Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31-Oct-12: A Scottish corner in the Holy Land: The BBC explains what it means

Some interesting themes in today's BBC look (online here and the text is at the foot of this post) at the Scots Hotel: a romantic Scots interpretation of the white man's burden in today's Middle East. 

If you have read it, we have some observations:
In 1999, the General Assembly voted to invest around £10 million ($16 m) to upgrade the property. There was an uproar. Critics said it was scandalous to do this at a time when the Church at home was having to sell off properties and merge congregations, not to mention struggling to finance HIV/AIDS projects in Africa. But supporters of the development won the day, insisting that the hotel could become a place of reconciliation in the Middle East. The General Assembly was particularly won over by Palestinian Christian delegates, who pleaded with the Kirk not to abandon its position in Israel.
The outcome is not so well understood by the writer, and maybe not by the Church leadership either. The existence of a Church-owned hotel does precious little to advance the cause of reconciliation between Israeli Jews and the mostly-hostile Arab sea in which our country lives. 

But in terms of the standing and security of Christian Arabs, who face insurmountable, frequently existential, challenges from their Islamic cousins, a case can be made that it has had some positive impact as an expression of concern for their welfare by their fellow Christians in the UK and Europe - a scarce commodity. 
In the village of Reineh, near Nazareth, Father Samuel Barhoum tells me how proud he is of the links with the Kirk. "We are a forsaken minority here," he says, alluding to the fact that outside the Middle East many people are unaware that there are Palestinian Christians as well as Muslims. For him, the Scots Hotel in Tiberias is "an oasis".
This is a significant key line. Who is doing the forsaking? Who is being forsaken? Suggested answers: Christians in the west, to part one. Christian Palestinian Arabs in part two. A scandalous and somewhat baffling ongoing reality, made the more so by the endless denial in which the first of those groups engages.
The Church of Scotland is fiercely supportive of the Palestinian cause. But ironically the existence of the Scots Hotel - which relies to some extent on Israeli goodwill and receives hefty Israeli tourism grants - is said by some to tie the Church's hands.
Does the Church's leadership or membership understand how support for what is called here the Palestinian cause translates into exacerbation of the problems facing Christian groups throughout the Arab world?
Rooms here cost as much as £200 ($320) a night, which puts it out of reach of most local people. Certainly few Palestinians, who it was originally hoped might come here to rub shoulders with Jewish people, could stay here. 
An odd and indefensible position: that Palestinian Arabs need a hotel in order to rub up against Israeli Jews and vice versa. Try selling this idea to the people who daily patronize supermarkets, hospitals, buses, Kupot Holim health fund clinics, universities (and trams in Jerusalem) the length and breadth of Israel.

Churchmen were acutely aware that if they sold the property it would be bought by Israelis, which would be a blow not just to Christianity in the region but also to the Palestinians, whose cause the Church of Scotland strongly supports.
There's a whiff of something unstated and unsavoury here. Understanding how the sale of a hotel to "Jews" could have been a blow to "Christianity" is the key to understanding what's troubling with this superficial and somewhat misleading article and the underlying ideas that animate it.

Here's the first part of the BBC text:

Scots Hotel: Why the Church of Scotland has a Galilee getaway
By Angus Roxburgh | Tiberias, Israel [BBC World Service website]
31 October 2012 Last updated at 00:44 
Spot the odd one out: Hilton, Marriott, Radisson, Church of Scotland, Holiday Inn. Yes, you're right, they are all names of hotels apart from… but wait a minute, the Church of Scotland also owns a hotel, and a very splendid one at that. Very splendid, and very controversial too, since an organisation as thrifty and modest as the Scottish Kirk would not normally be expected to spend £13 million ($20m) building a luxury hotel. It also happens to be situated in one of the world's hotspots - northern Israel, not far from Syria and Lebanon, in the town of Tiberias, which only a few years ago came under rocket attack. So who is the Scots Hotel for, and why does the Church own it? It all started back in the 1880s, when a group of Scottish missionaries led by a surgeon, Dr David Watt Torrance, came to the Holy Land to preach, convert, and heal. Torrance built a hospital in Tiberias which served patients from as far away as Damascus. After the new Israeli state built its own hospital in the region in 1959, the three buildings housing the Scottish one were converted into a hospice for pilgrims, and then a modest guesthouse, owned by the Church of Scotland. By the 1990s, the guesthouse was crumbling due to lack of investment, and the Church faced a dilemma. Sell it - and its beautiful grounds by the Sea of Galilee, including a little cemetery where Dr Torrance and his family are buried - or invest in it...
The rest is on the BBC's website.

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