By Daniel Juster, Director, Tikkun Ministries International
Several years ago, Asher Intrater came to the conclusion that unity between Arab Christians and Messianic Jews in Israel was a key to revival for both the Arab and the Jewish communities in the land. That insight – from over 20 years ago – is still important to us, but it has been hard to bring to fruition. I have participated in several dialogues between Messianic Jewish leaders and key Palestinian Christian leaders. We have financially supported Arab Christian leaders, and have had intensive prayer for them. With some exceptions, and there are some exceptions, there is one large barrier between us: that is, how we view the modern State of Israel.
The Palestinian Christian Perspective on the State of Israel
Our Palestinian Christian brothers have been very vocal with regard to their view of the injustices they have suffered under the rule of the State of Israel. This is especially so for those who are on the east side of the 1967 armistice green line. What have we learned by listening?
For one thing, we have learned that Israel’s rule is not always just. While many Arabs fled to the Arab invaders’ side during the 1948 War of Independence, it is also true that Israel emptied Arab towns that were considered important to their security and viability as a state. This was regardless of whether the town was Christian or Muslim. Though many Arab Believers have professed their forgiveness, the memories of such losses are terribly painful.
In addition, Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints have at times been unduly harsh. There have been instances where Jewish settlers have taken over private Palestinian owned land. Israeli courts have sometimes addressed these issues justly, but on some occasions, in my opinion, they have not. Settlers have torn up ancient olive groves and blocked roads from Arab villages. These latter actions have damaged or destroyed the livelihood of Christian and Muslim Arabs. Sometimes I wonder why should it take hours to go through checkpoints from one area of the West Bank to another, or to go to a job in Israel when one has legitimate papers? However, we must never forget that there are good reasons for the establishment of checkpoints. They are a necessary and sad response to Muslim terrorism.
When we reflect on these problems, we grieve for those who have suffered unjustly. There are inspiring stories of Israeli treatment of the sick and other instances of good deeds, but these are often downplayed in the Arab Christian community. Conclusions have been drawn based mainly on the negative experiences. As such, Arab Christians have developed a theology out of their pain: They have interpreted the Scriptures through the lens of their own circumstances, while at the same time disregarding the original context of the Scriptures. This is faulty exegesis.
These negative experiences contribute significantly to why Palestinian Christians often find Replacement Theology attractive. They conclude that the promises to the Jewish people and their irrevocable election has ended, and that the election is now something that is only to be applied to Christians. In addition, they conclude that the promise of the Jewish return to the land is not to be taken literally, even if there is some kind of continuing promise to the Jewish people. There is no such land promise to be fulfilled in their theology. They cannot reconcile the scriptural promises to Israel with their own experience of suffering. They ask the question, “How can God’s promises result in Christian suffering?” For them, the State of Israel is a Western colonial imposition on the Middle East that has been a foundational injustice.
I have written many times on the issue of the promises to the Jewish people. I will not give much space to repeat myself on this issue. Suffice it to say that a straightforward reading of the Bible in context makes it abundantly clear that the promises to the Jewish people still stand, including the return to the Land of Israel. Biblical interpretation cannot be based on our personal pain or lack thereof, suffering, or freedom from suffering.
A Great Error in Understanding the Present Challenges
We need to be very clear on the reasons underlying the conflict in the Middle East and its current geopolitical condition. Unfortunately, those holding a replacement perspective have misunderstood some key issues. Arab Christians, at a recent conference, claimed that the primary problem in the Middle East is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by the State of Israel. This is a terrible mistake. This erroneous conclusion projects Palestinian suffering as a grid for understanding the whole Middle East conflict.
Since 1992, Israel has tried to give up the West Bank and Gaza. By the end of the 1990’s the West Bank was largely governed by the Palestinians. There was little occupation. The Israeli government under Prime Minister Barak sought to give 95 per cent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza for a Palestinian State. Instead of peace we ended up with the intifada, homicide-suicide bombers and more. Even after this rejection, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza [in 2005] and moved over 8,000 of its citizens from their homes and businesses in the area only to get Hamas and rockets in return. It is as if Israel cannot give up the land it wants to give up!
When after the War of Independence, Jordan occupied and ruled the area that was intended by the U.N. for a Palestinian State, no one spoke of occupation, though Jordan also occupied some parts that had been Jewish for centuries, including Jewish areas in East Jerusalem. Jews were forced to flee, their cemeteries desecrated and their ancient synagogues destroyed. Again, no one labeled this occupation! As far as colonialism, while it is true that Great Britain had colonial designs in the Middle East, this is only part of the story. Islam and Arab conquest has been one of the major colonial forces in history. Turkey also colonized vast territories. In many cases, indigenous cultures were destroyed, far more than under British Empire rule.
The Danger of Fundamentalist Islam
However, none of this is as important as the rise of fundamentalist Islam. Not one state under Muslim rule fully practices or tries to fully practice the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is especially important with regard to true religious freedom. With all of Israel’s faults, one is free to change one’s convictions in this land without the threat of death either by the courts or by vengeful citizens. The condition of women in Muslim countries is deplorable. The treatment of the Christian minorities is also deplorable, though I suspect many Christians are silent as to their plight for fear of violent reprisals. A study of Islam reveals a violent history. Violence is in the DNA of Islam. While Muslims can be moderate, when they adopt a faithful obedience to the original fundamental mandate of Islam, they return to violence as the way to spread Islam and maintain its dominance. The biggest reason for the lack of peace in our day is the spirit of Islam.
I think that our Arab Christian brothers do not realize that while they focus on Israel as an unjust state, they are unable to look past their present pain to see the monster of fundamentalist Islam looming in the background. At one conference in the West Bank, I observed many well-dressed Palestinian Christian young women. Do they realize that if Islam ruled them, as is the case in Gaza, they could not dress in any way as they do now, but would be forcibly covered up? That is how I see Islamic fundamentalism. Israel’s existence and her control of the West Bank may intensify this fundamentalism, but it is not its cause. It began well before these issues. Its manifestation in the Arab world, the Philippines, Nigeria, India, and many other lands, shows we are dealing with a demonic power that is of much greater concern than the occupation. This is the root problem today: a violent Islam that wants to take over the whole world.
I live in a state with fallen people who do not know Yeshua, but it is a better place to live than any Muslim state. It is a better place to live for Arab Christians than any Muslim state. In fact, Arab Muslims are treated more humanely in Israel than in many Islamic countries. We must not forget these facts. If we do so, our justice issues, though real and important, will not be understood in proper perspective. We must take these justice issues with full seriousness. But, ultimately, we must stand with Israel as the nation poised on the point of the spear in challenging fundamentalist Islam.