What does Palestine have to do with us here at Creekside, 6,753 miles away? Besides, with so many problems in the world—North Korea, trade with China, Syria, refugee issues—why be concerned with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? For two reasons. First, as Christians we should be concerned about injustice anywhere in the world. Second, in my experience speaking to people from the Middle East especially, this unresolved issue is a huge stumbling block to world peace.
In January, I spent two weeks in Israel with a group of 25, led by Pastor Keith Carpenter of Kent Covenant. What a life-changing and affirming experience to visit Israel, land of rich spiritual heritage, fear, and injustice. Though 95% of Christians who go to Israel visit only Christian sites, our tour was designed to immerse us in the culture and politics of the region as well as to visit the historical sites of our faith. Galilee, where Jesus recruited Mark, John, Peter, and Matthew; Capernaum, Nazareth, Jericho; rededicating our lives by submersion in the (cold) Jordan River; and yes, floating in the Dead Sea—we did it all! Being at the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus was born was especially moving to me.
But what also stirred my soul was the plight of Palestinians. Those who are Israeli citizens are in fact second-class citizens because of a recent law, which says that only Jews have full rights. Those in the Palestinian areas are under the authority of Israel and undergo discrimination, travel restrictions, electricity and water shortages, and unfair imprisonments. A teenager throwing a stone at a soldier could get anywhere from eight months to three years in jail. We met a father whose teenage son died as result of being in prison.
In the meantime, the Israeli government is building and approving new settlements which are squeezing Palestine into an ever-smaller area.
So what can we do, if anything? I suggest that we Christians and Americans have a responsibility. Our faith tells us to “love mercy and do justice,” as written in Micah 6:8. American Christian attitudes are often part of the problem, as we support the government of Israel unconditionally, with no strings of civil rights attached. Jeremiah 9 refers to punishing those who are circumcised in body but not in spirit, “…yes, even the people of Judah. And like all these pagan nations, the people of Israel also have uncircumcised hearts” (v. 26b NLT). This could also be said of Christians who turn a blind eye to the injustice and fear in that ancient land of our spiritual heritage.
I wonder if the current Israeli situation is so different from what it was in the U.S. regarding the treatment of our black citizens before civil rights legislation kicked in. Some would argue we still have a ways to go in this regard.
Is caring for Palestinians anti-Semitic? Absolutely not. Freedom for all people, including the Israelis, is the goal. The Israelis are “the chosen people,” chosen to represent God and his mercy and justice on earth, not chosen to rule as they were once ruled by the heavy hand of Rome.
I have contacted my Congressional representatives and urged them to work for a peaceful, fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to not let Israel off the hook in its unfair, unjust treatment of the Palestinians. Maybe you would consider doing the same.