I have a deep burden and love for Israel, but many of my friends feel that Israel is the aggressor against the Arabs. How can I show my friends that Israel is doing the right thing?” As one involved in Jewish evangelism and concerned for Israel’s welfare and survival, I am often asked this difficult question by Christians who feel a need to convince their friends that they misunderstand what is happening in the Holy Land.
I recently returned from Israel where I saw the “uprisings” of Arabs in the area that the P.L.O. and the western press call the West Bank, referring to the area west of the Jordan River. (Some of the Arab world understands this to mean all the way west to the Mediterranean Sea.) Israel calls it “the area within the green line.”
We must be careful not to assume too much responsibility in answering for the actions of others. I love Israel and my people, but I don’t have to cheer at everything they do. I cannot think of a better policy of administering the needs of the Arabs over the Green Line and in Gaza. Possibly there is a better way of dealing with them so that everyone could have civil rights. The problem is in interpreting “civil rights.”
A person’s civil right to shadow-box wherever he chooses ends at the point where his neighbor’s nose begins! If the shadow-boxer wants to be civil, he will give his neighbor a little more space, and if that seems fair to the neighbor, there will be agreement. I predict that as long as some think they have the “right” to throw rocks at the authorities or anyone else they dislike, there will always be some kind of misunderstanding over rights in Israel, and even in the U.S.
Unfortunately, according to what many are reading in the newspapers, the Israelis look like the aggressors in the present conflict. World opinion seems to be turning against Israel. Somehow, the earlier glowing image of a David Israel confronting a Goliath of Arab nations has faded, and the roles are no longer clear-cut. The bright-eyed idealists of 1948 who pioneered that new and struggling nation of ragged refugees now seem to suffer from the malady of failing vision. And what about those “ragged refugees”? To outsiders saddled by a stumbling western economy they now look more like cynical entrepreneurs.
People who at first were very much for Israel are beginning to cluck their tongues as they watch the six o’clock news. Israeli soldiers are depicted as firing live ammunition at mere boys who are only throwing a few stones at them. The viewers of the six o’clock news do not realize that the stones those “kids” are throwing are the size of baseballs, and though getting hit by one stone seldom causes death (Goliath excepted), anything that strikes a person in the head area can inflict serious wounds. Besides this, the stone-throwing incidents are calculated to foment a mob scene which could quickly turn ugly and dangerous. Furthermore, in Bible times stoning was the most common form of execution in the Land (1 Samuel 30:6 and Matt 23:37). Enough stones thrown by enough people, besides producing mayhem, can certainly cause death.
However, there are issues involved in this and previous conflicts that go beyond the fact that the western press is serving the Arab uprising. There are enough atrocities and unrighteous sentiment on both sides to show that there is no reasonable political solution. The present troubles in the Middle East stem in part from the highly political manner in which the modern State of Israel was created in 1945 when the great nations of the world partitioned what was then called “Palestine.” Because the Arab powers were dissatisfied with that political solution, they would not abide by it and proclaimed by word and action their intention to drive the Jews into the sea. When the Jewish people, with no modern-day military tradition or prowess, won the battles instigated by the Arabs and expanded the territory thus won, those Arab nations did not like the outcome of their own military solution any better than they had liked the political solution of the Partition.
As I see it, the original partition agreement was nullified by the war instigated in 1967 by the Arabs, because the Partition called for both sides to agree, and only one side, Israel, did accept the boundaries determined by the U.N. Maybe it is an oversimplification, but common sense and rules of warfare seem to indicate that when one country instigates war against another over territorial claims and loses “fair and square,” the winner in the ordeal gets to keep the territory under contention.
But the real issue in the Middle East is that the war was never really about territory! It was about religion. Whereas Jews have lived among Muslim, Christian and other religions without trying to prevail or dominate the national affairs of those countries, Muslims, by their creed, need national prevalence. In the Islamic religion there is no separation of church and state. The Islamic state draws from Allah its authority to govern, and it is unthinkable to Muslims that non-Muslims should be given the same privileges of religion and civil rights.
Let there be no doubt about it. The serious Muslim expects everyone on this planet eventually to accept the Islamic religion. When most people talk about the Arab/Israeli conflict, they ignore the religious (spiritual) issue and see the problem only in terms of civil rights (a political issue). It is not a political problem at all. In order for a political problem to exist, there must be a political relationship or agreement between the parties.
The only Arab power with which Israel has any political agreement is Egypt, and that agreement is not as well accepted in Egypt as it is in Israel, even though Egypt had all its conquered territories returned (except Gaza which it refused to accept). Israel had previously offered the same kind of settlement terms to other Arab nations but they were refused.
Why was Israel’s offer not accepted? There is one obstacle—one piece of ground the Jews will never give up. That one obstacle is the city of Jerusalem. The Arabs also will continue to demand Jerusalem for the same reason that the Jews will never surrender it. That reason is religious duty and compulsion.
Now along come well-meaning Christians who wonder why the Jews and the Arabs can’t be “nice to each other” and get along in a Christian way. The answer should be obvious: most of them are not Christians.
Those well-meaning but naive Christian peacemakers are like Professor Henry Higgins in the play My Fair Lady. Higgins, utterly perplexed by the emotional behavior of Liza Doolittle, muses, “Why can’t a woman behave like a man?” He goes on to describe in song some attributes he perceives to be the gentlemanly aspects of masculine behavior and laments that he finds females curiously lacking in those areas.
Neither the Jewish religion nor the Islamic religion teaches the concept of “turning the other cheek.” Those religions teach that their adherents must fight fairly but fiercely to advance or defend their faith. Turning the other cheek is a Christian teaching, and at that, how often have we seen the so-called Christian nations pursuing that path?
By wishful thinking, or perhaps by mere thoughtlessness, most of us mistakenly presume that all our fellow humans are just like us. We imagine that they are motivated by the same ideals and choose to deal with their problems the same way we do, and that all of us are striving to uphold some general principle called “human decency.” But the whole concept of human decency differs from what the Bible teaches about human nature. Human nature is more likely to be self-centered than to be other-centered, and certainly it is not God-centered.
A committed Communist and a committed Muslim have very different ideas of peace. The Communist would say that the only way to peace is a dictatorship of the proletariat population and absolute economic equality, and that the only way we can have peace is if the whole world and every person in it accepts the Communist ideology as their basis for action. Any cessation of hostilities can only be a truce until the conflict can be resumed and resolved in favor of Marxism.
Likewise, the committed Muslim must regard every form of government and religion as defective until the religion of Islam prevails and every nation is ruled by Islamic law, which is harsh and uncompromising. In effect, any other relationship is a standoff. The pious Muslim has no doubt that his cause will prevail.
During the Crusades, knights and armies from every nation in Christendom sought to rescue Jerusalem from the “infidel” followers of Muhammed. The first Crusade was initiated by Pope Urban II at the council of Clermont in 1095. In 1099 the Crusaders were successful in wresting Jerusalem away from the Shi’ite Muslims, who were Egyptians and considered heretics by the more orthodox Sunni Muslims. Off and on, Jerusalem continued to be in the hands of Christendom’s rulers until 1270 A.D. Jerusalem was recaptured in an Islamic holy war and remained in Muslim hands until 1917, when the British Mandate was established. The British treated the Muslims with favor and did not interfere with their religious rites.
Nor has Israel interfered with the religious rites of the Arabs in the Green Line areas. Nevertheless, in the minds of the extremists like the Shi’ite Ayatollah Chomeni, the faithful are just biding their time, as they did when the Crusaders occupied the Holy City. Israel’s forty-year history as a new country is not so long, compared to the 145 years when Jerusalem was occupied by the Crusaders. The disciples of Muhammed intend that there will be many uprisings until they themselves will prevail.
Without a personal relationship with Christ, neither Jews nor Muslims can be expected to behave like Christians. Some who are regarded as Christian theologians believe that the Holy Spirit is somehow within all people, and that everyone, whether or not they have been redeemed by the shed blood at Calvary, can behave like spiritual men instead of natural men. Yet this proposition surely disregards 2 Corinthians 2:14 which says: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.”
Some Christians make the mistake of thinking that non-Christians can behave just as spiritually as those who are the blood-bought children of God. If so, then it is to the discredit of believers and God himself, for if non-Christians do behave as well and have as much spiritual power, the death of Christ and his shed blood availed nothing. At any rate, it is not fair for us to expect unbelievers always to live up to the same high standards that are the goal of Spirit-filled believers.
“Human decency” is a catchphrase that means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. What we should expect to see from unbelievers is what the Bible calls the works of the flesh. Some of these are listed in Galatians 5:20 as hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath and factions. Doesn’t that sound more like what we are seeing in the Mid-east crisis? Why, then, are we surprised when Jews and Muslims behave in a non-Christian way?
What we want in Israel is the growth of much fruit, but not merely the harvest of field, vine, and tree. We yearn for an abundant crop of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 as love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. But a harvest of Spirit fruit necessitates the sowing of Spirit seed—and the seed that bears spiritual fruit is the gospel seed.
It is right to want peace in the Middle East for both Jews and Arabs. But it is wrong to expect peace until the Prince of Peace rules in every heart. Even so, pray that the Lord of the Harvest will send laborers to the field where he wants to harvest the fruit of his Spirit.