Wednesday 12 February 2014

Yasmine Perni Cries Out

I’ve just come back from a screening of Yasmine Perni’s film The Stones Cry Out. I didn’t actually see the film on account of the fact that, because of adverse weather conditions, it took me five hours to drive from Nottingham to Tunbridge Wells. The film started at 7.30pm and I arrived an hour late in a very spaced-out condition. But I was in time for the Question and Answer session.

I bought a DVD of the film afterwards and will post a review after I’ve found the time to watch it. But what follows are my comments on the après-film session.

First of all, although the views of Ms Perni on the Israeli-Palestinian problem are poles apart, I was impressed by her evident sincerity and concern for the plight of Palestinian Christians. Most pro-Palestinians I encounter (particularly those of the female persuasion) tend to be loud, aggressive and a little too fond of the F-word for my delicate taste. But not Ms Perni.

She defines herself as a Christian who believes the Bible ‘one hundred percent.’ She is gently spoken, highly articulate and, it seems to me, passionately and genuinely concerned about the Palestinian people, particularly Christians.

The audience, as you would expect in Tunbridge Wells, was predominantly white, middle class, civilized and well educated. And the questions and comments were the kind you would expect from such an audience. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the film had reminded one urbane gentleman of the way Nazi Germany treated the Jews and, in his considered opinion, no peace would come in the Middle East until America ‘shed the shackles of the Jewish Lobby.’ To her credit, although Ms Perni thinks Israel is ‘torturing’ Palestinians, what the Palestinians are enduring is not as bad as the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust.

A lady who, by her own confession, had never been to Israel or ‘Palestine’ was nevertheless of the opinion that Bethlehem was becoming a ghetto and unctiously likened the barbed wire on the Security Wall to the crown of thorns on the head of Christ. Another lady likened Israel’s Security Fence to the Berlin Wall and wondered how long it will take to bring it down. It was also clearly implied that Israel is an apartheid regime. The willingness of otherwise intelligent people to publicly trot out these trite clichés and pious platitudes was frankly depressing.

There can be no doubt that in 1948, for the thousands of Arabs who obeyed their leaders and fled the country, the founding of the Jewish state was a Nakba, a disaster. According to Arab pastor Shmuel Aweida, however, for him and his family, and for all Arabs who remained in the land, the founding of the state of Israel was the best thing that could have happened to them because they found themselves for the first time living in a democracy. They’d never had it so good. Which is why today Israeli Arabs, although they might complain about the government (and who doesn’t?) would rather live in Israel than in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority.

When I pointed out in the question time that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the church is growing, Ms Perni informed me that in Israel it is illegal to convert to Christianity. It’s amazing how many people believe this enduring urban myth. In Muslim countries, of course, you can be killed for converting but in Israel freedom of religion is written into the constitution.

Yasmine Perni told me after the meeting she believes the Palestinian people want peace. But why would a people that wants peace name their streets after suicide bombers? Why would a people that want peace display pictures of terrorists on the walls of school classrooms in the same way that our school classrooms display pictures of the Periodic Table? Why would a people who want peace publicly welcome hundreds of murderous thugs released from Israeli jails as though they were heroes? Why would people who want peace send their children to summer camps where they can be trained to shoot automatic weapons and to blow themselves to smithereens? Why would a people who want peace teach their children in school and on TV shows that the Jews are apes and pigs?

If the Palestinians want peace, why doesn’t PA President Mahmoud Abbas accept Israel as a Jewish state? And why does he continue to say that a future Palestinian state will be Jew-free while insisting Israel will have to open its gates to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians?

Yasmine Perni also supports the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, believing BDS to be a ‘peaceful and non-violent’ to force Israel to less inconsiderate to the Palestinians. I’m sure she genuinely believes that but from my experience of the PSC and BDS movement I’m not so sanguine. I know a Jewish man who had his nose broken by a female BDSer he was shadowing in a supermarket. She and her comrades regularly loaded shopping trolleys with Israeli products before dumping them in the store car park, and he was going to prevent her from doing so. She turned suddenly, uttered some very naughty words and drove her delicate little fist into the centre of his face. I’ve stood with pro-Israel demonstrators singing Am Yisrael Chai and Hava Nagila while just yards away pro-Palestinians demonstrators were angrily chanting anti-Israel slogans.

I was concerned at the Palestinianisation of Christianity. We were informed that Christianity was born in Palestine and that Jesus was born in 'Palestine' and that the first Christians were Palestinians. According to Matthew 2:20-21, Jesus was born in 'the land of Israel,' not the land of Palestine.

I was also bemused at Ms Perni’s objection to Israeli companies operating in the Palestinian Authority, even when they are helping Palestinian farmers and providing gainful employment to other Palestinians. It’s true, for example, that SodaStream is defying international law by setting up shop in the Palestinians Authority to provide well-paid work for over 500 Palestinians. But give me a break! If international law supposes it’s better for Palestinians to be out of work than earning good wages in a Jewish factory built on the West Bank then international law is a ass!

The meeting was not helpful. It reinforced the myth that Israel is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East and it was clear that at least some in the audience see Israel as a Nazi state and an apartheid state that must be brought to its knees if there is to be peace in the Middle East.The most depressing aspect of the evening was that at the screening of a film by a professed Christian film-maker, chaired by an Anglican clergyman, with a panel that included a bishop, no mention was made of the gospel as the solution to the problems of the Middle East.