Respect for both Jews and Palestinians

Canaanite gate CR

“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” With that casual aside, the biblical account of Abraham and Sarah arriving in Canaan states that the territory already was populated. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God told Abraham (Gen. 12). Today near the northern border of modern Israel there’s a mud-brick Canaanite city gate built about 1750 BCE—approximately when Abraham and Sarah arrived. Did they go through this gate? Did they know that their descendants someday would dispossess Canaanites of life and land?

Made of mud bricks, the ancient gate today stands under a hangar-like canopy for protection. A small model nearby shows how the gate effectively was a fortified building with a central passageway. Descendants of Abraham and Sarah, after a 400-year detour into Egypt, returned to conquer Canaan with swords and claims of divine mandate. Entire Canaanite cities perished. That must have been brutal for indigenous people, and raises serious ethical questions.

Today conflict still simmers, this time between Jews and Palestinians, who both trace lineage to Abraham. Most Palestinian descendants of Abraham are Muslim, and many likely also have Canaanite DNA. The Palestinian population includes the largest group of Christians in Israel and the West Bank. These followers of Jesus are not fully accepted by Jewish or Muslim majorities, and I give them (and all Palestinians committed to peace) my support. Since my Christian faith springs from Judeo-Christian wells, I also am deeply drawn to Judaism, and call on Israel to act justly.

While Jewish Israelis have suffered substantial casualties since becoming a nation in 1948, Palestinian loss is far greater. A 2016 book by Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, helps me understand the roots of Zionism and Israeli aggression. Jews suffered staggering losses through centuries of mistreatment, often at the hands of “Christians,” culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe and North America, and certain Middle Eastern nations still vow to destroy Israel.

None of this painful history justifies what too often happens today in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis have settled in the West Bank on land belonging to Palestinians. That is a violation of international law. Morally and ethically it makes Israel less secure. People of conscience around the world should protest this violation, even as we acknowledge our own sins. I own Indiana land stolen from Pottawatomie people just as surely as Jewish settlers have taken land from Palestinians.

Some religious and political progressives reflexively condemn Israel, while some Christian conservatives reflexively support everything Israel does. Neither extreme is acceptable. Especially for outsiders, humility is in order–but we must speak for just treatment of all peoples.

I want safety for both Jews and Palestinians, and all who are committed to peace. I do not support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, nor do I advocate strategies that shame and isolate. A wounded psyche is likely to respond with more hostility and violence. Instead, I want to build relationships with both Jews and Palestinians, and stand in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jesus. Both loved Jerusalem, but wanted its gates open to become a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa. 56; Mark 11). Today that would include access and safety for Jews, Palestinians, Muslims–and even Christian pilgrims like me.

© 2018  J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************JNK2018sm
Experience the “fifth Gospel,” the lands where so much biblical drama unfolded! Join Audrey Voth Petkau and me for a “Journey of Hope” tour of Jordan, Palestine and Israel on September 12-23, 2019 ( ). In Jordan we’ll learn about the Israelites’ trek toward the Promised Land as we visit World Heritage site Petra and survey Canaan from Mount Nebo. We’ll see the site at the Jordan River where God parted the waters, and Machaerus fortress where John the Baptist died. In Israel/Palestine, we’ll learn about the life and times of Jesus in a replica of first-century Nazareth. We’ll sing carols at Bethlehem, sail on the Sea of Galilee, view Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, visit multiple sites in the Holy City itself, and see Caesarea where Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius. Reflect with others on themes of mission and reconciliation–including justice issues of Israel and Palestine—as we travel and worship together.
A second tour on June 10-20, 2020, similar to the above, can be paired with a stop in Germany for the Oberammergau Passion Play. See //

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Hermann Woelke says:

    Thank you for this perspective. God bless you,


  2. Thanks, Nelson, for this commentary. I agree with all of it, I think. I just got a little hung up on your critique of progressives who “glibly condemn” Israel. When does condemnation of unjust policies become “glib”–and if one condemns unjust policies of the current israeli regime–glibly or not–is one necessarily condemning Israel itself? What constitutes glibness?My questions come out of a common accusation leveled at anyone who stands up for Palestinian rights: that they are anti-Israel and anti-semitic. Most people I know who advocate for Palestinians–including pacifist Christians, trying not to be glib, and who don’t oppose the existence of Israel, but just its oppressive policies, often in solidarity with their Christian brothers and sisters in the West Bank–are summarily dismissed as anti-Israel or antisemitic. So what should they do? The temptation is to remain silent or else try to be “balanced” in a currently very unbalanced situation.


  3. Thanks for your insight and appropriate questions, Brian. I agree it is not helpful to generalize about people in any sector of the Middle Eastern political debate. But for me, “glib” critique of Israeli or Palestinian actions could include moralizing with little understanding of history or of the complexities of Middle Eastern politics. You are right that on the ground in Israel-Palestine today there is massive power imbalance, and Israel sometimes abuses their military and economic superiority to the serious detriment of Palestinians.

    But if I back off and get a wider historical and geographic perspective, I see the repeated times that surrounding nations have made coordinated attempts to destroy Israel (and some still threaten to do so). Add to that the unimaginable legacy of the holocaust, and it is not surprising that Israel sometimes behaves in ways that seem to add to injustice rather than bring healing.

    Which does not mean I can or should support settlements in the West Bank or other poor choices Israel might make. The question for me is how to respond. How to show support for Israel AND for Palestinians? Some supporters of Israel too quickly and easily cry “antisemitism” when others critique what Israel is doing. That may not be entirely rational, but it’s the reality. So if persons of conscience about West Bank justice want to have an impact, somehow we must build genuine relationships of friendship and trust with Jews and Palestinians. Easier said than done for someone like me in Indiana. Perhaps the place to start is to talk to Christians on the religious right in this country who reflexively support anything Israel does.


    1. Thanks, Nelson. I think the resolutions that MC USA and MC Canada have taken in the last couple of years have been attempts to speak for justice, while also reaching for dialogue and relationships with both Jews and Palestinians. And I agree that a huge part of our response needs to talk with western Christians who uncritically support Israel while ignoring the voice of the church suffering under Israeli occupation. But such dialogue is rare and difficult.


    2. Howard Wideman says:

      Excellent Nelson. We attended the Sudbury synagogue on the past sabbath to show interfaith support after the Pittsburg tragedy. I was truly surprised the scrolls in the arc replica are only the Pentateuch that’s Moses only. I told the tour leader I expected Isaiah. You mentioned prophetic Isaiah. It seems nothing has changed since Jesus inaugural sermon. Isaiah is too inclusive and Moses is written in stone


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