FIRST-PERSON: Abraham's unruly children

by Gregory Tomlin, posted Thursday, April 04, 2002 (17 years ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--What more poignant display of man's inhumanity to man could there be than a gun battle in the birthplace of the Prince of Peace?

The Palestinians, desperate to find an ally outside of their Arabic neighbors, have cunningly drawn the Roman Catholic Church into the peace negotiations in the Middle East. The Israelis, on the other hand, have just as shrewdly courted the favor of the United States under the guise of being a democratic state.

Abraham's unruly children -- the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael -- are to blame for the violence in Israel, and now more than ever the United States must proceed with wisdom and recognize the theological perspectives of the conflict.

The Palestinians, mostly of the Muslim faith, believe the world is divided into two abodes. The dar-al-salam, or the abode of peace, is the area under the governance of Islamic states. The dar-al-harb, or the abode of war, is all territory outside of those Islamic states, including the United States and Israel. The missionary impulse of Islam, whether it is violent or peaceful, has as its goal the inclusion of the entire world in the abode of peace.

The inescapable conclusion of this theological viewpoint is that the Palestinians, and the Islamic states that provide arms to them, will not rest until Israel is driven into the sea. Such a claim is difficult to refute given the fact that the maps in Yasser Arafat's office still do not depict the modern state of Israel. That land, in their eyes, belongs to the house of Ishmael.

The Israelis, who in 1948 laid claim to Jerusalem and the rest of the territory, say that Isaac is their father and the recipient of Abraham's promise. With the divine deed in hand, they push all non-Jews to the fringes of society and proceed with policies that place a higher premium on land than on human life.

The conclusion here, equally inescapable, is that Israel will not give up the governance of the Palestinian territories. To do so, they feel, would be to commit national suicide.

Why is our nation's foreign policy so unashamedly pro-Israel? One reason is that most in our government describe Israel as one of the strongest democratic states in the region. A nation, however, that restricts the rights of its Arab and Christian citizens is not a democracy. The adage of "one man, one vote" applies only to Israelis, and Jewish Israelis at that.

A second reason, I submit, that the United States is pro-Israel is that, although we have lost most vestiges of Christianity in our country, we have somehow maintained our own theological notion that Israel is the favored nation-state of the Almighty. Thus, it is unlikely that the United States will ever cast aside Israel, nor should it.

Should the United States cater to the Palestinians who have come to understand the use of terror against innocents as a valid method for forcing Israel to concede territory? Certainly not. Should the United States cater to the nation of Israel when they refuse to employ the principle that God endows all men with inalienable rights? Certainly not.

The day has come for balanced diplomacy on the part of the United States, but not for military intervention in a 4,000-year-old family feud. It is also time for the Arab countries surrounding Palestine to provide territory for a Palestinian state and grant Israel the right of peaceful coexistence. It is time for the United States to tell both Israel and the Palestinians that people are more important than land.

God showed us that with the birth of Christ in a simple shepherd's cave in Bethlehem. Now more than ever, Christians the world over should quote the words Paul wrote in Galatians 3: 29, "If you are Christ's, you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

The promise is not land, but life.


Gregory Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He is completing his doctoral dissertation in church history, titled "Hawks and Doves: Southern Baptist Responses to Military Intervention in Southeast Asia, 1965-73."

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