100 Answers in 100 Days

More questions answered on this blog:

Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

#36: How should Christians view the conflict between Israel and Palestine?

Following on from yesterday, I thought we might consider this contemporary conflict in the Middle East. I want to say first of all that, in my experience (and probably yours) this is somewhat of a passionate discussion for many. There are a lot of people who think that Israel are the oppressors of the Palestinians, whilst there are others who are on the other side of the debate altogether, seeing Israel as having every right to be in the land, and the Palestinians as having unjust hatred for Israel. So I imagine that whatever view I personally take, there will be people who will call me ignorant and naive. But all I really want to do is try and consider what my attitude toward this conflict should be according to the Bible.

There is conflict in which we want to stop an oppressor of the innocent, and yesterday I spoke about the example of Nazi Germany. In such a situation it is certainly right for a Christian to fight against such evil, or to practice civil disobedience; in hiding Jews from the Nazis, for example. But there are other kinds of conflict in which both sides are just as bad as the other. Rather than there being an oppressor of the innocent, there are simply two groups of people who hate each other. We might look back to the Bible, to the time of Jesus, and see the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans this way. There was this great hatred between the two people, and it was with the backdrop of this hatred that Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, all the characters are Jewish except the Samaritan; and it was this Samaritan, supposedly the enemy of the Jews, who took care of the wounded man. As we read it, we might substitute the word “Samaritan” for “Palestinian”, and try to imagine this happening today in Israel...

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Jesus did not approve of the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans. This is, incidentally, even though the Samaritan views on the Scriptures were false. So as far as “who's right and who's wrong” in the conflict, they were in the wrong. Nevertheless, conflict like this is still not justified.

So we need to ask whether the modern day conflict between Israel and Palestine is similar to the conflict between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' day. To get some idea of what the conflict is like, I happened upon a certain documentary. It began with an interview of a Palestinian whose brother had been taken and tortured to death by Israelis. I know of many Christians who would stop watching at that point, saying “This documentary is distorting the truth!” But I continued to watch. That same man who hated the Israelis because of what they did to him and his family, later found himself in a situation where he had to associate with Jews in a sort of "conflict-neutral" environment. As he got to know them he discovered that, from their perspective, the Palestinians were just as terrible toward them. This man, along with many Jews and Palestinians alike, have started an organisation to promote peace between Jews and Palestinians, based essentially on this idea... that if each side would begin to see one another as fellow human beings with the same “human condition”, they would not hate one another. Now I think this is what Christ would promote. Hatred always involves seeing the other as somehow “lesser” than one’s self. But we are all made in God's image.

What is happening in Israel is really the establishment (or re-establishment) of a nation. The Bible says:

And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27)

This verse is telling us that God is sovereign over the division of the nations. We can think back to the Tower of Babel, where God divided the human race by giving us different languages, causing the people to disperse over the face of the Earth. This passage tells us that God divides us this way “that we should seek God...” This was God's purpose at Babel as man had sought after other gods. Rather than mankind united in worshipping a false god, God divided mankind into nations. The result of having many nations is also that we have many religions. And in having many religions, we know that they can't all be right, and there must be only one true religion and one true God. And so we understand that we should seek the true God. God happened to reveal Himself to the nation of Israel, and Israel was to teach all the nations about Him. This is of course what has happened, and today Christ is fulfilling that world mission through His Church.

As we leave off today, consider that these words were written by a Jewish Psalmist at a time when Israel had many enemies...

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalms 96:1-3)

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