Controversy in German Church over Israel exhibiton
An exhibition on the flight and expulsion of Palestinians from Israel in 1948 may not be shown at the German Evangelical church day in June.
This was decided unanimously by the board of directors of the yearly church festival “Kirchentag”.
The decision is because the exhibition on the "Nakba" presents history "in a one-sided way."
There has been a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians for decades over the events of Israel's 1948 War of Independence.
Several Arab states had declared war on the fledgling Israeli state that year. After troops repelled the attack, some 700,000 Arabs fled Israel or were expelled. While Israelis see the events as a heroic defence of their state against an overwhelming enemy force, Palestinians call them the "Nakba" (Arabic for catastrophe).
In the past, the "Refugee Children of Lebanon" association's exhibition based on these events was regularly shown during German church festivals. Critics argued from the start, however, that there was too little focus on the role of Arab states.
The association's president, Ingrid Rumpf, does not recognise the criticism. One of the exhibition's 14 panels is said to be about the attack by Arab armies. "It says there that the Arab states have declared war. It also lists the strengths of the various armies. That is all we can do."
The Protestant Development Service and the Foundation for Development Cooperation of Baden-Württemberg sponsor the "Nakba" exhibition. They would never have done so if it contained a falsification of history, Rumpf said. "In no way is it about denying the State of Israel its right to exist," he said.
The Protestant president of the first ecumenical church congress in 2003, Elisabeth Raiser, criticises that bans are already being pronounced in the run-up to the church congress. "If you reject an exhibition, you must justify it," she says.
She can understand that many Israelis feel that church festivals in the past have focused more on the Palestinian side. However, she says that is not the purpose of the "Nakba" exhibition.
The secretary general of the Kirchentag, Rev Kristin Jahn, defends the board’s decision and considers it justified because of the "one-sidedness" of the exhibition. "It has been clear for years that the exhibition needs an overhaul. The association has remained guilty of this." In addition, the ban applies only to the exhibition; the association can continue to report on its activities on the church festival, Jahn said.
The Christian Forum for Israel welcomes the board's decision. Every war leads to a flow of refugees, says board member Winfried Rudloff. "In this case, however, it is a historical fact that Israel was first attacked by neighbouring countries and had to fight for its survival as a young state. And that after six million Jews in Europe were brutally murdered in the Holocaust."
Adding that the refugees were told by the attacking Arab armies to leave their homes and villages for several days until all Jews were driven into the sea, Rudloff says. "This gives the flight a different connotation."
He says the exhibition conceals that some 850,000 Jewish refugees were forcibly expelled from Muslim countries, especially from North Africa, after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. "Jews were subjected to murder, rape and theft. Often they could only save their lives."
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