About 20 days ago, a major conflict broke out between Gaza and Israel. Rockets are fired. People are dying. As of June 26th, 1000 people in Gaza have been killed and 42 Israelis, two of whom were civilians. These numbers may not be accurate as it is difficult to recover bodies in Gaza because of the rubble, and there is another source that says 3 Israeli civilians have been killed. In terms of defense, Israel has the Iron Dome and an early-warning system that alerts its citizens to incoming strikes. Gaza has…nothing. Israel warns Gaza citizens that bombs are coming by calling phone calls, sending text messages, and dropping non-explosives that “knock” on a roof, warning of a coming strike, but Palestinians are not satisfied with these claims. Some talked about how they were given ten-minute warnings, but others they knew were not. There is also just nowhere to go once they are warned; many have died while taking shelter in churches and government buildings, even a U.N. shelter.
These attacks are based on the claim by Israel’s prime minister that Hamas uses civilian buildings to hide weapons. Hamas denies this. Israel has not allowed independent investigators to research its claims. Let’s say for a moment that Hamas is lying and there are weapons stores in civilian buildings. What is Israel’s plan? Destroy everything just to be sure? I understand that Israel has a right to defend itself. However, because of their superior weaponry and defense system, Israel is bringing a gun to a knife fight and innocent men, women, and children are the ones paying for it.
According to Israel, there are no “civilians” or “civilian buildings.” Basically, with how it is playing out, any home or structure is considered a potential threat and can be destroyed without consequence. Mosques, schools, hospitals, factories, stores, sewage lines…in 2009, the same thing happened, and the destruction cost about $1.9 billion. The commanding officer in the south of Israel was quoted on the first day of those bombings, saying that the goal was to “send Gaza decades into the past.” After the attacks ceased, any and all aid was orchestrated by Israel and with the blockade from 2007 still in place (though Gaza has essentially been under Egypt/Israel control since 1967), Israel essentially controlled the speed at each Gaza would be able to recover. The strip is basically a large prison, where almost half of the inmates are under 14.
These are the facts. It would be difficult to prove them wrong.
I’ve had a couple of conversations about this recently. First of all, everyone seems to think that if I don’t support Israel, I’m supporting Hamas. I rarely align myself with nations or governments, I prefer to support people. Like the ones being killed in Gaza. I don’t see this situation as a “choose one or the other” type of deal. I am aware that neither party is “innocent.” I’m not trying to prove that Hamas is going to be the savior of the Middle East. That’s not even at issue here.
Second of all, there is this puzzling belief that Israel is somehow “noble” and playing fair by the laws of war. There’s a lot of, “Israel doesn’t do that,” and “Hamas does this, which is bad.” Yes, using suicide bombers is not good, it is an act of terrorism. You know what else is not good? Using children as human shields, which Israel has been accused of doing now and also in the past. Israel, of course, denies this. This recent slew of bombings has also gained a lot of criticism because of the sheer intensity of violence against a strip of land that could fit inside New York City and is home to almost 2 million. About 800 tons of bombs have hit Gaza. Kind of unnecessarily brutal.
Let’s step back. Why is this important to Westerners, specifically Christians? There’s this concern that if we do not support Israel, God’s wrath will fall upon us. Ok, so, there’s some references in the Bible about not going up against the Hebrews, God’s chosen people, so I get that. But does that mean specifically the country of Israel as we know it? A lot of bad stuff went down in those ancient days, with the Hebrews constantly turning against God, coming back, turning against God. Eventually, God was just silent for like 400 years, and then Jesus came. When He showed up, the Jews were all happy. Yay! He’s going to get rid of the Roman empire and we’re going to be on top again, just like God promised! However, they missed the point. God never meant His kingdom to be a physical one, but a spiritual one. That’s what all the messages, all the signs, all the prophets, were pointing to. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. When the Jews discovered this, they turned on Jesus. They murdered God. This was not the end of the story though; Jesus came back and this was the beginning of the spiritual kingdom of God, right then and there. Transformation was already beginning in those who accepted Him and the disciples were sent out to bring as many people as possible into this kingdom with them, Jews or otherwise. People spread out. It’s not like they all huddled together and set up a new country for themselves. Even if they did, if things started to turn bad, we wouldn’t hold anyone at fault for backing away and refusing to support something that was no longer Christ-like.
So why are we so afraid to stop supporting Israel? Israel, whose Ministry of the Interior has a history of discriminating against Christians, from making it hard for Christians to go through the visa system to forbidding Christian missionaries from teaching. For decades, churches are regularly defaced and burned. Messianic Jews have an especially rough time in under Israeli rule, as they are perceived as being traitors to their religion. Most Messianic Jews are very quiet about their beliefs and do mission work discretely.
Again, is this me saying that Israel is the worst country ever? No. Is it any better in other Middle Eastern countries? Muslim countries? Probably not, though ironically enough, Christians seem to fare much better in Gaza than in Israel, according to The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation which was founded to “inform American Christians of the plight of Palestinian Christians. For more information on the relationship between Hamas and Christians, read here: http://www.hcef.org/publications/hcef-news/790793540-christians-in-gaza-history-and-struggle.
No one I have talked to has brought up the fact that there are Christian Palestinians in Gaza. The history of Christianity in Palestine goes back thousands of years; it is widely thought that the first person to reach Gaza was Philip, a disciple of Paul. When Israel occupied Gaza in 1967, there were 10,000 Christians. By 2007, that number was reduced by half. When Hamas came into control, the number reduced even more. Now, there’s only about 1500 or so, probably less. There is often tension between Christians and Muslims within Gaza, but both groups are suffering due to the Israeli bombings. Israel does not care any more for Christians than it does for Muslims. Everyone is a potential terrorist and this is war.
So, basically what can be drawn from what I’m saying here is Israel is certainly not treating Christians well or any better than their neighbors. So why are American Christians so adamant in supporting Israel? As a nation? As explored above, “Zion” and “the people of God” are not defined by a geographical region, but by their commitment to Jesus Christ. “Zion” is referred to in the New Testament as a ‘daughter’ whose “king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” Zion comes up again in 1 Peter 2:6, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” So if asked if I support Zion or Israel as a spiritual kingdom, then yes, to my last breath. But if asked if I support the State of Israel as established in 1948, then, no, I do not. Do I support the individual people who live within Israel’s borders? Yes, I do, but I do not support actions carried out by individuals that result in unnecessary death and destruction.
In the end, it does not really matter what I think, or what any American Christian thinks. We get our news filtered through various media channels, all with their own agenda, all trying to get us to side one way or the other, while in reality, there is no clear “side.” Alex Awad, a Christian pastor at East Jerusalem Church, puts it best: “The Christians in the west, most of them, they don’t know the realities here. They don’t know who is occupying who, who is oppressing who, who is confiscating whose land, who is building walls to try and separate people from one another.”
I know I don’t know everything, but I know enough to question America’s commitment to Israel and my fellow Christians’ support of the country. I know I don’t have to “pick a side.” I just have to care about peace like a river and righteousness rolling like waves in the sea.