Thoughts on the Arab-Israeli Conflict: on the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War

Arab-Israeli Conflict

 

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.

 

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Arab-Israeli Conflict: on the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War

  1. hi Yarran,
    there is a lot to discuss here!! Absolutely, the Jewish people need salvation!! “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) Equally, they remain, even in their unconverted state, “loved on account of the Patriarchs” – “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28-29) like every other nation, modern Israel are sinning and need Jesus. At present, a two-state solution, with Israel retaining the major settlement blocks, seems the best way forward, although you are right, true peace will only come with our Lord’s return! We need to be more concerned with Israel’s souls than with its borders! Equally, the gentile mission was never parenthetical, God’s call to Abraham being about “through you all the peoples of the world will be blessed”. See also Romans 15:8-12 – Paul saying Jesus came to confirm the promises to the Jews so that the gentiles might be blessed, and then backing that up with his longest selection of OT passages. Likewise, James, whom Paul had heard, had earlier included the gentiles on the basis of a promise of the restoration of Israel, “Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ” ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, THAT the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things'” (Acts 15:14-17) Jesus was always going to be both a light unto the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.
    God bless,
    Colin

    Like

  2. hi Yarran,
    just a follow up comment concerning the Biblical basis of the re-establishment of Israel;
    In the New Testament, Paul states that; “Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs.” (Romans 15:8), while in Acts, Peter says of Jesus “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21)
    So, what are some of these promises to the patriarchs that Jesus came specifically to confirm? A good place to start is Psalm 105:8-11; “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. 10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: 11 “’To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit’.”
    And what about Jesus returning to ‘restore all things promised by the holy Prophets’? – What did they include? Well, look at Ezekiel 37:12-25 “Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ” … ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. 24 ” ‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever.”

    We find this continuity with the Old Testament promises and covenants right at the very beginning of the Gospels; Luke 1:54-55 “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” And Luke 1:67-74 “His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear.”

    Jesus is the Messiah (!), and it is through him that God’s promises and covenants are enacted; “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:20. Did God promise to restore the people of Israel to their own land? Yes, and because of Jesus we know this will happen. What we see now are the first blossoming’s of redemption! He will gather and restore his people, and through him “All Israel will be saved.”

    Equally, Jesus came to be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32) It is not an either/or – it is in Him that the gentiles will hope! He is both the light to the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel. Hebrews 6:19 tells us that the anchor of our souls is not the Cross, but rather God’s covenant with Abraham, and that covenant contained specific promises for the Jewish people as well as God’s determination to bless all humanity. We see this again in Acts 3, where addressing the “Men of Israel”, Peter declares; “And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ (Acts 3:25) God’s love and faithfulness to Israel are the first expression of his love and faithfulness for all of us. We rightly rejoice when the first-fruits are holy, because then the whole batch is holy. (Romans 11:16)

    Paul tells us exactly why God will save all Israel, “for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29). This is great news for everyone! I fail, I let God down, will God just throw me aside and choose someone else? No! He is committed to our redemption. We do not worship a divorcee! “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” (Malachi 3:6). The Gentiles can rejoice with his people that God is faithful and trustworthy.

    Finally, as the Angel of the Lord says to Mary; “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33) It is the Lord God who will give him the throne of his father David. If Jesus does not reign over the house of Jacob, then it is not the Jewish people who failed, but rather God himself!

    Praise God he has not failed, and praise God his promises and covenants with Israel remain true! “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15)

    Like

    1. Thanks Colin,

      I do think Romans 9-11 strongly suggests that God is not finished with the Jewish people – but to me it reads like the most likely scenario is a kind of religious revival or mass conversion of Jews/Israelis when the gospel has spread throughout the Gentile world. What Paul precisely means by “All Israel will be saved” is interesting, since he is capable of using “Israel” in different senses.

      What I’m not convinced of is whether Israeli statehood and aliyah actually have anything concrete to do with the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, or whether its simply a providential set-up for the aforementioned revival/conversion.

      The line you quoted from Psalm 105 ““’To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit,’” surely cannot be realised in the re-establishment of an Israeli state that rejects Christ!
      But if I’ve understood you correctly, you’re only saying that for God to be true to His promises, Jesus must reign over the House of Israel in in some meaningful way and the promise of a restored nation/kingdom must be fulfilled at some stage.

      I do think it is possible to understand Scripture as anticipating a millennial reign of Christ over the whole earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem. But I also think, whether a millennial reign or an immediate transition to a new heavens and new earth – surely God’s promises are not in doubt if Jesus reigns over the entire world (including Canaan/Palestine) and over every nation, tribe and tongue (including Jews, the tribes of Israel and Hebrew speakers)?

      In summary, we could say Jesus already reigns over Israel (and the world) in a cosmic sense; over some Jews in a personal, new covenantal sense; that it seems likely from Scripture that He will reign over many more Jews in this manner after the fullness of the Gentiles is harvested; but that ultimately Jesus will manifestly reign over everything and everyone and the Old Jerusalem will be superseded by the reality of the New Jerusalem in God’s Kingdom.

      I’m sure there’s many issues I haven’t penetrated very deeply with these comments, but hopefully it’s a start.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s