Saturday, February 19, 2011

Israel, Palestine, and Christianity

I've been going through a slow change of opinion over the last few years on the question of supporting Israel. Not so much that I was on one side of the debate and now I'm on the other, but I didn't know a lot of things before that I do now.

As is common in many Christian churches, my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or Mormon church, has some beliefs regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. We believe that he will return, and Israel will play a significant role in his return as well as in some serious warfare around the time of his coming.

This leads myself and many other Christians to be generally strong supporters of Israel, because we believe that we will be aligned with Israel and Jesus Christ in those final times. Some better known biblical verses relating to these ideas are found in Isaiah 49:22-23. We believe Isaiah is speaking about the last days, when the Jews have suffered, and gentiles help them.

22Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

23And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.

We believe these verses and surrounding verses were fulfilled specifically when Israel became a nation in May of 1948. My understanding is that the victorious powers of World War II basically divied up a lot of areas of the globe, and among them, England (the Gentiles) made a place for Israel. This allowed a mass return of Jews to Israel. Now Israel receives a lot of support from the US as well. So I think that many Pro-Israel Christians see their support of Israel as the fulfillment of prophecy, and something that should be offered without conditions.

While I also think that the support of Israel by the US and England is fulfilling prophecy, I don't think that we need to continue to support Israel blindly or unconditionally. I think the prophecy has been fulfilled. I think that God does not need us to support Israel even when Israel is wrong.

Recently it was reported that one of the wikileaks showed that Palestinians had offered to cede all of Jerusalem to Israel to move negotiations forward towards a two state solution. My understanding is that East Jerusalem was always supposed to be the new Palestinian capital, so a private willingness to cede it completely to Israel shows desperation to move forward with the two state solution.

In the present situation, Palestine would of course be desperate. Shortages of food, shortages of space, shortages of work, an inability to leave their circumscribed locations and return. Areas that are supposed to be part of Palestine when the two state solution is complete are being settled actively by Israel. The halt to settlement construction has ended, and has began again with a vengeance. Palestine has a lot to gain by finalizing the division. What does Israel have to gain? Most of the groups that are violently opposed to Israel will not stop their violence when the Palestinians have their own state.

On NPR several years ago, a veteran negotiator of the Ireland/Northern Ireland struggle commented that there was no peace in Ireland until both sides had more to gain by peace than they thought they could gain by violence. I think the same is true in Israel. Right now Israel doesn't have much to gain by executing the two state solution, and it has a lot to gain by putting it off.

It is my opinion that it is not necessary to support Israel when it is wrong. I think Israel is wrong in this situation. I think stopping financial support for Israel until it finalizes the two state solution is a great idea. I think we can try to help Israel end this conflict and still stand beside them at the end of days.

I appreciate comments, even when expressing contrary views!

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