Monday, September 3, 2007

Another article

The Record didn't like my original article, so I wrote another one, which they published. Here it is:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged now for more than 60 years and it doesn’t show signs of letting up. What are we, as the Church, to do in the midst of such strife and suffering? Some would call us to not choose sides. My argument is that Christians are not to remain neutral in such conditions, but are to oppose injustice and oppression and to take the side of the oppressed.

This summer I spent three months living in a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. I personally experienced the effects of a now 40 year Israeli occupation. I saw faces and heard Palestinian stories of suffering such as that of Hossam whose two and a half year old brother died after Israeli soldiers threw seven gas canisters into his house. In Israel/Palestine I saw the direct results of as Evangelicals largely, one sided support of Israel, and I was deeply ashamed to be called an evangelical.

Mention “Israel” to an Evangelical and what first comes to mind are Biblical images and stories from the Bible. These make it difficult to talk of the modern nation state without an almost magical tone. It’s so much more than just a nation-state for many. Furthermore, for conservative evangelicals (51% by one poll), especially those with roots in dispensational theology, Israel today is a direct fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. What this often translates into is a deep, gut-level support for the modern nation state of Israel to the expense of Palestinians and other Arab countries.

A recent CNN article stated that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel -- more than six times the world's Jewish population. Evangelical churches raise millions of dollars each year in support of Israeli settlements within West Bank. What most of these churches don’t realize, however, is that these settlements are considered illegal by international law and make any future peace increasingly bleak. Furthermore, most evangelicals do not realize that Israel today is basically an apartheid state comparable to South African apartheid. This common comparison is made by such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president Jimmy Carter.

The Palestinian population in the West Bank is quickly being closed in and walled off from any contact with Israelis. Israelis in the West Bank have separate roads, separate cities, different ID cards, and the list goes on. The separation between the two communities is so marked that in Bethlehem, where I lived in the West Bank, many if not most of it’s inhabitants don’t speak Hebrew and, of the younger generation, most have never even met an Israeli apart from a soldier. Palestinians in the West Bank have not been granted Israeli citizenship (and thus Israeli rights) though a Jew from anywhere in the world can come to Israel and get citizenship immediately.

We, as Evangelicals, obviously don’t come at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a neutral standpoint. But, are we, as Christians, called to be neutral in such conflicts? I don’t think so. To remain impartial in cases of oppression is to side with those in power, with the status quo. In this case, it is to side with Israel. God is a lover of both the oppressed and the oppressor, but God does has a special concern for the oppressed. Passages such as Christ’s mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 make this clear. Christians, thus, can’t help but to choose the side of the weak and oppressed. This does not mean, of course, that we aren’t to be balanced and to listen to both sides. We are to oppose injustice, though, and to stand by those who have no one else to stand by them: the widows, the lepers, the untouchables… the Palestinians. Surely, for example, the church was not called to remain impartial in the civil rights movement or during South African apartheid.

We must begin by calling into question our largely un-thought through support of Israel. We must stop funding settlements. More importantly, we must begin to be willing to hold the state of Israel accountable to God’s standards of justice, just as we would any other state. Not speaking up is to side with injustice. When we take tours of the Holy Land we must not be content with simply viewing holy sights and monuments, but must take an effort to go to both sides of the “separation barrier” and listen to both Israeli’s and Palestinians.

After returning from my time in the West Bank this summer I realized that I am not neutral. This is not an excuse for ignorance or prejudice, and I will continue to strive to hear both sides of the issue. Still, I have seen who has the power and who doesn’t. And I have chosen sides.

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