FIRST-PERSON: Israel's plight
EDITOR'S NOTE: A larger treatment of these issues is available in a Kairos Journal booklet, "Israel and Legitimacy: Modern Achievement vs. Islamic Prejudice." Copies are available by emailing email@example.com.
NASHVILLE (BP) -- If the heartless Israelis would just let those poor Palestinians reoccupy their homeland, then all supposedly would be well. Or so goes the dominant media tripe. Pundits opine that the United Nations could move on to other vital concerns, denominations and universities could return firms dealing with Israel to their investment portfolios, and the Arab League could welcome Israel into the regional community of nations. Once the "Little Satan" (Israel) had been brought to heel, anger at the "Big Satan" (the U.S.) could subside, and we might even be able to get to our planes without TSA screening. What's not to like?
Well, confusion for starters.
One doesn't have to believe in biblical prophecy to support Israel in the perennial and lately-hot struggles in the region. During the Cold War, the U.S. didn't side with Japan against China because we were keen on Buddhism or Shintoism. We recognized the Japanese as democratic kinfolk in the struggle against totalitarian Communism, much as we recognize the Jews as allies in the struggle against totalitarian Islam.
It seems fair to mention that, in the region, Israel is the only true democracy, the only nation with a free press, the only one whose women are as literate as the men, the only one with world-class universities and medical research facilities of global helpfulness. This is the Israel which transformed malarial swamps into arable land in the Huleh Valley north of Galilee and built tilapia farms with warm salt water pumped from beneath the Negev. These are the Israelis who try to target combatants instead of grannies on buses. Yes, more Palestinian civilians died in the most recent exchange of fire. Civilian deaths in any conflict are tragic.
But what are we to make of the Palestinians and their cause? Well, we can start with some brief observations:
1. Palestinians derive their name from "Palestina," a name the Romans coined in honor of the Philistines, a move designed to spite the Jews whom they'd expelled. Modern Palestinians are descendants of people whose original settlement and continued presence was facilitated by Muslim conquest and centuries-long Ottoman rule.
2. Beginning in 1901, Jews began purchasing land in Palestine, both from resident Arabs and from absentee landlords in other nations. By 1947, a year before the formation of the Israel, Jewish individuals owned 772 square miles of land there. Legal purchase did not preclude Arab violence, which took the form of raids and riots, prompting the formation of early defense forces, such as the Hagana, in the 1920s.
3. Many Christian Arabs opposed Jewish settlement from the beginning. Seeing Jewish immigration as a threat to their social and economic status, they spoke out against Jewish settlement as early as 1908, prompted and aided by the editorial efforts of two Arab newspapers, al-Filastin and al-Karmil, both owned by Palestinian Christians.
4. The day after Israel was birthed by the U.N. (May 15, 1948), five Arab nations attacked the newborn state, intent on destroying her. Anticipating the invasion, many of the Arab professional class exited the country, confident they could return to their property once Israel had been obliterated. They, along with the poorer Palestinians who fled or were pushed out during the war, were disappointed with the outcome, and began immediately to insist on full repatriation and restoration, as if nothing had happened. Reflecting in his memoirs on the situation, Syria's prime minister during that time observed, "Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return."
5. The subsequent U.N. resolution demanded restoration and compensation should the Palestinians show a willingness to live at peace with their Jewish neighbors. Nothing was said about restoration and compensation for Jews expelled from Muslim lands, where tens of billions of dollars in assets had been confiscated. Nevertheless, Israel has offered several systems of compensation through the years, but all have been rejected.
6. Israel is the only nation on earth where all persecuted Jews are welcomed for citizenship, and hundreds of thousands have come from nations as diverse as Russia and Ethiopia. For example, in 1941, the Grand Mufti Haj Amin-al-Husseini, the most influential leader of Palestinian Arabs, approached Adolph Hitler for assistance in dealing with their common enemies, including the Jews. At the same time that Hitler was murdering one-third of the Jews on earth, Western nations, including the United States, were limiting Jewish immigration, so they sought refuge in their ancestral homeland, arriving by the shipload in defiance of British strictures.
In contrast, only Jordan among the Arab nations has provided Palestinian refugees a path to citizenship. Of the 150,000 Arabs who remained in Israel, they have enjoyed a higher standard of living than their fellow Arabs in adjacent nations, and they have served in the Israeli parliament, on the Supreme Court, in the diplomatic corps, and on university faculties. There is no such corresponding treatment of Jews in surrounding Muslim lands.
7. Since Israel is a democracy, the repatriation of Palestinians and the patriation of their offspring would mean national suicide. By vote, the land would quickly become yet another Muslim state, with consequent relegation of Jews to the margins, and worse. As Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, put it, "Today there are 82 Christian nations and 56 Muslim ones, but only one Jewish one; in a country smaller than the Kruger National Park [in South Africa], one quarter of one per cent of the land mass of the Arab world."
Now we're to believe that the real victims are the Palestinians, who resisted legal Jewish settlement from the start, rejected the U.N.'s two-state solution in favor of war in 1948, cheered the Arab invaders, rejected compensation, supported the foes of Israel in war after war, and turned every fresh gain in territory into a new launch pad for terrorist raids and missiles. We're told to support the "peace process" with nations, many of whom draw on the Koran to disparage Jews as "apes and swine," and with Hamas, whose covenant declares the entirety of Palestine a Muslim endowment.
God loves the Palestinian people. And so should we. But it is not the counsel of love to indulge the political cause of those who seek to erase Israel from the map.
Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville, Tenn., extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).