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The Israel-Palestine conflict: what’s it all about? – CT

This weeks Christian Today article…

What’s going on? The images on the TV news are indeed horrific and depending on your algorithm, you will see images of Palestinian buildings blown to pieces, or Jewish people fleeing in terror as more than 3,000 rockets rain down on Israel. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed, and 12 Israelis. Not surprisingly, those of us who don’t know the history, and are not sure who to believe in the various news feeds can become quite confused.

In the tribalism that pervades so much of our society, there is a temptation just to join one of the tribes. There are those who argue that Israel is an oppressive and racist nation that is bullying and persecuting the Palestinians, especially the 2 million squeezed into the Gaza strip. On the other side are those who see Israel as the oppressed; a nation and people under threat; the most persecuted people in the history of the world.

Of course, those of us who are Christians have an additional interest – Israel/Palestine is the land of the Bible; it is the land of Christ, the land of prophecy. And we have brothers and sisters who are Jews and Palestinians.

But Christians, too, can get very confused about all these issues. So can I suggest the following:

1. We should seek to understand what is going on – and not just buy into the propaganda that so often masquerades as news. We should dig deeper. Take for example the simple statistic mentioned above (200 plus Palestinians dead, 12 Israelis). Taken on its own this could give the impression that one side is deliberately killing much more than the other. But the reason for these figures tells us a different story.

Hamas has sent thousands of rockets into Israel, targeting civilian areas. The only reason there has not been mass slaughter is because of an incredibly sophisticated missile defence system deployed by the Israelis called Iron Dome. The Israelis on the other hand tend to do targeted attacks. The problem is that civilians are often mixed in with the military and terrorist targets.

2. The situation and history are complex. Take for example the fact that the Palestinians are divided between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas, mainly in Gaza. Or that some Orthodox Jews are opposed to Zionism and the nation state of Israel. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in Palestine. The ethnic Arabs began to see themselves as Palestinians, and, largely because of persecution, the Zionist movement sought a return to their homeland for the Jews.

After WWI, the British took over Israel/Palestine from the Turks and under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, allowed Jews to return to Israel, a move that caused confrontation. After the horrors of the Holocaust, more countries accepted the need and saw the justice in Jews having their own homeland.

In 1947, the modern state of Israel was born, with Israel to be a Jewish majority state, and Palestine to be a Muslim majority state – with Jerusalem as the neutral religious zone. The Muslim world was furious and sought to strangle the new nation at birth. The resultant Arab/Israeli war of 1948 ended with an Israeli victory which resulted in them taking over West Jerusalem and more Palestinian lands. Palestine was divided into the West Bank under the control of Jordan, and Gaza under the control of Egypt.

The Arab nations then attacked Israel in 1967, but as with the war of 1948, the Six Day War resulted in a decisive Israeli victory. They now occupied the West Bank and Gaza, and the Camp David Accords resulted in an uneasy peace. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (the PLO) was set up under Yassar Arafat, and eventually after years of terrorism and repression, the PLO and Israel agreed the Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995 – the Palestinians again had control of the West Bank.

But there was significant opposition from within Israel and Palestine, and one result of this was the rise of Hamas, a more extreme Islamist organisation, and an another was an increase in the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

The result of all this is that the Palestinians remain oppressed and largely stateless, and the Jewish people are surrounded by millions who seek to destroy them. Around 6.5 million Jews are in Israel (around 75% of the population). Around 5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza.

3. This is not just about Israel and Palestine – it’s world politics. There is a battle within the Muslim world between Turkey and Iran on one side, and the Saudis and Arabs on the other. Iran has made no secret that it wants to destroy Israel. On the other hand, in recent years, the Trump administration scored a surprising success with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan recognising Israel.

But as Greg Sheridan, the insightful foreign editor of The Australian, points out, “On the Middle East, Biden has rushed to undo everything Trump did. The result is chaos, weakness, indecision, lack of clarity and emboldened enemies.”

This has particular relevance to the current unrest because Iran now feels more emboldened and is the primary supplier of missiles to Hamas. They also want the Israeli Accords with some Arab nations to fail.

4. We should recognise that people on both sides are suffering. Whatever we might think about Israel, we would have hearts of stone if we did not empathise with the plight of the Palestinian people – the poverty, overcrowding and political turmoil and violence. And who of us would want to live in a city like Tel Aviv, with the threat of rocket attacks every day?

5. The situation in Israel/Palestine should not be used as a cover for antisemitism. This short talk from the late great Rabbi Sacks explains what it is superbly. He points out that today Jews are attacked because of their nation state Israel. Human rights is now invoked as a reason to attack Israel. Whereas a couple of decades ago antisemitism was largely seen as a far-right phenomena, today’s antisemites are much more likely to be left wing.

In the past week people have been marching on the city streets of Europe shouting “death to the Jews”. In cities such as Sydney, London, Glasgow, and Paris, crowds have been marching and singing “from the Jordan to the Sea, Palestine shall be free”. What they are talking about is the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people after the State of Israel has been destroyed.

It’s important to ask the question: why do so many people, from Premier League footballers, to celebrities and politicians, have such an interest in the Palestinian people? When do we ever hear the protests about the Uighurs? Or the 1,500 Nigerian Christians killed this year so far? Or the many others suffering from injustice? To ask this question is not to engage in whatabouterry, but simply to point out the horrific probability that this is as much about attacking Israel, as it is about defending Palestinians. Why, for example, have the Scottish Parliament passed more than 36 motions strongly condemning Israel, when that Parliament has no locus in foreign affairs?

Finally, let me make a plea to my fellow Christians. Those who are Christian Zionists should not use their theological beliefs to justify injustice and oppression. Equally there are those who come very close to the old Jewish blood libel, demonising Israel and by proxy the Jews. Christians should be peacemakers, praying for the peace of Jerusalem and all the surrounding nations. We long for the Lord’s return. May peace be in Israel (Psalm 122).

After writing this I came across this superb article by Brendan O’Neill which highlights some of my concerns –

Gaza, Israel, Politicians and the Church – Some Questions

Lessons from the UK elections for Church and society

23 comments

  1. Sad to say, I have never witnessed such an appalling attitude towards Israel and her people. We were visiting a small Highland village last Sunday, and there were about 6 people having a pro Palestinian vigil. It made me feel depressed, but thank you for this enlightening article. It is in the Bible for all to read, concerning what is to come, and as the saying goes “We ain’t seen nothing yet” (Bad English I know! ) Very tragic events for both the Israelies and the Palestinians.

  2. Very helpful. Thank you. We pray, but it seems the only true peace of Jerusalem will come when our Lord Jesus returns to the place He left & reigns with a rod of iron from that place over the world for a 1,000 years. Halleluyah!

  3. I wonder David if there is a favouring for Palestine among some with it in keeping with “woke” agenda might be perceived as being on the side of the so-called “victim” as opposed to that of the so-called “privileged.”

    I read what you communicate about “victory” in war but the truth on a grander scale is that our thriving depends on others thriving and vice-versa so any scenario which involves a war is far from ideal. So – yes both sides suffer. And neither side comes out of this better than they would have, had there been a peaceful solution, such is the measure of the insanity of war.

    But as in many things which I call “people stuff” there rarely is a quick fix or easy solution.

    1. I think on the side of the players of EPL and so others is that, their empathy and sympathy goes out to the civilians most especially the woman, children and the less privileged whom are usually the victims of this war.

      1. Perhaps…but why this group alone? Where is the empathy and sympathy for the Uighurs, the Nigerian Christians, the wars in Sudan?

  4. Douglas Mowat (Fortrose) gave one of the best biblical and illustrated presentations I have ever heard on the roots and history of ‘The Longest Hatred’. I was once asked by the ‘other faiths’ liaison person from the Board of Deputies: “Why does everyone hate us?” Douglas’s video explains what can never be understood without the spiritual component.
    See – https://youtu.be/uu4H_LXF4B4

  5. Why can’t the other Arab states in the area take in those of the Palestinians who don’t want any part of the violence, and just leave the militant jihadis with no innocent civilians to use as human shields?

  6. I have three questions:

    1. Why has this flared up just niw after a period of relative quiet? Is it because of Biden’s rollback of Trump’s policies as the Sheridan quote implies?

    2. How is Iran smuggling the rockets in? Surely closing down those supply routes would be Israel’s most effective policy in stopping the immediate problem… Gaza is a small area and rockets are very complex machinery. If they could even stop just some parts being brought in, they could render the rockets unlaunchable.

    3. A large percentage of Palestinians are Christians. How do they feel about the situation? They are effectively caught in the middle. Can Christians do more to support them?

    1. Yachad Scotland is now holding weekly (Wednesday) Zoom prayer meetings for the situation. Joining these from the streets of Jerusalem is a messianic leader: I will put your questions to him. If you would like to have the answers, please be in touch via the ‘Contact’ facility on http://www.yachadscotland.net Colin

  7. Sir,
    The current fighting cannot be analysed without fully understanding the global politics.
    A most frightening , deep analysis is this in the Tablet
    https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/realignment-iran-biden-obama-michael-doran-tony-badran
    In essence the Obama policy is back centre stage – what is termed Realignment.
    If only part of this were true, then the next few years will be horrific for all. Unfortunately I genuinely believe this as a solid , fact based article, which may force you to ruminate further.

  8. Thank you for making a complex situation clearer. It’s important that Christians understand what to pray for. I have just completed a couple of books on the absolute horror the Jews endured in WW2 and the joy for many of the few survivors that found a new ‘home’ in Israel when it was offered. The West has been culpable in all of this and there is a responsibility to add to peaceful solutions not make matters worse.

  9. Imagine that the Picts were expelled from Scotland many centuries ago but began to move back to Scotland in the twentieth century. As time went by hostility developed between the immigrant Picts and the native Scots. The United Nations is called in and decides to partition Scotland, giving half of the land to be a Pictish state and half to be a Scottish state. How would the Scots feel about that situation?
    Then a war starts between the Picts and the Scots and as a result, the Picts gain even more territory. Edinburgh is divided into a Pictish zone and a Scottish zone. How would the Scots feel about that situation?
    Several decades later another war erupts between the Picts and the Scots and the Pictish Army occupies the whole of Scotland. Pictish immigrants move into the Pictish-occupied zone and create large-scale settlements. Many Scots are forcibly removed from their land. Some Picts talk about incorporating the Occupied Zone into Pictland. How would the Scots feel about that situation?
    The nineteenth century Zionists, in their ignorance, talked about a People without a Land and a Land without a People.
    In the 1940s the RAF and the USAAF intensively bombed most of Germany’s cities with the result that thousands of German civilians were killed. It has been estimated that 35,000 people died in the air raids on Dresden in February 1945. People in Britain thought (and mostly still think) that those raids were justified.
    Incidentally, the Six Days War was started by the Israelis, not the Arabs. (I was studying International Politics at the time and the students played a ‘War Game’ in which I played the role of King Hussain of Jordan.) You were maybe mixing it up with the Yom Kippur War, which you didn’t mention.
    “the Palestinians again had control of the West Bank”. Not really. They had a certain amount of political control in parts of the West Bank.
    “the Jewish people are surrounded by millions who seek to destroy them.” I don’t know what your evidence for that statement is. The main political demand of the Palestinians is for a unified Palestinian state. That’s not quite the same thing as ‘destroying’ Jews.

    1. A somewhat dated analysis – Strange that Hamas don’t demand a unified Palestinian State – but instead a Muslim one – without Jews. That is exactly ‘destroying Jews’…or what we call genocide.

    2. I notice you passively state “a war starts” and “war erupts”. If the Scots started these wars by attacking the Picts and lost land as a result, they really only have themselves to blame.

    3. “Incidentally, the Six Days War was started by the Israelis, not the Arabs.”

      That is correct, but the Israelis started it because the Arabs were massing their forces for a concerted attack on Israel. They couldn’t afford to wait, or they would have run the risk of being wiped out.

  10. A helpful historical overview. I would also have hoped for some reference to the faithfulness of God and His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If we don’t keep that in view we won’t have any hope of understanding why Israel has endured so long in the face of the most terrible persecution. For too much of the church, this has become a political issue, rather than recognising the heart of God for His people and that they are still very much in His purpose.

  11. The “Chritian Today ” article ends by declaring” we hope for the Lords return”
    I presume the author would argue for the Lords return because Gods word declares this fact. As Christian’s I believe we should all acnowlede this fact . So from a theological and historical perspective this article is very disappointing. Surely from an historical and christian perspective we need to go back to the start of history and examine who God gave this land to, and for how long. I would encourage the author to read Psalm 105.7-11. This is an uncomfortable truth for many Christian’s and not a popular one. But it is Gods word nonetheless. This does not mean as Christian’s we hate Arabs endorse the killing
    of innocent women and children and have an abhorrence towards peace, God forbid.
    This same type of argument is used by many Anglicans to bless homosexual unions. “God loves everyone” if you dont bless homosexual marriage ” it is implied you dont “love”. Yet we know from Gods word homosexual marriage is unscriptual God abhors it ,but we as Christian’s still “love”.So from an historical Christisn perspective you have to start at the beginning and acknowledge the truth,Who did God give this land to? Then you can fill in the recent history .Peace without truth is not peace at all.

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