Wall graffiti on Israeli wall separating the West Bank

Dispatch from the West Bank

I’ve been to Israel a number of times, most often leading tour groups. Each time, leaving Bethlehem I would insist our Israeli driver stop by Bethlehem Bible College so I could visit its president, Bishara Awad. I tried to keep myself abreast of the goings on within Israel and the occupied areas of the West Bank and Gaza, the strip on the Mediterranean. But never had I taken time to actually stay with my Palestinian friends. They would periodically visit Tyndale and students loved to hear their story. But I admit, too frequently Yasser Arafat and his cronies angered me by their seeming endless whining and refusal to admit Israel had legitimacy as a state with the right to defend itself. I assumed the Palestinians had had sufficient opportunity to find a deal with Israel, especially when Arafat turned down the Camp David offer.

So, as my friends know, I have and do support the establishing of the State of Israel. Finding a place for Jews in the 20th Century was the right thing to do. As well, God’s covenant with the Jews stands and their place in the eschaton (the days of Christ’s return) is assured. There is no equivocation in my mind of their critical place in the economy and agenda of the Lord.

This winter I decided I needed to go and live there, only for a few days, to see it through the eyes of my Palestinian brethren. Since this role as global ambassador, I’ve learned nothing can compare with walking in the steps of those you wish to understand. There is no substitute for sitting in their homes, listening to their stories, asking questions of their children, driving their streets, sitting in worship services, praying before and after meals. It was in this recent visit that I faced conflicting messages I could no longer ignore.

It came into focus one evening while eating dinner with Salim Munayer overlooking the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem. The wonder of the place never ceases to fill me with deep emotion. I never tire of visiting Old and New Testament places. As my eyes wander over the scenery in front of me, I noticed on the crown of the hill a recently built Jewish settlement.

To add to the dynamic of the location and moment, I need to also let you know that behind me was where Boaz had bought a field so he could marry Ruth, a Moabite, daughter in law to Naomi recently widowed. Boaz — whose name means kinsman redeemer — is an Old Testament precursor to Jesus, our Redeemer. An Old Testament story I have preached many times.

But back to my gazing at Bethlehem, hometown of David, king of Israel, the most famous of Jewish kings and in the paternal lineage of Jesus. The location is filled with multiple Bible stories. Here I sat just metres from where Jesus was born. Across the road was the pasture where shepherds heard the announcement for the King. From here they would have scrambled up the slope of the hill to celebrate the newly arrived king. Not any king, but Jesus, Son of God. Yes that very same Jesus who invites all to come to him and be reconciled with his Father. There is no distinction — Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free.

The romance of the moment was broken as I thought about the kingdom this baby would launch. Contrary to popular views then and now, counterintuitive in the politics of kingship, his was to be defined differently: our lives would be in service not domination; forgiveness not revenge would outline our behaviour; giving not getting would pave the way to blessing. I couldn’t escape the contradiction. I knew instinctively the ways of God stood in sharp contrast to what I was seeing.

2000 years later, I, and many of my fellow Christians, have been lured into thinking uncritically and approving ways of this nation state because our views are shaped by a biblical formula: for Jesus to return the Jews need to be living in the homeland promised to Abraham, secured by Joshua and ruled by kings inducted following Saul.

When the State of Israel was established in 1947 by the United Nations, the intended effect in establishing the state had been earlier outlined in the Balfour Declaration. In part it said, that “. . . the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people [with the understanding that] nothing should be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine . . . .” Land was to be divided for the incoming and resident Jews and for Palestinians, most of whom had lived there for generations.

Now today. The state I support — including reasons supplied by certain biblical interpretations of prophecy of the return of Christ — it turns out, is taking land from residents, many being Christians who trace ownership of land back for years.

As I looked out on the large settlement sitting above Shepherd’s Field, I asked Salim how they got this land to build the many settlements. “Was it bought,” I asked? “No.” “Was there negotiation?” “No.” “Who owned it?” “Christians and Muslims.” “Can you do anything about it?” “No. They are the army.”

I travel to many countries in which Christians face persecution from hostile religions, rebuttals by governments, death by fanatics. I have and continue to advocate for fairness and justice and seek peaceful negotiations so not only are people protected from violence, discrimination and death, but so that Jesus is seen as the Prince of Peace.

Here is the conclusion I came to, one that I found deeply discomfiting.

Please follow my logic and feel with me the intellectual and moral whiplash I experienced that early evening as I attempted to reconcile these following contradictory factors: Jesus was born in this very town as Saviour founding a kingdom to be ruled by love and grace. So then, have I his follower, some 2000 years later, ignored this land grab based on a belief it is essential to the Lord’s return, without regard for what Jesus stood for and what he announced as foundational to his coming rule?

Why have I been so blind? Why did I turn away when my Christian brothers and sisters asked me to see what I refused to see? I confess I think now I know. I have been willing to ignore the moral and ethical violations embedded in this action because I believed that control of this land, as preparation for Jesus’ return, transcends the heart of what Jesus said comprised his kingdom. Ethical and moral action became nothing more than words in the face of perceived promises that control of land, should in the end trump righteousness.

Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance
February, 2013

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Comments
3 Responses to “Wall graffiti on Israeli wall separating the West Bank”
  1. Rev. Hilton Anderson says:

    As a former Canadian, I am obligated to reproach you for this malicious piece of claptrap. Israel is the world’s most ethical nation! Canada comes nowhere near it with its apartheid reservations for our First Nations and the land grab we Whites from the old country stole from the indigenous natives from sea to sea. “He who is without sin let him cast the first stone” – you ought to have learned these words at Tyndale!

    Far more serious are 2 distinct dysfunctional trains of thought being emitted in your writings. Firstly, the information provided to you by your “friend” Salim was false. You know it is false because you did not substantiate it with the Israeli Christians of Israel. Our Israeli Christian brothers and sisters number 120,000, serve in the Israeli army, and are preponderant in Nazareth and the Galilee. Jesus the Son of God lived his entire life in Nazareth and preached in the Galilean towns and villages. These are holy places. Millions of Christians visit there each year. Yet the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is being encroached upon by the fanatic Israeli Muslims who call themselves “Palestinians” . They claim it was built on a Muslim Arab grave and they want to replace it with a gigantic mosque. This shouldm trouble you no end – I want you to speak out against this.

    Secondly, you are on record as wringing your hands over the eviction of the huge historic Christian communities from Muslim Arab lands in the Middle East. You are also on record as stating the Middle East was Christian before being taken over by the Muslim Arab settlers in the 7th century. What is your substantive reaction? You have remained blind to the massive land grab by the Muslim Arabs, including the Muslim Arabs of Palestine, of the 2000 year old properties and olive trees owned by the Christian indigenous residents. Instead, you lambaste Israel because of the meanderings of a West Bank Christian Palestinian!

    Let me tell you something. The Muslim Palestinian Authority and Hamas are making life miserable for them. Pastor N. Khoury has been beaten up by their hoodlums and shot at several times, being wounded a few years ago. Bethlehem was 85 per cent Christian before Arafat’s gang took over in 1993. A system campaign of confiscating Christian tourist shops, forcing vigin Christian girls to marry Muslim men and building mosques right next to churches have forced Christian residents of Bethlehem and Hebron to flee to the West. Only 52,000 Palestinian Christians remain out of a West Bank Palestinian population of 3.2 million. Those that are left understand quite clearly, including Bishara Awad and other Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant clergy, that their throats will be cut if they depart from the official PA line that Israel is the villain and only happiness exists between Muslims and Christians there.

    Brian, my friend, open your eyes, stop being blind, Christ wants you to use your talents to awaken the world to the eviction of Christians from all Arab lands, including the West Bank and Gaza. Stop peddling outdated antisemitic tropes against the heroic Israeli people. Remember — the Nazi Mufti of Palestine tore up the Balfour Declaration in 1922 and was deported by the British to Iraq and then Germany where he participated in the Final solution of the Jews. He had the complete support of the Palestinian Muslim Arabs. He and they stated brazenly that all Jewish habitations were “settlements” and “land grabs.”

    Don’t you dare mouth these satanic Palestinian blasphemies again!

  2. Mike Sosna says:

    Dear Dr Stiller. I believe that the settlement in question is the Jerusalem suburb of Har Homa If so much of this land was bought by Jewish families before 1948 and then taken from them by the Jordanians. Much of the rest was bought or expropriated for compensation by Israel . I suggest that Salim’s claims be examined critically as the Arabs claiming they have lands taken from them do have recourse in Israeli courts as would residents of any country operating with the rules of law

  3. Joseph says:

    Hi Brian, I don’t think that’s quite the whole story – you need to realise that also, there is plenty of terrorism against Israel, and rejectionism from the PA which makes negotiation impossible. Salim comes across very anti-Israel and I do not think he is a good influence on you.

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