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Thursday 7 August 2014

How a Christian Should View the Conflict in Gaza

If you turn on the news at night or in the morning, listen to the news report on the radio, you are bound to see or hear something about the conflict in Israel/Palestine between the Israelite forces and Hamas. This is nothing new, it really isn’t. Just look up the Bible and you can read verses like this: “He (Hezekiah) struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city” 2 Kings 18:8. Flick over to CNN, or Fox news and you will hear about Palestinians being struck by missiles in Gaza. In other words there has been conflict there for a long time, it is a place where the blood that has been shed runs deep, and the memories of the people run deeper. But as Christians, how should we view this conflict? That’s what I want to help with in this post, so here are several things to consider:

Here’s a map to orientate yourself:

Blessed are the peacemakers (Matt. 5:9)

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus preached many incredible truths, perhaps none are more famous than the Beatitudes and none are more relevant to the topic than this one: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God” (NIV). Like most guys I love movies about war, Saving Private Ryan, Sniper, American Sniper etc., but the real thing is not spectacular, it is brutal and people die, often in horrible ways. That’s why it is no surprise that Jesus said that those who work to make peace happen are blessed.

Don’t get me wrong, in this fallen world there are times when war in unavoidable, but it should never be something we strive for, aim for, or really desire. It is something we should seek to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. For Israel, often it is unavoidable. Hamas are firing rockets from homes, schools, hospitals and other crazy places, and no country can just sit there and cop that. However, our ultimate aim and desire for the Gaza situation should be peace, though considering the history of the place this is very likely a pipe-dream...but then again miracles can happen.

God is not partial (Rom. 2:11)

There is only one thing that annoys me more regarding the Gaza conflict than left wing media outlets presenting Israel as this evil militaristic government bent on world domination, and that is Christians/Christianized media outlets who whitewash almost everything Israel do. This is just wrong, and it helps no one. We should not show partiality “because God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11). Just because the Israelites are the main characters in the Bible and the Old Covenant people of God, does not mean that we should hold them to any less or more of a standard than any other nation. When Christians, and it seems to be especially American Christians, blindly wash over anything Israel does, it does not help the cause of peace in the Middle East.

Rather we should apply to them the same standards that we would apply to any other nation in war time, or who are defending their country. This is where things get sticky, and rather annoying. It is a well-established fact that Hamas, a known and recognized terrorist organization, situate their missiles in places that deliberately put Palestinian civilians in the line of fire. This makes Hamas terrible, but incredibly cunning. Why? Because it puts the Israeli defense force between a rock and a hard place: they can shoot back, with terrifying efficiency, destroying the Hamas rockets and killing innocent civilians in the process, or they can not defend themselves and then have to let a known terrorist group fire rockets at their own civilians unchecked, something no country can allow to happen to itself. So fight back and be painted as evil by the media, or refuse to fight back and be destroyed. This is not a situation anyone wants to be in, and if we show partiality in our judgment it helps no one. It does not help the situation if Muslims support Palestine just because they are not Israel. It helps no one if Christians support Israel, just because they are the Old Covenant people of God. We must use sound judgment in reviewing the situation, and this is not being done.

Israel is not Israel (see Galatians and Hebrews)

This point is probably going to make a lot of Christians mad at me, but it has to be said, Israel are not Israel, the church is Israel. Now I am talking from a purely biblical point of view here, and speaking to New Testament Christians, so if you are Jewish, or a non-Christian please feel free to disregard what I say here (or read with interest). Also do not get me wrong, I love the idea of modern Israelites having the land historically that was their own, it makes sense, I support it fully, and I am glad they have powerful nations backing their right to have that land. I am, however, a little bit perplexed that so many Christians see the current nation in Israel as the reestablishment of the people of God in their land. Why do I say this?

Well, because it is those who trust in God by faith who are sons of Abraham (aka Israelites; Gal. 3:7-9). The law was given as a temporary guardian, now that faith has come, through Jesus Christ, all who have faith in Christ are Abrahams seed (Gal. 3:29), and are the heirs of all the promises that God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament (Gal. 3:14, 21-22). In fact that whole point of the book of Galatians is that the Gentiles, that is those who are not Jewish by birth, can become part of the people of God, Israel, by faith. That is why the writer of Hebrews can say to the Christians he is writing to, “22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). Notice that the church is the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God. The church is clearly the new Israel, the new people amongst which God dwells. (Remember the church was founded by Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, so national Israel played a big part in the church's founding).  

Now there are dozens and dozens of more passages we could look at, but my point is this: we need to stop looking at the modern state of Israel as the re-established people of God living in their land. All who are of faith are the Israel of God, the people of God, and wherever they live and meet together, is where a small part of the universal church of God lives. Also, so  many of the prophecies people quote concerning Israel returning to their land, from the Old Testament, were fulfilled when Israel returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC. Talk about misquoting the Bible.

So does this mean I do not support a Jewish state, and the right for the modern nation of Israel to exist? No, not at all. Every Christian and every decent human being should support the right for Israel to exist and have a massively well-funded army to boot. You only need to read some European history to realize this. As long as the Jewish people were dispossessed from their land, which was done by Hadrian in 135CE, who also changed the name of the Jewish province of Judea to Palestine (yes the name Palestine came from the Romans, but it originates with the Greek version of Philistine, and is very ancient), they have been at the mercy of many countries. Both Christian and Muslim nations have mistreated them, and often in horrible ways, culminating in the worst Jewish persecution since the destruction of their Holy Temple in 70AD, the Holocaust in Germany in World War II. For this reason, and this reason alone, I support the right for the Jews to have their own nation, and their own state. From a purely pragmatic perspective it made as good a sense as any for the British Empire at the end of World War II to give the traditional land of Israel back to them.

Bringing this forward to today, this means that we should support any initiative that keeps the Israelite people safe in their land, and reject any proposal which sees the nation of Israel nullified, which is actually one of the stated aims of Hamas, “Israel will be established and will stay established until Islam nullifies it as it nullified what was before it” (Hamas Charter 1993, 122). Their right to exist as a nation, however,  must, by Christians at least, be disconnected from the unbiblical belief that they inherently have the land because of God’s will, and should therefore be able to do what they want.

The Crazy Neighbour Next Door (or in the front yard?)

One of the reasons the situation is so complicated is because Israel is surrounded by countries that do not admit its right to exist, and in Gaza (which is in their borders) they literally have a crazy neighbour next door (or in their front yard?). Aside from the aforementioned statement that Hamas want to nullify Israel, (how scary is that for the Israeli’s?) take these statements from the Hamas charter:

“Our battle with the Jews is a long and dangerous, requiring all dedicated efforts. It is a phase which must be followed by succeeding phases, a battalion which must be supported by battalion after battalion of the divided Arab and Islamic world until the enemy is overcome, and the victory of Allah descends” (Hamas Charter 1993, 123). 

“The historical dimension of the Islamic Resistance Movement originates from its adoption of Islam as a system of life…As for its geographical dimension, it is wherever Muslims – those who adopt Islam as a system of life - are found, in any region on the face of the earth” (Hamas Charter 1993, 123).

“Therefore, in the shadow of Islam, it is possible for all followers of different religions to live in peace and with security over their person, property, and rights. In the absence of Islam, discord takes form, oppression and destruction are rampant, and wars and battles take place.” (Hamas Charter 1993, 124)
Notice that for Hamas peace can only come if we all live in the shadow of Islam, no less Hamas’ interpretation of said Islam.
Hamas’s motto: “Allah is its Goal. The Messenger is its Leader. The Quran is its Constitution. Jihad is its methodology, and death for the sake of Allah is its most coveted desire.”

“The Islamic Resistance Movement [firmly] believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (Trust) upon all Muslim generations till the day of resurrection.” (Note the land of Palestine, is formerly the country/province of Judea and includes all of modern Israel. Therefore, Hamas does not believe the Israelites have a right to rule in the land).
“There is no solution to the Palestinian Problem except by Jihad…In the struggle against the Jewish occupation of Palestine, the banner of Jihad must be raised” (Hamas Charter 1993, 126-7).

Also note that in Article 22 Hamas claim that “…there is not a war that goes on here or there in which their [the Jews] fingers are not playing behind it” (Hamas Charter 1993, 129). Ironic considering how many fights Hamas keeps picking with Israel. They even blame Israel for the world wars, including World War II, which is a horrible, horrible, statement considering what happened to the Jews in that war (Hamas Charter 1993, 129).

So think about all of this, each of the quotes above are from the actual words of Hamas's charter itself. They want to see the nation of Israel nullified, they believe every Muslim in the world should unite to their cause to destroy Israel by Jihad which includes war, they believe that there cannot be true peace in any nation until Islam rules there, and they have guns, rockets, and the will to use them, as can be seen. Could you imagine being Israel in this situation? Hamas want their nation nullified from the face of the Earth; the land of Israel scrubbed out and replaced with a Palestinian state, which technically has never existed.

As Christians we should feel for the Israelites; they live next door to a neighbour who is not entirely rational, and very dangerous, and armed to the teeth; that is a dangerous situation. Imagine if on the outskirts of Brisbane there was a population of several million people of a completely different ethnic group who were led by a terrorist group that is armed to the teeth, and were shooting rockets at your homes, and wanted to wipe you from the face of the earth. How would you want your government to respond? With lethal and protective force? Very likely.

The Being Behind the Curtain (Revelation 12)

Ultimately as Christians we believe in the physical world that we can see before us and we experience every day of our lives, but we must never forget that there is a spiritual world we consider to be very real, and full of very active beings, some of them evil. The main antagonist is of course Satan, “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole earth astray. He was hurled down to the earth, and his angels with him” (Rev. 12:9). This entity is here on earth causing trouble.

I do not personally cry devil whenever something bad happens, we should not see him behind every rock, or tree, or behind every plot and bad thing that happens. He is not all-powerful, and human beings are sinful enough to cause a lot of trouble themselves. But take into account the fact that about 2000 people have died in the Gaza conflict, and yet it is one of the largest news stories out there at the moment, with Israel being shamed by the UN and the United States for firing rockets into places where civilians live. Yet the President of Syria, “Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years -- more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades” (Rizvi 2014). That’s not to mention the destruction being caused by Isis and other recent Middle Eastern conflicts. Don’t get me wrong, one person killed in conflict is one person too many. I wish none of this was happening, both Israelites and Palestinians being killed saddens me. But the Middle East is a never ending hodgepodge of conflicts, with people being killed left right and center, and the relatively minor conflict in Israel gets so such attention? It seems to me like something else is going on here.

Satan is real, he causes trouble, and he is definitely stirring the pot over there. But not just in Israel, he is causing trouble, via himself, and his angels, throughout the world, on a daily basis, in all kinds of different ways. As Christians we do not square off against flesh and blood enemies, but against the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, we must remember this (Eph. 6:12). Our job is not to choose Israel, over Palestine, but to realize that there is some deep spiritual trouble in the Israel/Gaza situation and there are a lot of people in need of the gospel of reconciliation.

Have you noticed how every time a rocket is shot off in Israel, Christians start talking about the end of the world, and get all distracted and focused in on a small, but truly devastating conflict, in a region of the world that has basically nothing to do with the rest of world. It really, really gets people distracted, and focused on issues that have no bearing on the greater world (unless you hold to a very specific form of eschatology, but that’s a discussion for a different day). 

Therefore, it is my view that as Christians far away here in Australia when we see this conflict going on we need to realize that there is really nothing we can do about it but pray. Pray for wisdom to come to people on both sides, pray for the diplomats on both sides to have guidance, pray for the soldiers on both sides to become sick of war, and pray more importantly that the kingdom of God will spread into the area. By God’s kingdom spreading I mean that the gospel would flourish, and that both Jews and Palestinians may hear the gospel of peace and reconciliation that comes from Christ and him alone.

I said above that the conflict ending for good, and peace settling on the area is probably a pipe dream, but miracles can happen. For a miracle to happen we need to see God to work in that region. Pray that hardened hearts are softened so that we can see the greatest of miracles: people who hate each other, being reconciled to God and each other, by Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all of us, whether we liked him or not.


Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of Palestine, 1993

Ali A Rizvi 2014

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