By Ignoring History, Christians—Like Many Others—Get the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Wrong

Aug. 15 2017

Enthusiastic and well-meaning Christians who naively hope to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Robert Nicholson writes, tend to turn a blind eye to the facts:

Who has not encountered these zealous “ambassadors of reconciliation” who leap from issue to issue, injustice to injustice, driven by a Christ-like concern for the downtrodden but afflicted by a raging case of presentism? These peacemakers have little interest in how a given injustice came to be because the task of acquiring such knowledge would be so arduous as to impair their ability to parachute in and out of conflict zones with one-size-fits-all solutions. What matters is today: what I see, what I feel, what God is telling me. History is supplanted by sentiment, or—to hear them tell it—the urging of the Holy Spirit.

This approach was affirmed in a recent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking seminar held at a popular U.S. megachurch in Chicago. Teaching a rapt audience how to facilitate reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, the speaker said, “Both sides have their own experiences of the same events. At some point it really doesn’t matter who started it if we want to play the role of the peacemaker.”

That Christians would approach the world this way is bizarre. Many writers over the centuries have pointed out that Christians, like their Jewish forebears, are perhaps the most historically-minded of all people. . . . For the Christian, transcendent meaning can only be found in an appreciation of history. “In contrast to ahistorical cultures,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in his book Faith and History, “biblical faith affirms the potential meaning of life in history. It is in history, and not in a flight from history, that the divine power which bears and completes history is revealed.” . . .

By way of example, Nicholson cites an article from the Economist on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which betrays the same sort of indifference to history:

To read [this article] is to encounter Jews resolving ex nihilo to bomb other people’s planes and take other people’s cities for no other reason than to pray in Jerusalem. That the Six-Day War was a response to an abiding and active Arab plan to destroy the young Jewish state goes entirely unstated. . .

“Fifty years after 1967,” [the essay concludes], “it has become too easy for Israel to forget that, just a short drive away, the grinding occupation of Palestinians has become all but permanent.” Here [the Economist’s author] touches on one of the most vexing issues of the conflict, subtly implying that Israel is to blame for the situation and therefore bears the burden for fixing it.

Following the logic of his article, that seems right. Following the logic of history, that seems wrong. Following the logic of the peacemaking seminar, it doesn’t really matter: whoever seems to be suffering the most right now deserves compensation from the other. Pursuing justice is noble, but this kind of indiscriminate pursuit may indeed lay the world to waste.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Providence

More about: Christianity, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Jewish-Christian relations, Reinhold Niebuhr, Six-Day War

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy