In the past 2,000 years there have been numerous descriptions of Jesus of Nazareth, but the image of an Arab Jesus – “the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword” – as depicted by Yasir Arafat at a sideshow of the United Nations in 1983 was probably the most grotesque. Present at his first press conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on September 2, 1983, I heard the words from the UN simultaneous English interpretation of his spoken Arabic:
“We were under Roman imperialism. We sent a Palestinian fisherman, called St. Peter, to Rome. He not only occupied Rome, but also won the hearts of the people. We know how to resist imperialism and occupation. Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross.”1
There was a full house, but no one expressed either shock or disbelief, nor was there any later protestation from representatives of the Holy See or the World Council of Churches, even after my letter quoting his words was published in three Swiss newspapers.2 Yet few could ignore the historic fact that it was in 135 – 100 years after the death of Jesus – that the Roman Emperor Hadrian re-conquered Judea, changing its official name from Judea to Palestina. ( “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod…” Matthew 2:1)
It was not the first nor the last time that Arafat, and others, would steal the symbol of Jesus, transforming the Jews of Judea into ‘Arab Palestinians,’ inhabitants of ancient ‘Palestine.’ According to Greek Catholic Archbishop François Abu Mokh, when Arafat was received by Pope Jean Paul II two weeks later, on September 15, 1983, he told the pope that he felt at home in the Vatican, seat of the successors to St. Peter, “the first Palestinian exile.”3 And Arafat repeated his ‘Jesus / ‘Super-fedayin’ story to columnist Flora Lewis six months later in Paris.4
This theme of Jesus and ‘Palestine’ became a constant in the framework of Palestinolatry. Bat Ye’or has explained this well, showing how – after the Second Vatican Council and the Nostra Aetate Declaration (1965) – the recycling of Christian religious symbols in the Arab-Muslim war on Israel was carried out at the instigation of Arab clergymen. The Christological themes of Palestinianism developed, based on the traditional Judeophobic schemas of the crucifixion, and were introduced via the Arab Churches and the Euro-Arab current. The Arab Palestinian Churches transfigured the Arab Palestinian terrorist into a Christ-like image. In the long tradition of Syrian-Palestinian Christianity, the assassinations of Jews was thus hallowed.”5
This was expressed as early as 1970 by Bishop Georges Khodr, the Metropolitan of Byblos and Mount Lebanon, when he stated in a Paris lecture:
You know what place Christian symbols occupy in contemporary Arab poetry, particularly that of the Palestinian resistance. It is not for me to tell the Muslims what force the evangelical ferment would contribute to the Arab cause (…) On June 5, 1967 I chose Arabness because on that day I saw that Jesus of Nazareth had become a Palestinian refugee” 6
In 1974 – after a formal complaint – Geneva’s authorities banned the entry and display of Arafat-Fatah posters representing Jesus nailed to a Star of David, with the caption “Palestine.”
Two more recent crude examples, from dozens, illustrate this ‘religious’ tactic. In 1997, at Har Homa, a stony hillside in the Judean desert overlooking East Jerusalem, three Arabs had themselves bound to crosses at Easter to protest the building of houses on land owned by a Jew. The only protest about this sacrilegious utilization of the Cross seems to have come from two foreign Christian residents of Jerusalem, who wrote to express their indignation:
The continued and blasphemous abuse of the symbols of our faith by the followers of another. (. . .) Not only did it denigrate our Lord, it was also an unsubtle attempt to resurrect, in the minds of viewers worldwide, the libel of deicide which prompted centuries of Jewish suffering.7
Probably the most heinous insult /‘defamation’ to both Judaism and Christianity occurred on December 11, 2000, two weeks before the Christmas Jubilee, ten weeks after the 2nd intifada began with the savage fedayin attacks on Israeli civilians. A new Palestinian daily, Intifada, displayed on one-half of its front page a provocative caricature, showing a crucified young woman called ‘Palestine’ – with blood flowing from her pierced hands and feet. A long spear transfixes her body to the cross, its protruding point embossed with a star of David, and an American flag at the shaft end. Blood spurts from her martyred body down upon a trio of huddled, caricatured Oriental Jews, who are looking up and grimacing at the crucified young woman, clearly meant to symbolize Jesus and ‘Palestine.’ On December 14, Intifada went a step further. Alongside a battered cross appeared a pious prayer to: “My Lord the Betrayed … betrayed by the contemptible treasonable kiss,” and ending: "O Son of the Virgin, they cannot overcome you twice …”8
There was no official Church reaction before or after Christmas to this gross defamation of Christianity –and of hate-propaganda against Jews and Judaism – at the close of the Jubilee Year 2000, after the earlier memorable visit of Pope Jean Paul II to Jerusalem. However, in Geneva, an ecumenical letter of protest was sent on December 17, 2000 to the Association for World Education (AWE) by Abbé Alain-René Arbez and the Rev. Bernard Buunk. It asked that their ‘Appeal’(“Abuse of a Religious Symbol: a Parody of a Prayer, and Crucifixion in Palestine” ) be submitted as a formal complaint to the appropriate UN bodies. This was done before Christmas by AWE, which forwarded their joint letter and the caricatures to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Religious Intolerance (Abdelfattah Amor) and on Racism (Maurice Glélé-Ahanhanzo), asking them to act under Commission on Human Rights Resolution “Defamation of Religions” and record and condemn this blatant travesty. Nothing came of it.9
In October 2002, two years after he approved the bloody 2nd Aqsa intifada, Arafat gave an interview to a correspondent from the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat. On Jerusalem, he was explicit: “They [the Israelis] found not a single stone proving that the Temple of Solomon was there, because historically the Temple was not in Palestine [at all].”10
In 1983 at the UN – when he called Jesus “the first Palestinian fedayin who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their Cross” – and in 2002 when he reiterated a refusal to admit that the Temple of Solomon had ever existed in Jerusalem (“in Palestine”), Arafat demonstrated a classic example of the pillage of Jewish history in the Land of Israel, and a denigration of Christianity – both of which he strove to supplant in order to assume an Arab-Palestinian legitimacy. He would have been more convincing if, in building his ‘Palestine’ as a part of the ‘Arab Nation,’ he had researched Arab history, rather than Arabizing and Palestinianizing the history of the Jewish people. If one is obliged to fabricate a history, and a legitimacy by endeavoring to pillage others, it demonstrates a historical dearth.
In an Islamic context, ‘Isa – the Muslim name of Jesus – is considered to have preached Islam. He was the awaited Messiah, but did not die on the Cross. In two hadiths, it is alleged that he will return at the end of time, kill the Evil One (the one-eyed Dajjal), break the cross and kill pigs (thus ending Christianity). He will abolish the jizya (poll-tax for non-Muslims), and the booty will be abundant, for there will be no religions except Islam, which will reign supreme.10
Yasir Arafat would certainly have known these hadiths, including the favorite one of Hamas (his buddies since 2000), which concludes article 7 of their genocidal 1988 Constitution – still not condemned at the United Nations!: “The Day of Judgement will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, killing them, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” And as an epitaph, the slogan of Hamas (article 8) fits Arafat like a glove: “Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its Constitution; Jihad its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.”
1. Simultaneous interpretation from Arabic into English (UN press conference tape, Sept. 2, 1983), Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), 319, 466, n. 42.
2. David G. Littman, “Arafat, Jésus et l’histoire,” Dimanche Tribune (Lausanne), Sept. 11, 1983, Tribune de Genève, Sept. 14, 1983, La Vie Protestante (Geneva), October 7, 1983.
3. François Abou Mokh, Les Confessions d’un Arabe Catholique. Entretiens avec Joëlle Chabert et François Mourvillier (Paris: Centurion, 1991), 195; for English see in Bat Ye’or, Jihad et Dhimmitude, 466, n° 42.
4. Flora Lewis “The Remarkable Resiliance of Chairman Arafat,” International Herald Tribune (Paris), March 9, 1984; letter by David G. Littman, “Arafat and Jesus,”, IHT, April 4, 1984.
5. Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 275.
6. Georges Khodr, “L’Arabité.” Lecture delivered under the auspices of the Association for Franco-Arab
Solidarity, Paris, June 2, 1970, quoted in Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, 275.
7. Patrick and Nicola Goodenough, Jerusalem Post, April 5, 1997, and in Islam and Dhimmitude, 275-76.
8. Documentation from Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), Jerusalem, Islam and Dhimmitude, 276.
9 Documentation from Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), and Association for World Education, Ibid, 276.
10. Interview with Arafat by Saida Hamad, the Ramallah correspondent of Al-Hayat (London), October 5, 2002
English trans. in MEMRI, Special Dispatch – Palestinian Authority, October 11, 2002 (www.memri.org).
11. Mark Durie, “ ‘Isa, the Muslim Jesus,” in Robert Spencer, ed. The Myth of Islamic Tolerance. How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims (Amhearst, NY: Prometheus Books, January 2005), Part 6.
David G. Littman, a historian, is an NGO representative to the United Nations (Geneva) since 1986. He is currently a representative of the Association for the World Education & the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Several of his statements (oral & written) to the UN Commission on Human Rights, with other articles, appear in The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, ed. Robert Spencer (Prometheus Books, Jan. 2005).