Understanding the events on the ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians and what we should do about it.

Understanding the events on the ground between the Israelis and the Palestinians and what we should do about it. May 18, 2021

Our hearts break today because peace remains absent in the Middle East. While the powers that be exert their force, the people who suffer the most are those with the least.

This is the way wars operate.

In the ancient world one army would send out their Goliath while the other would send out their David. The winner takes all. The loser becomes the conquered—at least theoretically. Even then, we might ask, why does David or Goliath have to die? If the kings want to go to war, why don’t they stand on the battlefield and fight themselves? Maybe then they would think twice before they sent others to die.

What I intend to do in this post is two-fold:

  • I hope to provide (in less than 750 words) some thoughts on the current crisis in Israel-Palestine.
  • Then, for those who wish to read further, I intend to provide some context with regard to the most recent events and some more thoughts on moving forward.

 

Thoughts on the current crisis

First, do not blindly trust the media.

What has really stood out this past week as I have watched various media outlets and read numerous reports is how untrustworthy the media is. This is no revelation of course. Unfortunately, I suspect that many of us still believe that “our media sources” provide the best representation of what is really happening.

When will we learn that power and money are the ultimate lords? Even “my” preferred media source has bills to pay, advertisers to appease, and top executives to beholden.

The problem with the media is that they may or may not report all the facts and the facts they present may not be reported accurately.

More than that, however, they often fail to touch on the underlying issues that lead people to react with violence or anger. Want to maintain a stereotype of the conflict, such as Palestinians are radicals or Israelis are overpowering colonizers, then put up images of Palestinians throwing rocks or Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed Palestinians.[1] Fifteen second sound bites can be made to reinforce any narrative the media wants to sell.

 

Secondly, in order to learn more about what is really going on I would encourage you to do at least these four things:

  • Listen to reports from multiple sources.
  • Do not believe the rhetoric that categorizes all the members of one group as good or evil. Yes, every group has extremists. But every group also has moms and dads with sons and daughters like you and me. Do not just accept blanket statements that label everyone as innocent or guilty.
  • Get to know the people. If you cannot travel to the land[2] to meet Israelis and Palestinians, then meet those who live near you. They are likely there. You just need to search. Get to know them and their stories. Getting to know the people will greatly help your ability to sort out truth from error.
  • Learn the history. Today’s event are not occurring in a vacuum. Something happened last week, last year, ten years ago, that is contributing to today’s violence. Today’s reactions are the result of yesterday’s events.

 

Thirdly, recognize that the violence is not necessary. Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace. They have in the past and they can in the future. Reports to the contrary are false. To believe otherwise is to be swindled by those who are benefitting from maintaining the status. And while they wage their wars, most of those who suffer are the innocent.

 

Finally, what can/should we do? Be advocates for peace. Stop siding with whatever your political party or nation’s interests might be and side with the oppressed. Pray for peace. It is possible. And that is what the church should be known for—“blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt 5:9).

 

NB: Do not believe, nor advocate for, the belief that war and conflict in this region are the fulfillment of prophetic signs and indications of the imminent return of Jesus. This thinking not only derives from a fraudulent understanding of the Scriptures, but it also makes a mockery of the Gospel and our witness. We are to love even our enemies. We are to be agents of peacemaking.

There will come a time when war ceases (Isa 2:2-4). We are not called to wait until the Lord brings about that fulfillment, but we are to be the agents of that fulfillment. I have written two books related to these questions.[3]

 

More insights

For those who want more insights into the recent events, I would like to give some context behind what has led to the missile attacks from Gaza and the Israelis response. After which I will offer some more thoughts on where we should go from here. If you wish to know more, please continue reading.

If not, I plead with you to pray for peace, be slow to judgment, and skip to the bottom for a list of recommended resources.

Before I get started allow me note that no one is able to fully convey the myriad of issues that precipitated the recent events: certainly, not me.

 

What is happening now?

The reality is that most people are not easily provoked. People do not just begin throwing rocks or shooting live ammunition at the other. In fact, most people prefer to live in peace.

In order to understand the present realities within both Israel and the Palestinian territories one must be aware of the intense complexity of the situation.

 

Some of the larger context

The region is a powder keg which only needs a spark to begin a major conflagration.

On one side is a people that have been living under occupation and all of its harsh realities for upwards of 73 years. Very few Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have ever known anything besides the harsh realities of life under occupation (i.e., Israeli rule over virtually every aspect of their lives).

On the other side are a people with a long history of being oppressed. Many Israelis are direct descendants—one or two generations removed—of victims of the holocaust. Their fears are warranted not merely because of the suffering of their ancestors but in light of the continuance in and even the increase in antisemitism today.

No matter how we portray the current events we will not be able to do justice to the motives or actions of either group. We are simply not capable of relating. We neither can understand what living daily under occupation is like, nor can we understand the trauma of being Jewish and living with the fear of antisemitic terrorism.[4]

Here is my best attempt to provide some context for what is happening over the last few weeks. Each of the incidents below are seriously inflammatory in and of themselves. In light of the sensitivities that were already present, it is hard to believe that greater violence has not occurred.

Violence has been ongoing for several weeks. Some Jewish ultra-nationalists began marching through Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs” and attacking Palestinians and their businesses. These ultra-nationalists often enjoy the benefits of Israeli police and military protection.

For the Palestinian Arabs, this is just another example of the oppressive nature of their daily life.

For all the talk of equality within Israel’s democracy, most Arab’s living in Israel do not experience it. Those living in the West Bank and Gaza live as captives with little humanitarian rights,

Hence, the increase of anger among Palestinians when those within Israeli society are able to march freely and express anti-Arab sentiments.

The concurrence of the end of Ramadan (the holiest month in Islam) and Jerusalem Day (the day marked by some Israelis to commemorate the reunification of East Jerusalem and the Western Wall [aka the “wailing wall”] with Israel).

Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims. Especially those in the vicinity of Jerusalem—the third holiest city in Islam—where they gather each evening during Ramadan.

For Israelis, Jerusalem Day celebrates not just the reunification of East Jerusalem but the gaining of access to the Western Wall—the only remaining structure (it is merely the retaining wall from the time of Herod the Great) related to the ancient Temple.

Although Jerusalem Day is a time of celebration for some Israelis (usually extremists),[5] for Palestinians it serves as a brutal reminder of what was lost. The gains of Israelis at the Western Wall compound came at the expense of Palestinians who were living there.

One of the events in the celebration of Jerusalem Day is a march bearing Israeli flags (often of the more radically minded Israelis) through the old city of Jerusalem, including the Muslim quarter.

This year the march just happened to coincide with the presence of tens of thousands of Muslims who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the end of their Ramadan.[6]

The end of Ramadan is a time of great celebration for Muslims: gifts are exchanged, kids get new clothes, and the festivities abound.

The fear of potential conflict aroused the anger of many Palestinians. (The geography is important here. The Western Wall is a retaining wall. On the platform above the Western Wall stands the Dome of the Rock [the third holiest site in Islam] and the Al Aqsa Mosque where Muslims worship at the end of each day during Ramadan).

Muslims already face the daily reminder that a foreign nation controls most every aspect of their life.

Now they must face extremist members of the occupying nation parading through the midst of their quarters while they attempt to worship and celebrate the climax of their most holy month.

The authorities should have seen the potential for conflict well in advance. They didn’t.

At the last minute the route for the Jerusalem Day parade was altered so as not to bring Israelis directly into conflict with Palestinians. But the tensions had already begun to boil over.

Conflicts in Sheikh Jarrah.

The tensions were compounded by the actions of some radical settlers in the Palestinian area of Sheikh Jarrah.[7] They were anticipating a supreme court ruling which they believed would restore Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah to Israeli settlers.

(NB: Settlers are Israelis that have taken up residence within the Palestinian territories. The settler problem is perhaps the most significant issue hampering peace between the two peoples. There are now well over 500,000 Israelis living in the Palestinians territories. These settlers experience all the privileges that come to the citizens of Israel, including military protection, at the expense of Palestinians who were often forcibly removed from their lands to make room for the settlers. Palestinians who have lost their lands to settlers are not compensated and have no legal recourse for compensation.)

The settlers claim in Sheikh Jarrah that these homes belonged to their Jewish ancestors prior to 1948. They are asking the government to forcibly expel Palestinians from their homes. News of an impending supreme court ruling on the matter coincided with the conflicts on the temple mount.

(Though a ruling by the Supreme Court may appear to be an equitable solution, the injustices are greater. For one, the Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah were given to them by the UN after they themselves were forcibly displaced from homes that were given to the incoming Jewish migrants in 1948. It is one thing, then, to restore homes in Sheikh Jarrah to Jewish families that were once theirs, but the laws and the courts do not work both ways. Palestinians that we forcibly displaced in 1948 and in 1967 have no legal recourse to their lands.)

In addition, the settlers’ desire to take over Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah is perceived—and with much justification—to be part of a larger ideology of taking all of East Jerusalem from the Palestinians. The presence of 500,000 settlers within the West Bank serves as an ever-present reminder that the taking over of Palestinian lands is part of the Israeli government’s strategy.

This fear was stoked when a “racist” (I am quoting from a leading Jewish source in Jerusalem)[8] member of the Parliament[9] used his parliamentary immunity to put up a makeshift tent in Sheikh Jarrah in order to provoke the Palestinians of East Jerusalem.

In addition, the local Israeli police made “some mistakes.”

(again, I am quoting an Israeli Rabbi in Jerusalem who provided us with a briefing on the recent events).

The Israeli police erected barriers on the steps to the Damascus gate in order to stop Palestinians from congregating there. This was a common location for such gatherings on the path to the Al Aqsa Mosque. There appears to have been no justification for the barriers.

Palestinians view this as just another example of the restrictions upon their freedoms that they encounter daily.

When this aroused protest by the Palestinians, the Israeli police (and again this detail comes from a leading Jewish authority in Jerusalem) “used a heavy hand in dealing with Muslims at the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

The authorities indeed responded heavy-handedly: barring some Palestinians from even entering the Mosque where they were seeking to worship. Reports are that hundreds of worshippers were injured.[10]

Hamas began firing rockets into Israel

The political division among the Palestinians is complex. Hamas is the militant wing of the Palestinians located in Gaza. Hamas “came to the defense” of their Jerusalem brothers and sisters and began bombing Israel.

Israel responded by laying siege to Gaza.

There is too much here to handle in a blog post. The politics are too raw.

On one side are the Palestinians who were planning on going to the polls for the first time in 15 years—elections which were canceled by the Palestinian Authority, leading to more unrest.

On the other side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criminal charges and imprisonment. The attack on Gaza has put a halt to such procedures.

All of this plays into the current crisis.

Hamas may be making a statement to the Palestinians prior to the elections that they care for their fellow Arabs in Jerusalem. Netanyahu clearly has a motive to continue the conflict.

 

What is clear is that the people on the streets are the ones who are suffering. Yes, they suffer on both sides. But the suffering is not equitable. Palestinians who daily live under occupation suffer as a result of the conflict in far greater numbers than Israelis—one only needs to continue to look at the death toll on both sides of this conflict. Palestinians continue to die at rates 4, 5, and even 10 times higher than Israelis.

But should that matter? Children on both sides are living in fear and facing the emotional trauma that violence brings.[11]

I am choosing to go no further in this post.

The fact is that both sides have “arguments” as to why the situation is what it is. Poor leadership among the Palestinians. Israeli racist agendas and aggression. Muslim ideology of Jihad. Israeli efforts to ensure their own peace and security backed by American and western political and militaristic interests. We could go on for pages.

What shall we do?

As I said above, we must pray for peace.

We must also advocate for peace. We need to condemn Hamas’ efforts to harm civilian lives in Israel. But we must also condemn Israel’s ruthless response. We want to see no one die (Cf Ezek 33:11).

There is a known reality in this conflict—the proverbial elephant in the room—the US unashamedly backs the nation of Israel. The leadership of the US is acting, or technically not acting, in accord with their own political self-interest. As a result, the leadership within Israel knows that it can act with a fierce brutality because the nations of the world, including the US, will not intervene.

I have been in the congressional building and sat through briefings. I have heard congressmen and women acknowledge that speaking up against the state of Israel is political suicide. This is the real elephant in the room.

If the US were concerned with peace and justice, then they would not allow the state of Israel to retaliate with an iron fist. They would not allow the ruthless occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to continue. They would broker a peace that would enable all persons to live with freedom and dignity. The US has the power to effect change. The US refuses to do so.

To say that such cannot exist sets forth a false narrative for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

But the status quo is not tenable. It is not in Israel’s best interests nor the Palestinians.

Change, which would benefit everyone, might happen if the American people become more informed as to what is really happening among the Israelis and the Palestinians. If we become informed, if we stand up and demand justice and the love for all people, then change may follow.

I believe that one can love Israel and condemn injustice. To not do so is often not about our love for Israel, it is more about our love for ourselves.

Will the violence ever end? It might if we acted in accord with the teachings of Jesus.

 

If you have been blessed by this blog post and would like to see others benefit too, would you please consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to support determinetruth ministries and make possible future posts like this? You can do so by following this link: https://tithe.ly/give?c=3648601

If you would like to have Rob speak at your church or organization in person or via zoom, please let us know by filling out the contact info on the Contact me tab on this site.

Here are some resources to help you learn more Take action

Follow Christians for Middle East Peace. They are excellent at providing emails with opportunities to engage your local and national government

For more updates I would encourage you to subscribe to the Telos newsletter:

The Network of Evangelicals for the Middle East (NEME) is a coalition of evangelical Christian pastors, scholars, and leaders. NEME is hosting two webinars this week (you can register for these free webinars with these links)

 

 

If you have been blessed by this post and would like to see others benefit too, would you please consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to support determinetruth ministries and make possible future posts like this? You can do so by following this link: https://tithe.ly/give?c=3648601

If you would like to have Rob speak at your church or organization in person or via zoom, please let us know by filling out the contact info on the Contact me tab on this site.

 

[1] This week a spokesperson from Israeli PM Netanyahu issued a tweet with a video allegedly of Palestinian militants firing missiles at Israel from densely populated civilian areas. Problem: the photo was not from the past week but from 2018. The bigger problem: the photo was not even from Gaza but from either Syria or Libya.  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/14/technology/israel-palestine-misinformation-lies-social-media.html

[2] I hope to lead a trip in 2022 to see the biblical sites but more importantly to meet the people of the land today. Contact me if you would like to consider joining us.

[3] My book, The New Testament and the End Times, addresses the biblical understanding of the end times and the role of the church. My book, These Brothers of Mine, addresses the view the land of Israel/Palestine belongs to the Jewish people and that we should give it to them regardless of its present occupants.

[4] I encourage you to listen to the recent podcast on the Freedom Road Podcast on antisemitism.

[5] Though noting that Jerusalem Day is celebrated by “extremists” may seem biased, it is not only correct, but it serves to confirm the fact that most Israelis want peace. They do not celebrate Jerusalem Day because they know that the day itself is inflammatory towards their Arab neighbors. See: https://www.timesofisrael.com/capital-readies-for-solid-week-of-jerusalem-day-festivities/

[6] Ramadan is celebrated annually during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Thus, it is not celebrated at the same time every year according to our calendar.

[7] For insights into the conflict over Sheikh Jarrah watch the 30 min film by Just Vision “My Neighborhood.”

[8] I have been able to attend briefings by leading Palestinian authorities and leading Israeli authorities in the past week. I fully acknowledge that there is a lot I do not know. I am trying to relay to you what I do know and what I have learned from sources on the ground.

[9] A new political party has arisen in Israel that is widely acknowledged by most Israelis to be built on a racist platform against Arabs called the “Religious Zionism Party.”

[10] https://www.timesofisrael.com/some-280-palestinians-9-cops-hurt-in-latest-heavy-clashes-in-jerusalem/.

[11] In the briefing with the leading official from Jerusalem, it was stated that because of the missiles from Gaza, Israelis are rushing to bomb shelters. Children are greatly affected. Many are suffering from PTSD. The problem here is that Palestinians have known nothing besides occupation, oppression, and violence. The majority of Palestinians alive today have only known the harsh realities of occupation and all of its injustices.

 

 

 


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