Yom Ha'atzmaut and al-Nakba
I recently joined many prominent Christian leaders in signing a joint declaration on Israel's 60th anniversary. The signers are too many to list here but they include church leaders, theologians, and the heads of international missions agencies who have an intimate knowledge of the region's history, theological significance, and present reality. (To name just a sampling: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director/CEO, World Evangelical Alliance; Lynn Green, international chairman of YWAM; Rev. Garth Hewitt, canon of St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem; James W. Skillen, president of the Center for Public Justice; Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland church; Rev. Kathy Galloway, leader of the Iona Community; Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire; Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Rev. Glenn R. Palmberg, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church; Arli Klassen, executive director, Mennonite Central Committee; Brother Andrew, author of God's Smuggler; Charles Clayton, national director of World Vision in Jerusalem on behalf of World Vision International; Dr. Vernon Grounds, chancellor of Denver Seminary; Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann; and author and Sojourners board chair Brian McLaren.)
The statement begins by recognizing the achievement and necessity of the state of Israel:
We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha'atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people's ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust.
But as is so often the case in human history - including U.S. history - one people's escape from persecution and tyranny resulted in the suffering of others. So the statement also says:
We also recognise that this same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed (al-Nakba).
The statement confesses that "To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy," and that many segments of the church - and I would add, especially U.S. evangelicals:
while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress.
Many Christians in the U.S. and around the world - including myself - have traveled to Israel and Palestine to learn about the geographical origins of our faith, and to meet the people whose lives are still shaped by the struggle over that Holy Land. We've heard stories of lives destroyed by terrorist violence, and lives destroyed by the violence of occupation. While it is tempting to either emphasize the suffering of one people over the other, or to impose an oversimplified narrative of false symmetry and intractable conflict, our biblical imperative remains, as the statement cites, to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14).
Finally and most powerfully, the declaration urges
all those working for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine to consider that any lasting solution must be built on the foundation of justice, which is rooted in the very character of God. After all, it is justice that "will produce lasting peace and security" (Isaiah 32:17). Let us commit ourselves in prophetic word and practical deed to a courageous settlement whose details will honour both peoples' shared love for the land, and protect the individual and collective rights of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy Land.
So can we authentically celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut while we mourn al-Nakba? Can we "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15)? Biblical justice demands it.