Anyone within 500 miles of a television or the Internet last week could scarcely have missed the near warlike conditions between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East. Following a continuous storm of unguided missiles from inside the Gaza strip, primarily into southern Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East fired back with tanks, gunships, artillery and guided munitions. A ground invasion was a very real possibility before a cease fire was reached
One count (subject to change if more wounded Palestinians die) is 130 Palestinians killed and five Israelis dead. Many additional Palestinians were injured, while a handful of Israelis were also hurt.
This serves not to minimize the damage of either side, but the simple facts are more Palestinians than Israelis were both killed and injured. This includes damage and loss of life from the many, many rockets fired leading up to this conflict.
The narrative in the West is almost always the same. Indeed, there is virtually no deviation: Palestinians elected Hamas to govern them, Hamas conducts random attacks on Israel using rockets smuggled into Gaza (usually) procured from an enemy of Israel such as Iran, Israel shows great restraint in not answering every attack, Israel is forced to finally defend herself with force. This force is always overwhelming and disproportional in type of weapons used, amount of damage caused, amount of combatant lives lost, and amount of civilian life lost.
Among some conservative Evangelicals the narrative is even more pronounced as it is founded on a specific biblical interpretation. Books and sermons by Joel LaHagee have all but instilled this view as a test of orthodoxy this amongst many of them. Consequently it is held, based on specific interpretations of biblical prophecy, that Israel has a God given right to all of the land of Palestine including Gaza and the West Bank. (More on this in Part 3.)
(Another fantastic image of the Gaza wall is here. )
Through my years in church, which are more by far than my years in the Kingdom, I was taught the year 1948 saw the fig tree bud which was an answer–in our day–to Bible prophecy. The date was May 14 the exact date Israel’s fledgling government declared independence. The land was theirs and they were back in it.
While told of Israel’s “miraculous” victories in the 1948 War and the Six Day War, rarely, if ever, were the former inhabitants of the land we call Palestine mentioned in any way other than haters of Israel. The story of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael was constantly called to mind. “We can expect nothing but warfare because that is what the Bible promised, but we most surely should pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Left to our own research efforts was understanding the carving up of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 which led to the geographic creations of Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq and Palestine, as mandates of England or France. Barely mentioned were the divisions–often conflicting–within the movement known as Zionism which led the political charge for a Jewish homeland. Left unmentioned was the dispossession that took place as tens of thousands of Jewish families immigrated to Palestine. As British historian Peter Mansfield notes regarding the findings of the King-Crane commission,
the Zionist programmes would have to be greatly modified if the promises of the Balfour Declaration to protect the rights of the non-Jews in Palestine were to be upheld. After discussion with Zionist leaders in Jerusalem, they had no doubt that the Zionists looked forward ‘to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. [Emphasis added] “A History of the Middle East,” p. 180-181
A number of years ago a very pro-Israel acquaintance recommended a book by Elias Chacour entitled, Blood Brothers. It chronicles Chacour’s years growing up in Palestine, living through the dispossession mentioned above. As a youth he was witness to Palestinian land owners, orchard and grove owners, whose houses, lands and agricultural products were taken from them by force. This often happened at the point of a gun by Zionists intent of removing Palestinians by force or “asking” them to leave. Orchards owned by Chacour’s family were occupied by military forces then sold to an investor.
The dispossession–over a space of years–of some 700,000 Palestinians created a humanitarian crisis that continues nearly unabated until this day. Thousands and thousands of the early refugees were either absorbed into surrounding countries, or fitted into camps in those countries. Tens of thousands were gathered into Gaza (the biblical home of the Philistines) to endure restrictions they have now faced to varying degrees for many decades.
Little known to American evangelicals is the Zionist leadership never intended for a two state solution even though both Jews and non-Jews had lived peacefully in Palestine. Even before May 14, 1948, future prime minister David Ben-Gurion and others planned to drive the non-Jewish residents completely out of Palestine. United States diplomat and future ambassador to Lebanon, Robert McClintock, underscored president Truman’s concern when Israel refused to accept a truce in early 1948.
The Jewish Agency refusal exposes its aim to set up its separate state by force of arms–the military action after May 15 will be conducted by the Haganah [the unofficial Jewish army] with the help of the [Jewish] terrorist organizations, the Irgun and LEHI, [and] the UN will face a distorted situation. The Jews will be the real aggressors against the Arabs, but will claim they are only defending the borders of the state, decided upon [by the UN]. “How Israel Was Won,” Baylis Thomas, p. 69, 70. [Emphasis added]
Another future prime minister, Golda Meir, secretively secured a non-agression pact with Transjordan that Israel never intended to keep and, as night follows day, they violated. In 1976 the Koenig Memorandum reiterated the goal to “examine the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.” During the conflagration last week Gilad Sharon wrote in the Jerusalem Post:
There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
It does not take much history to see Israel began with a plan of territorial expansion, implemented it and have always kept it in mind.
This is not in any way to insinuate that terroristic activity should be without account. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah, and Hamas have done all within their power to wreak havoc on Israel. There has been a significant amount of push and push-back throughout this uneasy existence. However, Yasir Arafat was only a schoolboy when the dispossession began. His Fatah movement (which merged with the PLO) was not formed until years after Israel declared statehood. Hamas, in its nascent form, was shepherded along by Israel. From the WSJ in 2009 (“How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas”):
Surveying the wreckage of a neighbor’s bungalow hit by a Palestinian rocket, retired Israeli official Avner Cohen traces the missile’s trajectory back to an “enormous, stupid mistake” made 30 years ago.
“Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel’s creation,” says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape, muscle aside secular Palestinian rivals and then morph into what is today Hamas, a militant group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas. Sheikh Yassin continues to inspire militants today; during the recent war in Gaza, Hamas fighters confronted Israeli troops with “Yassins,” primitive rocket-propelled grenades named in honor of the cleric.
Hamas, then, is to Israel what Al Queda is to the United States. And, like our son has turned against the father–complete with retaliation–the same thing has been played out between Israel and Hamas over and over in Gaza.
It bears asserting my purpose in this series is not to absolve Hamas from guilt or blame the government of Israel for every death in the region. Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have had their own problems. My hope is to provide, perhaps, some balance to how the situation is viewed especially as it relates to some Christians in America who think all actions of national Israel are beyond any and all criticism. In the Middle East, as in all cases, we need to look for the truth with eyes wide open.
Part two will cover the ongoing situation in Gaza, while part three will suggest how Christ followers might react to the situation there.