• FEATURES \ May 26, 2002
    reads 4058
    Whose is the Palestine Deed? An Amendment
Whose is the Palestine Deed? An Amendment PALESTINE (ANS) -- I was in Ramallah hours after the Israeli troops left and the day they were expected to return following a suicide bombing south of Tel Aviv. I was in Bethlehem during the siege and the standoff at the Church of the Nativity. I was in Palestinian East Jerusalem. And I was in the Gaza Strip as Israeli troops amassed on its borders.

That day in Gaza, I recalled the article I had written demonstrating Israel?s biblical right to the land. Everything that I wrote was the truth as I understood it. But Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:9 that we ?know in part.? And I knew Israel only in part. I knew the history of Palestine only in part. And I knew the Palestinian people not at all.

Now, I know Israel and Palestine more fully. Do I no longer love Israel? God forbid. But I love it more realistically and responsibly.

Before continuing, it is important to distinguish between love for Israel and Zionism.

It is biblical to love Israel as God?s chosen ? not to be interpreted as ?preferred? ? people. Love Israel and the Jews as the race from which God brought the Messiah and as one of God?s means of blessing his creation. ?I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse,? God promised Abraham, ?and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.? (Genesis 12:3) .

Zionism, however, is a secular ideology. It is the movement that was ?provoked by the persecution of Jews in Europe and inspired by the rise of nationalism in the continent.? (Alex Awad, co-founder of Bethlehem Bible College, Through the Eyes of the Victims, 2001, p.16).

Zionism is not even predicated upon restoration of the biblical boundaries.

?Besides looking to the possibility of forming a state in Palestine,? Awad writes, ?[Theodore] Hertzl [the father of the Zionist movement] looked for a homeland in Uganda, Argentina, and other countries. Herzl?s aspirations were not based on the biblical conception of a promised land.?

The Zionist goal of a national homeland was realized in 1947 when the United Nations partitioned the region known as Palestine.

?At this time,? Awad notes, ?Palestinians owned about 87.5 percent of the total area, while Jews owned 6.6 percent of the total lands.? Palestinian Arabs had lived here for millennia.

I had the rare privilege of speaking with a Palestinian Christian believer who is 110 years old, born in 1892 when the land was occupied by the Ottoman Turks, and whose lineage can be traced back countless generations.

That there are believers in Palestine was another important discovery. Like myself, most American Christians have no idea that there is a thriving, albeit struggling, church in Palestine (defined internationally as the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip in southwest Israel along the Mediterranean coast).

It is estimated that there are about 2,000 evangelical believers in Palestine (distinguished from nominal Christians in the traditional Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Ethiopian, Armenian and other historic churches).

Gaza is the most densely populated piece of real estate on earth (1.2 million people in 139 square miles). In all of Gaza, there is only one evangelical church of about 60 believers and one pastor.

As a result of the 1947 U.N. partition plan, 54 percent of Palestinian land was taken away and given to the Jews (try to imagine that, because the Chinese were persecuted when they emigrated to America, the United Nations decided to give them Texas and told the Texans that their land no longer belonged to them and they had to get out, leave the country, or live in a tent in a refugee camp).

Given the green light then in 1947 by the United Nations, Zionist Jews launched a military campaign to drive the Palestinians from the land. In Deir Yassin, a village near Jerusalem, Israeli terrorists in the Irgun and Stern Gang, slaughtered as many as 250 people, fomenting the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.

Since then, war has followed war, injustice after injustice, Intifada after Intifada.

Today, Palestinian extremists slaughter Israeli civilians in the streets, restaurants, shops, discos, buses, even in their own homes and cars.

And the offenses on both sides continue.

Despite membership in the United Nations and agreement to abide by the U.N. Charter and decisions, Israel continues to violate U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and the Camp David and Oslo Accords with every settlement it builds in the West Bank and Gaza.

It continues a military occupation of the lands designated for the Palestinian people to live on. It continues to seize more Palestinian land for settlements. Palestinian people are persecuted and harassed at Israeli checkpoints.

Israeli roadblocks change constantly and unannounced, causing Palestinians to spend hours searching for alternative routes to get to work, school or shopping.

In Bethlehem, while press cameras focused on the Church of the Nativity, the entire town ? Palestinian Muslims, Christians, and believers ? was under siege and 24-hour curfew. Anyone stepping outside of their house was shot. For 39 days, children stayed home. There was no school. No one could go to work. Food ran out. Some were without electricity and water. Israeli soldiers searched homes; some stole what they found there. Sons were taken from their mothers with their hands tied behind them. Doors were blown open. Homes were bulldozed. The victims were Christians, believers, and Muslims ? not terrorists. Just people like you and me.

Day and night, Israeli guns fired and tanks thundered through neighborhoods. Families were terrified and deprived of sleep. Many children are still afraid to sleep alone, their lives disrupted and traumatized.

And this is only part of the dehumanization of the Palestinian people by Israelis since the beginning of the current Intifada nearly two years ago. Multiply that through more than half a century.

Is Israel bad and Palestine innocent? No. Nor is Palestine bad and Israel innocent. Both are wrong. But only one story is being told.

American Christians are right to love Israel and the Jews. But we are wrong to condone and even help them in their sins. We are wrong to demonize an entire people group. We are wrong for ignoring and misunderstanding our own brothers and sisters among the Palestinians. And those American Christian leaders are wrong who have mistaken Zionism for Christian love and appropriate biblical support for Israel.

Secular Israel is not biblical Israel, just as ?a man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code? (Romans 2:28-29).

God still weeps over Jerusalem.

Yet, there is a remnant in Israel. And theirs too is the passion of Paul who wrote: ?I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race . . .? (Romans 9:3).

A More Biblical Response

What then should our attitude, as Bible-believing Christians, be toward Israel and Palestine today?

Like Jesus, we are called to love both without necessarily approving of what they do. Both secular Israel and Palestine are wrong. Both have committed atrocities against one another. Both have used terrorism. Both continue to sin against God and man.

The wrongs are not the issue. Love is the issue. And forgiveness is the only solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

Psalm 122 commands us to ?Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.? But Jerusalem is divided into Israeli and Palestinian sectors. The psalm does not say ?Pray for the peace of half of Jerusalem.?

So we must love the Israelis. Support the Israelis. Pray for the Israelis. But do not be blind to the sins of the Israelis.

And we must love the Palestinians. Support the Palestinians. Pray for the Palestinians. But do not be blind to the sins of the Palestinians.

Most of all, understand, accept, love, embrace, practically support and pray for our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine.

?Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers? (Galatians 6:10).

Just as Jewish believers are God?s instruments to reach the Israeli Jews, Palestinian believers are God?s instruments to reach the Palestinian Arabs.

Yes, the Bible deeds the land to Israel. But nowhere does it say that God has commissioned American believers to take it back for them. And nowhere does the Bible say that only Jews may live in the land. In fact, God?s laws are specific as to how Jews are to treat strangers and aliens living among them.

?When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God? (Leviticus 19:33).

Let us abandon our obsession with the return of the land to Israel and allow the Holy Spirit to obsess us with the return of Jesus to the hearts of his people. Let us stop using Scripture to beat the Palestinian people and use it to guide our own lives.

How should Christians respond to current events in the Middle East? In the Spirit-inspired words of the psalmist, we must fervently and continually ?Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.?
?May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.
For the sake of my brothers and friends,
I will say, "Peace be within you.
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity? (Psalm 122:6-9).

Embrace Israel, by all means. But open your arms just a little wider to embrace your brothers and sisters in Palestine as well.

Shalom and Salaam.