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 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. It must have been brutal for indigenous people.

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.

Palestinian population includes the largest group of Christians in Israel and the West Bank. These followers of Jesus, not fully accepted by Jewish or Muslim majorities, need support (as do all Palestinians committed to peace). Since my Christian faith springs from Judeo-Christian wells, I also am deeply drawn to Judaism and want Israel safe.

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 why Jewish nationalists have been aggressive and assertive. Jews suffered staggering losses through centuries of mistreatment culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, and certain Middle Eastern nations still vow to destroy Israel.

So some Jewish Israelis continue to settle in the West Bank on land belonging to Palestinians. That violation makes Israel less secure, creating a focal point for the wrath of opponents. Speaking up about that injustice, however, gives me pause: I own Indiana land stolen from Pottawatomie people just as surely as Jewish settlers have taken land from Palestinians. Am I ready to give it back?

It has become popular among religious and political progressives to glibly condemn Israel. It is equally common for Christian conservatives to blithely support everything Israel does. Neither extreme is acceptable. Especially for outsiders, humility is in order.

I want to promote safety for both Jews and Palestinians, especially those committed to peace. I do not support strategies that shame or isolate; a wounded psyche is likely to respond with more hostility and violence. Instead, I want to stand in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jesus, who called for justice but also loved Jerusalem and wanted its gates open to become a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isa. 56; Mark 11).

© 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 for his people to cross, 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 as we travel and worship together.