The Final Countdown

Well, it’s now or never for our old friend Prophet Yahweh:

Very soon, sometime between July 4 and 15th, the spaceship I have been prophecizing [sic] of will descend and sit for a day a half.

…Since it will sit in the air a day and a half, it will be enough time for people in Los Angeles, San Diego, and most parts of California, Phoenix, Tucson and most parts of Arizona, Salt Lake City, Denver, Portland, Seattle, and most of the Western United States to get here and see it with their own eyes.

They will also be able to film and photograph it for themselves.

…Let there be no doubt about it.

The ship will be seen!

Even before then, there will be wonderful UFOs that will precede the appearance of the ship(s).

But don’t worry: if PY doesn’t pull it off, Vendyl Jones has promised us the Lost Ark of the Covenant by August 14.

PS: For the whole gripping saga, see FGAQ’s Prophet Yahweh Blog.

UPDATES: PY is now planning to travel the US, summoning UFOs in all states. He blames the no-show on the media, which refused to film his proposed Las Vegas summoning (It would, I suppose, have been highly embarrassing had a giant spaceship appeared over the city and the media had not been there to greet the aliens). PY has also arranged to do a summoning for famous sceptic James Randi in January 2006!

Witchcraft in Angola

BBC’s Newsnight has an unhappy report from Angola about how belief in witchcraft and possession has been leading to child abuse. Should be available until about 22:00 British Summer Time; story begins at 32mins 10seconds. It follows an earlier report about the problem in the UK, which can be seen here.

The programme features an interview traditional healer Avo Kitoko, who appeared in the Washington Post back in 1999.

Inhofe: Global Warming a Leftist “Trap” for NAE

Senator James Inhofe continues his war against the “hoax” of global warming with an attack on…the National Association of Evangelicals. Agape Press reports:

He claims liberals have convinced some evangelical groups to support global warming initiatives in order to bring in new funding that the Left can spend on other causes. Also, Inhofe asserts, liberals are “trying to suck up some of the evangelical crowd and put them into the issue of global warming. And when they do that, they give up their litmus tests. They give up their positions on abortion, their positions on gay marriage, and all that.” However, the Oklahoma senator contends that the theory of global warming is a scare tactic being played up by the Left and the national media and that a number of Christian groups have bought into it. “I’m afraid there’s one large organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, who have fallen into this trap,” Inhofe laments.

So liberals made up global warming to fleece evangelicals for cash to fund abortion and gay marriage!

American Evangelical concern over climate change was first noticed by the MSM back in March, in an article by Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times (all links added by me):

The Rev. Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals and a significant voice in the debate, said, “I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created.”

…The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group of 51 church denominations, said he had become passionate about global warming because of his experience scuba diving and observing the effects of rising ocean temperatures and pollution on coral reefs.

…In October the association paved the way for broad-based advocacy on the environment when it adopted “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility,” a platform that included a plank on “creation care” that many evangelical leaders say was unprecedented.

Goodstein also noted how global warming became an issue for the NAE:

…Mr. Cizik said that [Rev. Jim Ball of the Evangelical Environmental Network] “dragged” him to a conference on climate change in 2002 in Oxford, England. Among the speakers were evangelical scientists, including Sir John Houghton, a retired Oxford professor of atmospheric physics who was on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a committee that issued international reports.

…Mr. Cizik and Mr. Ball then asked Sir John to speak at a small meeting of evangelical leaders in June in Maryland called by the Evangelical Environmental Network, the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today, the magazine. The leaders read Scripture and said they were moved by three watermen who caught crabs in Chesapeake Bay and said their faith had made them into environmentalists.

John Houghton is also the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, dedicated to “connecting Environment and Christianity”. Profiles of him and other members can be seen here:

Sir John Houghton is chairman of the John Ray Initiative. He has held positions as chairman or co-chairman of Scientific Assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 1988-2002, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Oxford, 1976-1983, Director General and Chief Executive of the UK Meteorological Office, 1983-1991, Chairman of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 1992-1998, member of the UK Government Panel on Sustainable Development, 1994-2000. He has received numerous awards including Fellowship of the Royal Society of London and the International Meteorological Organisation Prize. His publications include The Physics of Atmospheres (3rd edn. CUP, 2002), Global Warming: the Complete Briefing (2nd ed CUP 1997) and The search of God, can science help? (Lion, 1994).

So this is the man who James Inhofe believes represents “the Left” which has led the NAE into a “trap”. Either that, or Inhofe is just once again proving himself to be a nasty and ignorant demagogue.

We Are Not Afraid

were-not-afraid-dotcom-just-in-london

Image from this site.

Researchers and Access to Religious Items

Pharyngula notes from Nature that the 9,000-year-old bones of Kennewick Man are finally coming under scientific scrutiny, despite religious objections from Native Americans and lengthy legal actions since the remains were found in Washington State in1996. The Tri-City Herald gives further details on its special website devoted to the topic

Still, spiritual leaders of Northwest tribes, who were on the other side of contentious court battles, say they hope the bones will be laid to rest back in the earth after the scientists finish.

…”Until the bones go back into the earth, their soul can not rest,” said Allen Slickpoo Jr., a Nez Perce elder and spiritual leader who lives in Kamiah, Idaho. “I hope they will let Kennewick Man rest.”…Slickpoo explained that the Northwest tribes consider themselves earth people and they believe a person must be returned whole to the soil.

“We are to go out the same way we come in,” he said.

…Further studies of Kennewick Man could be stopped if a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., passes and a two-word amendment changes the wording of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It would let federally recognized tribes demand the return of remains, even if they can’t prove a link to a modern tribe.

Such concerns are hardly unique – in Israel, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups have threatened archaeologists who disturb Jewish graves. I happen to live in the same city as the largest tomb in Japan, constructed more than 1,500 years ago and said to be the resting place of Emperor Nintoku – making it an imperial sacred space that can never be properly examined.

However, it is not only human remains that are a focus of debate. Tiffany Jenkins (who is affiliated with the Marxist-turned-libertarian Institute of Ideas and who blogs here) reports on an alarming trend in the latest New Statesman:

Objects of religious significance are being removed from museum cases across the United States and the United Kingdom. Artefacts are being hidden away – in effect placed in deep-freeze. Public access, research possibilities and academic freedom are being curtailed and closed down. In the US, at the new National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, material is removed and segregated if the objects are sacred or have ceremonial status. Some may be seen only by certain privileged individuals in a specific tribe. The public may thus view only some of the material held in what is supposed to be a national collection.

Jenkins gives a number of examples, including a case from the UK where women researchers are being discriminated against (links added):

Curators will not display part of the collection at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. Behind closed doors, they have separated parts of this hidden trove into segregated boxes. Only men may look at the set of churinga totems, given to young men of the Arrernte tribe in Australia when they became adults. Any female researchers who make a special request to examine the material will be “actively discouraged”.

Jenkins traces these trends to official policies:

The American Association of Museums recently published the manual Stewards of the Sacred, which “spells out the benefits” of considering the sacred, because museums have “increasingly an obligation to consider spiritual needs and concerns”.

…Already, the code of ethics issued by the UK’s Museums Association argues that this practice should operate across the board. It commands professionals to “consider restricting access to certain specified items, particularly those of ceremonial or religious importance, where unrestricted access may cause offence or distress to actual or cultural descendants”.

Arguing against such restrictions, and a column defending them by Ratan Vaswani (who was also responsible for the UK Code), Jenkins writes:

It sends out the insidious message that human beings can understand cultures only if they were born or raised in them.

It would follow that a girl from Ipanema cannot appreciate the artefacts of the Chinese, nor could a Muslim be an expert in Catholic altarpieces from Italy. This is wrong. The very nature of understanding is that it is open to all, despite blood or upbringing. The quest for knowledge can be conducted with tact and sensitivity, but there should be no restrictions on the pursuit of intellectual inquiry.

Quite right – if museums feel unable to handle religious items in a way that makes them generally available, they may as well return them to the religious groups they originally belonged to. That would be a cruel blow to education and research, but a museum that uses religious or ethnic background to decide who gets to see what must surely be even worse than worthless.

(Story tipped from Christianity Today Weblog)

The London Bombs and al-qal3ah.com

From the London Evening Standard:

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility in the name of al Qaeda for a series of blasts in London, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

The “Secret Group of al Qaeda’s Jihad in Europe” claimed the attack in a Web site posting and warned Italy and Denmark to withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The claim could not be verified and did not appear on any of the Web sites normally used by al Qaeda…ANSA quoted the message as saying on a site it named as “el qal3ah.com”.

Jeremy Reynalds, whose efforts at tracking down Islamist websites have been noted before on this blog, wrote last month that:

…there’s http://al-qal3ah.com/, http://www.qal3ah.net/ and there’s a number of associated domain names such as http://www.qal3ati.biz/ and others.

…These names are of concern, as they are believed to be associated with terrorist Saad Rashed Mohammed Al-Fagih [or “Saad Rashed Mohammad al-Faqih”].

According to the Society for Internet Research, or SOFIR, (www.sofir.org/sarchives/004190.php#004190) “Al-Fagih has been associated with Al Qaida and the global jihad since the mid-1990’s. On 21 December, 2004, Al-Fagih was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the United States. Al-Fagih’s associates have included Osama bin Laden, Khaled al Fawwaz, Mustafa Setmariam Naser, Lewis Attiyatullah, Mohammed al-Massari and Ziyad Khalil.

“Al-Fagih provided logistical support for the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa[8]. In addition, and in particular since Sept. 11, 2001, Al-Fagih has been at the forefront of efforts to promote the global jihad by maintaining online communities of Islamic extremists and facilitating communications among Islamic extremists around the globe. He does this both under the cover of his MIRA organization, aka Al-Islah, and through a separate online entity known commonly as ‘The Castle’ or Al-Qal3ah.”

SOFIR is run by Aaron Weisburd, who makes the connection on Haganah, another of his (very pro-Israel) sites today. He also links to this US Treasury report, which gives further details of the allegations:

Following the 1998 East African embassy bombings, [Khaled] al Fawwaz [Bin Laden’s “de facto representative in the U.K.”] was arrested in the United Kingdom under an extradition request from the United States. At the U.S. trial of the East African embassy bombers, prosecutors provided evidence that al-Faqih paid for a satellite phone that al Fawwaz passed on to UBL [Bin Laden], who allegedly used it to help carry out the attacks.

…Al-Faqih is head of the non-governmental organization Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA). Extremists utilize a website controlled by al-Faqih and MIRA to post al Qaida-related statements and images. While MIRA has issued disclaimers warning users to not attribute postings on MIRA message boards to al Qaida, information available to the U.S. and UK Governments shows that the messages are intended to provide ideological and financial support to al-Qaida affiliated networks and potential recruits. AQ-affiliated author, Lewis Attiyatullah, whose statements have been published on MIRA’s website, has been directly associated with Al-Faqih for several years.

UPDATE: The Guardian has more:

[The message] was posted on an Arabic website, al-qal3ah.com, which is registered by Qalaah Qalaah in Abu Dhabi and hosted by a server in Houston, Texas.

But two Israeli groups devoted to exposing the network of jihadist sites claim that it is connected to the London-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih. Mr Faqih, who is based in Willesden, north-west London, and runs the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (Mira), was designated by the US treasury last December as a supporter of al-Qaida. The UK Treasury followed suit by freezing Mr Faqih’s assets.

…Mr Faqih has always vigorously denied being involved with terrorism. Yesterday he was indignant about being linked to the website.

“It does not belong to me at all,” he told the Guardian. “It is a Zionist smear.”

He had seen the message on Thursday morning and doubted its authenticity. “It was only there for a few minutes, and they misquoted the Qur’an.” He also said the website – or more accurately a bulletin board – could be used by anyone.

Mystic Water and Katherine Harris

The Orlando Sentinel carries a report about Katherine Harris’s 2000 involvement in a curious scheme to eradicate citrus canker, when a product called “Celestial Drops” was brought to her attention:

Researchers worked with a rabbi and a cardiologist to test “Celestial Drops,” promoted as a canker inhibitor because of its “improved fractal design,” “infinite levels of order” and “high energy and low entropy.”

…”The presentation of Celestial Drops as a citrus canker treatment was . . . largely unintelligible,” according to a memo written more than a year earlier by one of the state’s chief plant pathologists. “In general, the proposal comes across as unscientific and not worth pursuing.”

So why did Florida spend months discussing and developing test protocols for Celestial Drops?

The initial push came from Harris, now a U.S. House representative and candidate for U.S. Senate. Harris, the granddaughter of legendary citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., said she was introduced to one of the product’s promoters, New York Rabbi Abe Hardoon, in 2000.

Hardoon did not want to discuss Celestial Drops when contacted by the Orlando Sentinel.

Hardoon has become adept at keeping a low profile lately: just last month he was “unavailable for comment” over claims that his Kabbalah Learning Centre in Boca was facing legal action from five contractors over non-payment of bills. However, in former times Hardoon had plenty so say, dispensing mysticism from Showroom Seven in New York City. Josh Simon reported in 1998:

Rabbi Abraham Hardoon, Sarah’s husband and a handsome former jet pilot in his late thirties, takes his place by a small blackboard. He opens his Zohar text. It is all about us: The enslavement and liberation of the Jews in ancient Egypt, for example, describes how we-the people sitting here today-are enslaved by our selfish desires. If we can share energy rather than hoard it, we can free ourselves from the cycle of reincarnation. Rabbi Hardoon tells us that priests of old were healers and could withstand the energy of death. That our hair works like an antenna, drawing in energy. (Married women’s hair draws more energy than single women’s, thus they should cover their heads.) That Satan enters a cup of water left uncovered. That seeing a camel in a dream means death.

…Before Passover, Rabbi Hardoon delivers a lecture on the significance of the Seder plate. He tells us that the five items on it are not religious symbols, as I have always been taught. Rather, “They are metaphysical energy instruments. Each item works on the center of your consciousness that will help you create order for the next year. He picks up the matzo. “It has the energy of restricted bread, which makes us want to transform our receiving nature into a sharing nature.” The burned lamb shank “gives us control over our reactive behavior.” As for the horseradish, “Chew it slowly,” he pleads, “and convert death energy into Light.”

He begins to sell the KLC’s holiday Seder by insulting the Seders held by our families, calling them “a waste of time.” Rabbi Hardoon insists that sentiment is not part of the game plan. “Did we come to this world to be nice?” he taunts. “We don’t need tradition, we need energy. We need to separate ourselves from family.”

Douglas Rushkoff adds his own experience:

At the Showroom Seven class I attended, a friendly, and yarmulke-capped 40-something teacher from the Kabbalah Center named Abe Hardoon sat amidst racks of pink sheath dresses, speaking in what I could only assume was an at-least-partially affected Yiddish accent. He held up the Science section of the *New York Times* with the headline “Immortality of a Sort Beckons to Biologists” and then proceeded to use the report on genetic engineering as a springboard to a tale about how The Rav once considered resurrecting a young man who had been killed in an accent (we didn’t find out if he succeeded), and from there to a discussion about how achieve immortality in this lifetime.

Harris said Hardoon told her he was working with Israeli scientists who had developed a compound that made plants resistant to canker. Harris acted as intermediary and urged state agriculture officials to work with Hardoon and his associates.

“I met with those [Israeli] scientists,” Harris said Friday. “They were confident they had a cure for canker.”

Harris said she then stepped back and allowed Hardoon and the state to work out the details. Agriculture Department officials insist she applied no political pressure.

…She was repeatedly sent copies of the letters and memos bouncing between Florida canker officials and Hardoon. In August 2001, Harris herself jotted a note to Hardoon.

“I would love to see this work,” it says.

…In the past 10 years, Florida has been swamped by companies claiming to have a cure for canker…But though the state told other companies it could not test their products, it made an exception for Celestial Drops. After months of correspondence, researchers took the unusual step of testing the product for Hardoon and his partner, New York cardiologist Artur Spokojny.

According to the Sentinel, Hardoon refuses to confirm that the “Celestial Drops” are the same as the famous Kabbalah water drunk by Madonna:

Asked whether the canker project was related at all to Kabbalah, he said, “It is, and it isn’t.”

So is that why clicking on www.celestialdrops.com leads directly to the Kabbalah Centre’s website? And Spokojny appears as an advocate of Kabbalah water in this 2001 report:

The science for the water’s power was highlighted by a report that supposedly showed special before-and-after photographs of water molecules treated with Kabbalistic blessings. It showed the water before the blessing as a random pattern, but after the blessing, the water molecules appeared to take a more crystalline, ordered arrangement, resembling a leaf. “We have reversed entropy and reversed the second law of thermodynamics,” contended Dr. Artur Spokojny, a cardiologist who oversaw the independent lab tests.

Microbiologist Katherine Baker is reported as disputing Spokojny’s claims; there is no reference to where exactly Spolkojny published his alleged scientific breakthrough (as it happens, Pharyngula has just posted on the topic of the water).

Back in Florida, department officials say that their testing of the “Celestial Drops” had nothing to do with Harris’s links with Hardoon. Harris meanwhile denies knowledge of the Kabbalah connection, while Hardoon blames state scientists for failing to demonstrate the “Celestial Drops'” effectiveness. But just who were those mysterious “Israeli scientists” who so impressed Harris?

(Story tip from Jesus’ General and Crooks and Liars)

Rick Warren’s Purpose for Rwanda

ASSIST Ministries carries an interview with Rick Warren containing this interesting sub-heading:

RWANDA TO BECOME THE ‘FIRST PURPOSE-DRIVEN NATION’

Warren said that the plight of Africa was very much on his heart at this time. “I’ve been in three different countries in Africa already this year,” he said. I’ve been Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and actually in ten days, we are going back to Rwanda. The President, Paul Kagame, has invited us to help Rwanda become the first ‘purpose-driven nation.’

“We are going to go there for ten days and I’m going to do a day of training for business leaders as well as training for the government leaders and the cabinet and also a day of training for the religious leaders. Then, on the last day, on July 16th, we are going to do National Reconciliation Rally in National Stadium of Rwanda to talk about reconciliation between the Tutsi and Hutu. It will be eleven years after the genocide.”

Warren first announced his plans for Rwanda back in April, when he launched his five-point “P.E.A.C.E.” plan for Africa: the letters stand for “Plant churches, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation.” Warren can be seen as natural successor to Charles Finney: just as Finney developed a method for organising successful revivals in the 19th century, so Warren’s success is down to tutoring by management guru Peter Drucker – who now calls Warren “the inventor of perpetual revival.” Warren has applied his “purpose-driven” technique to churches, Christians – and now, a whole country looks like it will be next.

Warren made his announcement at Saddleback church’s 25th anniversary celebrations. The Baptist Press reported at the time:

The official rollout of P.E.A.C.E. will focus on the small country of Rwanda in eastern Africa, where a million people were killed in a 100-day genocide in 1994. A recent visit to the country convinced Warren that Rwanda had the right qualities for what he called “the first model of national cooperation” between churches and a country’s leaders.

Warren said he was impressed with the spiritual depth of Rwandan church leaders who opposed the genocide and have led the people into a “spirit of hope and reconciliation.” He also said he believes God wants to begin something new in a small country that the world ignores.

Warren then introduced President Paul Kagame as a “wonderful Christian leader” who has demonstrated his trustworthiness in rebuilding the country.

The BBC offers up some more personal details about Kagame in this 2000 profile:

Although Mr Kagame often mocks his image as a military strongman and powerbroker, little takes place in Rwanda without his knowledge.

…Colleagues hint at an ascetic temperament, presenting the president as an incorruptible teetotaller and strong disciplinarian.

Mr Kagame eschews any form of flamboyance and is a low-key, dry public speaker. He is married with four children. Leisure pursuits include playing tennis and reading.

…Paul Kagame is also a firm advocate of Rwanda’s continuing military engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, arguing that vital security issues are at stake and nobody but Rwandans will protect his country’s security.

Kagame led the rebel troops that finally ended the Hutu-led massacres in 1994, so Warren’s enthusiasm is understandable. However, Warren would perhaps be wise to maintain some critical distance. From today’s BBC:

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has begun hearing allegations of human rights atrocities committed by Rwandan troops in DR Congo.

DR Congo accuses its neighbour of armed aggression, mass slaughter, rape, abduction, looting and assassination.

The charges were filed in 2002, and are strenuously rejected by Rwanda. DR Congo also made accusations of village-burning against Rwanda back in November; Rwanda maintains that it only sends troops into Congo to hunt down Hutu extremists who have been in the country since 1994. In December 2004, Alison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch noted that some of these Hutu groups have themselves been killing and looting local Congolese. However, she also claimed that

Rwandan officials say their “surgical strikes” will target only FDLR [the “Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda”, which many of the Hutu forces  in DR Congo have joined], but distinguishing combatants from civilian populations is often difficult. In addition, civilians are frequently caught between demands for assistance from competing forces and end up being punished for having given—or for being suspected of having given—aid to the other side. In the last week there have been reports of villages burned and of civilians killed.

In July 2004, HRW’s Juliane Kippenberg was rather more explicitly critical, writing in the UK Observer:

…the “fight against genocide” has become an excuse for new abuses. It served to justify four years of Rwandan occupation of eastern Congo, which in turn sparked Africa’s bloodiest war. The genocide was used as a pretext for dissolving the main opposition party before presidential elections last year. Now, the RPF-dominated parliament wants the country’s largest and most respected human rights organization to be dissolved – allegedly in the name of preventing genocide.

In order to justify action against the League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (usually known by its French-language acronym, Liprodhor) the parliament insists that Liprodhor “supports genocidal ideas”. In reality, since well before the 1994 genocide, Liprodhor defended the rights of all Rwandans. It sought international action to avert the impending genocide. Those appeals fell on deaf ears. In the past decade, it has monitored genocide trials, pressing for justice to be both swift and fair.

On a recent visit to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, I was struck by the atmosphere of intimidation…

LIPRODHOR was affiliated with the Roman Catholic peace group Pax Christi. Its website is now inactive, but readers of French can see what it used to say at Wayback. Amnesty International added in January:

The expected closure of LIPRODHOR follows a well-known pattern for human rights organisations in Rwanda. In the case of LIPRODHOR, parliamentary commissions have, on two occasions in March 2003 and June 2004, made vague and unsubstantiated allegations regarding their “divisionist” and/or “genocidal” activities. In the Rwanda of today where one’s innocence rather than one’s guilt has to be proven, such allegations are usually sufficient to effectively blacklist the organisation or individual. Such organisations find it nearly impossible to hire and retain staff or raise funds. Following the release of the more recent parliamentary commission’s report, the organisation’s assets were temporarily frozen and several key LIPRODHOR staff sought asylum abroad.

Specifically, LIPRODHOR was accused of involvement with the deaths of some genocide survivors; four other NGOs were also dissolved.

So, will Warren’s American gospel of management help to steer Kagame away from the path of authoritarianism? Or does Warren risk becoming a stooge for a dictator, as other evangelists have before him?

Wanted: “Non-Political” Palestinian Refugees Only

Sheffield Indymedia on 28 June (spelling tidied up), concering the visit to the UK of a Palestinian teenage dance group:

The Al Asria folk dance group from Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza, Palestine has made it to the UK – only just – and will be performing at the Merlin Theatre, Sheffield 28 and 29 June 2005. They will also be in Bakewell, Liverpool, York, and Birmingham. Tickets are still available but are selling fast.

Travelling from Gaza is always difficult – but for Al Asria folk dance group it has been nearly impossible. On the third attempt to come to Britain they have finally succeeded! The first two attempts in November and February had to be abandoned.

But it was a tortuously tiring two day trip They suffered an arbitrary delay of SEVEN hours at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt as the Israeli Occupation Forces delayed them. Then the Egyptian police kept them under armed guard for the whole of their trip through Egypt to Cairo. The men and boys were locked up at the airport overnight and the women and girls had to sleep outside of the airport in the cold.

The tour was arranged by the Yorkshire Palestine Cultural Exchange, which quotes Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti to explain its purpose:

‘What is not present [in the Western media] is the image of the Arab as a human being, a person. This image can best be presented through culture. Culture is probably the best gateway between the thinking and spirit of the grass roots in the Arab world and the grass roots in the West. So I would say open wide the door of cultural exchange and let the West see us as we are: not all bad, not all good, not victims, just ordinary humans; people.

But now, the Yorkshire Post adds (emphasis added):

A ROW has broken out after the Lord Mayor of Sheffield walked out of a production staged by refugee teenagers from Palestine.

Liberal Democrat Roger Davison and his wife Cartherine got up in the middle of a performance staged by Palestinian dance group Al Asria in Sheffield Council’s Children’s Festival.

Coun Davison claims the group were “being too political” and that is why he felt compelled to leave.

The council has now banned the group, made up of a dozen teenagers who live in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, an area occupied by Israel since 1967, from taking part in the Lord Mayor’s parade today [July 2]

What the “political content” was is not explained, although a forwarded email from one of the organisers that has reached my inbox gives some more details:

The mayoress and the children’s festival organiser walked out as soon as the Palestine national anthem was played, and the mayor walked out a little later very publicly since they were all sitting right in the middle.

They said they cannot support ‘political events’ and also accused us that the group were adults not children (they later had to retract this). The effect was of course to make the event far more political as word got round the audience (who responded by wildly cheering everything all evening and giving the group a standing ovation) and both Musheir and I spoke on stage about what had happened.

NAE to Pressure Israel for Palestinians?

Jeff Sharlet at The Revealer brings to attention

confusing news from the Jewish Forward: the National Association of Evangelicals is set to announce a new, more pro-Palestinian policy on Israel. Why? Because it wants to counter liberal churches that are putting economic pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestianians. Wait — that doesn’t make sense. And it gets trickier. How is the NAE signaling its new openness? By sending its president, our friend Ted Haggard, to Israel to meet with Sharon, whom he says was chosen by God, and pledge to support Israel “come hell or high water.”

Haggard’s original comments were carried in the Jerusalem Post back in May:

“We want you to know that we stand behind you in efforts to bring peace,” an official in Sharon’s office quoted Haggard as telling Sharon.

Haggard told Sharon that the official policy of the organization he represents is “to support the state of Israel come hell or high water. We are staunch supporters. We believe that you were chosen by God to lead the people of Israel in this difficult period. We fully support you, because we believe it is God’s will.”

He said that Bush used those exact words – support for Israel ‘come hell or high water’ – during a meeting the President had with Evangelical leaders prior to November’s elections.

Haggard added that opposition to Sharon does not represent the grassroots opinion of the Evangelical community. When Sharon was in Crawford, Texas, last month, a group of Evangelicals protested against the disengagement plan.

However, the Forward now reports that some other Evangelical figures felt that Haggard had overstepped his authority, as the NAE does not have an official position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Haggard immediately denied making the comments, but not in time to stop them from being carried in American Christian newspapers…In an interview this week with the Forward, Haggard repeated his denial of comments reported in The Jerusalem Post. “These were not my words,” he said.

…Still, Haggard told the Forward, he would be open to adopting an official statement that recognized both the evangelical community’s commitment to Israel and the need to achieve justice for both sides.

So why the discrepancy? Sharlet suspects

…the sneakiness of Ted Haggard. Ted first announced his mission to Israel in the now infamous memo in which he warned his congregation to not “act weird” when Tom Brokaw came to visit the church…There are things, he said, that “are too wonderful for us to know.” A euphemism, he suggested, for the secrets leaders must keep from those who could never hope to understand. Such as other NAE bigs, for instance, who, according to the Forward, are confused and outraged by Ted’s Israeli adventure.

In fact, Haggard’s “sneakiness” regarding Israel has a bit of history. As the Colorado Springs Independent reported in 2003:

…New Life [Haggard’s church] does have a small “Israel prayer group,” which meets weekly. The group practices Israeli dances; has adopted an Israeli settlement, Beit Haggai; and holds garage sales to raise money for the settlement.

Three years ago, the prayer group even invited Gershon Salomon, a radical Jewish Zionist, to speak at the World Prayer Center. The group took up a collection for Salomon’s Israel-based organization, the Temple Mount Faithful, which advocates demolishing the Dome of the Rock — the third-holiest site in Islam, located on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple that once stood on the mount but was destroyed in A.D. 70.

…Pastor Haggard himself, however, who in March was elected president of the National Association of Evangelicals, isn’t among those who believe Christians must “force the hand of God” by actively backing such efforts to bring about the Second Coming…”There is a segment of evangelicalism that believes that [the Book of Revelations is about to be fulfilled], but that segment is not in our most prestigious evangelical seminaries,” Haggard says. “I would be shocked if there is a rebuilding of the temple [on the Temple Mount] within the next 200 years.”

Haggard says his support for Israel is “predominantly political.”…Yet for now, he supports efforts to make the road map work, and he backs the two-state solution.

This looks like Haggard is just imitating Sharon’s line of blarney: Sharon talks vaguely about a final settlement to please Bush as Israel consolidates its grip on the West Bank; and so Haggard offers some platitudes about justice for both sides while his plausibly deniable “Israel prayer group” finances an illegal settlement and the Israeli far-right. One wonders how Haggard’s rhetoric might change if (when?) Netanyahu takes over the helm.

On the other hand, I think we can accept Haggard’s claim to be “predominantly political” in his support of Israel, rather than a Hal Lindsey-style apocalyptic Christian Zionist. It is possible that the official from Sharon’s office was alarmed by anti-disengagement rhetoric from the likes of Pastor Jim Vineyard; this may have inspired a few gushing quotes that could be falsely attributed to the leader of the NAE.