Delivery of the Fictional Palestinian Keys

Summary: Imagine perceiving the future when you cannot see the present nor recognize the past.

One of the most famous paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is by Pietro Perugino, entitled “Christ Handing the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter.” The painting itself is notable for several important contributions to the world of art such as displaying three dimensions using linear perspective and a vanishing point. The subject matter is also an interesting metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.


The Painting

The subject of the painting reflects the establishment of the role of the pope in Catholicism. Jesus’s handing of the “keys of heaven” to his disciple Peter was considered establishing a connection between earth and the heavenly realm.

The center of the painting focuses on the actual handing of the keys: one key is held by Jesus, while a second key remains dangling in the foreground. The viewer does not really notice two keys, but the single dangling key. From that key, eyes are drawn up towards the open doors of the Temple of Solomon, displayed as an interpretation of the eight-sided Dome of the Rock. This is a metaphor of the connection between the divine to the physical and up again to the divine: the keys connecting Jesus and Peter, and then the dangling key from Peter to the Temple.

In the painting, the Temple of Solomon is sitting on a plaza surrounded by people and triumphal arches of Constantine. It was the emperor Constantine that welcomed Christianity to the Roman Empire in 325CE. While the Temple of Solomon sat in Jerusalem, these arches were in Rome, near the Vatican.  By integrating these themes, Perugino brought Jerusalem to Rome and had Christianity flanking the holy Temple.

 The Metaphor of Keys

Keys are often used as metaphors in art and poetry. Keys are not only tools for gaining access, but connote ownership. The holder of the key is considered both the rightful owner of whatever is locked, and is the sole person who has the means of gaining access to whatever the lock has sealed. In the case of this famous painting, Jesus holds the heavenly key in gold, which is paired with a darker key for Peter. The twining is a partnership bridging heaven and earth, with Peter as the rightful owner of the earthly key. The key itself opens the Temple in Jerusalem, the physical gateway back to heaven.

The brilliance of the painting lies in the suspension of the dark key. Set against a plain background in the center of the painting, a viewer has no choice but to be drawn to it. The key anchors the focus, and the story is built around it.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Middle East has a long history of using keys, both physical and metaphorical. In 1917, the Mayor of Jerusalem handed over “keys of Jerusalem” to British General Allenby as a sign of surrender, and in 1841, the Ottomans handed the keys to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to Jews as a symbol of their control of the holy site. Even today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a key that is held by a Muslim family as was the tradition dating back to 1246, even though the church has no religious significance to Islam.

Many Palestinians carry their own physical keys with symbolic messages today: that they are the rightful owners to homes in Israel and are waiting to move there.


The skeleton keys are not the actual keys to homes that grandparents abandoned in 1948 while they waited for Arab armies to destroy the nascent Jewish State.  These Palestinian keys are representational of their quest to a “right of return” to homes in Israel. It has become a physical manifestation of their view of themselves as refugees. However, both the keys and status are manufactured.

As detailed in “Palestinian “Refugees” or “SAPs”?” there are only about 30,000 refugees (or more accurately, Internally Displaced Persons) alive from 1948, as refugee status cannot be handed down like an inheritance. Further, a refugee is someone who left a country, not a house. International law covers refugees return to a country, not an abandoned building (and Palestine was never a country).

Regardless, the acting President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, continues to put the “refugees” as a key issue in negotiations with Israelis. He does this with the blessings of the United Nations which is complicit in misleading the Palestinians.

The United Nations not only created a unique agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) separate from the organization that handles all other refugees in the world (UNHCR), but uniquely enables the descendants of Palestinian refugees to get services from the UN.  As elaborated in “Help Refugees: Shut the UNRWA, fund the UNHCR” the staffing of the UNRWA now exceeds the total number of Palestinian refugees.

The larger issue with UNRWA is not their giving extended services to millions of Palestinians who are not refugees, but the UN agency’s active encouragement of Palestinians to seek to move to, and delegitimize Israel.

key doorway
Entryway to UNRWA camp in Bethlehem with a large key atop

Both the United Nations and Palestinians have manufactured a particular narrative:

  • Palestine was an Arab country in 1948
  • Palestinian Arabs were the only indigenous people who had lived there for centuries
  • Jews ethnically cleansed Palestine of its Arab inhabitants
  • Per the points above, Israel is not a legitimate state as the Jews are interlopers who stole the native Arab land

Such story stands in stark contrast to basic facts:

  • Palestine was never an independent country
  • The region and Mandate of Palestine had a mixture of Jews and Arabs, with Jews accounting for over 30% of the population in 1948
  • More Arabs than Jews moved to Palestine under the British Mandate 1922-1948
  • Many Palestinian Arabs were not land owners but tenants in the land
  • Most Arabs fled from their homes in 1948, while they hoped and waited for Arab armies from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt to destroy Israel
  • Israel welcomed non-Jews, giving 160,000 non-Jews citizenship in 1948, in sharp contrast to the Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs who expelled all Jews from Judea and Samaria

As in the painting “Delivery of the Keys,” UNRWA has  handed Palestinians a narrative and claim to Israel: the Arabs are the rightful owners of Israel. The United Nations paints these “refugees” against a bleak background (like the key in the painting) to emphasize their stateless position. The key above the portal at the UNRWA camp is a potent symbol to all Palestinians, that it is through the United Nations that millions of Arabs will migrate to Israel. UNRWA and the Palestinians have established a pairing of keys like Jesus and Peter in the painting above: Palestinian Arabs are the owners of Israel, and the gateway to getting that land is through the United Nations.

The Vanishing Point

The vanishing point is where eyes are drawn to in the horizon.  It is a place where parallel lines converge giving depth to a two dimensional painting.  It is also the point where things become increasingly smaller and faint, disappearing altogether.

In the Perugino painting, the vanishing point is the open door to the Temple of Solomon. It is this worldly portal to the heavens, where man’s prayers ascend to ethereal songs.  The viewer of the painting is pulled to the very spot where the material world melts – indeed, the vanishing point.

Today, a person could look at the artwork with another perspective.

The Temple of Solomon, the most holy place on earth for Jews, is replaced with an Islamic shrine.  The Temple, and Jewish presence has seemingly disappeared.  In this Christian piece of art, the flanking of Constantian arches and Jesus and Peter in the foreground are meant to underscore that the pope and Christianity are the proper pathways to God. Judaism has faded to Islam, and both are replaced by Jesus’s emissary.

Over Jerusalem Day 2015, the vanishing point added an additional dimension.

The current pope, Pope Francis, canonized two nuns who were born in the holy land in the 1840s, while it was part of the Ottoman Empire. One nun was born in Jerusalem and another was born in the Galilee.  Yet the pope decided to refer to these nuns as “Palestinians,” not Ottomans and not Israeli (while the status of Jerusalem is under debate, the only people that consider the Galilee part of Palestine are Hamas-supporters who seek the destruction of Israel).  If one chooses to be generous and argue that the region was called Palestine in the 1840s, does the pope refer to people from regions like the Sahara (Saharans?), the Rockies (Rockies?) or Patagonia (Patagonians?), or does he call them Libyans, Americans and Chileans?

Is the pope seeking a new replacement theology, where not only has the Vatican replaced Jerusalem as the center of divine revelation, but history itself can be updated? Is Israel being supplanted today the way the painting at the Vatican shows Judaism being replaced?

The news media has certainly rallied to such vision.  The New York Times decided to cover the celebrations of Jerusalem Day on May 17, 2015 from a purely Arab point of view.  The day in which Israelis celebrate the reunification of their holiest city from which they were expelled and barred from reentry was characterized as a moment of protest. The atrocities committed by Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs during 1949-1967 vanished and this year’s celebration was mocked.

The Times questioned the very essence of Israeli rights to Jerusalem as it quoted a Palestinian man ““How would you feel if somebody marched through your living room, without your permission?””  Whose house is this anyway?


A Vanishing Point has interesting features: our eyes are drawn there; but the subject matter blurs and disappears.

The world’s attention is focused on the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jews and Palestinian Arabs are focused on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  As they do, Palestinians grab hold of the dangling key and Israelis don’t see the golden key in their hand. Everyone wonders what the future will bring and ventures predictions as they gaze into the distance.

And as they do so, all reality disappears.

Related First One Through articles:

In Israel, Everybody’s New

The Holocaust and the Nakba

The Arguments over Jerusalem

“Arab” Land

Pope Francis in Turkey

The news agencies reported on Pope Francis’ visit to Turkey in November 2014. Remarkably, the major media outlets such as CNN, BBC, and The New York Times did not report on the extreme hardened Islamic moves that have taken place in Turkey over the past several years, nor other abuses:

  • No mention of the Turkish persecution of the Kurdish minorities
  • No mention of Turkey’s illegal invasion and ongoing occupation of northern Cyprus
  • No mention of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians
  • No mention of rightward shift of Turkish government:
    • Banning kissing in public
    • Banning Youtube
    • Banning Twitter
    • Jailing the most journalists in the world in 2012 and 2013
    • Banning drinking at night

The closest any major news organization came to criticizing Turkey was the Guardian, which quickly backed off with a quote “Things are good now, better than before certainly,” Atmaca said. “I think the Islamist rhetoric [of the government] is mostly show.””

By way of comparison, when the Pope visited Israel in May 2014, the New York Times did nothing to describe the positive environment of Christians in Israel, and constantly sought to portray every move of Pope Francis as critical of Israel in the Arab-Israel conflict (as described in the FirstOneThrough articles below.)  Absent from their narrative, was that Israel is a thriving country with more freedoms of press and worship than any country in the Middle East.  The country is much more than the conflict with the Palestinians, just as Turkey is more than its conflict in Cyprus or with the Kurds.

Here is a FirstOneThrough video analysis of an interview of Recep Erdogan from September 11, 2011, then the Prime Minister and now the President of Turkey. Like the liberal media outlets, the attacks on Israel are persistent, and the hypocrisy is without limits.

FirstOneThrough video “Turkish hypocrisy: Erdogan threatens Neighbors”:


CNN coverage:

BBC coverage:

New York Times coverage:

FirstOneThrough comparing NY Times coverage of Turkish and Israeli elections:

FirstOneThrough on Pope in Israel:

FirstOneThrough on NY Times Pope’s “Peace prayer” invitation:


NY Times skewed view on Pope prayer invitation and MidEast Peace

NYT May 27, 2014 “For Middle East, Region of Religious Conflict, Pope Suggests a Respite in Prayer”


Jodi Rudoren penned a piece in a “Memo from Jerusalem”, freeing her from the invisible constraints of reporting news “truthfully”, and shared her personal observations about the pope and the Middle East conflict. Her bias towards the Palestinian narrative remains clear.


  1. Her opening sentence states that Pope Francis came back from the “Holy Land with the typical bag of ceremonial gifts, including, from the children of Bethlehem’s refugee camps, a mock-up of an identification card in the name of Jesus that lists family members as Mohandas K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Yasir Arafat and Martin Luther King Jr.” Wow.
    1. I’ve been to Israel 30+ times. I’ve been to Jerusalem, Jericho and Bethlehem. I never once came back with a propaganda ID card. Does she really think that it’s “typical”?
    2. Jodi has often written about the Vatican and the UN now referring to the “State of Palestine”. You cannot have a refugee camp of Palestinians in a “State of Palestine”. You cannot claim to have a state and be a refugee of that state while living in such state.
  2. It is quite impressive to list a terrorist like Yasir Arafat with Gandhi and MLK. I would have hoped Jodi would have continued to detail the outrageousness of the comparison, but alas, I believe she thinks it fine to equate a civil rights leader with the man who brought the world airplane hijackings. Here are two quotes: one from Arafat and one from Gandhi. See if you can guess who said which:
    i.      “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.
    ii.      “We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilled to redeem our land!
  3. The article compliments the pope navigating his trip “without seeming to offend” any of the parties.  A strange comment considering over the prior three days Jodi pointed out the anger of the Palestinians for the pope’s laying a wreath at Herzl’s grave and of the Israelis anger for the pope stopping at the security barrier near a sign that labeled it an “Apartheid Wall”.
  4. Jodi goes on to compare the pope’s stopping at the security barrier, with a wall commemorating Israeli victims of terror. In a “normal” world, these two visits would be THE SAME prayer to stop violence, as the security barrier was built during the Second Intifada specifically to stop terrorism. However, Jodi’s remarks make clear that the stop at the barrier was not just the pope connecting with Palestinians and Israelis, but was meant to “shame” the Israelis. How can a parallel be drawn between a security mechanism and a memorial to innocent victims?
  5. She dismissed the prospects of the “peace prayer” at the Vatican “particularly” because Israeli President Peres role is “ceremonial” and he is set to leave the post in July.
    1. NYT again blames Israel for any path forward.
    2. Ignores the fact that Palestinian President Abbas’s term in office expired in 2009 – over four years ago.
  6. Jodi chose to liken the parties stating that “extremists on both sides have exploited religion to block resolution”. That statement is not an over-simplification, it is dishonest:
    1. Hamas won the last elections the Palestinians held, winning 58% of the vote back in 2006. Kahane’s party has been banned in Israel for decades.
    2. Hamas controls Gaza and 1.7 million people. Jewish “extremists” are individuals who do not control land or a population.
    3. The “right-wing” (NYT terminology) Likud and The Jewish Home parties have no disparaging comments about Christians or Muslims. However, the Hamas governing charter is a rant of anti-Semitism. A few quotes here:
      i.      Article 20: [the Jews are] “a vicious, Nazi-like enemy, who does not differentiate between man and woman, elder and young…The Nazism of the Jews does not skip women and children, it scares everyone.”
      ii.      Article 22: “[Jews] have been scheming for a long time,… they took over control of the world media such as news agencies, the press, publication houses, broadcasting and the like. … They stood behind the French and the Communist Revolutions and behind most of the revolutions”
      iii.      Article 7: “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”
  7. Notable for its absence over a week of reporting on the pope visiting the Holy Land, and again in this article dedicated to religion and prayer, was the current status of Christianity in the region.
    1. Israel has freedom of religion for all; all churches are open and people are free to pray in the manner of their choosing. That is not true in most of the Middle East
    2. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing
    3. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the number of Christian tourists surpasses any other religion, including Jews.
    4. Israel is the only country in the region which is the target of BDS by some Christian groups
  8. Also absent from the articles was Abbas’s comment to the pope that “Israel is systematically acting to change [Jerusalem’s] identity and character, and strangling the Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims, with the aim of pushing them out”. No comment from the NYT about the religiously charged lie:
    1. The Christian population in Jerusalem has increased since Israel re-unified the city in 1967. The only time that the Christian population declined over the past 100 years was during Jordanian rule 1949-67
    2. The Muslim population in Jerusalem never increased more over the past 150 years than it has under Israeli rule
    3. From 1967-2011, Muslim population in Jerusalem increased 4.4x, compared to 2.5x for Jews
    4. Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since 1870. How has the “identity and character” changed in Abbas’s mind? Oh, Jews are once again living in the Old City, now that the 1949 Jordanian expulsion of the Jews and 19-year ban is over.


NYTimes shows its preference in “dueling narratives” in the Middle East

New York Times May 26, 2014: “Pope Lays Wreath at Tomb of Zionism’s Founder”

The NYT headline would lead a reader to believe that the article is about Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Guess again.

1.      The article is not about Herzl at all- he is mentioned in passing in the seventh paragraph.

2.      The article is about dueling narratives of Israelis and Palestinians. It is clear which one the NY Times favors, as the day beforehand it posted a huge front page photograph of the Pope at the security barrier, compared to this article on page A10 which includes three photographs of the pope at religious sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

3.      The article does not point to the NYT posting the photograph on its front page, but says that the picture simply “rocketed around the Internet”, making the paper seem uninvolved in its promotion.

4.      The author writes of the “graffiti-scarred concrete barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem”. There is no mention that Israel handed control of Bethlehem to Palestinians and that Israel controls Jerusalem, so a checkpoint is appropriate.

5.      The fact that the fence was built specifically due to Arabs from the West Bank murdering Israelis is stated only as a quote from Netanyahu, making the statement appear biased rather than factual.

6.      The choice of words “the pope acceded to Israel’s request that he add to his packed Monday morning another unscheduled stop” makes Israel appear demanding and unreasonable in bullying the pope.

7.      The NY Times decided that a stamp of the pope pressing his head against a security barrier next to a sign that says “Apartheid Wall” is somehow analogous to Israel making a stamp of the pope placing a note in the Western Wall. One is a wall constructed to prevent terror, but has a sign blaming the victim, while the other wall is a religious place of prayer. The Palestinian stamp is a propaganda tool which wipes its crimes clean, while the Israelis post a stamp of hope. (There are four paragraphs in the article to stress this point).

8.      The NYT mentions that Peres post of President of Israel is ceremonial and that he leaves his post soon, but does not continue that Abbas’s term of President of the Palestinian Authority ended in 2009.

9.      The NYT, as always, included language that make the Israelis appear angry: “incensed some Israelis” and “some Israeli griping”. This language is not used for Palestinians.