Israel and the Palestinians

O little town of Bethlehem, 
How still we see thee lie!

Bethlehem is a city whose population is significantly Christian. Many people in the United States are surprised to discover that not all Arab people living in Israel or the rest of the Middle East are Muslim.


A Clash in Cultures
The desire of many of Israel’s Muslim neighbors has been revealed over the years:  the complete removal of an independent Jewish state. Islam, historically, has often been an imperialist religion, intent on political domination of what it sees as the Islamic Nation — this land includes modern day Israel. 

Historically, Judaism, especially since the Diaspora, has never been imperialist. Jews generally have had a “live and let live attitude” toward their neighbors. Unlike Christians who aim at winning the world to faith in Christ, Judaism is not evangelistic beyond simply trying to protect its own people from being proselytized. Certainly, there is no history of Jews seeking to force their laws on the rest of the world the way that Islam has with the Koranic Sharia. Many times Christianity spread in Europe by the conversion of a nation’s leaders, and not simply by individual people becoming Christians.  Outside of the conversion of the Khazar Empire in the early Middle Ages, Judaism never spread that way. 

But Jews will defend themselves. “Never again” is a cry that echoes the desperate struggle of Jews against those who hate them, from the struggle against Esther’s Haman to the resistance at Masada and the Warsaw Ghetto.  It is a cry that wells up from the outrage of numberless pogroms visited on history’s favorite scapegoat.

Israel exists in a most precarious position. This author has stood on the Golan Heights, the land that was seized from Syria in 1967 and annexed as part of Israel in 1981. On the one side one can see Syria; on the other, the Sea of Galilee. Giving that land back would potentially allow Israel’s enemies to place artillery in a position to shell her breadbasket, the Galilee — strategic folly.

The Elusive Quest for Peace
While many Israelis and many Palestinians desperately want peace, one wonders about the current political leadership on both sides.  It is helpful to imagine how people on both sides of this conflict think.

From a conservative Israeli perspective, getting non-Jewish people out of Israel is the best hope for a lasting peace. Now that the violence has so escalated, how can there be security when there are young women living within ones borders who are willing to strap bombs around their lower abdomens, disguising themselves as pregnant, ready to blow themselves up in order to wipe out innocent civilians? How will this seemingly interminable, ever increasing cycle of violence and revenge end?

On the other hand, most Palestinians have begun to see the current Israeli government as analogous to the Nazis and imagine themselves to be like the Jews of Europe living under the shadow of the Third Reich — an irony indeed!  Bizarre as it is to the Western mind, suicidal, homicidal bombers are often viewed as the heroes and heroines of a people who feel abandoned by the rest of the world.

Two Untrustworthy Leaders
Both Ariel Sharon and Yassir Arafat are poor choices to forge a lasting peace, because both are viewed by their opponents as men with blood on their hands. Most Americans would say that about President Arafat, but what about Prime Minister Sharon?

This is from the official web site of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

104. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the events at the refugee camps in Beirut, 8 February 1983 . . .

The Commission determined that the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla was carried out by a Phalangist* unit, acting on its own but its entry was known to Israel . . . Mr. Sharon was found responsible for ignoring the danger of bloodshed and revenge when he approved the entry of the Phalangists into the camps as well as not taking appropriate measures to prevent bloodshed . . . The Commission recommended that the Defense Minister resign . . .

* (Phalangist: a member of a Lebanese Christian paramilitary organization founded in 1936. [Collins English Dictionary]  In 1982, these units were loyal to Lebanon’s newly elected president, Israeli backed, Bashir Gemayel.  After West Beirut was occupied by the Israelis, Phalangist militiamen massacred perhaps as many as 1,000 Palestinians in two refugee camps in Beirut in revenge for the death of Bashir Gemayel.” [Encyclopædia Britannica] For more information see the Sabra and Shatilla Massacre 1982.)

In view of Israel’s own government’s recognition of what happened under Sharon’s watch, it is little wonder that he is viewed with such suspicion by most Palestinians.

Foreign Meddling?
The Arab world tends to view the United States, at least indirectly, as somewhat responsible for Ariel Sharon and his policies. Most of the rest of the world believes that the United States, as the last remaining super power, is constantly meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. Why do they think that?

President Clinton’s tough political consultant, James Carville, went to Israel in order to get a more malleable prime minister. Carville was successful, and Ehud Barak was elected, but the more militarily savvy wing of Israeli politicians was most unhappy, and, frankly, frightened at what they saw as the end result of President Clinton’s plan. Desperate measures were called for in order to keep Israel secure. 

Provocative Visit
Israeli Knesset member, Ariel Sharon, visited the Temple Mount with a six member Likud delegation on the morning of September 28, 2000. 

Because Sharon’s visit was perceived by many Muslims as the first step in a sacrilegious assault on Islam’s third holiest place on earth, significant escalation in violence came after this. It seems unreasonable to think that Sharon did not do this as a deliberate campaign tactic in order to provoke Palestinian rioting which would make Barak’s government look inept in dealing with the Palestinian people. After all, Sharon was born in Palestine over seventy years ago and understands as well as anyone the mind of the Palestinian Muslim.

Whatever the Likud Party’s current leader’s intention, one result of that visit was that Ehud Barak resigned in December of 2000, and Ariel Sharon was elected two months later. 

Genocidal Intentions?
Rightly or wrongly, many Americans and Israelis believe that genocide is the intention of the Arab world toward Israel, and, rightly or wrongly, most Arabs believe that genocide is the intention of the current government of Israel toward its Arab population — if one includes forced immigration due to economic strangulation as a form of genocide.

Other than an internationally brokered, multi-nationally secured, peace plan, one in which the United States would undoubtedly have to play a major role financially and militarily, what lies ahead but the rest of the world sitting back until one side essentially annihilates the other? Given their military superiority, the Israelis would likely emerge from this as the victors, but at what cost? 

Well, here the big question is: What is the real interest of Israel? It is not a matter of negotiations only with the United States and interest with the United States vis-a-vis an interest of Israel. I believe that this operation has cost us a lot, not only in our international image, which has deteriorated, but I believe that mainly we increased ambitions on the Palestinian side to take revenge, and we increased the hatred towards us. 

I dont believe that it is possible militarily to crush the infrastructure of terrorism, because it is there in the minds and the hearts of the people. And what has happened besides I have to admit some preventions of concrete acts against Israel, which is of course very important, but the main thing is that I'm afraid it will increase the hatred and increase the risk, the needs for people to take revenge, and it is exactly contrary to our own interest.

Yossi Beilin, member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and former Justice Minister.  This statement was made in an interview broadcast by PBS on April 11, 2002.

All of this can spread very quickly into other parts of the Middle East, and because of the huge amount of foreign aid the United States gives to Israel, the policies of these two nations is intertwined in the minds of most of the rest of the world.  Were the conflict to spread, it could bring down the house of Saud in Arabia and with it the American economy, thereby plunging the world into a global economic depression. More importantly, it can kick off World War III.

To hopelessness about the possibility of peace in the region, Yossi Beilin responds:

Well, I believe that it’s not this all pessimistic. Actually there was a kind of a cease-fire, even if you know it was not a 100 percent cease-fire, between December 16 last year and the first week of January. And, regretfully, Prime Minister Sharon was not ready to acknowledge that it was a cease-fire in order to begin kind of negotiations with the Palestinians. So we need another referee. It cannot be one of the parties because we will never be objective about each other, and the referee, in my view, should be the Americans or an American-led mission towards a political horizon. And I believe that if we can speak today about an international conference like the Madrid Conference of ’91, I believe that such a conference can really launch a new chapter. We don’t have to live another generation by our sword. There is no need to spill more blood for nothing.

Yet, pessimism does overshadow the Middle East, especially under the current leadership. It is an awful mess and testifies that it is at the foot of the cross of the Jesus men “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4)

‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you!”’ (Psalm 122:6)  

For an additional perspective, you might want to read John Piper’s article about the land of Israel.

Bob Vincent