David’s Sling: Israel, Hezbollah, and the Path to Peace

Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn /

Photo: David and Goliath image, © Malgorzata Kistryn /

Israel reported last week that it successfully tested its latest missile defense system. Known as “David’s Sling,” it is designed to shoot down midrange missiles from Hezbollah rockets originating from Lebanon.

I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion about Israel’s right to defend itself. What I want to do is explore the biblical reference to “David’s Sling” and what it might mean for us. The name is an obvious allusion to the story of David’s victory over Goliath. It’s a favorite biblical story for many Sunday school teachers, but a conundrum for those teachers who take mimetic theory seriously. Mimetic theory claims that violence belongs to humans, not to God. It also states that the Bible progressively reveals this message about violence to us. And yet, the connection between God and violence permeates the Bible, with God apparently sanctioning violence against God’s enemies. 

So we rightly ask, “What about all the violence in the Bible?”

Jewish and Christian Leaders Try to Revive At-Risk Interfaith Group

 WASHINGTON — As a coalition of mostly Christian groups gathered here Thursday to support church leaders who have publicly questioned U.S. aid to Israel, those same church leaders signaled that they want to reconcile with the Jewish groups who were upset by their action.

An Oct. 5 letter asking Congress to investigate U.S. aid to Israel led Jewish groups to cancel a long-planned meeting later that month of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, a eight-year-old group dedicated to improving relations between the two faiths.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the first signatory on the letter, did not attend Thursday's Washington press conference that was convened to support its message. But Parsons said he stands by the letter, and acknowledged that it heightened tensions between Jews and Christians on the roundtable.

“We regret any distancing it put between us and our Jewish partners," he said, "and we hope we can close that gap."

Palestinian Christians Rally for U.N. Status Upgrade

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Protesters supporting Palestinian statehood confront Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on Sept. 16.

On Nov. 29, Palestinians will bid to become a “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. If approved, this would be a major step toward full statehood for Palestinians. Israel, and perhaps more important, the United States, are against this move, not least for fear of possible war-crime investigations against Israel. Israel’s rationale has always been that a final resolution cannot be achieved unilaterally, but only through direct negotiations. Ironically, Israel achieved its own independence unilaterally and through the United Nations.

Palestinian Christians leaders have sent a strong message of support for this step. A statement signed by 100 community leader says:

We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization’s initiative to enhance Palestine’s status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom. This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago.

On Thanksgiving, Jews and Muslims Volunteer Together Despite Middle East Violence

WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.

The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.

“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.

What About Them?


Israeli forces arrest a Palestinian youth during clashes in Arab Jerusalem Issawiya.AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

All this talk about the three Israelis killed by Gaza rockets …

What about the fifteen Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs?

If I were inclined to give mathematical value to people based on the media coverage I watched on “Fox & Friends” this morning, I would come to this conclusion:

3 Israelis > 15 Palestinians

I don’t think God sees it that way.  To God, all human life is equally precious.

I saw a photo showing an Israeli holding a blood-covered, critically injured 8-month-old baby. 

There’s another photo of a man, Jihad Masharawi, clutching his 11-month-old son on today’s Washington Post front page. Jihad is a Palestinian and a BBC Correspondent. He lives in Gaza. I presume he has a wife, with whom he had his son, Omar. 

Omar was killed.

It is one of the great tragedies of war that the innocents on both sides suffer.

10 Things I Learned in the Middle East

Photo by Jon Huckins

Photo by Jon Huckins

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope. 

"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."

Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:  

Calvin and God’s Gift of … Racism?

John Calvin image, Georgios Kollidas/

John Calvin image, Georgios Kollidas/

I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with various people lately about the notions of hell, salvation and who goes where. It’s a rhetorical exercise for the most part, since no one really knows. But there are plenty of real-life implications, particularly in the sphere of religion. For some, the understanding of what happens to us after we die is the prime mover in their day-to-day faith.

I know that the times when I resonate with more hard-line evangelical theology are few and far between, but in this case, I tend to resonate more closely with them than with my brothers and sisters of the Calvinist (also called Reformed Church) movement. For some not familiar with the differences, common Evangelical belief would suggest that God’s saving grace is available to all who seek it, and that the only thing standing between us and eternal salvation is us and our unwillingness to accept God’s perfect gift. In the Reformed Church, however (represented most prominently today by pastors like Mark Driscoll and John Piper), salvation is reserved for an elect few. The rest of creation will suffer the eternal wrath of God, period.

Jews Rally Around Woman Arrested for Praying at Western Wall

Man praying at Western Wall. Photo by Ryan Roderick Beiler.

JERUSALEM -- Jews from Manhattan to Mozambique held prayer vigils on Monday to protest the arrest and incarceration of an Israeli feminist as she was leading 250 American Jewish women in prayer at the Western Wall. 

The Oct. 16 arrest of Anat Hoffman, who co-founded Women of the Wall to enable Jewish women to pray together at the wall, has elicited outrage, especially from American Jews, the vast majority of whom do not practice Orthodox Judaism.

The wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, has segregated prayer sections for men and women. Israeli regulations on holy sites forbid “conducting a religious ceremony contrary to accepted practice” and “wearing unfit attire.” 

Hoffman was officially arrested on charges of "disturbing public order."

DRONE WATCH: Continuing Controversy Over Drone Shot Down By Israel

Nearly two weeks ago, Israeli jets shot down a drone that had crossed into its airspace. For several days, there was speculation that it had been launched by Hezbollah, speculation that Prime Minister Netanyahu turned into an accusation.

Last Thursday, Reuters reported a confirmation

“Lebanese Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged on Thursday sending a drone aircraft that was shot down last weekend after flying some 25 miles into Israel. Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the drone's parts were manufactured in Iran and it was assembled by members of the Shi'ite Muslim militant movement in Lebanon.”

Iran then acknowledged that the drone had been manufactured in that country and assembled in Lebanon. The purpose of the flight over Israel was seen as monitoring and gathering intelligence on Israel’s nuclear research center. McClatchy News reports

“This was a crude device, but it was a drone with all the capabilities that unmanned aerial crafts offer, and for that reason it is worrying,” an Israeli military official told McClatchy under the condition that he not be identified because he was not authorized to discuss sensitive information with a reporter. “We are studying the drone now to learn more about what it accomplished and what Hezbollah intended with it.”

Today, Haaretz reports on the continuing situation, now involving the U.N.

“United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submitted an especially harsh report on the situation in Lebanon, including sharp criticism of Hezbollah, to the 15-member Security Council on Thursday. The report, a copy of which was attained by Haaretz, warned that the Iranian drone launched into Israel by the organization earlier this month was a “reckless provocation” which could lead to a regional conflict.”

As the rhetoric rises, the chances of a greater conflict grow. 

Three Ds for Israel & Palestine

Peace image, pashabo /

Peace image, pashabo /

Several of my rabbi friends have explained to me that there are three Ds that we should keep in mind when we criticize the policies of the State of Israel as we work for justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. I think these three Ds can be helpful and can also be applied to the way that many people – including Christians and Jews – talk about Palestinians and the future Palestinian State.

The first D is Demonization. I have been told that demonization of the State of Israel occurs when it is called “a pariah nation,” compared to the Nazis, or accused of committing genocide. I agree that these references cheapen their meaning in their original context and are not helpful in pinpointing the exact policies that the State of Israel engages in that are harmful – like using tax revenue to subsidize housing for Israeli Jews in more than 120 settlements on land the Palestinians lay claim to for their future state.

The first D also applies to the ways U.S. citizens, Christians, and Jews demonize Palestinians. And just like it is never acceptable regarding Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel, it is never acceptable regarding Palestinians, Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims, Islam, and the future State of Palestine. This is most obvious in the widespread use of “terrorist” with no admission that violent extremists are a minority and that most Palestinians are hardworking people who want the best for their families and a healthy society to live in. An example of this demonization is Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno. Ayman Abu Aita, a Palestinian Christian who works for peace, was identified in the movie with the caption “Terrorist group leader.” Cohen lied to the Palestinian Christian and then for comedy purposes named him a terrorist. Abu Aita sued Cohen for defamation and they recently settled out of court.