A traveler from outer space visiting the newsrooms of The EU, UN and USA the past few years might conclude that Israel is the world’s greatest threat to human rights and world peace. Visits to most public college campuses would confirm that this little land is a center of fascism and racism, determined to exterminate impoverished Palestinians. As our extraterrestrial explorer tunes in to Al-Jezeera, images of innocents killed by Israeli missiles fill the screen, and jihadist cries of “Death to the Jews!” accost the ears. With no other images or narratives, our E.T. concludes that Israel needs containing and perhaps oversight by a more benevolent nation that will consider the plight of refugees in the “occupied territories” of the West Bank.
Alas, we do not need a visitor from another galaxy – all of the assertions above are the daily message of most news outlets around the world. Tragically, millions are being manipulated by a warped narrative that disregards ethics, history and peacemaking efforts.
The modern state of Israel is a gift to the world and a symbol of good that arises when liberty, the rule of law and sacrificial community converge.
Before I defend Israel’s right to exist alongside a two Palestinian states (Jordan and a new Palestine dedicated to peace), allow me some qualifiers for this essay:
- I am not engaging in biblical or theological discussions concerning the place of Israel in prophecy, Armageddon or other points of religious dispute among Jews and Christians. These debates are important, but they are not the focus of this work.
- I reject replacement theology that sees no legitimacy or need for a Jewish homeland. I also oppose extremist Zionism that will not rest until all Arabs are removed from the equivalent of King Solomon’s ancient empire.
- From the 1920s to the present, Arab and Jewish populations have been in conflict and both sides have committed deplorable acts. This said, there is not equivalence between the two sides. Very few Israelis call for policies of extermination. Multiple times Israel has made peace only to see it subverted by groups unwilling to treat the Jews as human beings.
- In the midst of all the violence, Palestinian Christians suffer the most, distrusted by both Jewish and Muslim neighbors.
There are four reasons for celebrating and defending Israel in the 21st century:
- History: Israelis are living in the land of their ancestors and have the most significant continuous presence of any people group. Their claim of a small portion of land around Jerusalem is supported by history and their religious traditions. In contrast, Islamist extremists cannot cannot give significant Qur’anic support for Jerusalem as a holy city – at least until their conquest of the seventh century and rewriting of narratives. Many Muslim radicals deny the existence of an ancient Jewish Temple…along with the 20th century Holocaust.
- Humanitarianism: Israel emerged out the ashes of the Shoah and the devastation of World War II. Arab nations see the UN Mandate of 1947 as a Western imposition and invasion. What is forgotten is that the original grant for a Jewish homeland encompassed locations with a majority Jewish population. Most of the land was legally purchased during the previous eighty years. This U.N. action left the Golan with Syria, Gaza and the Sinai with Egypt, and most of Jerusalem and all the West Bank with Jordan. The truce of 1949 left these areas intact, with some security zones. Sadly, it also meant the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the forced emigration of an even greater number of Jews from the Arab nations.
- A healthy democracy and economy: Israel is the only free society in the entire region. There is great political, religious and social diversity, including more than a million Arab citizens, squabbling political parties, vibrant entrepreneurs, a welfare state and a citizenry weary of war but determined to resist another Holocaust. The desert has blossomed like a rose as people from around the world reclaim barren and swampy land, invent new technologies and learn to live very close together. The nations that possess peace accords with Israel have fared better that groups that keep millions in forced squalor while they yell, “Jihad!”
- Hope: Israel is a dramatic story of courage and perseverance, with ultra orthodox and secular groups living side-by-side, forging a fragile nation and praying and working for peace with Arab neighbors suffering under oppressive Islamists refusing prosperity in favor of intolerance and violence. Under the radar, multiple peace groups are working for understanding and justice while armed forces eyes each other suspiciously through field glasses.
The moment Palestinian leaders fully accept Israel’s legitimacy and safety, peace becomes possible. Such acknowledgment will be delayed indefinitely as long as the poison of anti-Semitism continues to infest Arab and European leaders. Abbas must stop denying history and delaying hope for millions. He and his leaders must show fortitude and risk fatwas for lasting stability. Israeli leaders must willingly renew prior accords once their national existence is legitimized with unequivocal spoken and written agreements.
Israel must provide assurances and incentives for any new Palestinian state and be flexible on Jerusalem, willing to tear down most of the ugly border barriers and create economic and social partnerships for prosperity. Such actions cannot be initiated unconditionally or Israel risks emboldening radicals that see any peace overtures as weakness.
Israel is a moral, political and social good for the world, providing opportunities for her neighbors that may usher in a season of peace. The EU, UN and USA must find fortitude and repudiate anti-Semitism and calls for elimination. We are perilously close to 1938 when the West lost her moral will and tried appeasement with evil. Czechoslovakia was dismembered, Poland placed in peril, the the USSR was driven to a demonic pact with Hitler. The result was a war that claimed tens of millions of lives.
I pray we will learn from history and live in hope, refusing capitulation to fear and intolerance. An end to innocent suffering in this troubled region would be an apt Christmas gift indeed.