Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, by Lela Gilbert, Encounter Books, 2012. 293 + xii pp.
Reviewed by Joseph S. Spoerl
Lela Gilbert is a freelance writer, journalist, and editor who has authored or co-authored more than sixty published books and many more articles. An evangelical Christian from southern California, Gilbert has a special interest in the persecution of Christians world-wide, especially in Muslim countries.
The title of Gilbert’s book alludes to an oft-repeated slogan of radical Muslims: “On Saturday we kill the Jews, on Sunday we kill the Christians.” Gilbert’s thesis is that both Christians and Jews in the Middle East are being targeted by radical Muslims who share the widely held belief of Muslims that Muhammad was the final and most perfect prophet and that Islam has abrogated all previous religions. This Islamic supercessionism has traditionally manifested itself both in the doctrine of jihad and in the traditional discrimination against dhimmis (subjugated Jews and Christians) that is mandated by Islamic law.
Gilbert is well read in Islamic and Middle-Eastern history. She is acquainted with the writings of Bat Ye’or, Norman Stillman, Martin Gilbert, Efraim Karsh, David Cook, Klaus-Michael Mallmann, Michael Cüppers, and many others. She has read memoirs by twentieth-century Jewish refugees from Islamic countries and quotes extensively from interviews with such refugees, who today comprise about half of the Jewish population of Israel. The sense of this reviewer is that Gilbert is far better informed about Islamic and Middle-Eastern history than the average western journalist reporting from the region.
Gilbert’s prose is engaging and accessible, and while her book is meant for a general audience, even academics specializing in the Middle East will find much of interest there. This book’s originality and strength lies in the large number of interviews the author has conducted with eye-witnesses, individuals who are all-too- often ignored by the mainstream media and western academics. Her interviewees include Jewish refugees from Muslim countries, Israeli Arabs, Arab Christians from the West Bank and Gaza, West-Bank “settlers,” Christian refugees from Muslim countries, Israeli archaeologists and defense experts, and countless Israeli friends and neighbors, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, of all political stripes and from all walks of life. As a well-connected writer and six-year resident of Jerusalem, Gilbert has insights into Israeli and Palestinian society that should not be lightly dismissed.
Alas, many will be inclined to dismiss Gilbert’s insights, because she is unabashedly pro-Israeli. While she writes with a gentle charity, she displays a steely refusal to countenance the politically correct double standards that distort so much western reporting on the Islamic world and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Having read David Cook on jihad and Bat Ye’or and Norman Stillman on the treatment of Jews under Islam, and having met so many Christians and Jews who have suffered at the hands of Muslim majorities in the Middle East, Gilbert knows that the myth of “Islamic tolerance” is just that—a myth. Unlike the utopian proponents of the so-called one-state “solution” with a “Right of Return” for registered Palestinian refugees, Gilbert maintains that Israeli Jews cannot allow themselves once again to be made into a minority living under a Muslim majority in their ancestral homeland. Unlike the critics of the West Bank security barrier, Gilbert has not forgotten the fearsome suicide bombings that in the first place led to that barrier’s construction. Unlike the reporters who routinely refer to the 2010 “attack” on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli commandoes, Gilbert knows that those commandoes were themselves attacked first by Turkish militants wielding clubs, knives, and chains. Unlike naïve westerners like Jimmy Carter who insist that Hamas leaders are interested in a peace agreement, Gilbert is aware of the religious fanaticism and deadly Jew-hatred that are integral to the world-view of Hamas and other Islamist groups. Unlike trendy leftists who accuse Israel of “apartheid,” Gilbert has taken the trouble to interview refugees from South African apartheid who live in Israel and offer informed rebuttals of this baseless comparison. Unlike the left-wing western academics who have read Edward Said and thus “know” that Palestinians have always been committed to a secular democratic state with equal rights for Jews and Christians, Gilbert knows that Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the founding father of Palestinian nationalism, was in fact a Nazi collaborator committed to annihilating the Jews. She also knows of the discrimination faced on a daily basis by Christians living in the West Bank and Gaza and the savage persecution meted out in those territories, with the collusion of the police, to Muslim converts to Christianity. (A relevant bit of context here that Gilbert does not mention is that the Palestinian Authority constitution, Article 4, stipulates that Islam is the official religion of the Palestinian Authority, and that the principles of Islamic sharia are the primary source of its legislation. So much for Edward Said’s “secular,
Lela Gilbert’s voice deserves to be heard. If “progressive” westerners could set aside their anti-Israeli and anti-evangelical biases long enough to read her book, they would learn (and, more importantly, unlearn) a great deal about a chronically misunderstood region.