached for thirteen minutes on Genesis 12:3–‘I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse: and in you all the families of the world are blessed’–as if God meant blessings to be political power and military might!
“Father, surely you understand that the belief of the ancient Israelites, who held that they were chosen, as if they were somehow special from others, as if God esteemed them above others, is just basic primitive nationalism. Come on, Father, looking down on one’s enemies to foster one’s own tribal interest and praying to God to smite one’s enemies is what the ancients did. Isn’t it about time we moved beyond that limited thinking?”
Father Paul clenched his fists and held them behind his back, as he suppressed a simmering rage. He stood nine inches above Terese’s upturned head, and with a slick smile and condescending tone told her, “Mrs. Hunter, you are very misled. The text is understood to mean a blessing to Abraham’s lineage–”
Terese cut in. “Agreed! And Genesis 12:3 was promised even before Ishmael, the father of the Arab nation, and Isaac, the Jew, were born! And what about the very first mention of Israel? Jacob was renamed Israel for having wrestled and struggled with God. That is how I understand Israel; everyone who struggles and wrestles with God is Israel, too. Israel means more than a geographical location, Father Paul.”
“Mrs. Hunter, the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures, and God’s covenant with Israel is eternal, exclusive, and will not be abrogated. I refer you to Genesis 12:1-7, 15:4-7, 17:1-8; Leviticus 26:44-45; and Deuteronomy 7:7:8.”
“And Father, I refer you to Matthew 5:43-45, which does not only critique Genesis 12:3; it blows it apart, for Christ commanded, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despite-fully use you, that you maybe children of your Father.’”
The two had reached Paul’s SUV and he silently prayed he could make a swift escape, but Terese had positioned herself at the driver’s door, and if he were to open it swiftly, she could be easily moved aside. Father Paul entertained the thought for more than a moment, but remained mute and still, as the tiny woman exploded with a torrent of words.
“Look, blind allegiance to the Israeli government has allowed them to become a big bully, and isn’t God always on the side of the oppressed? My sense is that you Zionists see the political state of Israel as a replacement for Christ, at the center of the Christian faith, and that certainly is not Christianity!
“How do you take Genesis 12:3 to literally mean that blessings equal land and political power, yet ignore God’s promise in Genesis 21:17-20 to ‘make a great nation out of Ishmael’s descendants and that ‘God was with the boy.’ Yet your way of thinking allows the growing apartheid wall to continue, and supports occupation and oppression of people that God also made promises too.”
“Mrs. Hunter, why don’t you make an appointment and we can discuss this further? I really have to go.”
“Okay, I can take a hint, but let me leave you with this: when religion and politics are in bed together, everybody gets screwed! The Israeli government is using you Zionists as apologists in support of their agenda of illegal occupation and settlements in the West bank, Golan, and Gaza, on literal biblical grounds taken out of context. Your blind allegiance to every act of Israel, understood as being orchestrated by God and which should therefore be condoned, supported, and even praised, makes me want to puke! And I wonder about the true motives of Christians who actually relish the idea of Armageddon and love to speculate on who gets ‘left behind.’ Christ was very clear that there will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who were so sure they were in, but get left out. God has always been on the side of the oppressed, and your uncritical endorsement and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies are an abomination.”
The stunned and silent priest watched in relief as Terese turned, flipped her braid, and walked away.
PS-Dear Reader: This chapter is based on an actual email conversation I had with an Episcopal priest. He gave up talking to me after my third email to him. I have been informed that he is now in Jerusalem connected with the Holocaust Memorial.
John Hagee CUFI
conference in Miami
I am Eileen Fleming for US HOUSE and I approve of all of my messages.