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Christian Zionism III: Is It Unethical?

It is helpful to recall the background to the Mandate. In the San Remo Treaty of 1920, the victors of the First World War created a territory called "Palestine," comprised now by what are called Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This was one percent of the former Ottoman Empire, 99 percent of which was transferred eventually to self-governing states with mostly Arab and Turkish populations. In 1922 the League of Nations in the Palestine Mandate stipulated "close Jewish settlement" on the land west of the Jordan River, which includes what we call the West Bank. That same year the UK created the new Arab country of Jordan, which meant that Britain gave three-fourths of the Mandate to Arabs and one-fourth to Jews. The West Bank was part of that one-fourth.

Most wonder how a Mandate ordered by the League of Nations, which no longer exists, could have any significance today. The answer is that Article 80 of the United Nations Charter recognizes the continued validity of mandates and rights commissioned by previous international bodies, including the League of Nations.

Should Christian Zionists Support Israel Today?

Several thoughts here: First, on this matter most Christian Zionists agree. Before the second intifada there was a certain divide over where to place emphasis. Fundamentalists tended to stress more than evangelicals the biblical promises of land and future to the Jews, while evangelicals tended to place more emphasis on the conditionality of the promises. Hence, fundamentalists more than evangelicals agreed with Gush Emunim supporters who defend the West Bank Jewish settlements on the grounds that the land conquered in 1967 was returned to its rightful owners. And more evangelicals than fundamentalists would argue that while Israel has a right to at least its pre-1967 borders and must be guaranteed security, Israel should not control the lives of Palestinians or prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state that is committed to peaceful coexistence. They would like to see everything possible done to reduce or eliminate the humiliation, frustration, and missed opportunities which checkpoints cause for Palestinians. But at the same time, especially since the second intifada, most fundamentalists and evangelicals argue that the land seizures of both 1948 and 1967 occurred after wars started by Arabs to destroy the (vastly outnumbered) Jewish state, and after turning down the UN partition plan (which Jews had accepted).

Many evangelicals deny a one-to-one correspondence between the modern State of Israel and the prophetic promised return of Jews to the land—because the return is to be accompanied by widespread spiritual renewal and is not necessarily connected to expansive land claims made by some Zionists—while at the same time affirming a close connection between the two. Many Israelis would insist spiritual renewal is indeed taking place, rejoining moderns in the land to the God of Israel in ways not always visible to outsiders.

For this and other reasons, Christian Zionists generally think we need more humility when criticizing Israelis for how they treat Palestinians—particularly when the much-criticized fence (more popularly known as "the wall") has nearly eliminated the suicide bombings that were once a weekly occurrence. They wonder how we would respond if we experienced a succession of 9/11-like attacks, regularly over several years, in a country the size of New Jersey or one-seventeenth the size of Germany, where nearly everyone knows someone who has been killed or maimed. More and more they see the hypocrisy of critics of Israel, who routinely excoriate Israel for alleged human rights abuses but typically ignore Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and other countries deemed "not free" in annual Freedom House assessments. They ask why the UN is routinely upset about the so-called occupation of the West Bank, but are silent about the illegal annexation of northern Cyprus by Turkey for the last four decades, the occupation of Kashmir by India and Tibet by China, the 100,000 dead in the Syrian civil war, and the looming war across the Middle East between Shiites and Sunnis. They also notice that critics of Israel regularly ignore human rights abuses against Palestinian Christians perpetrated by Palestinian Muslims and disregarded by the Palestinian Authority.

Some of us would argue that completely apart from questions of theology, all good-willed persons should support the current state of Israel because it is not only the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East—which therefore offers the best environment for human flourishing—but also because it is good for Palestinians. It is the only country in the Middle East that provides freedoms of speech and press, free trade unions, and religious freedom—for women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals. While Palestinian Arabs are free to take advantage of all these privileges, not all do. But overall the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs are the best-educated, healthiest, and best-fed Palestinians in the Middle East. The vast majority of this prosperity has come from citizenship or other participation in the Israeli state.

11/18/2013 5:00:00 AM