Saturday, January 17, 2009

More on Gaza and Israel

At Peace with the World: Grand Canyon 2007

(GE: Copyright, 2009)

What opinions do we North American Christians hold with regard to the Israeli state today? Where do our opinions come from? Which arguments swirling around us do we credit and which do we dismiss . . . and why?

In “Does the Promise Still Hold?” in The Christian Century, January 13, 2009, Gary A. Anderson, Old Testament teacher at the University of Notre Dame, writes: “Some Christian fundamentalists have insisted that because we live on the cusp of the messianic era, anything Israel does in Palestine must be construed as part of its larger divine mandate. But even if we are witnesses to the beginning of the final messianic age—a possibility that can never be wholly dismissed—we should certainly expect that whatever God does with the Jews during this time will conform to the character of his relationship to this people as it is revealed in the Bible. A unilateral land-grab that takes no moral cognizance of the plight of Israel’s neighbors is not consistent with Israel’s foundational story (p. 24)”

(You can access this article and three responses—by Marlin Jeschke, Walter Brueggemann and Donald E. Wagner—at

It’s clear that Anderson sees the reports of the Biblical relationship of the Jewish people to God as recorded in the Christian Old Testament as fundamental to understanding the relationship between God, the Jewish people and the rest of the world, and by extension, the current events in Gaza. Is the current assault on Gaza a “land-grab?” Or is it a move to increase Israeli security against a recalcitrant and belligerent Hamas? It makes a difference . . . except to the innocent citizenry of both Gaza and Israel, who pay in pain and immeasurable loss. Is Israel’s attack on Hamas moral? If it isn’t, Anderson would probably agree that invoking “manifest destiny” by God’s decree just won’t wash. God doesn’t condone immoral acts in order to secure land for his people, I hear Anderson say.

Well, then—I hear you say—what about Jericho and the slaughter of Canaanite inhabitants of Palestine in the time of Joshua? It’s hard for us to square an act of ethnic cleansing with Anderson’s assertion, unless the writers of the history of the exile got it wrong as follows: then—as now, possibly—the actions of God’s people were immoral and self serving, but the story was altered and augmented to make it appear to be an act of manifest destiny, bearing God’s approval and encouragement.

The actions of the State of Israel and Hamas must be judged by Christians on the ethics that Jesus taught, and they were clear: treat your neighbour as you wish to be treated; eschew violence; love your enemies; don’t fix your hopes on land and possessions; value and protect all life as sacred; etc. Seen in this way, understanding the events in Palestine is not that complicated.

P.S. A fundamental error that befogs all this may be the notion that the “Children of Israel” and the “State of Israel” are synonymous. Is it logical to assume that the current political leadership of the State of Israel is the vessel in which the Abrahamic promise of a peoplehood and a homeland is carried? I have doubts. What do you think?

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