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Israel’s history

I refer to the letter from Bassam and Anne Shomali (January 12). Their claim that their family has lived in ‘the Bethlehem area’ since ‘before the birth of Christ’ strains credulity. Until relatively modern times, there were no records of births, deaths and marriages, no surnames and no other forms of hard evidence on which a reliable 2000-year genealogy could be constructed. Not even the royal family of Britain, for whom records do exist, can trace its ancestry that far.

The history writers of 2000 years ago – Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, Josephus and the writers of the Christian scriptures – are unanimous in referring to the province around Jerusalem as ‘Judaea’ and its people as ‘Jews’. In the Christian scriptures there is not a single mention of the name ‘Palestine’ or any variation of it, but there are 43 references to ‘Judaea’ and these include references to ‘Bethlehem of Judaea’ (eg Matt. 2:1, 2:5). Elsewhere, the entire land is called ‘the Land of Israel’ (eg Matt. 2:20, 2:21) and ‘the Commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2:12).

Three Roman emperors – Vespasian, Titus and Domitian – successively ordered special coins to be issued to commemorate the Roman victory over the Jews in 70 CE after four years of fighting, each coin bearing the inscription ‘Iudaea Capta’ (Judaea captive) or ‘Iudaea Devicta’ (Judaea defeated). The Arch of Titus, which still stands in Rome, was erected in 81 CE to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem by Titus’ soldiers. It depicts Roman soldiers carrying a huge golden candelabra taken from the Temple – a conspicuously Jewish symbol. It seems there was no doubt in the minds of the Romans about whose land they had conquered and which people they had defeated.

Bassam and Anne refer to many kinds of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, but fail to mention the ongoing knife attacks, shootings and car rammings against Israelis that make these necessary.These murderous attacks have been going on in one form or another for nearly 100 years through Muslim religious incitement, riots, pogroms, intifadas and suicide bombings. They are aimed at Jews, but also often claim the lives of Arab citizens of Israel.

I am also sceptical of the claim about the alleged disparity in water usage between Israelis and Palestinians. An authoritative study published in 2012 by Professor Haim Gvirtzman, a professor of hydrology at the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University and a member of the Israel Water Authority Council, found that currently there is almost no difference in per-capita consumption of natural water between Israelis and Palestinians. This finding accords with data showing that since 1967, the average water consumption by Israelis has been falling, due in large part to technological advancements in irrigation, recycling and conservation, while Palestinian consumption has significantly increased. Professor Gvirtzman’s impartiality and expertise is recognised by Israelis and Palestinians alike. He is a long-time advisor to the Israel-Palestinian Authority Joint Water Committee.

I commend Bassam and Anne for acknowledging widespread Christian support for Israel, but their attempt to explain it away on the basis of tourism is risible. I will not attempt to deal with each of their contentions on this score. It takes for more knowledge and effort to refute these false claims than to make them.

Marianne Fabri, Billinudgel


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