William Butler Yeats, one of the great Irish poets at the turn of the 20th century once wrote a poem entitled ‘The Second Coming’. which begins as follows…..
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
This is sadly a very accurate description of the disaster that has been occuring in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the last several weeks, and unfortunately, it is a part of a continuing saga that rivals the descriptions of Greek tragedy. It would be possible to play the blame game, as has already been done, and without question this episode of the ongoing disaster was caused by Hamas and its brutal attack on a Jewish music festival and a kibbutz. It was not just a matter of firing a few rockets (provided by Iran) no, it was much more involved and co-ordinated to do maximum damage. And while we could well ask where was the Israeli army and the Jewish police while that was happening, that is for later evaluations to figure out. In response, Israel has now blown large portions of Gaza City to bits, and yes there is plenty of what is euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’, innocent men and women and children have been killed. In short, there are plenty enough Geneva conventions violated on both sides of this resurgence of a decades old conflict. How should Christians feel about all this, especially since there are thousands of Palestinians that do not support Hamas and its bloody activities, including many many Palestinian Christians caught between their ethnic connections, and Israeli rule near and far?
Here are a few points I would make: 1) the Bible is clear enough that whoever else may be in the Holy Land, Jews certainly have a right to be in the land. I’m not among those who think 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, especially not when what emerged was not a kingdom with king, but a British parliamentary democracy set up by mostly secular Jews like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. It was a response in part by guilty Europeans to the Holocaust during WWII. 2) Palestinians are not Philistines or the descendents of the Philistines who were pagans sea peoples who worshipped gods like Dagon. Palestinians do not have a Biblical or ancient historic claim on the land. Their real origins in the land seem to date to the 8th century A.D. after the Islamic revolutionary when various Muslims came to the land and establishing Muslim villages. You can read all about this in the very fine and fair book entitled The Lemon Tree; 3) No one should support the practice of Israel simply taking land from the Palestinians for more and more Jewish settlements without payment, when the land had been in the hands of Palestinians for centuries and centuries. This should have stopped long ago. Ultimately, Palestinians should have their own land and state, but where? The Gaza Strip and south of it? But Palestinian Christians are in Nazareth and Bethlehem and Jericho and elsewhere in the West Bank. What is certainly not going to happen is Jerusalem becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. In fact, these intractable issues are not likely to be solved until the Lord returns.
So, from a Christian point of view, what should and shouldn’t happen in the meantime. Firstly, Christians should never endorse the killing of innocent men, women, and children by whomever. Secondly, if you are an actual student of the NT you know that violence only begets more violence, and Jesus insisted that his own disciples should love their enemies, forgive their tormentors as Jesus himself did from the cross (see the Lukan account) and remember the dictum ‘those who live by the sword die by the sword’. Jesus came as a peaceful messiah, not a violent revolutionary of any sort. Notice that I am not suggesting these specifically Christian ethical practices are or should be the policies of non-Christian governments whether Israeli or Palestinian. Christians should certainly support the Jewish right to live in the Holy Land and live there in peace. They should also support their fellow Christians who are Palestinians who live there. And they should have nothing to do with supporting terrorism against innocent parties. Nations have a right to defend themselves against terrorism as Rom. 13 suggests.
In short this whole disaster is complex, and it is of course terribly difficult to know how to discern what is best while we await the final resolution of human history by God in Christ. What we know about the latter is that there will be an accountability for the deeds done in the flesh, and even Christians must appear before the bema seat judgment of Christ when he returns (2 Cor. 5). So we pray for the cessation of violence, we pray for the treating of all persons with respect and even love and forgiveness, and frankly we pray for divine intervention to prevent yet another World War, this one involving the Middle East.