Christian Zionism III: Is It Unethical?
One Part of the Land: The West Bank
Should Christian Zionists support the continued occupation of the West Bank? The latter has become a flash point for debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists. While it is impossible to do justice here to anything close to a full examination of the issues, I will focus on the oft-made claim that Israel's continued occupation is a violation of international law—specifically UN Resolution 242.
According to this resolution, Israeli withdrawal was to take place in the context of mutual recognition of the right to exist and territorial adjustments to achieve secure boundaries. Withdrawal was ordered from "territories," not "the territories." Both Arthur Goldberg and Lord Caradon, the primary authors of this resolution, have said that the word "the" was purposely omitted because it was not intended for Israel to give back all of her territories, since they recognized that some were needed for secure boundaries.
Despite the fact that most Arab states have refused to recognize Israel's right to exist (a condition of Resolution 242), Israel has implemented the principles of the Resolution three times. When Egypt terminated its claims of belligerency in 1979, Israel returned the Sinai. When Jordan signed a peace agreement, Israel returned land claimed by Jordan. Then in September 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, only to be met with new attacks on her civilians launched from that territory.
The charge of illegal occupation must therefore be rejected. Israel has made repeated efforts to comply with UN stipulations for the territories, while its Arab neighbors have not.
When the Palestinians appeared to accept Israel's right to exist during the Oslo negotiations, Israel turned over control of major West Bank cities to the Palestinian Authority (PA). But when the PA showed support for terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens in 2000, Israel resumed control of those cities. In that same year Israel offered to return 92 percent of the West Bank, which some dismiss as ungenerous because, they claim, Israel never owned the land in the first place.
Yet Jews have lived in ancient Samaria (the West Bank) for over three thousand years. Jordan unilaterally renounced all claims to this area in 1988 and released legal ownership to the Palestinian Authority, through Israel, at that time. Many anti-Zionists suggest Jews should remove all settlements from the West Bank, leaving it entirely for Palestinians—Judenrein. That would be as unreasonable as insisting that no Arabs can live in Judaea. Besides, what other country has been required to give up land that it won in a defensive war? Do Germans displaced from Koenigsberg clamor and agitate for that German city to be returned to them by the victorious Russians?
Critics of "the occupation" also claim the settlements in the West Bank violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This is ironic because this Convention was adopted to prevent crimes like the Nazi deportation of Jews to death camps. The Article prohibits "individual or mass transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or that of any other country, occupied or not." But no Israelis are being deported against their will—they are moving voluntarily; nor is any Palestinian Arab being deported or transferred. And legal settlements, which are on only 3 percent of the West Bank, were bought from Arabs by agreement with Arabs.
Gerald McDermott is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, and Research Associate, Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa, University of the Free State, South Africa. He coauthored The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2012), which won Christianity Today's top prize for Theology and Ethics in 2013.