This is my third posting on the Palestinian question and while I offer it by way of tying up loose ends, I know that the question of how to deal with the Palestinians who live or want to live peacefully in Israel, will be begged for some time to come, with widely different solutions being offered. The escalation of violence in Gaza with all and sundry offering widely differing opinions as to what is needed, makes this an undoubtedly hot topic, maybe the hottest at this time. It doesn’t mean I have to weigh in as well, given that better informed and noble minds have already done so, and I realize I should only do so if I have something new and pertinent to say that might make a difference, and then again there is always the wisdom that advises to keep one’s mouth shut until the opportune moment, along with the need to do more studying, listening, thinking, doing and praying. I can say I have done all of these things. As for what I have viewed and read, a lot is fairly ordinary and predictable insofar what is said often matches the opinion held by the author, but some have shown me things I did not know before and is therefore enlightening, but in order to focus I will resist referring much to what I have looked at. The challenge is discerning what is true, who to trust and what their views and interests were prior to them presenting what they do?
My first posting was by way of placing a stake in the ground, realizing this is a challenging subject where good people have opposing perspectives that few if any have fully unraveled. I set myself the challenge to study the subject in depth and from different angles, pray more fervently and to be a peacemaker. In my second posting, I looked at the subject of Christian Zionism and tried to put myself in the shoes of a Palestinian living in Israel. Following on, I set myself the task of looking at all sides of the argument and coming up with constructive suggestions on what needs to happen. What became evident is those on different sides of the argument often saw things completely differently and this, knowingly or otherwise, had a bearing on what they presented. Before I do rise to the challenge I set myself, I wish to return to the subject of Christian Zionism, having just read the book by Stephen Sizer with that title and it dawning on me that taking such a view or not can have a major bearing on how we see things. The book did indeed take me out of my comfort zone and challenged my pre-conceptions, as all good books should. While most Jewish Zionists aren’t that religious, and some/many are atheists, Christian Zionists have played and continue to play an important part in the propaganda war taking place and have played a major role, wittingly or not, in promoting the Zionist cause. Moreover, my theological background and sympathies have meant I often get to rub shoulders with such folk.
Sizer’s book (298 pages) is not easy reading but is worth persisting with as it sheds light on a subject we might all benefit from. In order to win or formulate an argument, we do well to understand what our opponents believes and why they believe it. As one, whose views are often governed by my theology, it is helpful to have my theology challenged. The book wins on both counts! Unlike Sizer, I remain a pre-millennialist (albeit not of the dispensational variety) and I still see a future role for Israel (people and land), but I now find myself less inclined to support the Israeli government position on theological lines. Before making some conclusions, Sizer develops his arguments in three main chapters: The historical roots of Christian Zionism, the theological emphases of Christian Zionism and the political implications of Christian Zionism. The first chapter I found particularly interesting, not least because it touches on some of my own studies and helps me understand why Christians I might well identify with believe as they do. The second chapter I found less helpful and tended to skim over, because I did not find it particularly convincing, with its focus on high profile individuals attempts to reconcile biblical prophecy with world events. The third chapter I found helpful because it did relate Christian Zionism and politics and how it has affected the political views of those with influence, in particular the leadership of the USA. One helpful section of the book, an appendix containing a statement from the Sabeel conference against Christian Zionism 2004, suggested a way to end the conflict and it helped inform my own thinking. Having said that, I don’t agree with all that Mr. Sizer writes and have noted objections e.g. that of Paul Wilkinson, and which can be studied on You Tube. More analysis of the points and refutations await.
In my second Palestinian question blog, I said I was a Christian Zionist but only just. The book has caused me to further modify that view. Regarding the rights and wrongs of setting up the state of Israel in 1948, I am not fully decided. How relevant it is in the unraveling of the prophetic calendar that one might derive from studying both testaments of the Bible, I am still undecided. (A traditional pre-millenial understanding of the Bible would place the return of the Jews to their original homeland as one of the events that would herald the second coming of the Messiah.) But certain things I remain convinced of. The Jews continue to have a special place in God’s purposes, and this will come increasingly clear when the Messiah most of them have rejected returns. Their preservation and disproportionate persecution in their post exile history (that began 2600 years ago) leads me to believe that a return to their traditional homeland is needful, where they should be able to live in peace and security and be able to practice their culture and religion. But as for justifying the policies of the rulers of the political state of Israel that exists now, I cannot do so.
I could cite many verses from the Bible regarding the need for justice and righteousness as God’s demands on His people and as a condition for his favour. The treatment of Palestinians, which some have likened to be akin to that of the black people under South African apartheid, or worse, cannot be overlooked or excused. Yet one cannot ignore the verses that Christian Zionist types cite – e.g. to do with Israel being the apple of God’s eye, a time when all Israel will be saved, a restoration of the people to the land God promised Israel etc. While there are those from both sides who distant themselves from me for sitting on the fence and intellectualizing the debate, I am unapologetic if it helps toward a just and right outcome, I only do so because I want a true and balanced understanding of what is going in and to discern God’s will. I am haunted by the prospect that events will play out whatever I think, do or say, and that none of the sides most involved fully “get it”. While I am well read as far of the Bible is concerned, I still admit to my limited understanding but am also haunted by the prospect outlined by certain Bible commentators that when the Antichrist sets up his world rule he will do a deal with Israel who are all too ready to sue for peace and then double cross and attack them, but in doing so it will become their finest hour as they re-discover the Messiah that they rejected. But this is conjecture and right now I am resolved to “watch and pray” and seek and do justice.
Israel invading Gaza to eradicate it of terrorists that continue to fire rockets on its people is relevant as is Israel’s justification for taking the actions it does, but it fails to address the social justice issues that have been present ever since the state of Israel began in 1948. Each day, I hear plausible arguments from either side defending their position and attributing blame on the other for the present problems. Each day, I hear sanctimonious, solemn pronouncements by “the good and the great” for a cease fire and peace. I know good people, irrespective of what side they support, who feel anguish at the suffering. While recognizing the right of Israeli citizens to live in peace, these long standing social justice issues cannot remain unaddressed and at the risk of being disfellowshipped, I would say so unequivocally to my Christian Zionist friends, who in the main fail to see the injustices many non-Zionists see so clearly.
Since in essence the Sabeel statement offers a way forward, and despite some important theological differences I would refer readers to this. While the idea of an Israel and Palestine state that recognize and live in peace with the other and protect the rights of minorities is a laudable goal, I suspect there are forces beyond the control of people of goodwill that will thwart such a goal. As for what we do, I suspect the momentum, given the demonstrations that are currently taking place, will mean events will take their course regardless. Whether this will result in sanctions or attacks, remains to be seen, as is the outcome of the Gaza situation with all its untold tragedy. I regret the Hamas line, which is to wipe Israel off the map and cynically sacrifice its own people. I regret the hard line of the present Israeli government that oppresses the Palestinians. I regret the ineptitude and unrighteousness of the Obama administration. I regret the woolliness of Christian liberals and gullibility of Christian fundamentalists alike. Without wanting to sound sanctimonious, I am neither on the side of the Palestinian or the Israeli on the matter, but I do want to be on God’s side and believe he wants to bless both. While I will support moves toward peace, I will also stand for truth, justice and righteousness and believe these hopes will only all be fully be realized when Israel’s Messiah returns to reign in glory.