drive-by planet: Atlanta billboard features Banksy’s mural of West Bank wall: ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conference

West Bank Wall and holy family in Atlanta Banksy billboard

This is a two-part post dealing with resistance to the Israeli occupation. The common thread is Christian-related… in one case billboard art with a controversial slant on the the nativity story and in another the growing evangelical resistance to Israeli occupation.

Thanks to, a billboard in Atlanta is host to the artwork of British mural artist Banksy. It shows Joseph and Mary enroute to Bethlehem, but in this nativity tale the path they are on leads directly to the West Bank wall. In a realistic touch, the rendering of the wall includes a watchtower and graffiti. The disturbing juxtaposition of the Christian nativity story with draconian Israeli security, is underscored by the ironic inscription “O little town of Bethlehem.”

Bethlehem today is a far cry from the biblical version revisited in Christmas pageants. The present day version is ringed with security, not unlike a barricaded fortress.

The motivation behind bringing issues such as the Israeli occupation to the attention of the American public is addressed on the website of 

The mission of If Americans Knew is to inform and educate the American public on issues of major significance that are unreported, underreported, or misreported in the American media.

It is our belief that when Americans know the facts on a subject, they will, in the final analysis, act in accordance with morality, justice, and the best interests of their nation, and of the world. With insufficient information, or distorted information, they may do the precise opposite.

On there is also this commentary about the brutal political and social realities underlying the Banksy mural.

Security structures, even Israeli ones, can’t suppress creativity. The West Bank wall features some impressive artwork. Along with spontaneous graffiti there are murals with themes of resistance… for example this mural of the famous Palestinian freedom fighter Leila Khalid.

Leila Khalid Palestinain resistance

The mural of Joseph and Mary beneath the West Bank wall is just one of a number of murals by Banksy that deal with Palestinian themes. During time spent in Palestine, he produced a number of murals including some on or near the West Bank wall. Beneath are a few examples of his work… view others here.

Banksy artwork on West Bank
Banksy mural of girl searching Israeli soldier

The Atlanta billboard graphically exposes the brutal reality of Israeli occupation. Although there is no publicly stated connection with evangelical activism, the Christian-themed billboard art appears at a time when many American evangelicals have been openly questioning the unconditional allegiance that their churches have traditionally given to Israel. A number of influential evangelical leaders have been looking more critically at the dehumanizing reality of Israeli occupation, with a number stepping up and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

This is a development that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Christian Zionist organizations such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Its executive director, David Borg, recently made a statement that acknowledges a profound change in the position taken by increasing numbers of evangelicals on the subject of Israel.

Borg: “With every passing month, more evidence is emerging that these anti-Israel Christians are succeeding in reaching beyond the evangelical left and are influencing the mainstream. In particular, they are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly: the millennial generation. These young believers (roughly ages 18 to 30) are rebelling against what they perceive as the excessive biblical literalism and political conservatism of their parents. As they strive with a renewed vigor to imitate Jesus’ stand with the oppressed and downtrodden, they want to decide for themselves which party is being oppressed in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The term “anti-Israel” used by Borg might be considered misleading. Activists I read and likely those also of Christian evangelical persuasion are challenging the system of occupation and systematized oppression that has evolved from a great historical injustice. This is quite different from an anti-Israel position that for example calls for the destruction of the state.

In March of this year a ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ conference was held by the Bethlehem Bible College. It was a 5-day event and as Electronic Intifada reported: “… attracted major speakers both from within the Palestinian Christian community as well as international evangelicals, including Tony Campolo, Gary Burge, Stephen Sizer, John Ortberg and Shane Claiborne. Messianic Jewish speakers were also invited.”

More about the goals of the conference here. There is also this in-depth article about the conference posted on the Israeli news website 972 Mag.

The Bethlehem conference raised considerable alarm in Israeli media and government circles. The prospect of one of Israel’s most supportive constituencies – evangelical Christians –  showing signs of identifying with the Palestinians has sparked some vitriolic criticism. A number of Israeli media outlets accused the Bethlehem conference of being ‘anti-Semitic.’ An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”

The increasingly reactionary, racist and militaristic Israeli state presents a moral dilemma – and not only for evangelical Christians. Religious Jews, particularly of the Orthodox persuasion, understand that tying their identity to Israel involves compromise… a compromise many aren’t prepared to make.

The impact of Zionism on Jewish identity is powerfully addressed by Yakov M. Rabkin – Professor of History at the University of Montreal – in his book Threat Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism.

In this passage Rabkin describes the impact of Zionism on pure Torah-based Judaism:

Worse than the toll of suffering, exploitation, death, and desecration of the Torah, has been the inner rot that Zionism has injected into the Jewish soul. It has dug deep into the essence of being a Jew … It has wreaked havoc among Jews both in Israel and America, by casting us in the role of Goliath-like oppressors. It has made cruelty and corruption the norm for its followers.

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