Well, that was quite a debate, wasn’t it

I don’t often blog about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, because I don’t have the energy to engage in these type of debates very often – as we saw here yesterday, this is a subject that brings out lots of strong feelings and different points of view, there is a huge amount of misinformation around, and so much that could be said that I could be here twenty four hours a day answering the different arguments and would have no time or energy left for anything else. And sadly I feel that even if I did that, the difference I could make would be minuscule.

My country is world-famous, and nearly everyone seems to have an opinion as to what we should do about the situation we’re in.

I have come across those who seem to think Israel can do no wrong and the Arabs are all evil – what a load of rubbish! We’re all human. I recently came across a blogger who says she’s a Christian standing with Israel – great, I thought, we need all the support we can get. But when I made a comment on her blog about how I believe most Gazans are, unbeknown to them, pawns in a horrible and cynical game, her reply was that she has no sympathy for them – I was horrified. How can you be a Christian and have no sympathy for people who are suffering in this way? I’m not sure I want that kind of support for my country.

On the other hand, here in the UK there is a lot of the “Israel is an evil occupying and imperialistic force” kind of mentality, with the Palestinians viewed as totally innocent victims.

Where is the truth? somewhere in the middle, as usual in real life.

The truth is nobody is totally innocent, and nobody is totally evil.

There is a lot that could be said and I am not going to attempt saying everything here. I’ve blogged before about some good sources of information on the subject. But I will try and throw a few useful facts on the table:

The State of Israel was founded as a result of a UN decision. The UN voted on a proposal to split the territory which we call the Land of Israel and some call Palestine into two separate states – one for the Jews and one for the resident Arabs.

It is a point that many are unaware of that what we call the Land of Israel is the same territory that they call Palestine – the whole of the territory, not part of it. (And why do we call it the Land of Israel? for historical reasons, which you can find in the Bible. Why do some call it Palestine? This name was invented by a Roman Emperor who wanted to hurt the Jews as much as possible and therefore made up a name based on that of our worst enemies in biblical times, the Philistines. The Arabs, who don’t actually have a P in their alphabet and can’t pronounce that sound, call it Falasteen.)

The UN decision was a compromise. Each party says “this is all mine”, so each party is given only part. (Very Talmudic by the way…)

We Jews were desperate enough and grateful enough to accept that compromise. We had been through a huge amount of persecution in our nearly-2000 years of exile, we had just seen six million of our people murdered by someone who thought the world would be a better place if only there were no more Jews in it, we had come home and faced persecution even there, so yes, we were desperate enough to say yes to even a small piece of land that we could call our own. And so, in May 1948, when the British left, the tiny State of Israel declared its independence.

The resident Arabs could have at that point done the same. If they had wanted to live in peace side by side with us, this was a historic opportunity to do just that. They didn’t. They chose war instead.

Why? Because the Arab countries around us said: nah, you don’t need to settle for those crumbs, the Brits have gone, these people have no army, let’s just go kill them all and then you can have the whole of this land. Get out of the way so it will be easier for us to get at them, give us a few weeks and we’ll annihilate these pesky Jews and then you can go back to your homes and all will be well. (I am not making this up, there is documentation of those declarations made publicly.)

Thanks be to God, this plan didn’t work out. Just as Haman in Persia tried to destroy us (see the book of Esther), just as the Pharaoh in Egypt tried to destroy us (see the book of Exodus), just as Hitler tried to destroy us, etc etc etc – so many have tried but God doesn’t allow it to happen. He has a plan and that plan includes the Jewish people surviving to the very end of time. (Not many nations have survived from biblical times. Have you met any Jebusites or Hittites lately? The ones who have survived are the Jews, because of God’s promises, and the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, because Abraham begged God to “bless him too”.)

Now, that territory that was going to be an Arab state under the UN decision – they had less of it at the end of the war, but they still had quite a bit. Did they found an independent Palestinian State in that territory then? No. Jordan took over part of it (known as “the West Bank” or “Judea and Samaria”, depending on what side of the political divide you’re on), and Egypt took another part (known as “the Gaza strip”). Did the world then raise its voice on behalf of the poor Palestinians who had lost their land to Jordan and Egypt? Did anyone speak against that illegal occupation? Funny, but the answer seems to be no. For some reason that was okay. But when Israel won those pieces of land in 1967 in a war entered into in self-defence, suddenly there was a hue and cry which has continued to this day – how dare we take over those territories, and why don’t we give the land back to the Palestinians – give it back? excuse me? in what way was it theirs? when they were given a chance to take it they said no. they let the Jordanians and the Egyptians take it over without a murmur. in what way is it their land?

Another point in history that many aren’t aware of, is how very recently most of these people arrived. In the 19th century, when Jews began to return to the land from exile (though there always were some Jews living there, but not many), they returned to a land that was mainly deserted and neglected. There was hardly anyone living there, and it was full of swamps. They risked their lives to malaria and dried up the swamps and made the land bloom again. The local Arabs looked in astonishment and said, God is blessing the land because of the Jews. And then many Arabs from neighbouring countries started to arrive – why? because there was work to be had, because there were people working the land again.

These people were at that stage mostly happy to live and work alongside us. The Arabs didn’t have much of a history of anti-Semitism. They learned it from the west. They learned it from the British who took the land over from the Turks in the early 20th century, and stirred up hatred towards us amongst the local Arabs. The British did not allow Jews to carry weapons, but turned a blind eye to the Arab mob massacring defenceless Jews. That’s why underground movements came into being – because we needed to be able to defend ourselves, and handling weapons had to be done in secret. It’s not a pretty story and it shocked me when I read some of what the British did in that time. They were not objective, even-handed rulers, far from it.

But thanks to people like my late father, who fought to drive the British out, it got to the point when they had had enough and appealed to the UN to sort the mess out… and then they left, and as soon as they were out, we declared independence and the next day seven Arab nations declared war against us. That’s how much they wanted peace…

I wasn’t born yet when all those things happened. I was a child in 1967 when this whole new era started – Israel taking over these contested territories, and the questions of what we should do with them, should we hold on to them or should we give them back. I had friends who said we should give “the territories” back and make peace, and I believed that – I believed that if only we would give them those territories, there would be peace. But time has passed, we’ve made so many gestures of peace towards them and what have we got in return? Nothing. We even unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip, and what was the answer? Missiles.

I know very well that there are plenty of Palestinians who would love to live peacefully side by side with us. But if they speak out, they’ll be dead very very quickly. Hamas and their like do not believe in freedom of speech.

There are a few other facts I need to throw in whilst we’re on this subject – some things that I feel are a bit confusing for people in the West trying to get their heads round it all.

There is a massive difference between how life is within the recognised borders of the State of Israel, and the way life is in the territories we took over in 1967. Those territories are in two parts – the West Bank/Judea and Samaria which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Gaza Strip which is under the rule of a Hamas government. Within the recognised borders of the State of Israel, Arab citizens have equal rights under the law. The only difference is they don’t have to do military service. I’m not saying that everything is 100% hunky dory, there are people with attitudes, just like everywhere in the world. But by law they are equal, and free to take part in all walks of life. There are even Arab Members of Knesset, including those who speak against Israel’s right to exist – I don’t think there are many countries who would allow that, but for us freedom of speech is hugely important.

As for Christians within the recognised borders of the State of Israel – there are Arab Christians, and there are Messianic Jews (and of course a smattering of Christians from the West). Messianic Jews are a small but growing minority within the Jewish population. It is a persecuted minority, but not anywhere near the scale of persecution suffered by our neighbours – Arabs from a muslim background in the Palestinian Authority-controlled area who come to faith in Jesus actually risk their lives, and I’ve heard of those who have escaped into Israel as a result. Within Israel, there are good relations between Messianic Jews and Arab Christians, and I was very privileged to see a live example of this on my last Shabbat there before leaving to come back to England, when a group from an Arab fellowship in the Galilee came to join us for worship. It was truly wonderful. One of their leaders was asked to speak, and he started by saying: I used to be a terrorist…

Israel has freedom of religion in its statute book, and as far as the Arab population is concerned, this is for real – unlike in the PA-controlled area, where people have been tortured by police for converting to the Christian faith! (For Messianic Jews, there is some discrimination, because the Orthodox Rabbis don’t accept that we are still Jewish, they claim we have “changed religion”. As far as they’re concerned, we are the worst of the worst. But they couldn’t care less what Gentiles believe.)

Okay, I’m getting off the podium now. I hope you find at least some of this helpful. I’m disabling replies for this post – something I’m not in the habit of doing – because I really haven’t got the energy for another debate like yesterday. Live Replies made it very confusing and stressful, trying to answer a zillion different points all at the same time. So if you have a specific question you want to ask me, send me a PM and I will do my best to answer.

If there is one point I want you all to get from this, it’s that this situation is a lot more complex than most people realise. There is a huge amount of goodwill on the Israeli side, a huge desire for peace, and if there was a simple solution we’d have done it by now.

Oh, and I must say something quickly about the “refugee” issue. The Arabs claim that we forcibly deported many of them and that’s why they are refugees. There were some enforced deportations, but those were very much exceptions rather than a general rule. Most of those who left, did so because they had been encouraged by the neighbouring Arab nations to get out of the way so that the Jews could be killed more quickly and efficiently. When this plan didn’t work out, they found themselves on the wrong side of a new border. Under these circumstances, is it really so surprising we didn’t let our enemies back in?

Another small point on the “refugee” issue: why are they still living in refugee camps? why have the oil-rich Arab countries not helped these people to build homes and settle down? is it because they’ve preferred to pour their money into giving them weapons to fight us? is it because they’ve preferred to keep these people in a situation of suffering so that their frustration could be used against “the zionist enemy”? And how come their children and grandchildren are still regarded as refugees?

Just a few thoughts and facts to help you think through this complex issue.

There, I’m done now. Thank you for listening.