This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, when Israel was attacked by a coalition of Arabic armies, including the national militaries of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. This was a significant event in the Arab-Israeli conflict that has characterised the politics of the Middle East for many decades.
As far as global conflicts and geo-political affairs go, this ongoing struggle (which includes the dispute over Israeli and Palestinian statehood) has been unique in its ability to capture the attention of Christians and generate controversy amongst our community.
Over the years I’ve gone from paying very close attention to this conflict to comparatively little. I’ve also swung between hard-line support for Palestinian statehood, to staunch support of Israel – before eventually landing at what I hope is a more thoughtful and moderate position.
I thought the anniversary of the conflict provides an opportunity to collect some of my thoughts on how we should approach the issues involved in the ongoing tension between Israel and its Arab neighbours (especially the Palestinians). I’ve provided these positions in point form and I have little doubt they’ll be met with a mixture of opposition and support from readers. I welcome disputation or calls for clarification on what are contentious points concerning a very vexed situation.
Israel’s right to exist
-Israel’s right to exist as a peaceful, stable, democratic sovereign state should be an incontestable reality in international politics.
-Israel’s right to take any and all reasonable steps to protect its people, sovereignty and national institutions from hostile nations and terrorist organisations should likewise be indisputable.
-The refusal of the government of any nation to recognise Israel as a nation is a position so closely akin to anti-Semitism that it is difficult to imagine a scenario where a nation or government could adopt such a stance without possessing a deep antipathy for the Jewish people. Such governments ought to be condemned as irresponsible members of the international community.
-The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War are all unjustified expressions of Arab aggression against the Jewish people and their right to a homeland in the vicinity of their ancestral territory.
The problems with Zionism and dispensationalism as Christian positions
-Despite the above assertions, Zionism is to be rejected insomuch as it promotes Jewish exceptionalism; blind support for the Israeli state, government and/or military irrespective of the morality of their actions; excuses Israeli mistreatment of Arabs under the pretext of defence or security where this is unwarranted; or completely rules out the possibility of a Palestinian State.
-Christian Zionism that has its roots in dispensational theology is an illegitimate and unhelpful stance for believers in Christ to take towards the conflict. The Jews are not God’s people in an unrestricted sense, nor is the Gentile church a parenthetical phase in God’s plan. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of Israel and under the New Covenant, people of every nation, tribe and tongue become God’s people through union with Christ.
-Jews who do not confess Jesus as the Messiah should not be regarded as God’s covenant people in the same way they were before His coming. God is not bound by covenant to fulfill promises concerning the land of Canaan he made to Abraham by granting this territory to his descendants apart from Christ.
-The right of the Jewish people to possess a democratic nation-state in the Palestinian region should instead be grounded in international law and their historic connection to the land, instead of a perceived prophetic necessity.
Towards a two-state solution
-A peaceful, two-state solution which recognises the integrity of Israel’s borders and right to national sovereignty and security, as well as the right of Palestinians to peaceful self-determination and democratic representation within an internationally recognised nation-state – remains a desirable goal, despite the seeming impossibility of its realisation.
-In order for the above to transpire, Israel must be willing to cede sovereignty of some of the territory it captured from Arab aggressors in 1967 to the Palestinian people. The representatives of the Palestinian people must be willing to commit themselves to the national security of Israel by pledging a policy of permanent non-aggression towards the State of Israel, refusing to harbour terrorists or anti-Israeli militia etc;
-Both parties must deal with the realpolitik of the region in coming to a future agreement about territory. There is no innate need for Israel to cede the entirety of its territory captured in 1967 to a Palestinian state, nor should it necessarily cede all of West Bank or Gaza Strip, nor a portion of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Such details must be worked out in the course of reasonable, good-faith negotiations.
-Israel should permanently cease establishing and expanding any new settlements in contested territory, especially areas that are under de facto Palestinian control or are likely to become part of a future Palestinian state. But again, Israel should not be expected to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians or its other neighbours if there is no guarantee from these parties that they will not use regained territory as strategic positions for military aggression.
-The ultimate fate of the contested Jewish settlements must be decided through mutually agreeable border negotiations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority.
-Hamas is a terrorist organisation which refuses to recognise Israel’s existence and holds to a radical form of Islam which includes deep hatred of the Jewish people.
-Israel should never be expected to recognise Hamas as a legitimate political organisation and be forced into negotiations with them as though they were the legitimate government of a sovereign state.
-While the Palestinian Authority and its major component (Fatah/PLO) are guilty of inappropriate behaviour and violent acts at various times during the course of their history, they ought to be regarded as legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people and continue to be viewed by Israel as potential partners in the peace process.
Israel’s faults must be acknowledged
-Observers of the conflict must recognise and condemn Jewish terrorism where it has occurred. This includes historical attacks carried out by the Stern Gang in the years leading up to Israeli independence, as well as recent attacks on Palestinians by extremist Jewish settlers.
-Likewise, instances where Israeli forces have committed atrocities should also be condemned. This includes their participation in the Sabra and Shatila massacre under Ariel Sharon, extra-judicial killings and any operations that do not adequately preserve the safety of civilians.
Further considerations for Christians
-Christian support for Israelis or Palestinians should be tempered by the reality that our brothers and sisters in Christ constitute a small minority in both ethnic/national groups and as a largely innocent party in the conflict they stand to potentially suffer from any callous actions instigated by Islamic terrorists or the IDF.
-Lasting peace in the region is unlikely until the coming of Christ – however it remains vital for Christians to pray for peace and the advance of the gospel amongst Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims.
-Likewise international governments and organisations should continue to urge Israeli and Palestinian representatives to resume good-will peace negotiations – however unachievable this may seem at times.