Here are some thoughts connecting political, religious conviction and prospects for peace:
We must remember that our Christian faith arises from the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish history. Underneath our beautiful Nativity are the trials and triumphs of Chanukah, that moment of Jewish liberation from pagan powers and consecration of the Temple in 164 B.C.
Just over 2500 years ago, a remnant of Judah rebuilt a modest Temple and here the Lord promises to send the Desire of Nations (Haggai). This moment in 516 fully ended the 70 years of exile for a people that had built Jerusalem as their capital in 1000 B.C.
In 1917, one century ago, the Balfour Declaration supported a Jewish homeland in their ancient geography…and in 2017, the USA declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Peace will only ultimately come when our Lord returns. But as peacemakers, we are called to welcome the future reign of God into the present. Here are the keys to Middle East stability:
- If they want a sovereign state, Palestinian leaders must affirm Israel as the home of the Jewish people and recognize her national integrity within defensible borders. This will require courage and good personal security!
- Israel must protect all religious rights and be open to an East Jerusalem capital of a new Palestinian state.
- A new Palestine must renounce terror and agree to diplomatic and economic exchange.
- A handful of Arab nations must agree that a secure Israel and a new Palestine at peace will help resist the hegemony of Iran and her terrorist agencies.
- The best brokers of this are Christians from both the Middle East and the West.
The Bible enjoins us to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem. May our leaders find courage and wisdom and may we never give in to hatred.
President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of not only the modern State of Israel but the ancient homeland of all Jews is a welcome moment of reality and truth. For decades, Islamic radicals, anti-Semitic political leaders and the US State Department have questioned the legitimacy of this tiny democracy. Recently, the United Nations even questioned the historical claims of Jews concerning their continuous life in this land for 3,500 years.
Without defending every decision of the Israeli government over the past 70 years, there are some historical facts that matter if we are going to understand the current tensions and possibilities:
- Fact: Jewish presence and settlements in Judea and Jerusalem go back as far back as the 14th century B.C. and Jerusalem as her capital dates from 1000 B.C. Archeological discoveries only support this ancient connection.
- “Palestine” in the Roman name for the territory and it arises as they exiled Jews after bloody warfare in 70 A.D. and 135 A.D. “Palestinian” national identity only begins in the late 1960s and 1970s A.D.!
- Jerusalem does not appear as a Muslim holy site in the Koran and it is only after its conquest in the 7th century by Arab armies that it becomes important.
- Jews live in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas under occupying Islamic empires (and briefly under Christian crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries) from the 630s until the 20th century.
- After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, the League of Nations acknowledge British oversight of this region and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised some kind of Jewish homeland.
- From the 1920s to 1940s, multiple peace agreements were forged, only to be undermined by Islamist radicals, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, friend of Adolf Hitler and dedicated to Jewish extermination. In 1922, Jewish leaders agreed to live as a semi-autonomous entity under a Jordanian King!
- Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, in a 1947 Partition Plan, the United Nations created two states: a tiny Jewish state with poor boundaries (but majority Jewish populations living on lands purchased legally under the Ottoman Empire) and a much larger state of (Trans) Jordan that had control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Syria controlled the Golan heights and Egypt was sovereign over Gaza and the Sinai.
- After Israel declares her independence in May 1948, she is invaded by multiple armies and subject to ferocious acts of terror…and yet survives and a truce is declared in 1949. More than 500,000 Arabs from Palestine are exiled. Some believed the promises of a short war and left expecting a quick return. Others were exiled by war. Many Arabs stayed, remained neutral and enjoy Israeli citizenship today.
- Arab nations refuse to resettle Palestinian war refugees, preferring the radicalizing squalor of camps and sometimes expelling them altogether (Jordan in 1970; Lebanon in 1982).
- In 1967, six Arab armies invade and Israel emerges victorious in the Six Days War…and gains control of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan and the Sinai. In 1973 during Yom Kippur, Arab armies again invade and are just barely defeated.
- In 1978 at Camp David, Israel and Egypt make peace and the Gaza and Sinai are now Egyptian territory (though Gaza remains a hotbed of terrorism)
- From the 1970s to the present, multiple terrorist organizations have declared their goal of extermination and refuse any negotiations.
- Multiple peace agreements (with Nobel Prizes) have been forged in the past 40 years, only to have Islamic radicals undermine them at every turn. Palestinian Authority leaders Arafat and Abbas refused to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, playing a deceptive game offering peace in English and gradual extermination in Arabic. Israel has offered 90-95% of the territories gained in 1967 in exchange for unequivocal recognition of her nationhood.
- Israel is not perfect and she made egregious mistakes in her war in Lebanon in 1982, allowing Christian militia to commit atrocities against their Muslim rivals.
- In Israel, there are NO policies of apartheid or genocide! It is the only democracy in the region – and the only place atheists, pagans, LGBTQI+, Jew and Arab all live side-by-side in a contentions and prosperous land of freedom.
In light of these facts, how can peace come? Stay tuned for Part 2.
Peace among nations is a noble goal worth pursuing. It is also impossible without the other facets of peace being in place. Treaties are mere scraps of paper without transformation of hearts and minds. As we pray for our leaders and for concord among all cultures, here are some pathways to peace essential for human flourishing:
Personal peace with God and oneself. Conflicted, guilty and wounded hearts are underneath so much pathological activity and strife. This peace comes when individuals are reconciled to God and with their own pasts.
Peace among families. In 1967, Neil Diamond wrote and recorded a powerful song, Husbands and Wives, containing these words, “It’s my belief/pride is the chief/cause of the decline /in the numbers of husbands and wives.” It is time for spouses to decide ahead of time that they will remain faithful in body and spirt to their partners and their children.
Peace within and among churches. The local church is Jesus’ Plan A for his mission and the hope of the world…and all too often a place of discord and power struggles. May the faith, hope and love of the Gospel bring humility and mutual respect among all members.
Peace among diverse classes and cultures, educational backgrounds and ethnicities. Global ideals are only as strong as their local applications. When we make friends across classes and cultures and work for the common good, there is a ripple effect that becomes influential across the street and around the world.
And the key to all these facets of peace? A decision on the apart of at least 2 people to think of God’s glory and the good of others before themselves. In other words, letting love and humility, courage and wisdom win out over ambition and ego.
May this Advent find all of us at peace with Christ and fostering peace in our families and neighborhoods. We do not need the State house, the Beltway or the UN to lead the way – it begins in our hearts and homes.