The Sea of Galilee is a wide lake of the Jordan river. The Jordan flows toward the south to the lowest place on the Earth’s surface – The Dead Sea. It gets its name from the salt of the surrounding desert causing no life to survive within the lake. Some people say no birds fly over it because there is no fish to eat and no water to drink. When one views the Jordan from the south, it hardly looks worth fighting over.
I drank a cup of coffee one morning while sitting on the north shore of the Galilee. The land, I realized, was more than just everything under it and the past. I thought to myself, “Yeah, I could live here.” I understood then. If my home was there and someone else claimed it, I would resist.
The River of Time
I live in a land of mountains and rivers. One river gives the area its name. The Jordan river gives the state on the eastern side its name. On that side is where the Bible claims the prophet Elijah ascended to Heaven in a blazing chariot. John the Baptist worked on both sides of the Jordan. Jesus exorcised demons there at Gerasa (or was it Gadara?) Presumably Mary and Joseph made their journey to Bethlehem on that side to avoid Samaria. The river tells many of our stories.
Today the river feels the weight of the modern world. The Dead Sea is drying up. Israel/Palestine and Jordan need the water from the Jordan. The demand for clean water is creating an natural disaster. But immediately that is not the issue. The violence on the western side of the Jordan river is the problem.
Palestine Will Be Free
The chant I hear in so many demonstrations is chilling. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” I can only imagine what I would think if I was an Israeli Jew. I would envision my death in those words. It gave me pause before I began supporting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. I cam to this conclusion over a long period of time.
“The Bible says the land belongs to the Jews,” my grandfather claimed. “The Bible also says they will lose the land,” my father replied. Many of my friends believed the Bible taught Israel was supposed to return to the land which is what happened officially in 1948. These were not arguments about Biblical teaching or prophecies. The point of this argument was about foreign policy. Should American Christians and subsequently The United States support Israel “because the Bible tells me so?” If so, then no other consideration could matter.
Justice Flowing Like A River
The prophet Amos is known for this statement, “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (5:24) The divine call comes in the middle of litanies about idolatry, personal and social evils, and oppression. The couplet and reference to water is important. The land has many seasonal rivers called wadis. They are dry beds through which water flows only certain times of the year. The Jordan is the best example of an ever-flowing stream in the area. The water is fresh until it stops flowing at the Dead Sea.
This imagery is important when we begin to think biblically about the primary issue of the present conflict in Israel/Palestine. The issue is the Settlements on territory Israel gained after the 1967 “Six Day War.” The West Bank territory is the hill country that contains the land that was ancient Judea and Samaria. The major points of Christian pilgrimage Bethlehem and Eastern Jerusalem are in that area. Israel annexed it but later gave partial control over after the Oslo accords. But the crucial issue is how settlements for Jewish immigrants are being built in Palestinian territory.
These settlements are defined as war crimes under the Geneva Conventions Article 49. A conquering force may not exile or transfer any of its citizens to the conquered territory. I stood among small almond trees on a farm owned by a Palestinian farmer and looked over to a new settlement. The Israeli government sought to expand the settlement onto his land. He would not sell the farm for any price. The Israeli government blocked the road to his farm. It then claimed it could take any of his land he was not using. Hence, the almond trees.
Ice Cream In Bethlehem
I walked in Bethlehem later that evening with others to a Palestinian-owned store that sold soft-serve ice cream. The owner and his brother was there. Their names were George and Antony. Arab men with names like those are definitely Christian. Daoud, the farmer I mentioned above, is too. The “little town of Bethlehem” sits behind the border wall Israel built to enclose the Palestinian people whenever it wishes. I have not viewed Christmas the same way since then.
We listened to what was being said by these two guys. This informal meeting was not like any of the Discussions, Lectures, and Talks that was a part of the trip. These two shopkeepers were not polished speakers. But they told about Israeli tanks in the streets. We prayed together. I prayed the wall be taken down and justice flow like an ever-flowing stream. Nothing has happened, yet.
The River of Support
Church members will from time to time wear pins with crosses, ten commandments, and American flags. Once in a while you will see pin that has both the American flag and the Israeli flag side by side. This form of Evangelical Zionism is destructive to the lives of other Christians. The Likud Party specifically Benjamin Netanyahu needs the illegal Settlements to enhance his political base. The Israeli government courts American evangelicals to lobby for support from the American government. It is a crime against fellow Christians and the Kingdom of God.
The other issues surrounding the State of Israel, its relations with Arab neighbors, and dealing with Iran and Saudi Arabia are complex. But the issue of settlements and cultural genocide of the Palestinians is not. We should resolve in the churches to declare Evangelical Zionism as heresy. Denominational leaders in America should join the BDS movement for the sake of the lives of people who claimed the name of Christ while Northern Europeans did not know it.