Monday, July 18, 2016

But is Katanacho Telling the Whole Story About West Bank Travel Restrictions?

...Even standing here today, I’m breaking the law. It’s illegal for me to go inside Bethlehem.” Katanacho’s declaration that he was breaking Israeli law by speaking at Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem sounds very dramatic. But is Katanacho telling the whole story?

Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho speaks at
 the 2012 Christ at the Checkpoint
Conference in 2012. (Dexter Van Zile)
Dexter Van Zile..
CAMERA Snapshots..
18 July '16..

Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho does not have a lot of nice things to say about Israel, where he lives as a citizen. Katanacho, who serves as a full professor of biblical sudies and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College in Israel, regularly denounces Israel to audiences of Christians from North America and Europe.

For example, he recently told an audience of Christians who had trekked to the West Bank for a “peacemaking” conference organized by his employer, Bethlehem Bible College, that “Jewishness in Israel has become an obsession for Israeli Jews and a nightmare for Palestinians because of its extremist views and determination to create a world filled with masters and slaves.”

It’s a dishonest way to describe Israel, the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous Christian population has increased and where Jews, Muslims and Christians work together to live in peace in ways that are unthinkable in many other countries in the region. (For a brief summary of some of the things Katanacho has said about Israel and its Jewish citizens please see this article on the Times of Israel website written by CAMERA researcher Dexter Van Zile.)

When speaking to a group of Christians at the first Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in 2010, Katanacho lamented the fact that Israeli law prohibits Israeli citizens from entering into the areas in the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority. He stated this fact to prove that the Israeli government has enacted policies that prevent Palestinians from “connecting with our families and relatives in the Occupied Palestinian territories. Even standing here today, I’m breaking the law. It’s illegal for me to go inside Bethlehem.

Katanacho’s declaration that he was breaking Israeli law by speaking at Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem sounds very dramatic.

But is Katanacho telling the whole story?

It’s a reasonable question to ask because according to his résumé, Katanacho worked at Bethlehem Bible College between 2007 and 2015, serving as the school’s academic dean and as professor of biblical studies at the school. These are not the type of jobs one can do via Skype or Facetime, indicating that Katanacho passed through Israeli checkpoints in and out of the West Bank on a regular basis. If he was violating the law by speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint in 2010, then it was not a one-time event, but something that happened a lot, hundreds if not thousands of times.

Either Israeli security officials are fundamentally incompetent, or there was a conscious, if implicit decision to let him through. Knowledgeable observers would go with the latter assessment.

To understand how this could be it’s important to know some background about the regulations prohibiting Israeli citizens from entering areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Here is how the Times of Israel reported on the issue after two Israeli journalists were arrested from violating the law:

Israeli citizens are not permitted to enter “Area A,” areas in the West Bank under Palestinian security control, without a permit from the army. The rules were instituted in the wake of the violence of the Second Intifada in 2000.

Snapshots has made some inquiries and has learned that Israeli officials, reasonably enough, are more concerned about violence against Israeli Jews in the West Bank than it is Israeli Arabs, because Israeli Jews are much more likely to be targets of violence than Arabs. (Remember, the prohibition against travel into the West Bank was imposed in 2000 in response to the violence against Israelis during the Second Intifada – violence which was mostly directed at Israeli Jews, not Israeli Arabs like Katanacho.)

As a result, the IDF, which controls passage into and out of the West Bank, will either grant a permit to an Israeli Arab allowing passage or even turn a blind eye to Israeli Arabs traveling into the area. “They bend the law on this issue,” one source reported, “But the law is the same.”

It stands to reason that Katanacho either had official sanction to travel into the West Bank or some sort of informal customary arrangement had been established allowing him to pass back and forth between Israel and the West Bank so he could do his job.

Given his responsibilities at Bethlehem Bible College, that seems like a reasonable and humane decision on the part of the Israeli officials, one that leads in the direction of establishing a badly needed modus vivendi between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

How does Katanacho respond to this? By mischaracterizing the law against Israeli citizens traveling into the West Bank as part of a scheme to keep Palestinians separated from one another, when in fact it was imposed to save the lives of Israeli Jews.

The upshot is that Katanacho is not telling the whole story. One way or the other, Israeli officials allowed him to pass into and out of the West Bank on a regular basis over several years. But instead of acknowledging the apparent willingness of Israeli security officials to cut him (and his employer Bethlehem Bible College) some slack, he used his presence in the West Bank to portray Israel in an unduly harsh light.

Note: On Friday, July 16, CAMERA sent emails to Rev. Dr. Katanacho asking for clarification about his statement, but so far, has gotten no response.

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