Thursday, May 10, 2012

Israel and Palestine: Is Peaceful Coexistence Possible?

May is a time of celebration in the modern nation of Israel. Next week on May 15, Israel will celebrate its 64th birthday, as the establishment of the State of Israel took place on that day in 1948. Less than a year later, on May 11, 1949, Israel was accepted by majority vote as a member of the United Nations. 
Previously, in October 1946, President Truman issued a statement indicating America’s support for the creation of a “viable Jewish state.” In November of the following year the United Nations voted for the Jewish people to be given a “homeland” in the territory their ancestors had inhabited nearly two thousand years, or more, before. The United States was one of 33 countries who voted for the new Jewish state.
In passing, it is worth nothing that the modern nation of Israel was established by the United Nations, an organization now much (and hypocritically?) maligned by many people in this country who tend to be staunch supporters of Israel. There was, and continues to be, a problem with the new state of Israel, however. 
Palestine, the land that was partitioned and given to the Jewish people as a homeland, was already occupied. It was inhabited largely by Arabs who were mostly Muslims (although about 10% of them were Christians). Since the ethnic Jews from other countries began moving in and occupying the land, Palestinian Arabs have been squeezed into smaller and smaller portions of the territory. 
Not surprisingly, there was immediate negative Arab reaction to the creation of Israel in May 1948. In support of the Palestinian Arabs, the surrounding Arab states attacked the independent State of Israel on the very first day of its existence. Thus began the first Arab-Israeli War. Even though there have been numerous cease-fires, negotiations, and peace talks, tensions and sporadic hostilities between Israel and Palestine have continued to the present. 
It is not difficult to be sympathetic with Israel’s desire for a homeland. The holocaust in Europe resulted in the extermination of around 6,000,000 Jews. That was an unmitigated human tragedy. And through the centuries Jewish people have been grossly mistreated by many Christians who considered all Jews to be “Christ killers.”
But it is also hard not to be sympathetic with the Palestinian Arabs. Even though about 1/3 of the population of the country was Jewish at the time of the 1947 partition, still, for many of the Arabs who made up the majority, land on which their ancestors had lived for centuries, in some cases, was taken from them and given to people with a different language, different customs, and a different religion. 
It is true that since 1948 there have been many terrorist attacks on the Israelis and other acts of violence committed by Palestinian Arabs. But if there is not provision for a peaceful, and just, settlement of disputes, injustice and oppression usually spawns violent reaction. 
So as Israel celebrates its 64th national birthday in a few days, the burning question remains: will Israel and Palestine ever be able to coexist peacefully?


  1. Well, I'm sure they will, Leroy. The question is, how long will the conflict continue and at how much human cost in the meantime?

    White and black Americans live "in peace" with Native Americans today. According to Wikipedia, from the time the Europeans began settling in an area occupied by a disorganized people till the last Indian skirmish, it was just over 300 years. They are two very different histories, of course, and different times with different technologies. Also, the Palestinians have some powerful supporters outside and surrounding Israel, something the Native Americans never really enjoyed after the U.S. stretched from "sea to shining sea." But there are some similarities as well.

  2. Anton, thanks for your comments. -- I guess I am impatient: I want them to coexist peacefully during my lifetime.

  3. A story I've heard:
    An aid worker (I think with MCC) became familiar with a particular Jewish settlement in the West Bank that received financial aid and visits from a conservative Christian group in the USA who apparently believed it was God's will for Jews to live there. Upon returning to the USA, this aid worker visited with members with this Christian group and explained how Palestinian land had been confiscated to make space for construction of the Jewish settlement. The aid worker was personally acquainted with some of the Palestinians who had lost their land. The response from the Christian group was, "God works in marvelous ways. He's led you to work with the Palestinians, and has led us to help with the Jewish settlement."

  4. Here's a link to NYT article about tax-exempt funds from American evangelical Christians aiding West Bank Settlements.

  5. Clif, thanks for your comments, too. -- If what we do does not lead to, or at least aim for, peace and justice with love for all, can it ever be God's will?

  6. And thanks also, Clif, for sharing the link to the NYT article. -- Christian Zionism is wrongheaded, in my opinion, and it is made worse by groups who can support it with tax-exempt funds.

  7. Glen Davis - CanadaMay 10, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    Thanks for raising this important question toda, Leroy. This is an issue of unprecedented complexity involving knotty questions like: What happens to the 100's of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven from their ancestral lands and homes? What happens to Jerusalem and the competing religious claims that it is "our" holy city? How do peace-loving Palestinians get out from under the power of the radical element that does not want Israel to survive? What happens to the many illegal Jewish settlements that continue to proliferate in contravention of UN law? When will western nations like the U.S.A. and Canada take a more even-handed position with regard to this question and stop their onesided support of Israel no matter what it does? When will Christians of other countries listen to and respond to the heart-rending cries from our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers for justice and peace? When will the Israeli government begin to listen to the ever increasing number of voices from its own Jewish people that are crying for a just and peaceful settlement that includes living side by side with a viable Palestinian state? In spite of these almost insurmountable obstacles, I must answer a resounding YES to your question because "with humans it is impossible but with God all things are possible. Remember: apartheid ended in South Africa; the Berlin wall came down; the war in Northern Ireland is over; the Soviet Union was dismantled. The road ahead must be one of prayerful action on the part of all Christians.

  8. Glen, thanks so much for your comments that truly set forth many "knotty questions," all of which are as difficult as they are important. I appreciate the hopefulness of your comments, but I am not optimistic about "all Christians" working toward a peaceful solution. Further, I think there must be a great deal more "prayerful action" in the future than there has been in the past by Christians, and others, who do want peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.

  9. Thinking Friend John (Tim) Carr, who is an old boyhood friend who now lives in California, made the following comments (which I post here with his permission):

    "This is a difficult situation.

    "In my humble opinion, until our LORD intervenes this tragic situation will Not be solved by humans.

    "I sympathize with both sides, but our world was created by GOD for ALL people and I don`t think Any part of our globe should be denied to Anyone.

    "Our Bible says, 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' But, our Bible also says, 'man`s heart is deceitful above ALL else.'

    "With this being said, I don`t believe this situation will be solved without God`s intervention."

  10. Let me digress, to India and Pakistan. These are two large countries divided by the remote province of Kashmir. It would seem simple to broker a peace, but for decades the issue of Kashmir has festered. These nations now stand on the hair-trigger of nuclear war, yet no one works on peace. Why? Well, India and Pakistan began as a messy divorce as the British left India, and no one is happy with the divorce, or the settlement. Yet, these countries are so large, and Kashmir is so small.

    Israel and Palestine are not large countries, and they are divided over the whole land of Canaan. Histories of trauma are their histories. The land feels like a play waiting for Sophocles to write the tragedy. As for those who are waiting for God to solve the problem, well, God has a track record: Israel vs. Assyria, not so happy; Judah vs. Rome I, not so happy; Judah vs. Rome II, game over. Why wait for that? If it comes, it comes, but surely it will come again as an hour of darkness, with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Such is the day of the Lord.

    If peace is to come, it will come as it must, with a still small voice, speaking in the heart, creating the impossible. Yet I fear the land echoes less with the quiet waters of Shiloh, and more with thunder like the Euphrates. And nothing is thundering louder than so-called Christian Zionism. If I were an Israeli, I would run the other way from Christian Zionism. For Christian Zionism sees Israel as a fatted calf, being prepared for the slaughter. Playing footsie with that game plan seems a fool's errand to me.

    Jimmy Carter raised a great uproar by pointing out the connections between Jewish settlement activity and South African apartheid. Yet I fear he did not go deep enough. Just as India and Pakistan go back to the trauma of their independence, so modern Israel goes back to the trauma of the holocaust. It is a truism that we tend to come to resemble our enemies. As Israel assembles a mighty army and seeks lebensraum, to the east of Israel, no less, is it not time for serious soul-searching for all concerned? Perhaps the Palestinians, living in their West Bank ghettos, may be best trained by their misfortune to understand the Israelis and their psychology, but can they transcend their own agony to appreciate that of the Jews?

    Quiet waters? Or the thunder?

  11. Yesterday, Rev. Truett Baker, a Thinking Friend who lives in Arizona, sent these comments by e-mail:

    "Thanks for the blog on the State of Israel. My brother, Dwight, was a missionary in Israel for twenty-seven years. He believed that there would never be peace between the Jews and Arabs. It was even difficult for the Christians with Jewish and Arab backgrounds to get along with one another. It is a sad state of affairs (no pun intended). I have heard him say that the Jews would remain in Israel to the last man, woman or child."

  12. Dr. George, a Thinking Friend who is a pastor in Canada, made the following comments in an e-mail, which I post here with his permission:

    "I believe the two countries can live together peacefully. I am optimistic that anything is possible and this particular situation is not something that cannot be settled to the satisfaction of both countries.

    "One of the ways to bring about understanding is for the establishment of many 'small' groups to interact through visitations. E.g., a group of thirty senior high school students from each country visiting with each other over a period of time much like the Rotary Club or Lions Club student exchange programs; groups of specialized people (e.g. farmers, business folks, artists, labour groups, et al.) exchanging visits with each other over a period of time and so on.

    "People need to interact and come to grips with issues around a table, have open minds to various things, be culturally sensitive and develop understanding of one's outlook on various issues, etc. This is only one of the ways but the main thing is for people to interact with one another at all levels."

  13. I do agree with Craig's comments especially regarding the comparison drawn by Jimmy Carter to apartheid. The Israelis have gone too far in herding all the Palestinians into settlements.

    While proclaiming God is/was on their side, is there really much difference between this activity and Germany sending Jews to camps in WWII? I do understand that Israelis are not executing Palestinians, but the root of a nation wanting to keep a people in check is the same. Surely God cannot be pleased.

  14. The following comments are from Nancy Tilley, a Tennessee Thinking Friend. I appreciate her mentioning Jimmy Carter's book, as did Craig and David; I consider Carter's book to be one of great significance that USAmerican Christians ought to take more seriously.

    "Leroy, I have taken five trips to the Holy Land and have experienced some of the problems between Israel and the Palestinians. A peaceful solution must be found. Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine - Peace Not Apartheid" (2006) gives an excellent view of the problems and possible solutions.

    "Carter said, 'The general parameters of a long-term, two-state agreement are well known . . . There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this troubled region as long as Israel is violating key U.N. resolutions, official American policy, and the international "road map" for peace by occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians. Except for mutually agreeable negotiated modifications, Israel's official 1967 borders must be honored. As were all previous administrations since the founding of Israel, U.S. government leaders must be in the forefront of achieving this long-delayed goal of a just agreement that both sides can honor.'

    "Jimmy Carter probably knows more about Israel and the Palestinians that any other American. He feels that 'there is a formula for peace with justice in this small and unique portion of the world. It is compatible with international law and sustained American government policy, has the approval of most Israelis and Palestinians, and conforms to agreements previous consummated--but later renounced. It is this blue print that we will now explore.'

    "This is a book worth reading."

  15. Larry Riedinger, a Thinking Friend who was a student of mine in 1972 and who now lives in Wisconsin, sent the following comments by e-mail, and I post them here with his permission:

    "I think, if the Palestinians and Israelis were left alone they could get along. There is at least one border community of Jews/Muslims getting along just fine - accept in the eyes of the extremists in both 'camps.'

    "There are some conditions, which seem factual to me, that have - or should have - a strong bearing on the whole chaotic process:

    "1. Many (I don't know the number) Palestinians are Christian - and the majority of those are Lutheran. Source is Bishop of the East Central Synod (ELCA) of Wisconsin.

    "2. It seems that the Arab neighbors really don't give the proverbial 'rat's ass' about the Palestinians-as-human-beings. They are essentially a political football in the 'game' of the Middle East. Evidence: no Arab state wants Palestinian refugees, and what refugees there are are treated like dirt.

    "3. A big sticking point is the indiscriminately pro Israel 'PAC' in American politics. This orientation has got it into its head that anything other than total support for Israel, regardless of its behavior, is 'cursing' Israel and not 'blessing' it. As if blanket support/approval constitutes loving one's own children!

    "4. Most of the above PAC is woefully, or gleefully, ignorant of two inconvenient facts: Israel is a socialist state (Many pro Israel people are also right-wing indiscriminately pro capitalists.) and a large proportion of Israeli citizens are professing atheists. The latter comes from testimonials of Southern Baptist missionaries in Israel. They also note Palestinians are much more open to the Gospel than are Jewish Israelis.

    "5. Throughout history, sabotaging conflict resolution has mostly been done by those who believe that one side is all good and the other is all bad. In the Old Testament, it is clear that God rarely defined Israel as all good and/or its enemies as all bad. Some prophets seemed to state the reverse!"

    1. Larry here. I just noted, with my editor cap, a lack of clarity in my #5. The last sentence is intended to convey that God's prophets rarely took the position that either Israel or its - current - enemy was purely good or evil. One of my favorite prophetic remarks (I can't reference it at the moment.) was something to the effect - "Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed because of their immorality/idolatry. They were destroyed because they oppressed the poor."

      Just like way back then, prophecy and propaganda don't fit well together...

    2. One version of the prophetic statement you reference is from Ezekiel 16:49. To see it in action in one of Leroy's recent blogs (March 30), check out this link: and see what follows my comment of April 2.

      You can also reach the posting by using the blog archive to the right of this column, under March 2012. Leroy's main topic was an excellent talk by Matthew Vines that can be reached at It lasts a little over an hour.