A Biblical Perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
by Dr. A.J. Higgins
This article by Dr. A. J. Higgins M.D. (New Jersey, USA) sets out a balanced and Biblical look at the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psa 122:6). How does that translate into our worldview of the conflict which has filled the Middle East with violence and bloodshed for over 100 years? Are we scripturally driven to be pro-Israel and to defend their every action?
No spot on the face of the earth has been such a constant source of frustration and difficulty to world leaders, defying diplomacy, negotiations, threats, armed occupation and international conferences. It is a problem which refuses to go away.
The History and Friction
In considering the history of the conflict we could justifiably go back to Genesis 15 and the birth of Ishmael. Move on then to chapter 21 and the birth of Isaac when “he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit” (Gal 4:29). But if we used that as our starting point, this would not be an article but would become a library of several volumes.
Fast forward to the early part of the 20th century. Actually, it was in the late 19th century that Zionism and Arab nationalism became significant movements. Prior to WWI, the Ottoman Empire controlled the Middle East for almost four centuries. The area was inhabited primarily by Arab Muslims, a small number of Arab Christians, and Sephardic Jews.
In 1897, there was a call for a Jewish homeland as a result of widespread anti-Semitism in Europe. The Zionist movement called for the establishment of a nation state for the Jewish people in Palestine, which would serve as a haven for the Jews of the world.
World War I brought with it the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the dividing up of her lands between allied victors. Britain gained control of what we call Palestine. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, President of the Zionist Federation, declaring that his government would “view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The ‘Balfour Declaration’ became the hope of Jewish peoples throughout the world and fuelled Zionism. The League of Nations, formed after WWI, established Mandatory Palestine, which was an attempt to designate Great Britain to administer the area.
The years between the two World Wars were marked by bloodshed, massacres, riots and uprisings. The violence was directed by Arabs against Jews, and at times against the British occupation forces. Retaliation by Jews against Arabs ensued. Both Arabs and Jews had their paramilitary units and attacks were followed by revenge on both sides. The history of those years is awash with terrorism, barbarism and death. While most of the atrocities were carried out by Arab groups against Jews, no one involved was free of guilt. The tension and hostility between Arabs and Jews continued up to the Second World War, influencing loyalties toward either Allies or Axis powers.
The Holocaust and the Founding of the Nation
World War II and the holocaust brought anti-Semitism forcibly to the world’s conscience. Virtual worldwide sympathy, and the guilt of many nations over failure to intervene and rescue Jews from the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, led to a climate in which the longings of the Jewish people for a homeland were recognised. The death of six million Jews was a collective guilt weighing on the consciences of the nations of western Europe as well as North America. During the war, immigration into Palestine by Jews fleeing Nazi Europe was forbidden by Britain. Other nations as well failed to allow entry of refugees to their shores, returning them at times to certain death in Europe (look up, for example, the voyage of the MS St. Louis, and the fate of her 908 Jewish refugees). On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, in favour of a Partition Plan that created the State of Israel. Thus the state of Israel was born, and with it, the declaration of war by the surrounding Arab nations against it. The world watched in amazement as an outnumbered, poorly equipped group of Israelis were able to overcome the combined force of the formidable enemy. There was little doubt that God had intervened to help. As an aside, to any who would like to investigate it, the decision of the USA to recognise the government of Israel as an entity was determined by President Truman’s friendship with a Jewish man, and his awareness of the Bible’s promises to Abraham.
An understanding of the holocaust not only helps to explain the manner in which Israel achieved statehood, but also sheds light on its obsession with security and its distrust of other nations. Almost 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, culminating in the holocaust, has made security its top priority. A day is yet to dawn when the security of the nation will be the Lord Himself: “For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her” (Zech 2:5).
The Hostility and Fighting
The creation of the State of Israel led to increased hostility. The claims of Arabs, mostly justifiable, were that many of them, both nominal Christians and Muslims, lost their homes, properties, and businesses, without any compensation. This fuelled anger and polarised both sides. Thousands became refugees during 1948 and 1949. The war of 1948-49 was followed by wars in 1956 and 1967. In both of these, Israel was victorious. But it is the war of October 1973, the Yom Kippur War, that had effects far beyond the winning of the battle. Evangelicals in many parts of the west became convinced that the nation which had survived had done so only because God was establishing it in light of end times and prophetic events. Thus, Christian Zionism was born. Fuelled by a pre-millennial and a dispensational view of Scripture, men became prophets, forecasting the time of the Rapture and the calendar of God. Israel was back in the land and was there by divine right, fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. As a consequence, whatever Israel did was justified.
Prior to this, in 1964, the PLO was formed with the avowed goal of defeating Israel and exterminating it as a nation. At the same time, there were nominal Christian Arabs, Muslims and Messianic Jews inhabiting the land of Israel. Now the Christian Zionist movement entered the picture. Jews viewed their nationhood as their sovereign right; Christian Zionists hailed the nation of Israel as God’s fulfillment of His promises to Abraham. Arabs called it “the great catastrophe”.
In the 1990’s, a new and deadly threat emerged. Young, fanatical Muslims would sacrifice themselves as suicide bombers, strapping explosives to their bodies and blowing themselves up, attempting to kill as many Israelis as they could. They targeted restaurants, shopping centres, crowded buildings, etc. This ‘Intifada’ led to the deaths of thousands of Jewish people. Reprisals from Israel were, at times, severe and brutal. Hatred and bitterness grew on both sides. The Intifada also made it clear that Yasser Arafat and the PLO were not true peace partners. To protect its citizens from the virtually unstoppable onslaught against it by suicide bombers, walls and checkpoints were built, and movement was restricted between the West Bank and other portions of Israel.
Today we face the issue of Israeli settlements being built which have the disfavour of some western leaders, but the backing of Christian Zionism and the right wing of the political spectrum. Adding to this is the growing threat of fanatical Muslims, who view all non-Muslims as infidels who must be exterminated.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It has been the only constant ally of the West since its birth in 1948. We cannot appreciate its actions, since we do not live with the same constant threat to our nation or to our lives. Few, if any of us, have a history of family members who were boarded on trains and sent to Auschwitz. We have not lost parents, children, spouses in senseless suicide bombings as they ate in a restaurant or shopped in a mall. We do not walk the streets scanning the crowd for who might be an assassin. While that does not justify unrighteous actions, it does help to explain some of the policies which have been at odds with what we view as just and fair. Yet a friendship, be it a nation or a person, does not require that we seek to justify its every action and its belligerence.
The Hazard to be Faced
Two major dangers face believers in the often misguided devotion to everything Israeli. The actions of the nation have not always been righteous. The government itself makes no pretence of always being righteous. Their defence is that a small nation, surrounded on every side by enemies bent on its destruction, must be preemptive and not passive. It cannot absorb a significant “first-attack” and survive. Thus its treatment of its Palestinian dissidents has not always been humane. To blindly defend every action of an unrighteous world government is not to love righteousness and hate lawlessness. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psa 122:6) but we do not plead its cause in the arena of world opinion. Christian Zionism has so espoused the cause of Israel that it rushes to the defence of Israel in the public arena whatever the issue. It views the present nation-state as the embryo for the regathered Israel of prophecy. Justification is sought for every decision and action of Israel.
Second, and perhaps the greatest danger we face, is becoming prophets and assuming, even averring, that Israel is back in the land to stay. It may be. But there would be no compromise of Scripture concerning Israel’s future if it were to be defeated in a war. We certainly do not want to see that happen, but it would not contradict Scripture and its promise of a future for the nation. Currently they have the land without the Lord. God’s intention is that, through their link with the Lord, the Seed of Abraham, they will enjoy the land.
Currently, they are back in the land, but they are there in unbelief. They pride themselves on their superior intelligence, armaments and skill. They ascribe their victories and existence to themselves and not to God. While Israel will need to be back in the land for the treaty to be signed with the beast (Dan 9:27), there is no guarantee that this return is the one envisioned in Scripture.
As far as the final return, that will be by the Lord’s gathering of His outcasts who will come to Zion with singing and will be a believing people (Isa 35:10). Well-meaning popular writers have made predictions of the timing of the rapture based on the assumption that “this generation” is the harbinger of the end times. We are wise to look for the Lord’s coming at any moment; we are not wise to set our clocks by Israel’s nationhood and existence.
The Hope for the Future
God’s promises to Abraham and David will be fulfilled. The One Who is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham will assure that (Matt 1:1). The hope of the nation will be fulfilled. Neither the purpose of God for the nation, nor His promises to it will ever fail.
Abraham was assured of the land and the lineage. David was promised a line to succeed him on the throne. The Kinsman Redeemer will accomplish all. A day is yet to dawn, a day that seems almost incredible to our imaginations, that “all nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the Lord of hosts and to keep the Feast of Tabernacle” (Zech 14:16). And “Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited” (v11). God will have His earthly people as His wife (Hosea 2:16) and Jerusalem will be the head of the nations (Jer 3:17; Zech 8:22). God has not forsaken His people (Rom 11:1-2).
“Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!…for of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36).
(Used with permission from Truth and Tidings magazine)