A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew.

The battle between Israel and Palestine and what must be done

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Guest column by Mark Hilditch

A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew.
A peace movement poster: Israeli and Palestinian flags and the words peace in Arabic and Hebrew.

The purpose of the Jewish people flocking to their ancient homeland over the past 120 years has not been to oppress Palestinian people. And, the Palestinian people have not resisted the creation of a modern Jewish state out of hatred of the Jews. In the long history of propaganda battles between the Zionists and the Palestinians, each side has at times told the story to make it seem as if the other side was consistently doing bad things for bad reasons.

In fact, both sides have made — and continue to make — terrible mistakes. Yet it is also true both sides can make a reasonable case for their choices, given the perceptions they had of their own situation and of those who oppose them. As long as each side clings to its own story and is unwilling to acknowledge what is plausible in the story of the other side, peace will remain a distant hope.

It is also very unlikely that a way out of this mess will be paved by anyone who does not know, or does not remember, how the current situation came about. From 1880 to 1947 many Jewish people jumped from the burning building that was Europe in that era. They jumped not because they wanted to, but because a legacy of hate had culminated in genocide. But, they did not jump into a vacuum. They jumped onto the backs of the Palestinians.

The people of Palestine were right in the midst of their own struggle to free themselves of a different flavor of European colonial power and were afraid of the creation of a Zionist state right in the midst of their own fledgling Palestinian society. They viewed these Jewish newcomers not as desperate refugees, but as Europeans intending to introduce European cultural, economic, and political ways into this longstanding Arab part of the world.

As the Jews established this Zionist homeland they hurt many Palestinians and evicted many from their homes. When the Palestinians cried out, the Jews would not hear their pain because they believed the genocide they had barely survived proved their own pain was so much greater. The Zionists defended themselves against knowing how much violence they had done to the Palestinian people by telling themselves that they would never do anything to the Palestinians even vaguely comparable to the genocide that was done to them in Europe.

Of course, the pain inflicted on the Palestinians was very, very real. Both sides have struggled with little success in genuinely recognizing the real suffering they continue to inflict on the other side. This denial by both makes it impossible for them to talk with one another honestly and find a path toward healing these enormous, longstanding wounds. Neither side is willing to acknowledge the pain it has caused the other, instead, they continue to inflict new pains that intensify the old.

For 67 years the modern state of Israel has ruled over the Palestinian people and as Palestinians respond to this occupation with armed struggle and acts of terror against Israelis, the Israelis — in turn — have increasingly used methods to secure the occupation that violate international standards of human rights and make a mockery of the greatest values of the Jewish tradition. Both sides continue to act in ways that are cruel and insensitive to the other.

Is there any way out of this mess? After more than six decades of constant tension and frequent warfare, what can be done? Who ought to be trying to find a solution? What can the rest of the world do to help?

Even though I have been in Israel twice for at least a week on each occasion, and even though I had hours and hours of personal and small group dialogue with dozens of Israelis and Palestinians, and even though I have been watching, reading, and closely following this situation for nearly 40 years — I am no expert. Not by a long shot!

Nevertheless, I will offer some thoughts for the consideration of others. My faith compels me to believe, in spite of the evidence, that there simply must be a way to bring about conditions that — while never ideal for either side — will be acceptable to both sides. The histories and needs of both the Israelis and the Palestinians must be acknowledged, respected, and validated by the world at large as a way of creating the conditions wherein these two peoples will eventually do the same for one another.

Clearly they cannot and will not achieve this minimum understanding on their own. If they could, they would have done so many decades ago. Remember, these Jewish people did not come to this place to oppress the Palestinians and the Palestinians have not resisted their arrival out of hatred of the Jews.

But, if the world powers backing the militarization of Israel and the Palestinians would rise to the challenge of investing even more in diplomacy, non-military incentives for negotiation, and steps toward a two-state solution with international safeguards and guarantees, I believe the aforementioned world powers would find such prioritizing far less expensive in dollars and lives.

For those of us who identify with the Christian faith tradition, I believe our role is to question the assumed spiritual legitimacy of the link between the ancient Israel of the Old Testament and the modern Zionist political state of Israel. Even those who decide to acknowledge a legitimate connection do well to hold such an assumption gently and critically. Day after day I read blogs and articles which begin with the immediate assumption that western Christians must support Israel because of what they read about “Israel” in the Bible. But, we are not in the times of Jesus. That Israel was eliminated by the Roman Empire in 70CE. The New Testament strongly suggests that the story does not advance through nations.

Our modern reality now includes the challenge of realizing that unquestioned support of Israel means western Christians — in effect — support the warfare being waged against Palestinian Christians. I cannot imagine that Jesus is in favor of western Christians advocating against the well-being of Christians in the Arab world. The situation in Israel/Palestine is much too complicated for a simplistic conflating of the Israel of the Bible and the modern state of Israel.

We need to stand against all of the violence on both sides. It is tricky being for peacemaking, non-violence, and negotiations as an American because — like it or not — those of us who would strive to advocate from a neutral stance — live in a country that provides over $3 billion dollars annually in military and foreign aid to just one of the sides in this conflict. But, I believe we are called to do as much as we can through such advocacy as an expression of our faith.

 

About Mark Hilditch

Mark Hilditch is recently and happily retired after a 46-year work adventure which included seasons of learning opportunities in business promotion, graphic design, pastoral leadership, senior care management, website marketing, and hospice education and promotion. He serves on the board of directors of Feed Spokane, does community relations for Care to Stay Home (a local home care agency) and provides development consulting for Vino y Aceite International (a network of 75 new churches in northwest Mexico.) Hilditch and his wife, Sharon, are part of New Community Church in Spokane.

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11 comments

  1. No comments? I’m shocked

    • I am not really shocked, most people reading this site probably agree with Mark’s perspective. I’ll take a swing at responding and see if I stir up some of the sleeping progressives. 😉

  2. Mark,
    Thank you for writing an article that expresses your perspective on a very important issue. I admire your passion as a voice of peace and compassion in a violent part of the world.

    First I am curious why you went on two trips to Israel?

    Second, I think the main issue at the root of the conflict is more connected to the global goals of a Sunni Islamic Caliphate than border issues, peace and violence stabilizing and economic matters.

    With not too much difficulty once can do an information search (wikipedia), and can read this basic information about the place the Sunni branch of Islam has in the whole subject.

    The overarching connections to the longterm goals of Sunni Islam are absent from your assessment of the way forward for peace in the Levant. A goal that will not be solved without honesty and clarity about the rise of radical islam and the vision for an Islamic Caliphate.

    Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel as a state and the on record commitments of many Arab groups in that region, particularly of the Sunni brach, is at the root of the battle for the future of a Jewish state that opposes these Islamic groups eventual goals.

    Hamas is of the Sunni branch of Islam, was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood whose motto by the way is: “Allah is our objective; the Qur’an is the Constitution; the Prophet is our leader; jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish.” The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal, as stated by Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna is to reclaim Islam’s manifest destiny, an empire, stretching from Spain to Indonesia a renewed Ottoman Empire.

    Hamas’s charter states it was founded to liberate Palestine, including modern-day Israel, from Israeli occupation and to establish an Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    93% of Palestinians are Muslim, the vast majority of whom are followers of the Sunni branch of Islam, with a small minority of Ahmadiyya. Palestinian Christians represent a significant minority of 6%, followed by much smaller religious communities, including Druze and Samaritans.

    ISIS/IS/ISIL is also a Sunni branch of Islam that is currently steamrolling though Syria and Iraq and have formed the beachhead of their vision of an Islamic Caliphate, a rebirth of the Sunni Ottoman empire. Which if everyone remembers, at it’s zenith covered this much of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Empire#mediaviewer/File:OttomanEmpireIn1683.png

    “Hamas or its military wing is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, Jordan, Egypt, Australia and Japan.

    It is not considered a terrorist organization by Iran, Russia, Turkey, China, South Africa and many Arab nations.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamas)

    These issues are wrapped up with many American interests and international safely of our allies across the region and globe. Osama Bin Laden himself connected the matters of the denigration of the grand Ottoman empire after WW1 to his retaliation on the west and the payback for it’s role in the fragmenting of his idea of the great place of Islam. It’s all connected to a large geo-political web that has at it’s center the terrorist goals of radical Islam.

    This is why we must continue to support Israel, not because of the biblical, historical connection but because of the geopolitical realities of our war against terror and radical Islam and it’s vision of the future.

  3. Eric:

    Thanks for your intriguing response.

    I was in Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 as part of a church group pilgrimage to the traditional tourist sites of the “Holy Land.” In 1990, during the first Intifada, I led a church group on a tour of these sites and well as some less traditional opportunities in discussion groups and workshops on Israeli and Palestinian relations.

    “The global goals of a Sunni Islamic Caliphate?” Really? With all due respect to your formidable research into the world of Islam, this Caliphate is just a six-week-old, self-proclaimed, vision of some 4,000 fanatical Jihadists in Iraq known as ISIS/ISIL and they have been officially designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. In February of this year, even al-Qaeda cut off relations with them because they are too radical – even for them! Admittedly, the nations mentioned above need to work quickly and diligently to stop ISIS from this murderous rampage they are on within Iraq, but how much credibility do you think this bunch of fanatics have with much of the rest of the Arab world? And how can that level of credibility be reduced from wherever it is at present?

    You mention, “These issues are wrapped up with many American interests and international safety of our allies across the region and globe.” Is this the bottom line for people of faith here and around the world? American interests? Is it not the pursuit of “American interests” that produced the USA’s unilateral invasion of Iraq, unraveled that country’s delicate internal tribal political balance, and gave rise to all new levels of anger, deprivation, and frustration which in turn yielded all new levels of jihadist recruitment?
    People of faith with a passion for peace and justice need to press the nations labeling ISIS as a terrorist organization to support any and all expressions of moderate Islam and work together to delegitimize and marginalize jihadist radicals like ISIS. The more that can be done diplomatically and economically to galvanize popular support for Islamic moderates, the more hope there can be for cooperation and peace throughout the vast majority of the Arab world.

    Remember, the question I was addressing is “how to support and care for the Palestinians who have been so terrorized by the immoral action of Israel.” You conclude your reply by stating that there is “a large geopolitical web that has at its center the terrorist goals of radical Islam. This is why we must continue to support Israel.” I think it was Albert Einstein who said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” If the growing illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands over the past decade is not enough evidence, then surely the slaughter of the past six weeks makes it obvious, that the USA continuing to provide over $3 billion a year in military and foreign aid to Israel is not a way to support and care for Palestinians.

    Hamas is a symptom of Israeli oppression. ISIS is a symptom of the destabilization and decimation of Iraq. These symptoms desperately need addressed in ways different than what has been tried and found to fail. Voices of peace and justice need to be heard by political leaders in order for them to find new courage to stop doing the same things and expecting different results.

  4. Mark,
    My inclusion of IS was at the end of my list, they are just the most recent and violent expression of radicalized Sunni extremism. They are gaining followers and funding as their brand of merciless hyper-fundamentalism captures the viral attention of hateful religious xenophobia. Front and center of this growth is young men and children who’ve been radicalized by an unholy fruit producing branch of Islam that is pumping out terrorists like rabbits. To blame this only on Western Nations is to neglect history, minimize the long list of terrorist acts, misrepresent the stated goals of many of these groups like Hamas. Hamas is a ‘sunni plant’ from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood that states it’s expanding and displacing goals with no less force than IS.

    If you want to stop violence, than uproot and sever the ties of Palestinians to their radicalized, terrorist backed, funded and fought military actions and plans. That would do far more than your ideas of showcasing and trumpeting moderate muslims, funding humanitarian needs and cutting aid to the ONE real ally we have in the region that actually practices democracy, mutual racial interrelations (not without tension) and religious freedom.

    Point me to a Jerusalem in Sunni or Shia Islam?

    Where is this moderate Islam you speak of that isn’t located ‘in’ or should I say “under” a western country? Radicalism is held in-check by Western power more than inflamed. Radical Islam isn’t a rash that will go away if you don’t scratch it, it’s a cancer that is growing and has continued to proudly campaign on that vision. It may be a tumor on a healthier expression of Islam, that has corrupted large parts of it, or it has simply mutated it and there is no turning back without serious chemo-like aggressive destruction.

    World War 1 finally resulted in the end of the Turkish/Ottoman advance into Western Europe. The reverberations of which still echo in our lifetime with the wars in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia regions of the world, where Islam is again at the center of much of these conflicts.

    The majority of the Palestinians, 93% are Sunni Muslims, peace won’t come until they find leadership, practices and plans that reflect a peace pursuing vision of the future and that won’t be found in the soil of radicalized Sunni Islam.

  5. Eric:
    I deeply appreciate your candid concerns about the “cancer” that is radicalized Sunni Islam and the very serious problem of the resulting violence it brings. I respectfully disagree with your prescription for the treatment of this cancer. I cannot help but offer myself as an illustration within your analogy. I am battling prostate cancer at present. There are alternatives to “serious chemo-like aggressive destruction.” Cancer feeds on sugar and starves to death in an oxygenated environment. I am actually reversing my cancer with a special diet protocol that is succeeding without the violence of chemotherapy. Yes, cancer is a real, life-threatening problem. Yes, radicalized Islam is a real, life-threatening problem. Let us call – diligently, persistently, courageously, faithfully, diplomatically, justly, non-violently – for the nations who are clearly opposed to radicalized Islam to work together to starve the world of this cancer and to feed and nourish all moderate expressions of Islam. It can be done. It must be done. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

  6. My sympathies for your battle with cancer and any sensitivity that allusion may have brought, my prayers are with you on that journey brother. I do agree with your desire and work to see peace brought about in the region but, I am not going to put innocents in mass at risk due to an unwillingness to deal with reality in the face of ideology.

    The problem I see with your vote for nonviolence as the limit of action, is that such ideas help in matters of conflict and measured violence but when death comes to the door, it almost always is jettisoned. Doing everything one can to be at peace with people is the posture of peace but not the only action of it. The biblical narrative of God is Christ yesterday, today and forever, it embraces the whole biblical revelation of God in Christ. It’s mercy triumphing over Judgment…for some, but not all.

    “…the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” -1 Thess 1:7-9

    There has to be given a place for justice in the testimony of truth and revelation of God. We don’t want wrath or will for war, but war isn’t the pinnacle of sin, even if it’s a reality of it.

    No one wants to be blind, but I can promise you, you wouldn’t allow anyone to put out your child’s eye in the name of peace. Such examples sound good but on paper but in reality they are silly.

  7. But you ARE putting innocents at risk by advocating violence against violence. That is one of the central themes of the Bible narrative as I read it. It is not mercy over judgement for some. It is sacrificial love for all. Jesus was frequently tempted to resort to retaliation and responding in kind. He chose radical defenselessness and called us to follow him. HE put that limit on our actions. He showed us with his life that the way to stop violence is not to meet it with yet more violence. No, I would not allow anyone to put out my child’s eye in the name of peace. But, peacemaking is all about finding whatever is motivating someone to want to put out my child’s eye and addressing those issues long before that person approaches my child. Failing that, I insist that if the attacker must have an eye, he takes mine instead. Advocates of non-violence and peacemaking have been called “silly” forever. Meanwhile, the “practical” peoples of the world rationalize the example and command of Jesus and continue to get better and better at destroying one another.

  8. I used to be cornered by that kind of peace ideology until I realized every call to the police made me hypocrite. Good luck with your path, for me it led into a ideological straight jacket that sounded right but couldn’t be lived.

  9. “Peace ideology?” Just trying to take Jesus at what I take to be his word. I’ve been in these debates since 1968. You represent the dominant position of the institutional church over the past 1700 years quite well. I’ll stay with the witness and testimony of the church from its first 300 years. The primary purpose of the police is to keep peace. The primary purpose of the military is to wage war. To me there is a non-contradictory difference. Jesus, the Early Church, Gandhi, MLK… they are my heroes. They lived this way. I believe they were right. Eric: Thanks for this lively and respectful discussion! Blessings on you!

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