My heart breaks as violence is on the rise again in Israel. Just within the last few days, we’ve seen a Palestinian child burned alive , seen leaked video of Israeli police beating an American Palestinian child who was bound at the time, a Christian minister has been attacked by Israeli settlers, and an Israeli lawmaker has called for even the death of noncombatants, saying in part:
“The Palestinian people has declared war on us, and we must respond with war. Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation, no destruction of terror infrastructure, no targeted killings. Enough with the oblique references. This is a war. Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started… Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
If history is any testimony, there’s no telling how bad things might spiral out of control this time. While it’s true that at least this time, one of the final sparks to conflict was the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers, the violent retaliation is beyond sickening.
I think what bothers me most is that when news broke of the death of the Israeli teenagers, the internet lit up with your standard “stand with Israel” cheers, yet whenever Israel is the agent of aggression or retaliation, things go silent. The only voices who speak up are a few brave souls who are willing to be castigated by other Christians for having the courage to stand up against the violence and oppression of the nation state of Israel.
Why do we do this? Why does Israel get a free pass in doing whatever they want? They bulldoze communities so they can build illegal settlements, and we say and do nothing. They systematically use violence and oppression over their neighbors, and yet we say and do nothing. When things over heat, they retaliate– burning children alive, and we say and do nothing.
Why? Why would we be so foolish as to completely ignore behavior on the part of Israel that would in any other circumstance result in international sanctions or worse?
Even beyond the fact that we ignore it, is the fact that we attack those who have the courage to speak up. It takes no courage at all to criticize Palestinians when they respond to their occupiers with violence– plenty of people speak up. But speaking up against Israel? Too many Christians don’t. While it is true that the Palestinians are not guiltless, it is important to remember that they are not the ones in power. There is always special accountability for the individual (or in this case group) who holds the power– but we’ve held them to none.
Why is this the case? Sadly, the answer is quite simple. In Genesis 12:3 we see God say the following to Abraham:
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Not to be overly simplistic, but that verse is the core of why this happens. Many Christians believe that this promise to Abraham means that we must bless the modern nation state of Israel, and that if we don’t, God will curse us. Of course, this belief has all kinds of problems– such as the fact that the New Testament teaches that there is no longer a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, that people of God are those who have been circumcised “of the heart”, etc.
Setting aside the flawed theology I’ve addressed in the past, the belief that we should “bless” Israel has somehow over the course of time come to mean “we must support everything Israel does”. It’s a tragic confusion that has caused us to support all kinds of horrible things that do not reflect the Jesus we see in the New Testament.
While my argument around this area of theology has usually been that the modern nation state of Israel is to be treated equally to all others instead of elevated as having a special standing with God, I want to set that aside for a minute. Let’s say the “stand with Israel” folks are right, and that we must bless Israel in order to avoid God’s wrath. If that’s the case, I have a different question:
What if blessing Israel actually means we develop the courage to stand up against Israeli oppression and violence?
I think the best way to bless someone who is caught up in destructive behavior is not to condone or to support the behavior, but to lovingly confront the behavior and show them a better way. I don’t see why this would be any different with Israel. Allowing this nation to continue this behavior is not loving, and it is certainly NOT a blessing. Ironically, it’s a curse– because violence, oppression and retaliation are ultimately self destructive.
I say, let’s be a blessing to Israel. But let’s not continue to think that blessing someone means we never ever confront unacceptable behavior.