(Posted initially on May 5, 2021)
The developments of this week in the centuries-old Israel-Palestine conflict has created a lot of clashes of opinions. Christians have taken sides, mostly on the Israeli side. The media is divided but mostly are on the side of Israel.
The reasons for the support for Israel are many. First sympathies. Historically, they had been a persecuted minority except in India and probably in the United States. Who can ignore the six million Jews who died under Hitler’s gas chambers? The sorrowful part of their history, along with the propaganda in favor of them has created lot of sympathies for them.
In addition to the popular sympathy for Israel, some Christians also find that what happens in Israel is fulfilment of Biblical prophecies. These Christians think that all Palestinians are Muslims, though a significant number of them are Christians. Many Christian Holy places are in Palestinian territory (including Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, etc.).
Many Christians think that the Jewish nation is a friend of Christianity. But there is lot of intolerance in Israel. Attack on Christian churches are a regular event that fanatic Jews stage. There are restrictions on building churches and Christian institutions in Israel. Even a person who is Jew by birth but converted to another religion is not eligible for immigration to Israel. This includes Messianic Jews born outside Israel. They are denied citizenship though they have Jewish blood running in their veins, but they are different by faith.
All these are facts of history.
Jews have a right to live in their land; but the Palestinians also have the same right. Historically, they were living in that land for centuries. The Jews are Palestinians who were in exile and in Diaspora for centuries and returned in different waves over centuries. They too have the right to live in their ancestral land. They needed a home to come back to. The best home is certainly the land where their ancestors lived.
We should recognize that the present conflict is not religious but purely political. It is the result of the Arabs hating the Jewish nation called Israel, their denial of Israel’s right to exist, and Israel’s arrogant claim that the whole land belongs to them. The whole of it never belonged to them in history. In most of their history foreigners ruled over them, and rest of the time they had to live with people who did not share their faith and from different ethnic stocks.
But modern Israel has the power to stand up to any threat to their existence. They have their own military power and international rapport to add to their might. The Hamas, the violent face of the Palestinians inflict pain upon the majority of neutral Palestinians by inciting Israeli Defense Force to retaliate. I recall one Friday evening six years ago witnessing a conflict between Palestinian young men and Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem. The young men were pelting stones at the Israeli watchtower and Israeli soldiers were firing at the unarmed youth. It was an unequal exchange.
One of the characters in a book by Israeli writer, Amos Oz said, the non-Jews must be treated as “drawers of water and cutters wood” (Joshua 9:23). Many people (but not all) in Israel share this view—treating non-Jews with contempt. At the same time decades of subjugation is the propellent that powered the rockets from Gaza towards Israel. The arrogance fueled mixed with the spirit of revenge is the reason why Gaza is being razed to the ground by Israeli counter attacks. Those who died in Gaza or lost their homes have never seen a rocket!
As a student of the Bible, I do not see any support in the Hebrew Bible (that I share with my Jewish friends) and the New Testament to justify this conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is not any biblical prophecy to support the present situation. All the biblical prophecies are fulfilled except the prophecies related to the return of Christ, the rapture, resurrection of the saints and their eternity with Christ. We are in the end times right now, waiting for the end of the end times. That may happen at any time.
Christians in Palestine, and in Israel may have the right to take sides in this conflict. Because it is a matter of their nationality and their existence. But this does not apply to Christians in other places.
Since there are no historical or biblical reasons to support either Israel or Palestine, where should Christ-followers stand in this conflict? The Christians should seek God’s will in this matter. They should ask what side would Christ take in this conflict where both sides suffer loss of life, property, and their life of dignity? I think the heart of Christ is weeping as he wept at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35).
I am sure that the Christ whom I know does not support violence. He does not support either the hatred that the Hamas foster, nor the arrogance of the State of Israel. He mourns that his command to love each other has gone unheeded by the Palestinians and the Jews. If all Jews lived according to the Royal Law of Love (James 2:8) there would be no conflict. Jesus taught his disciples that violence is futile and destructive. His group of disciples included some former members of the Jewish terrorist movement called Zealots (Simon the Zealot). If Hamas heeded Jesus words, that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), they would have reimagined the situation differently. Any Christian who thinks that it is right to justify violence for whatever reasons is not a true follower of Christ.
The sculpture at the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial is eloquent! I stood before it deeply contemplating on the mind of my Lord! In 1995, domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols exploded the Federal building in Oklahoma City where 168 people including children died. The explosion injured more than 600 people. At the far end of the memorial stands the sculpture titled “Jesus Wept.” It depicts Jesus with his face covered in his palm, turned away from the site. It tells it all, the one who embraced death on Calvary-cross to raze down the wall of enmity and hatred is weeping and calls us to weep over the violence that is in the DNA of the unredeemed humankind.