Israeli

From the Archives: May 1992

THE DEATH of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on March 9 brought back memories of high hopes for Middle East peace. ... Begin’s passing also recalled his determination to establish Israeli settlements on the West Bank’s Occupied Territories, areas he called by their biblical names—Judea and Samaria. The day after his election as prime minister in May 1977, Begin visited one of the handful of settlements then in existence, Elon Moreh, to declare: “There will be many, many settlements in the coming weeks.”

Fifteen years after the late prime minister’s promise to implement the 1974 Gush Emunim plan for putting 100,000 Jewish settlers onto the West Bank, 91,000 Jews actually live there, with some 157,000 others in the rest of the territories annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War. In all, nearly one quarter of a million Israelis, 5 percent of the country’s total population, reside in these settlements.

Today, using as justification the need to accommodate thousands of Jewish emigres from what was the Soviet Union, the Israeli government continues building settlements in the Occupied Territories. Most observers believe this threatens the peace process currently under way between Israel and its Arab neighbors, serves as a continued irritant for U.S. relations with Israel, and may delay to the point of no return any solution regarding a Palestinian homeland.

Joe Nangle, OFM, was outreach director at Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: Peace symbol,  / Shutterstock 

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Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Jesus

STUN GRENADES AND tear gas bombs exploded in the street outside of Bethlehem Bible College, forcing Rev. Alex Awad to end his class early. Down the block, youth threw stones at the Israeli separation wall that cuts deep into Bethlehem. Frequent clashes had erupted in the months since the Israeli offensive known as Operation Protective Edge killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians. During that operation, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians were killed by Gaza militants. In the months that followed, Jerusalem became the focal point of further violence.

“Many people ask, what are signs of hope?” says Awad. While the facts on the ground get worse, he names one encouraging trend: “Many evangelicals are moving from the Israeli side into what I think is the peace and justice side.”

Here are seven signs that he’s right:

1. Evangelicals are listening to Palestinian Christian voices. Jerusalem-born with a degree from a U.S. Bible college, Awad is uniquely suited to speak to evangelicals—including some unlikely guests. John Hagee, leader of Christians United for Israel, the U.S.’s largest Christian Zionist organization, arranged for five tour groups to visit Bethlehem Bible College. The first group arrived last August.

“When I started speaking, almost every two words I would see 10 hands of people wanting to ask questions,” recalls Awad. “Very patiently, I answered one after the other. Then I would make another statement, and another 15 hands are up.”

Near the end, one man stood up. “I think I am convinced that what Rev. Awad is saying is right. Am I the only one? Could I see hands?” Some 10 to 15 out of about 40 people raised their hands.

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Choosing the Side of Justice

THE ISRAELI/PALESTINIAN conflict has claimed countless lives, caused unimaginable trauma, and devastated families and communities for decades. As Christians, we should lament this ongoing tragedy and commit ourselves to the cause of peace. However, we must also confess to and repent of the fact that American Christians have often been an obstacle to peace in the region.

On one side of the conflict, many evangelicals have historically been uncritical supporters of Israel. This support often stems from dispensationalism—the belief that a Jewish state must exist in the Middle East in order for Christ to return. Because the continued existence and thriving of the Israeli state is viewed by these Christian Zionists as nothing less than God’s will, they have historically been unwilling to criticize or even question Israel’s behavior. This reflexive and one-sided support for the Israeli government and military has made it much more difficult for the U.S. to be considered an honest broker in the peace process.

In contrast to evangelicals, some mainline Protestants and other liberal Christians have also been a problem to peace by taking an unrelentingly negative attitude toward Israel. Some Christians from this camp have gone so far as to argue that the premise upon which the modern state of Israel was founded is unjust and illegitimate. Given the present reality of Israel’s existence—not to mention the horrors of the Holocaust—coming to the table with that position is not helpful to having a productive conversation about creating peace in the region. Furthermore, when Israel’s critics downplay or fail to acknowledge Israel’s very real security concerns, it diminishes the validity of their critique of Israel’s actions.

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Stassen and Gushee: An Open Letter to Christian Zionists

American Christian Zionism is pushing the U.S. government to support Israeli policies that our international friends find immoral and illegal.

We have come to believe that Christian Zionism underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppresses Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes US policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation's commitment to universal human rights.

We write as evangelical Christians committed to Israel's security. We worry about your support for policies that violate biblical warnings about injustice and may lead to the destruction of Israel.

Hidden Battles: A Story of Five Former Soldiers

Hidden Battles is a 65-minute documentary which follows a female Sandinista rebel, an Israeli officer, a Palestinian freedom fighter, and two American soldiers as they come to terms with their combat experiences. The film offers unique insight and hope into the internal conflicts that human beings around the world continue to face long after they have left the battlefield.

The documentary listens to the stories of these former soldiers as they reconcile what it means to have killed another human. A Vietnam veteran recalls that when he first killed, he was gripped by the feeling that he "did something -- literally against God." Watch this film and see how these veterans have fought to overcome. Each soldier deals with killing in his or her own unique way. Hidden Battles shows five ways in which this act is integrated into five different lives. Ultimately these stories testify to the resilience of the human spirit and hopefulness for the future.

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