Thoughts from the Pastor

Israel – Palestine: How to Respond

In 2012 I had the opportunity to travel to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan as a part of my Seminary Education. Unlike many Christian groups who travel to Israel, my main goal was not simply to visit the lands and locations mentioned in the Bible. The purpose of my visit was to delve deeper into the cultural and religious tensions that have come to define that region of the world since the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948.

What needs to be said immediately is that the conflict in Israel and Palestine is so complex that there is no way to delve deep enough in one newsletter article. Maybe that is the lesson I would want Christians and Americans to learn above all else – our view of the conflict is often way too simple. If we are unwilling to understand how and why Israel was formed, how Israel has expanded its territory (often illegally), what life is like for innocents in Palestine, the tensions within Israel itself, then we really have no business forming opinions about the conflict.

I cannot in the confines of this newsletter article begin to share all that I have learned about the history of the conflict in this region though I am always willing to have a conversation. There are deep religious tensions as many Jews in this region view this land as something promised to them by God. For Muslims, this land likewise has deep religious significance. As Israel makes more and more settlements, Palestinians are being forcibly removed from homes and land that has been in their family for generations, before even the formation of Israel as a country. Palestine is an occupied territory which means every aspect of their lives are being controlled by Israel. And yes, as we likely know, a terrorist organization known as Hamas has resorted to violence in retaliation to Israel.

However, beyond the complex history, Christians in the United States have often made the tensions worse with our own misguided beliefs. It is natural for us to feel an affinity to the land of Israel because of it is historical and Biblical significance. However, many Christians express a love of Israel because they have the misguided idea that if Israel is restored to its full glory – that this act would usher in the return of Jesus Christ. A false belief rooted in some Christians obsession with end times. Therefore, wealthy evangelic Christians have poured money into Israel – with the hopes that in strengthening it, Christ will return.

After the most recent fighting between Israel and Palestine I saw many well-meaning Christian’s posts on social media or say in public, “Pray for Israel.” And while yes, prayer for Israel is appropriate, that prayer is incomplete. It is rooted in the idea that one side of the conflict is right and the other wrong. It is rooted in the false idea that Palestine is the agitator of all the conflict when really it is much more complicated than that. We should always condemn the use of violence in response to this conflict. Whether that is the firing of rockets or the removing of Palestinians from homes they have lived in for generations or the disrupting of religious celebrations during a Muslim holy season. These are all acts of violence.

The truth is we Christians tend to pick sides in this conflict way too quickly. We ignore the complex history, and we ignore that Palestinians are an occupied people. Since 2008 there have been many periods of fighting between Israel and Palestine. In that time 251 Israelis lost their life and 5,590 Palestinians lost theirs. We should condemn the violence used by Hamas and anti-Semitism anywhere. We should also condemn the use of violence by Israel and the disproportionate response of violence that has likewise resulted in the death of many innocent women and children.

So yes, we should pray, but if we pray for one side and not the other, we are missing the point. We should condemn all forms of violence, whether it is terrorism, or the illegal settlements being built in Palestine. We should push back against the false belief that we Christians need Israel to be a powerful nation to usher in the second coming of Jesus. Israel is not the Kingdom we have been called to build.

As I sat down to right this, I was aware that I would likely struggle to fit everything I wanted into this newsletter article. The paper I wrote for Seminary following my trip was around 20 pages in length and I found it difficult to make it that short. I touched very briefly on a variety of topics and if you have further questions please do not hesitate to ask. In the meantime, may we pray for peace in the region for all peoples. Perhaps the best thing we can do beyond prayer is simply admit that the conflict is complex and that we have much to learn.

Blessings, Pastor Nathan