In 2008 I was privileged to go to Israel on a standard pilgrimage. It was an incredible trip for many reasons, as I determined in my heart to look past the tourist trappings of such a trip and allow the experience to broaden my mind and spirit. I had a couple of observations that I believe would be good for anyone taking a short trip to the Holy Land to “see the sights.”
- It’s not about the “site” but about the land
- It’s not about the land but about the God of the land
You see, the sites are presented as specifics/traditional but are really just general. The prophets of old and Jesus Himself walked that land, yet the building or the road are not as important as the picture of a nation and how seeing that place redefines how we view the Scriptures and, for me, how I preached the Scriptures.
The young man who led our trip was a Palestinian. I believe that it was the first time that he had led a tour, and he had a certain amount of knowledge, but the real guide was the man who put our trip together from the states. We stayed in the West Bank for part of the trip, and I came out of the trip with a few things on my heart to pray for.
- A city without a Protestant Church (Jericho)
- A school (and church) in a Palestinian town (Aboud – don’t even look for it on a map) and,
- A pastor and family in Jerusalem (now living and ministering in Bethlehem)
All are a part of the Palestinian world and I think of these three things / places often and pray God will have his Will rule over them.
In 2010, I went back to Israel on a completely different trip. I was a part of an Outreach Fellowship with 13 others who were to become liaisons for the nation of Israel to our congressional leaders. I still to this day don’t know how I got on that trip. Honestly, I think I was a hot mess while traveling, because I was praying through the revelation that I was finished at the church we led, and was walking into the beginning of the oddest 4 years of my life. But I digress…
We had security guards because of the nature of our trip. We drove the Golan Heights, planted a fruit tree steps from the Lebanon border, and walked the streets of Sderot which is one mile from the border of the Gaza Strip and stepped into a bus stop/bomb shelter in that same city. I shook hands with 18-year-old soldiers on the front, nearly fell asleep sitting next to the Chief Adviser to Netanyahu, and did not make a friend of a reporter for the Jerusalem Post at a breakfast. I had the privilege of being briefed by three members of the Knesset (the legislative branch of Israel), I visited Yad Vashem (the World Center on the Holocaust), questioned the members of a Post-Traumatic Center in Tel Aviv, met with members of the Palestinian Authority (in what seemed to be an “undisclosed location”), toured an assimilation center for Ethiopian Jews, and shared a Seder with a wonderful family on Sabbath, among other things.
I have a piece of pottery from the southern region that is 2400 years old. I also have a picture of a man in plain clothes at the Western Wall with an M-16. To this day I get briefings on what is going on in this nation and the territories that are so much in the news these last few days.
All of this to say that I am not an idiot concerning things of this region.
What is going on in this region is honestly beyond any of our understanding. We have a different mindset in the U.S., and all we think we know about culture and rational behavior is thrown out the window when dealing with the Middle East. There are a few things that I want to share about the current escalation:
- The escalation is not current. You probably only heard about it on the news when Israel shot back. I equate it to a boy hitting another with a stick over and over for days. One day the boy being struck had had enough and picked up a bigger stick and hit the instigator with enough force to knock him down. Then the second boy is seen as a bully and gets punished. Before Israel struck back with accuracy rockets were being fired daily from Gaza, not as surgical strikes but sent without reason to instill terror in the citizens of Israel. The rockets were beginning to travel further into Israel than ever before, putting more or her citizens at risk. Israel had had enough.
- Israel continues to send aid into Gaza. More than 1,904 truckloads of good have entered Gaza since the start of the operation. On the 4th of August Israel transferred 185 trucks carrying 2,769 tons of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies into Gaza. This does not count the truckloads of supplies that have been driven into the Gaza Strip daily (and for years) before all of this hit the news.
- When Israel left Gaza as part of the “land for peace” agreement a few years ago, the infrastructure was in place to provide for a thriving economy. Most of it was systemically destroy by Hamas because they did not want anything from the Israelis.
- The leadership of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is not the same leadership in Gaza. The reporter I mentioned earlier (the one that I don’t think became my buddy) mentioned that all of the talk of a “two-state solution” was bogus, “two-state” meaning a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. (I don’t think he used the word “bogus,” but you get the point.) He said there was already a two-state situation… the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas (the terror group) in Gaza. Until that was resolved, he stated, there could be no solution.
- The posturing by some in the Christian circle is mind-boggling. I mentioned before that I developed a heart for some of the Palestinian areas and people that I came across. It remains. However, there is a trend that if you stand up for one thing then you must be against all other things. In this case, some are fighting the idea of standing for Israel because it appears to be a declaration that we hate the Palestinians. This could not be further from the case. We are mandated by God to support His people, which are the people of the nation of Israel. This does not mean that we always see eye to eye with leadership, but we are to stand behind His people. We are blessed when we do this, and we will have that blessing removed when we do not. This does not mean that we hate Palestinians.
- And this could be 5b, but there is justification by some in the Christian community to stand with the Palestinians because they are “more likely to be ‘Christians’ than those in Israel.” Again, I am not ignorant of the people of this region. We suffer from a way of thinking that if someone says they are a “Christian” then that means they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that they believe that He died on the cross for their sins and now, having risen from the dead, intercedes on their behalf before the Father. That is what it means here, and that is what it means in the Scriptures. There, some who identify themselves as Palestinian Christians are not meaning the same thing that we understand. There are, in fact, Palestinian believers, and there are believers in Gaza as well. However, some who say they are “Christians” are really identifying themselves as not being something else more than identifying themselves as something. In other words, they are not Jewish and are not Muslim so they identify themselves as Christians. This is a general statement I know, and if you are going to argue this point then you will argue against my point, and that is fine. You see, I also live in an area where we are all “Christians” because we believe in apple pie and the big man upstairs, but not because our lives have been radically changed by the power of the Gospel, so the fact that words mean different things to different people is not lost on me.
- If Gaza (really, Hamas) lays down their weapons, they live. If Israel lays down its weapons, Israel dies. This is what I keep coming back to whenever I try to wrap my head around right and wrong in warfare. Who wants peace, and who wants the destruction of another? I tend to side with the one who desperately wants peace, even when they have to go to war to get it. I am a “justice” guy… meaning I cannot tolerate a bully. I know, because a personality test I took once told me so. I want to see wrongs righted. That is who I am. It is what keeps my motivation going at times, AND it is what I have to take to the cross daily because there is a fight within me that wants to keep fighting (and not everything is a fight). I know of a people who are surrounded by nations that want to annihilate them, and they keep on living. They are vastly outnumbered, have no natural resources in the land to speak of, and the bias as a default against them is unrelenting… and yet they remain. They send their children to get on the bus to school knowing that if a siren sounds their children will have to know to find a shelter within 15 seconds… and they continue to send them because life must go on. Rockets have been fired constantly from Gaza since Israel evacuated, but in the current escalation since July 8: 3370 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza; 2300 rockets have struck Israel; and 578 have been intercepted by Iron Dome. Yes, Israel has fired back into Gaza to take out targets, but from July 8, 280+ rockets fired from Gaza have hit Gaza. Hamas is destroying their own people in Gaza.
What some think they know, they don’t know. In the world of posturing and appearances we want to appear open-minded about everything, but there really are some facts we can rely on.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the people in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza that there will be safety from those meant to do harm because of terror. Pray that God will be glorified and that the Son of God will be lifted up and draw all men (and women and children) to Him.