Monday, July 28, 2014

Why I Support Israel, Care About Palestinians, and Don't Trust the Media

The current Israeli military action to neutralize the ability of Hamas to launch rockets at Israel is the subject of news, comment, Facebook posts, demonstrations worldwide, and a rise of public anti-Semitism in Europe. Civilians are dying along with combatants. No one expects the current conflict to yield a permanent solution.

And many Christians who comment are guilty of sloppy thinking.

The following all make me crazy:
  1. When Christians blindly assert that Israel's right to the Holy Land makes all of their actions "blessed" and worthy of Christian support. 
  2. When Christians treat the conflict as a matter of equal actions and reactions and moral equivalence. They refer to "both sides" needing to step back and "negotiate" and act as if there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in the situation.
  3. When anyone accepts the mainstream media's reporting as accurate of the situation that is occurring.
Let me unpack my thoughts, and how I believe we ought to approach this matter.

1. Americans should see Israel as a strategic and natural ally. This is a solely political calculus. Of all the countries in the region, Israel is the only stable, western-style democracy that embraces western cultural values related to personal liberties, freedom of religion, free expression of opinions, and treatment of people based on a high view of human life. Israel is not perfect, but neither is the U.S. And only Israel has shown the ability to actually win a conflict in the region. If we have to choose up sides in the world, I want Israel on my team.

2. Christians may differ on eschatology, but they should not miss the truth that the Jewish people are God's "elect" people in one very specific sense. Romans 11 says this is the case because of the promises to the patriarchs. Further, while most Jewish people do not yet believe that Jesus is their messiah, there is coming a day when, as a people, they will do so as a demonstration of God's faithfulness to his promises. Only the most obtuse reading of Romans 11 would fail to grasp that ethnic Israel has a promised revival of faith that is coming. Therefore, to love the Jewish people, even in their unbelief, is to love a people that are loved as a people by God.

3. Christians should not see the current state of Israel as guaranteed a future until the return of Christ, or the government of Israel as always "doing the will of God." While I believe that Israel's current existence coincides with circumstances that will be present in the end times of Revelation, I cannot be positive that they may not be scattered again if the Lord Jesus delays his return for centuries. I believe that there will be a definable Jewish people in the land preceding the Lord's return. I think (but cannot be sure) that the current state may be the precursor to that future. That said, Israel is in the land in unbelief, not submissive to the will of God and in rebellion to his plan of salvation. And in such a state, Israel's government is capable of great evil, just as all human governments are.

4. Americans in general, and many Christians, seem not to understand the nature of the current conflict. Israel wants peace with Palestinians, and has provided land and other concessions as incentives. Hamas (which controls Gaza) wants Israel wiped out of existence, and will not negotiate peace--ever. And the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank wants Israel to surrender all lands conquered in the war of 1967; borders that would make Israel very difficult to defend. In both the PA and Gaza children are taught from texts that teach hatred for Jews. How does a nation live next door to a people that want it dead? As one commentator has said, "If the Palestinians laid down their arms, there would be peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. If the Israelis laid down their arms, there would be no Israel and only a Palestinian state."

5. Palestinians are not monolithic, and certainly are not all "evil." Not all of them support Hamas. Some actually favor peace with Israel. And there are Christian believers among them, even in Gaza. Churches there are housing refugees while being hated by their own government (Hamas). If you had grown up as a Christian Palestinian in Gaza, you might not have much reason to love Israel, even if you don't desire their destruction. We can and should care about the situation of our Christian family there. But that is not the same as supporting the cause of Hamas, or seeing it as "equivalent" to Israel's cause. Think of it this way. In World War 2, there were Christian Germans who may not have supported Hitler, but served their country in the armed forces. They were our brothers and sisters, and yet their fighting for their country did not mean American Christians should not fight against Germany in World War 2, or that we should somehow have seen the German cause as being just a different take on world affairs. Their policies and their invasions were evil. Hamas is evil, and their actions are evil. While Israel is not perfect, they have as much right to exist as any other nation (they at least were created by U.N. vote and not simply by rebellion as the U.S.A. was) and to defend themselves against attack. Hamas has declared that as long as they are alive they will fight to destroy Israel. They use civilians, schools, and hospitals as bases for their rockets and their tunnel systems. 

6. Press reports reflect all the errors mentioned above, and are meant to generate controversy, readership (or viewership) and revenue for their owners. Their general bias is against Israel, fearful of insulting Islam, and unwilling to appear as if the actions of a terrorist group (Hamas) might be worse than those of a state that has had to defend itself against rocket attacks launched from primary schools (Israel). And no one seems to report that Israel continues to take Gaza's civilian patients in need of emergency medical care, or continues to supply electricity, water, food, medical supplies to Gaza, and much of its water, even while Egypt does not. I have been in Israel many times when events have taken place that the are reported with breathless urgency by the media, as if they were huge and influential. I've actually seen "staged stonethrowing" where the media was invited to report on a Palestinian demonstration. The cameras rolled, some teenagers shouted and threw stones, the cameras stopped, and the teens left. Most people are unaware that about 75,000 tourists are moving all around Israel without incident or disturbance. 

In short, I love my Christian brothers and sisters in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza more than I care about any other individuals in this situation. I pray for their protection and for peace that would be to their benefit and the furtherance of the Gospel.

But I also recognize Israel's right to exist. I believe in the special place of Jewish people in God's election and purposes. I must acknowledge the evil that is embodied in Islamic teaching generally (from its corruption of Old Testament history and its denial of Jesus' full deity, to the concept of jihad and the intolerance it fosters throughout much of the world) and in the Hamas "brand" of Islam specifically.

Nazis would  not be appeased. Hamas will not be appeased. In a world where no government is perfect or righteous, there is nevertheless the right of governments and nations to act against evil that is directed at their own people. And so I hope that Israel prevails, Hamas is defeated, and out of that defeat a more humane and secular government might come. But looking at the region and the inability of Islam to foster such governments and cultures (quick, what Islamic country can you think of where women have equal rights with men and are not treated as property, where minorities live in relative peace and safety, where criticism of the government is freely allowed without repercussion, and violence is not considered an appropriate way to settle personal vendettas?), I have little hope of this.

Israel has perpetrated injustices in the past, and will do so in the future; as will other countries. For example, they have failed to protect Christians in their midst, and made it hard for Jewish believers in Jesus to become Israeli citizens, although they allow every other kind of Jew--agnostic, Buddhist, atheist, New Age--automatic citizenship. They should be criticized when they do injustice. This military action, however imbalanced it may appear (given Israel's military superiority), is not an injustice, but seeks to address an evil that needs to be stopped.