(September 30, 2016 / JNS) Despite the increasing number of terror attacks in the United States, for most Americans the various Middle East conflicts remain a distant and misunderstood affair.
Chris Mitchell, a Massachusetts native and the Middle East bureau chief for the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), shed light on these issues from his perspective as an Evangelical Christian covering the Middle East.
Mitchell covered a wide range of topics stemming from his decades of experience covering Israel and the greater Middle East from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the Islamic State and threat of Iran. He spoke to an intimate audience at the Ahavath Torah synagogue in suburban Boston on Sept. 27. It was part of the Hausman Memorial Speaker Series, held in memory of the parents of the congregation’s Rabbi Jonathan Hausman.
“Chris Mitchell and CBN reflect an honesty in journalistic integrity,” Hausman told JNS.org. “CBN’s position is simple, one cannot report from a region unless one has a background in the area and an ability to learn daily from a non-jaundiced view without inherent preconceptions of desired reporting outcomes.”
Speaking for the first time at a synagogue, Mitchell described how he first arrived in Israel as CBN’s news bureau chief only a month before the breakout of the Second Intifada in 2000.
Amid the daily terror attacks, while many other tourists refrained from going to Israel during this time, Evangelical Christians continued to visit, Mitchell noted.
“The one group that really did continue to come was Evangelical Christians,” he said. “I think that was a real signal to Israelis that the Evangelicals are their friends.”
He spoke of the importance of continuing to grow relationships between Christians and Jews and shared his perspective of how Middle East events are unfolding.
Mitchell is also the author of several books, including his most recent published earlier this year: ISIS, Iran and Israel: What You Need to Know about the Current Mideast Crisis and the Coming Mideast War.
“The growing relationship between Jews and Christians is invaluable to face the growing threats to both faiths from virulent radical Islam,” Mitchell told JNS.org. “Whether it is the growing anti-Semitism in Europe that forces Jews to conceal their identity in public or the declared genocide of Christians in the Middle East, Judaism and Christianity share a common enemy committed to their destruction. It’s one reason why I was privileged to share my perspective on the Middle East in the Ahavath Torah Congregation synagogue and stand with my Jewish friends.”
While many major networks and news agencies have reporters in the Middle East, Mitchell stands out due to his longevity in the region and openness to continually learn about the complex issues and conflicts the region is known for.
“I’m constantly trying to keep an open mind and learn as much as I can,” Mitchell said during the Q&A session.
Throughout his 16 years living and reporting in Israel, Mitchell has become more impressed with the Israeli people and their ability to thrive in such a troubled region.
“Israel is becoming more and more a light unto the nations,” he said. “The resilience of the Jewish people is an inspiration to me. I pinch myself when I walk down the streets in Jerusalem or look at out the window from where I sit at work. I can see the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion…it’s been an extraordinary experience being on the frontlines in witnessing Israel’s history.”
As a Middle East bureau chief, Mitchell also spent significant time covering stories outside of Israel, including the persecution of Middle East Christians in Iraq and Syria, a saga often overlooked by the mainstream media.
Mitchell, who had recently returned from an assignment in Iraqi Kurdistan, discussed visiting Christian refugee camps, touring the frontlines with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and even the sobering feeling of visiting a mass grave perpetrated by the Islamic State.
Islamic State wreckage
“We had a chance to sit down with many of the Christians to get a sense of where they are now living in their third year away from their homes,” he said. “It’s a very discouraging time for many of the Christians there.”
Mitchell described the almost surreal experience of visiting the frontlines with the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, while only being a few hundred yards away from the Islamic State fighters.
“There was freedom where we were, but darkness and tyranny just yards ahead of us,” he said.
While the fighting lines were clearly drawn in front of him, in contrast, Mitchell said many Americans need to realize that it’s unknown where those frontlines will be in the U.S., adding they “could be on 23rd street in New York City, the finish line at the Boston Marathon or Orlando and San Bernandino.”
Meanwhile, many of our Kurdish allies, Mitchell lamented, have not gotten the necessary weapons and support after three years of fighting the conflict, largely due to a complex geopolitical reality in that region. Nevertheless, the Kurds remain confident they will defeat the Islamic State.
“The day we were visiting there [the frontlines] I had the chance to see a fourth century Christian monastery that’s about a mile or two on a mountain behind there,” he said. “From that perspective you could see… the front lines of the Kurdish military, their flood lights in order to prevent ISIS from penetrating their lines at night, and you could even see Mosul in the distance.”
Mitchell noted that the Kurds and Iraqi government forces, with the support of the U.S. and other allies, are preparing to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from the Islamic State. While retaking the city would be a huge victory, it could also transform the terror group and the fight against it.
“It may signify the beginning of the end of ISIS as we have known them over the last few years,” Mitchell explained. “Their territory is being whittled away by the U.S. and coalition forces. However, they will morph into an al-Qaeda-style guerrilla force, like we are seeing here already in the U.S.”
He added, “We might be going into a situation that is worse or even more potentially explosive.”