We have just seen off the centenary “celebrations” of the Balfour declaration with some, including the British government it seems and elements of the Christian right, Zionist sympathizers, joining in the celebrations and some, including the liberal left and other Christians declaring there is little to celebrate because the Israel independence that resulted (in 1948) failed to deliver justice to the Palestinians. I laid down my view of the Balfour Declaration in an earlier post but write here to tie up certain loose ends.
I continue to ponder on these two views, having friends firmly of both persuasions and finding myself linked to Christians in both camps, where positions can be firmly entrenched. I often find it difficult to argue an alternative viewpoint and this was illustrated recently when I responded to Facebook posts by earnest, intelligent, Christian leaders arguing opposite cases. In doing so I tried to offer a different perspective in each case and was given short shrift, based on each side holding particular historical and theological opinions and not being prepared to accommodate opposing views.
For me, finding where the truth lies remains work in progress and is often hard work given that I rarely come across accounts of what is going on that is truly balanced, but very important given the stakes are high and whether in the news or not Israel will continue to play an important part in what goes on in the Middle East, and some of that is less than savoury e.g. its ties to Saudi Arabia and its pursuit of Middle East dominance, including a lot that I would reckon to be unrighteousness. None of this can be ignored and I find myself watching what is going on while studying the Bible and praying.
Depending on which side you listen to, the historical narrative that is presented will differ significantly, one showing Israel (the people led by its government) in a good light and the other showing Israel in a bad light. What appears clear (at least to me) was that with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire the British did have a mandate to rule in the land of Palestine, some of it is now Israel and other parts is now Jordan, and this was recognized by the United Nations. One might well question the motives behind the Balfour Declaration, but because of my theological take (which I will get to) and the Jewish people needed their own home (borne out by the persecutions it had experienced down the centuries and was to experience in the Nazi Holocaust) it seemed to be the right thing to do … providing justice is delivered as far as the Palestinians were concerned. While Israel today may claim they always sought to do this, the Palestinians created a problem, spurred on by anti Jewish Arab interests and their lack of willingness to cooperate. The retort is this is not how it is and there is overwhelming evidence of Palestinian oppression throughout, instigated by the State of Israel (even before it became a State). My own view is neither argument should be dismissed and that we need to deal with perception and reality as it now is.
My own theological take is that while there are lots of variants, on one hand there is the replacement idea that has dominated much Christian thinking in the past two millennia. In essence it amounts to the Jewish people, i.e. the physical descendants of Abraham and those who embrace Judaism, of being of little particular interest post Jesus as far as God is concerned and yet to be fulfilled promises in the Bible concerning Israel should now be applied to the church. Others take a contrary view, believing God is interested and that certain Bible promises can only be completely fulfilled when it comes to physical Israel, even if part of that fulfillment requires them to accept the very Messiah who they rejected. This group (I am tempted to label as Christian Zionists) tend to look upon the Jewish people returning to the some of the land God promised to Abraham as fulfillment of Bible prophecy, and that includes the Balfour declaration and the creation of the State of Israel. I am inclined to that view and it is what motivates my “special” interest.
As for the merits or otherwise of the Balfour declaration, the debate will no doubt continue, and it will include good and learned Christian people taking opposite and sometimes antagonistic views. Given the belligerence I have seen on both sides, the hoped for honest debate seems far off, but I will keep trying. The reality will no doubt be played out in the murky world of Middle East politics and dare I say it the (often) Islamic inspired hatred of Israel and we will continue to see Israeli and Palestinian people suffer before the long anticipated reign of peace and righteousness of Israel’s Messiah. I will call out injustice wherever I see it, mindful God is no respecter of persons and he will judge what continues to be his “special possession” if they stray from His laws (as Israel has done and continues to do). But I will continue to pray for the land and people of Israel, including the Palestinians that are living in that land.