Taking the Long View on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
by Derrick G. Jeter
“Let there be no more war or bloodshed between Arabs and Israelis. Let there be no more suffering or denial of rights. Let there be no more despair or loss of faith.”
“No more wars, no more bloodshed. Peace unto you. Shalom, salaam, forever.”
On March 26, 1979, Egyptian President, Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin met at the White House and signed a peace treaty negotiated with the assistance of President Jimmy Carter. Thankfully this treaty has held for nearly thirty years. Yet, the Middle East, and Israel in particular, remains a flashpoint for violence—from one end of that dusty region to the other.
President Sadat’s and Prime Minister Begin’s expressions of peace and hope for an end of warfare between Arabs and Jews fits nicely within the library of other state heads who have spoken out against war and violence. But of course, as even the short history from 1979 to 2009 attests, the words in this library are rarely read and heeded.
Recently, violence has reawakened in Israel with rocket attacks crossing from the border of the Palestinian Gaza Strip in to southern Israel. Israel, in defense of itself, has crossed the border with tanks, ground troops, and air strikes. And, as do all conflicts in Israel, this latest conflict has set tongues a-wagging: “Is Israel’s response to the rocket attacks proportional?” “Should Israel negotiate with Hamas?” “Will this skirmish lead to a wider Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict?” These questions, as important as they may be, are only about the current state of affairs, they don’t begin to explore the fundamental questions of why there is such hatred for Israel among its Arab neighbors, or who has legitimate historical and theological claims to the land, or what is to be done with Jerusalem and especially the Temple Mount. So many questions . . . so few answers.
I don’t pretend to answer any of these questions, but having traveled to Israel and studied its history I offer a few ideas that will help us keep a perspective on this or other conflicts sure to arise in Israel.
First, the conflict between Jews and Palestinians/Arabs reaches back thousands of years, to their forefathers, the two sons of Abraham—Ishmael and Isaac (see Genesis 21:8–21). Modern American presidents, who are always keen on brokering an enduring peace treaty between Israel and an Arab neighbor, should especially keep this in mind. If they do not they will frustrate themselves and the American people by failing to understand that many have tried, most have failed.
Second, the conflict is a Gordian knot that will never be untied by political accords, treaties, handshakes, goodwill, or even all out victory in war. Many may consider this too pessimistic, but it is simply realistic given the reality of human nature, the history of animosity between these two peoples, and the promise of prophecy. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t dissuade us from working toward peace. In the short term violence can be reduced and lives and property saved. This is always a good and honorable goal.
Third, Israel is a sovereign state and has every right and obligation to defend its citizens and borders—most assuredly against terrorist organizations like Hamas—but do so with justice. If Israel goes too far in the prosecution of its defense then it must be called to account. Christians, especially, are reluctant to criticize Israel, believing criticism is tantamount to cursing and violating the blessing of Genesis 12:3—“And I will bless those who bless you [Abraham], / And the one who curses you I will curse.” But the state of Israel, formed in 1948, is not the biblical Israel to which the promise of blessing and cursing is attached.
Fourth, Israel has a historical and theological claim to the land (see Genesis 12:1–2; Joshua 14–19). And while this may not sit well with some, the Palestinians, as well, can make a historical claim to the land—the rights of possession. After ad 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora of the Jews the land lay virtually barren, inhabited by those who would later become known as the Palestinians. They inhabited and worked the land until 1948—almost 1,900 years! The Israeli Judge Jephthah argued that the Ammonites had no grounds for enmity with Israel because Israel possessed the land. “While Israel lived in [the land for] three hundred years, why did you not recover [it] within that time?” Jephthah asked (Judges 11:26).
Finally, the conflict is theological as well as geopolitical. The simple truth is the land belongs to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Antichrist, Satan’s puppet, will in the last days claim the land for his own, first by making a peace treaty with Israel, which he will break after three and a half years (see Daniel 9:27), and then by establishing himself as an object of worship in the rebuilt Jewish temple (see Daniel 11:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:3–4; Revelation 13:4–8), and lastly by setting up his throne in Jerusalem—“the beautiful Holy Mountain” (see Daniel 11:45). But Christ will defeat Satan and his Antichrist at the valley of Megiddo (see Daniel 11:45; Revelation 19:19–21) and establish an earthly thousand year rule in Jerusalem (see Isaiah 2:3; Daniel 7:14; Zachariah 14:9; Revelation 20:1–3).
Many may call out, “Peace, peace,” but there is not peace in Israel (Jeremiah 6:14), nor will there be until the Prince of Peace rules on earth. Then, and only then, will there be peace on earth among men—all men, Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and Muslim—because all such distinctions will disappear and He will be well pleased with them and they with Him (see Luke 2:14).