Saturday, August 12, 2017

Of Israel, Palestine and Threats of Physical Harm

Over my 14 years of writing a faith page column for the Winnipeg Free Press, I have received a number of responses criticizing the things I have written.

Ninety-nine percent are respectful, decent, and thoughtful. I always reply, addressing the issue at hand and thanking writers for taking the time to reach out—and encouraging them to submit their thoughts to the letters to the editor. (Few do.)

There’s almost no way of telling what will spark someone to write. Sometimes you think a controversial column will generate responses, but nothing comes.

Other times, you think nobody will care and the e-mails pour in.

But there is always one issue that I know will generate reaction: Israel-Palestine.

No matter how balanced or neutral I try to be, I know I will hear from people who condemn me for not being 100 percent unequivocal in support of Israel.

Who are these people? A few Jews, but almost always people who identify as Christians.

Most of them are reasonable, using the Bible to show me the error of my ways.

But others want to let me know how bad a Christian I am for even suggesting the Palestinians just might have some good points to make about their experience. For them, that is clear evidence of my anti-Israel bias.

I reply, as always, thanking them for their responses. And then I forget about it.

But not this time. For the first time in my column writing career, I have been threatened with violence.

In the column, I wondered whether sacred places like these were really worth fighting and dying over.

I thought it was a neutral kind of piece, criticizing both Israelis and Palestinians for using geography against one another.

A few people wrote in reply, two Jews and a Christian Zionist. The comments were respectful, suggesting I could have done more to promote the Israeli point of view.

But one person was different. He called and left two messages on my phone. I was out of town, so didn’t get them until many days later.

In the first rambling message, he began by casting doubts on my faith and intelligence for not taking the Israeli side.

He went on to describe the Palestinians as a "deadly, ugly people."

He then “cursed" me "in Jesus name” for not supporting Israel.

Not a big deal, I thought; I've been told before I will burn in Hell for my opinions. But this was the first time I was cursed.

His second message came about 15 minutes later. This time, things went darker. He wanted, he said, to come and “kick my teeth right in.”


It’s been about 50 years since I was last threatened with violence. Back then, it was a schoolyard bully when I was about 10 years old.

And now here it was happening again.

I have to say that, this time, his words struck home. Did he really mean it? Would he show up at my house one day? Did he know where I live? Was my family safe?

Or was he just blowing smoke?

It’s probably just an empty threat, I told myself. Just an angry man spouting hate and anger.

Or maybe there was another motive. Maybe he was trying to intimidate me, to make me reluctant to write about this topic in the future.

If that’s the case, he is mistaken. I will write about Israel and Palestine again, if the topic is relevant.

But I would be lying if I don't say this will be in the back of my mind, or that I won't wonder if a stranger might turn up at my door one day with malice in mind.

Since this was my first experience with a threat of physical violence, I reported it to my editor. 

When this happens, he said, they tend to ignore it unless they believe a real threat is posed. If that's the case, it is reported to the police.

Israel-Palestine, he added, is a topic that brings out the worst in people "no matter what we say or write.”

Like I said before, it’s probably nothing. But it certainly caught my attention. It makes me wonder about the kind of people who say such terrible things.

Especially when so many of them say they are Christians.

No comments:

Post a Comment