The Bible and the Land- Introduction

Introduction

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most complex conflicts in modern history. At its core, it is a conflict about territory and control. It is a conflict about land, and not merely any land, but the biblical land. Over the years, religion has been used in this conflict by many parties to justify acts of violence and land confiscation.

These days Jewish settlers seize control of Palestinian land by force, protected by the Israeli army, and motivated by their religious tradition. All historical Palestine,[1] they argue, is “the land of Israel,” given to their ancestors (and by extension to them) as an eternal possession. All attempts by Palestinians to prove ownership of the land by legal documents or historical arguments are deemed irrelevant. When the United Nations voted unanimously against the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli ambassador to the UN responded by holding a Bible in his hand and citing thousands of years of Jewish history in the Holy Land.

The Bible and the Land- Introduction

On the other hand, some Palestinian fundamentalist groups also claim the whole land as waqf, a holy territory devoted to Allah. This then necessitates their action of jihad to liberate Palestine, and establish Islamic rule in it. Jerusalem, they claim, is an exclusively Islamic city.

To add up to an already complex situation where religion is used to justify a political claim, many Christian groups and churches around the world have taken sides in this conflictin the name of the Bible and the God of Bible. Many Christians believe that the biblical covenant with Abraham continues today with the Jewish people (Abraham’s physical descendants), and by extension to the State of Israel. Further, many also believe that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy and a sign to God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people. With regards to the land, it is assumed that God gave it to the Jewish people as an eternal possession thereby giving Jews a “divine right” to the land today.

At the same time, many Christians around the world believe that God, in the end times, will restore the Jewish people to Himself. In order for this to happen, He will first bring them to the Promised Land (which is what is happening today!), and all of this will lead to the second coming of Christ.

These are more than just theological beliefs. This is a worldview that sees the events of history as centered around Israel, the Jewish people and the land. Moreover, such beliefs today form a strong political movement often called “Christian Zionism”. Many Christians around the world are involved in political lobbying on behalf of Israel and give hundreds of millions of dollars for Israel and the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (which is illegal according international law).

Needless to say, as a Palestinian Christian, I am deeply troubled by these views. If the creation of the state of Israel is a sign of God’s faithfulness to the Jewish people, then what kind of sign is it to the Palestinian people? When the state of Israel was created, around 700,000 Palestinians became refugees and more than 500 Palestinian towns and villages were completely destroyed. How am I supposed to understand that? Furthermore, this year marks 50 years of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza[2]. So am I supposed to believe that the state that is oppressing me and my people is in covenant with God today? And when Jewish settlers confiscate land from Palestinian farmers who have been living here for hundreds of years (if not more), are we to simply accept this because Jews have a “divine right” to “their” land and they are merely “returning” to it? Should we accept that a person who was born in Russia to a Jewish mother has more right to the land than the people who have been living here for hundreds of even thousands of years because “the Bible tells me so?”

As Palestinians, we have been totally ignored and even dehumanized in this theology. We are an afterthought. Do we matter? What is God’s plan for us? Does our existence and perspective matter?

As a Palestinian Christian, I want to ask:

  • What does the Bible really teach about the “Promised Land?”[3]
  • What does the Bible teach about war, conflict and peace-making?
  • How should Christians be involved in this conflict? What does Jesus teach about this?
  • Can our theology, prayers and actions serve the cause of peace, not war?

Notes

[1] By historic Palestine I mean the territory that was under British mandate before 1948.

[2] This is the territory over which Palestinian leaders today are seeking to establish a Palestinian state – also known as the 1967 borders.

[3] Actually, I wrote my PhD thesis on this question and it is now published in a book!

Posted on CATCUSA on: July 22nd, 2018

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We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that one of the first hallmarks of discipleship is love for both our own community and for our enemies. We wish to find Jesus at the center of everything we do and to make his life our life. Which means finding courageous love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike.

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