A Conversation On The Palestine-Israel Conflict

I’m intrigued by the responses and reactions generated by one rare petition I forwarded out to all my email contacts, perhaps my load of recent links sparked by the Gaza crisis, and also my participation in COMPLETE.

An interesting email came today which mentioned the few Christian voices in Malaysia who comes across as “against Israel”. So, I thought for the record I should state that in times of crisis showing preference in solidarity for one group of people who is under going unimaginable humanitarian crisis is not prejudice against another group who have their own share of pain and suffering in history. In this case it would be the Palestinians and Israelis. As far as I am concerned I grieve with every parent who has lost their child, every child who has lost their parents, all who have suffer loss in anyway.

Permission was granted to share the conversations in the email on this blog. I have decided to allow the conversations to take centre stage. I guess what’s important is what are the issues raised in these email conversations and also how the three Christians are working through this controversy. So with some minor editing, let’s start.

I would like to emphasize that this is not a conversation between historical experts or political analysts. It’s a conversation between those who are “of great distress over the pitiful suffering of many, both Jews and Palestinians.”

Dear friends,

I have of course seen all the news which is all very anti-Israel.Meanwhile, I receive a lot of email from Christian friends saying that Israel is actually doing very reasonable defense of themselves and they try very hard not to kill civilians and it is the other side that is evil and purposely making civilian victims and faking civilian casualties, etc.I am perplexed how to discern the truth from all these lies, who to believe.

You two are some of the few Christian voices that are against Israel, and I was wondering if you have any insight into these (see below).

The following are from emails Christian friends have sent me:

From the way the local newspapers are portraying the current conflict, you would think that the Palestinians are the only victim and Israel is the aggressor.I am in no way condoning the violence or taking sides in this, but we all must realise that the local media is controlled by UMNO and they are not objective.

Please see this website to learn the facts.http://terrorismawareness.org/what-really-happened/

Israel Always: Fighting Fair – What the Media Doesn’t Tell You

The other side of the story, usually unheard of…

Open the video Link below

It may help you to understand why Israel is now fighting Hamas in the Gaza strip

I’ve seen many videos and photos , but this is by far the best description of Hamas! This video was made NOT by Israelis , but by an Arab , a Palestinian who shows you who Hamas really is!

Israel has been telling this to the world for years , but the world prefers to turn the deaf ear and blind eye to the sad truth!

Hamas against the Palestinians! This is how they succeeded in being elected – by force!

Watch and learn.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_OGhj43GAE

from
Perplexed Inquirer

Dear Perplexed Inquirer,

A correction, if you please.I am hardly pro or anti Israel.I am pro-accuracy and anti-irresponsible biblical theology.

Political grounds

I am less concerned about the rhetoric as I am about the bombing of civilians of a country with no citizenship rights. Either the Palestinians are Israeli citizens or they are not. If they are, then its akin to apartheid. If they are not, then its an invasion of a sovereign nation.

Theological grounds

If modern Israel is formed in obedience to the Bible, then it must not be a democracy but rather, a religous state – like Iran. If it is not, then evangelicals who think so are idiots who mislead the church. We can take comfort that the Hasidic Jews (who study Torah deeply) reject any claim of Zionism as heretical. The modern state of Israel (a guilt-ridden formation of an apartheid-like state shamefully disguised as a democracy) is not the ‘fulfillment’ of biblical Israel (a theocracy that died out after the conditional promise collapse). The leader is not subject to being in the Davidic line and one of them has been a woman (Golda Meir) so whatever else it is, it already violates any biblical description of what biblical Israel is supposed to be.

Humanitarian grounds

You can’t respond to terrorist rockets with air-strikes directly in populated civilians zones without becoming just as barbaric as Hamas. Its like asking the US to nuke Saigon to flush out the Vietcong or to firebomb Kuala Lumpur to weed out gangsters from Chow Kit Road (am I showing my age?). Convenient but morally repulsive.

Missiological grounds

To take sides in a tribal feud in the Middle East diminishes the Christian mandate to evangelize and make disciples of all nations.

Biblical grounds

The oft misquoted appeal to Gen. 12:3 makes a mockery of biblical exegesis and betrays our selfish treatment of God as a personal vending machine. Most Christians shamefully quote it with a single desire – for personal advantage. The alarming this is that the verse does not even refer to that! The promise refers to Abraham and his faithful (not every) descendants who prefigure Christ until Jesus comes. It does not pertain to ethnic (there is no biological marker for ethnicity, which is a cultural fiction shaped by the adoption of language, genetic pooling and formation of geographical boundaries) Israel. There was a time when every race did not exist. So ethnicity is not a natural distinctive. In Romans 9:6, Paul tells us that not all Israelites belong to Israel because biblical israel is an association of faith – not of blood. The blessing in Genesis refers to the global community of Christians. The word ‘bless’ is a reflexive verb, meaning that the reader is invited to consider Abraham’s blessing as the standard by which to be considered blessed. Not that every Christian will be as blessed as Abraham was. A simple falsifier is that fact that every moment in time, some Christian somewhere is clearly not blessed in the way we expect. How do we reply to that? We then perform exegetical gymnastics to explain away this mistranslation and end by dying of a thousand qualifications.

Moral grounds

I detest both Hamas and Hezbollah and am even disappointed by Fatah, but as a recipient of American largesse for so many years and billions of dollars of US tax-payer money, I do expect a higher moral standard from Israel. I have an affection for Israel, not because they are ’successful’ but because of historical serendipity. I wager that if Jesus were born in Soochow, we could all be stuck with defending Maoism. The personification of God in Jesus is what makes israel special, not the other way round.

OK, nuff said. Hope this clarifies my point. I have no dog in the fight (I am, after all, a Chinese Malaysian who grew up under Islamic-influenced rule) and if anything, would be inclined to be pro-Israel. I also have many more Jewish friends here in NYC than I have of Palestinian friends. But I have no hesitation is exposing any abuse of the Bible in the name of seeking God’s will.

Hope my quick 2 cents adequately signals my position on this very sad situation.

Brother Pro-Accuracy

Hi Perplexed Inquirer,

I really don’t know where to start, apart from attempting to focus on the human side of the conflict.

Personally, I am not uncritically pro or against Israel or Palestine. I do feel however using the “blame” game approach as well as “who shot the first missile?” approach unhelpful.The details are complex and often convoluted. And I don’t see myself an expert in this area. The only thing is a Christian and as a pastor, I first do not want to be seen uncritically pro-Israel and especially in the recent crisis in Gaza, would be seen as pro-war.  I’m definitely not anti-jew or even anti-Israel.And yet in my engagement with my Muslim friends who are showing strong feelings as the Gaza crisis prolongs, I see my role as an instrument of peace and reconciliation as much as possible, and working towards efforts to reframe the whole controversy out of political and propaganda based rhetoric. This would require a great detail of patience and discernment. I’m not saying it’s easy.

I think Brother Pro-Accuracy has laid down helpful ways to think about it in point form. I won’t add to that apart from recommending some resources for you to further your reflection.  I think they have covered most angles whether politically or theologically.

http://www.musalaha.org/
http://www.emeu.net/index.php
http://www.alexawad.org/index.php
http://cmep.org/
http://www.sabeel.org/

My concern with a lot of the emails sent around is the underlying need to defend Israel which I’m uncomfortable, as well as the triumphalistic tone against Islam or the temptation to demonize the other which I do not think advances the message of what Christ wanted to convey.  On the contrary, creates even more distrust.

Christians need to sit down with a Muslim in Malaysia in the light of the one sidedness of Malaysian newspapers, and also understanding the kind of sentiments they feel, and with confidence, compassion and as much clarity as possible move the conversation towards the paradigm based on “reconciliation” with dimensions of justice, and peace not being ignored.  At least that is what I believe is Jesus call for us to be peacemakers in the New Testament found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5 . Another passage in 2 Corinthians 5 calls us to be agents of reconciliation and do the ministry of reconciliation.

my 2 cents
Engaged Re-framer

The news of the ceasefire is provides some relief but does not mean the whole conflict is resolved.

Thanks, Bro.Pro-accuracy & Engaged Re-framer,

I’m adding some other friends on our email list since they seems to be “thinking Christians” who are in support of Israel in the current conflict.

I think I was not clear enough in my original email to both of you. I actually lean towards replacement theology (the idea that the Church is now the Israel of God and the physical Israel is no longer the Chosen People of God, but are another people group that need to receive Christ to be saved.)

And, even if replacement theology is false, reading through Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel (as I have been doing the last few months) you get the clear sense that you are allowed to criticize and oppose the Israel that is truly the Chosen People of God if they are not following God properly.

So, I have no argument with that, unlike a lot of Christians who blindly support Israel. What I was trying to get a handle on is, is it true that the blame for the current crisis rests on Israel, as the Muslim and Malaysian press claim?

Or, is it true that that the Arab states actually are deliberately perpetuating the misery of the Palestinians in order to make Israel look bad? Is it true that Israel actually tries its best to avoid civilian casualties and it is Hamas that deliberately uses civilians as human shields so that they will have lots of dead babies to use as propaganda?

God bless,
Perplexed Inquirer

Thanks Bro. Pro-accuracy for your clear reply.

BTW, Perplexed Inquirer you can get the book “Whose Holy City?” by Colin Chapman locally in Malaysia. I think he gives a useful overview on the history as well as possible ways to respond as Christians.

Perplexed Inquirer wrote:

I think I was not clear enough in my original email to you . I actually lean towards replacement theology (the idea that the Church is now the Israel of God and the physical Israel is no longer the Chosen People of God, but are another people group that need to receive Christ to be saved.)

P.S. I strongly suspect that replacement theology is so commonly denounced these days because of an over-reaction against the abuses of the past, where this was used as one of the justifications for the abuse of Jews. I am strongly against abuse of any people, but that doesn’t mean we must change something which the Bible says just because people misused it to justify the evil they do.

From what I have read, replacement theology was the standard theology of most if not all the early Christian apologists.

Replacement theology is not the same as anti-semitism, though antisemites did use it for their purposes.

Thanks Perplexed Inquirer for keeping the conversation going.

As your latest email alluded to there will be a variety of views on the place and role of Israel in the light of Christ and the formation of the church and depending on which Eschatological view one takes.

I take the view similar to the late Lesslie Newbigin in that the election of Israel as well as the election of the Church is for the sake of others. Or some would say “to be a blessing to the nations.” in the case of the church … others. And thus, we are judged by higher standards.

On the reading of the prophets, I think you are absolutely right. And I would add Jesus’ woeful words of judgment on Jerusalem in the Gospels for example. While I do not think there would be many card carrying Christians Zionists in Malaysia (I may be wrong), but popular teaching on “You must bless and not curse Israel” kind of thinking maybe embedded behind a lot of the gut reactions of people. I was once one of them, so I stand convicted.

On your question on the Malaysian portrayal of the matter, I’m not surprised by the anti-Israel tone especially in the light of selling papers and the elections in KT. Sorry for being a little cynical on that end, I can’t help it as one who grow up with a father involved in advertising.

As mentioned in my first reply, I do not find the “blame” game approach useful in the light of a humanitarian crisis, the fact is if you want to do that both are to be blamed. The people in power should be blamed as their decisions inflict great pain on people on the borders of Gaza as well as people locked in Gaza now. The debate will wage on while people continue to wage war.

On the role of Arab states, whatever we can say is pure conjecture based on whatever information we are exposed to, allowed to, or filtered through. So looks like a dead end there too.

On Israel avoiding civilians, I wish it was that easy. This is not a “counter strike” game.

On Hamas propaganda, I do not deny that the likelihood of that to be true at some level. But then this accusation is the same on the Israeli government. Do you see where I am going with this?

So, unless we get “pro-accuracy” information as Bro. Pro-accuracy puts it. I don’t see how our often concerned “coffee shop” analysis can take us forward. In moments of crisis and war like now, looks like there are layers and layers to get through before we will get to the truths of the matter.

Then there is the more personal matter on this, I attribute my empathy to the Palestinian tragedy very much to my Palestinian Pastor friend serving in Jerusalem years ago. And I noticed those who have been to Israel and interacted with Palestinians would tend towards preferring to speak out in solidarity with them while keeping an eye not be prejudice against any thing on Israel. I do not think it’s easy to articulate that. And it also depends on which issue.

Theologically, when we speak of Christians who takes Christ as the ultimate revelation and fulfillment of God’s vision and intention for the World, it is working out of that centre first and foremost and throughout one’s thinking. And then with a good healthy dose of Trinitarian theology and Eschatology which is focuses on the consummation of the history and world in Christ etc., this would be a better framework to see where Israel fits in this schema rather than the other way round. Of course, this is distinctively a Christian approach (I’m sure there will be those who disagree depending on where one starts and wishes to orientate the theological framework).

2 more cents
Engaged Re-framer

Dear Engaged Re-framer,

I highly commend this book, which we use at our centre, along with Colin’s Whose Promised Land, Mitri Raheb’s I am a Palestinian Christian, O. Palmer Robertson’s The Israel of God and The Christ of Covenants, Ilan Pappe’s A History of Modern Palestine, and Gary Burge’s Whose Land, Whose Promise.

Bro. Pro-accuracy

There is so much fault finding in most reactions. In some quarters, we even feel the hatred and deep hostility in people. The majority at least in Malaysia either are ignorant or apathetic. When the spotlight is on the Church, some Christians don’t know how to respond because growing up with ways of reading the Bible which appears to tell them that while they can pray, they cannot be critical of the modern state of Israel. So, perhaps it’s better to remain silent. Even though there already has been significant statements and responses from different church bodies and groups.

There is so much violence and wars going around in the world, across the streets even in Malaysia, in our homes, and of course conflicts within our hearts. We may not have enough energy to deal with everything that comes our way. However, not being able to do everything doesn’t not mean doing nothing at all! We pray and we must pray in times like this, and perhaps out of that prayerful spirit, every small effort we do can will contribute to the wider efforts in eradicating hate and cultivating hope!

Reading about someone like Andrea Cohen-Kiener and what she said in 1998 might help us along.

“I’m only one person, and my efforts are small, person-to-person, but this is where I feel I can make a difference in a region of the world I care deeply about.”

Dear Engaged Re-framer & Perplexed Inquirer,

My 3rd cent.

Both bear responsibilities of taunting each other.

To the extent that Israel is to be blamed, the nation definitely encouraged discord by building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza well after each PM pledged not to do so, in defiance of international sentiments and promises to every US president in recent memory. Yet, no sitting president (Carter waited to well after he left office to criticize Israel and took serious heat for it) would dare to hold Israel to its word.

Check out Bob Simon’s recent interview on charlie rose – http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/9900. Who is Simon? http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/1999/01/04/broadcasts/main26916.shtml

To call the West Bank and Gaza non-Israel and then move 30,000 Zionists there under military guard and then build walls to separate Palestinian communities betray any pretense of settling the issues.

Palestinians on the other hand, whether out of desperation or not, consistently choose leaders who mete out violence and terrorist acts upon innocent Israeli civilians. Not all Palestinians are Arabs and not all of them are even Muslims. But they will get sympathy where they can get it.

The Palestinians have to live somewhere, and they had lived there since AD 70. The state of Israel were largely founded by European people who identified themselves to be of Jewish descent who had no interest in the land before Hitler’s rampage. We Christians must be mindful that our faith commitments must not be allowed to make us nationalists, tribalists or racists. If we cannot love those whom we criticize, we have not understood what love is. It takes greater courage to attack Hamas the old fashioned way – not by excusing ‘collateral damage’. I urge Israel to take the high ground and not punish the innocent simply because they were born into the unlucky-sperm club. Anyone of us could have been born into a Palestinian family.

BTW, I think replacement theology may be overreaching, You can’t really replace a people. Rather, Jer. 31 speaks of a new covenant, one where the laws of God will be written in the hearts of men. The Mosaic cov. was broken … by Israel itself. Hence the Babylonian exile. A new Judaism emerged – rabbinical Judaism. God can now be worshipped outside Jerusalem as well. This paved the way for the Gentilization of Judaism to become Christianity.

Now whether the Jews have a separate covenant with God is another matter. Methinks not. Think of the problem raised by intermarriage. How many percent of Jewish blood qualifies for the other covenant? Jesus was certainly not pedigree Jew, neither was Solomon (Bathsheeba was Hittite) and definitely not David either (Ruth is Moabite and Rahab Canaanite). Not to mention Othniel the Judge and Caleb – both were Cannanites (yikes!).

Finally, I am okay with my first reply being forwarded but please receive in the spirit in which it was delivered, one of great distress over the pitiful suffering of many, both Jews and Palestinians.

Bro. Pro-Accuracy

Thanks Bro. Pro-accuracy again for reflective informed replies.

I think the one line which captures the spirit we need to have in these matters is in your line, “please receive in the spirit in which it was delivered, one of great distress over the pitiful suffering of many, both Jews and Palestinians.”Here the pastoral side in me leaps out … I do not feel the “distress” in the conversations or emails I have received which usually tries to be objective by “demonizing” Hamas, or Palestinians overall, and in some cases Muslims, for example.

I talked with a Palestinian on the other night to ask him for his perspectives. And from the insider point of view, he sees them only as another way of advancing their cause – using violence and force if necessary. Well, he didn’t say it on those terms, but that was what I tried to piece together through his thick accent. What can we expect from a group driven by ideology and the experience of being oppressed or victimized (these are the words that are used commonly)?

Having said that can all of us respond to the call to a way of non-violence. I know without “distress”, it may come across cheap and as if we are ignoring the pain and suffering of people. But it does not have to be that way. The approach of http://www.sabeel.org/ as a model of Christian engagement is informative here even if one disagrees with their theology and politics.

Here’s my call to “Thinking Christians”, let’s get our hands dirty and engage the people who would differ from us on which ever side. Of course, we also need to work through our inner conflicts as well, but this means discussions like this cannot be in a vacuum of academic distance. Now, the are many opportunities talk with our neighbors and sympathetic friends.

Feel the “distress”, show our own “distress” on the matter, and then we can begin to talk about the fairer picture and our vision of reconciliation because of our Faith in Christ. I think we use the word “incarnational” for this approach.

3rd cent. I can do no other.

Engaged Re-framer

Dear Engaged Re-framer

In my own trips to Israel, it is so disheartening to see how much tolerance for suffering one can get used to – especially if its others doing the suffering. I shall always be indebted to a retired pastor-prof of OT and IT (really) who brought a group of us to Israel in years ago to participate in an archaeological dig –

I saw first hand what few tourists get to see and we stayed at a family-run hotel in the Old City. The Christian (cultural, not confessional) family claimed to have run it for almost 500 years (yeah, my eyes rolled as well). In any case, its really like a two-tiered existence, right inside Jerusalem itself.

It was a corrective for me and a difficult one at that. I was the generation that grew up under our govt’s stupid plan to Look East Policy and demonize the use of English at schools and college, only to reverse itself later. I did my chemistry in English in the day time and in Malay in the night time. Same thing with my secondary school education. Three years after the archaeological dig, I decided to study Islam under Lamin Sanneh (a former Muslim) was stunned at encountering Muslims in class who actually know little of the Quran.

Bro. Pro-Accuracy

2 Replies to “A Conversation On The Palestine-Israel Conflict”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *