Several years ago, Asher
Intrater came to the conclusion that unity between Arab Christians and
Messianic Jews in Israel was a key to revival for both the Arab and the
Jewish communities in the land. That insight - from over 20 years ago -
is still important to us, but it has been hard to bring to fruition. I
have participated in several dialogues between Messianic Jewish leaders
and key Palestinian Christian leaders. We have financially supported Arab
Christian leaders, and have had intensive prayer for them. With some
exceptions, and there are some exceptions, there is one large
barrier between us, and that is how we view the modern State of Israel.
The Palestinian Christian Perspective on the State of
Our Palestinian Christian brothers have been very vocal with regard to
their view of the injustices they have suffered under the rule of the
State of Israel. This is especially so for those who are on the east side
of the 1967 armistice green line. What have we learned by listening?
For one thing, we have learned that Israel's rule is not always just.
While many Arabs fled to the Arab invaders' side during the 1948 War of
Independence, it is also true that Israel emptied Arab towns that were
considered important to their security and viability as a state. This was
regardless of whether the town was Christian or Muslim. Though many Arab
believers have professed their forgiveness, the memories of such losses
are terribly painful.
In addition, Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints have at times been
unduly harsh. There have been instances where Jewish settlers have taken
over private Palestinian owned land. Israeli courts have sometimes
addressed these issues justly, but on some occasions, in my opinion, they
have not. Settlers have torn up ancient olive groves and blocked roads
from Arab villages. These latter actions have damaged or destroyed the
livelihood of Christian and Muslim Arabs. Sometimes I wonder why should
it take hours to go through checkpoints from one area of the West Bank to
another, or to go to a job in Israel when one has legitimate papers?
However, we must never forget that there are good reasons for the
establishment of checkpoints. They are a necessary and sad response to
When we reflect on these problems, we find ourselves grieved for those who
have suffered unjustly. There are inspiring stories of Israeli treatment
of the sick and other instances of good deeds, but these are often
downplayed in the Arab Christian community. Conclusions have been drawn
based mainly on the negative experiences. As such, Arab Christians
have developed a theology out of their pain: They have interpreted the
Scriptures through the lens of their own circumstances while at the same
time disregarding the original context of the scriptures. This is faulty
These negative experiences contribute significantly to why Palestinian
Christians often find replacement theology attractive. They conclude that
the promises to the Jewish people and their irrevocable election has ended
and that the election is now something that is only to be applied to
Christians. In addition, they conclude that the promise of the Jewish
return to the land is not to be taken literally, even if there is some
kind of continuing promise to the Jewish people. There is no such land
promise to be fulfilled in this theology. They cannot reconcile the
promises in Scripture to Israel with their own experience of suffering.
They ask the question, "How can God's promises result in Christian
suffering?" For them, the State of Israel is a Western colonial
imposition on the Middle East that has been a foundational injustice.
I have written many times on the issue of the promises to the Jewish
people. I will not give much space to repeat myself on this issue.
Suffice it to say that a straightforward reading of the Bible in
context makes it abundantly clear that the promises to the Jewish people
still stand, including the return to the Land of Israel. Biblical
interpretation cannot be based on our personal pain or lack thereof,
suffering or freedom from suffering.
A Great Error in Understanding the Present Challenges
We need to be very clear on the reasons underlying the conflict in the
Middle East and its current geopolitical condition. Unfortunately, those
holding a replacement perspective have misunderstood some key issues. Arab
Christians, at a recent conference, claimed that the primary problem in
the Middle East is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by the State
of Israel. This is a terrible mistake. This erroneous conclusion
projects Palestinian suffering as a grid for understanding the whole
Middle East conflict.
Since 1992, Israel has tried to give up the West Bank and Gaza. By the end
of the 1990's the West Bank was largely governed by the Palestinians.
There was little occupation. The Israeli government under Prime Minister
Barak sought to give 95 per cent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza
for a Palestinian State. Instead of peace we ended up with the intifada,
homicide-suicide bombers and more. Even after this rejection, Israel
unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and moved over 8000 of its citizens from
their homes and businesses in the area only to get Hamas and missiles in
return. It is as if Israel cannot give up the land it wants to give up!
When after the War of Independence, Jordan occupied and ruled the
area that was intended by the U.N. for a Palestinian State, no one spoke
of occupation, though Jordan also occupied some parts that had been Jewish
for centuries, including Jewish areas in East Jerusalem. Jews were forced
to flee, their cemeteries desecrated and their ancient synagogues
destroyed. Again, no one labelled this occupation! As far as
colonialism, while it is true that Great Britain had colonial designs in
the Middle East, this is only part of the story. Islam and Arab conquest
has been one of the major colonial forces in history. Turkey also
colonized vast territories. In many cases, indigenous cultures were
destroyed, far more than under British Empire rule.
The Danger of Fundamentalist Islam
However, none of this is as important as the rise of fundamentalist Islam.
Not one state under Muslim rule fully practices or tries to fully
practice the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is
especially important with regard to true religious freedom. With all of
Israel's faults, one is free to change one's convictions in this
land without the threat of death either by the courts or by vengeful
citizens. The condition of women in Muslim countries is deplorable. The
treatment of the Christian minorities is also deplorable, though I suspect
many Christians are silent as to their plight for fear of violent
reprisals. A study of Islam reveals a violent history. Violence is in
the DNA of Islam. While Muslims can be moderate, when they adopt a
faithful obedience to the original fundamental mandate of Islam, they
return to violence as the way to spread Islam and maintain its
dominance. The biggest reason for the lack of peace in our day is the
spirit of Islam.
I think that our Arab Christian brothers do not realize that while they
focus on Israel as an unjust state, they are unable to look past their
present pain to see the monster of fundamentalist Islam looming in the
background. At one conference in the West Bank, I observed many
well-dressed Palestinian Christian young women. Do they realize that if
Islam ruled them, as is the case in Gaza, they could not dress in any way
as they do now, but would be forcibly covered up? That is how I see
Islamic fundamentalism. Israel's existence and her control of the
West Bank may intensify this fundamentalism, but it is not its cause. It
began well before these issues. Its manifestation in the Arab world, the
Philippines, Nigeria, India, and many other lands, shows we are dealing
with a demonic power that is of much greater concern than the
occupation. This is the root problem today, a violent Islam that
wants to take over the whole world.
I live in a state with fallen people who do not know Yeshua, but it is a
better place to live than any Muslim state. It is a better place to live
for Arab Christians than any Muslim state. In fact, Arab Muslims are
treated more humanely in Israel than in many Islamic countries. We must
not forget these facts. If we do so, our justice issues, though real and
important, will not be understood in proper perspective. We must take
these justice issues with full seriousness. But, ultimately, we must
stand with Israel as the nation poised on the point of the spear in
challenging fundamentalist Islam.