A Kiwi in Israel
We had chosen to have a quiet night away from the pressure of work. After a short stroll in the warm evening air mingling with the crowd on the Netanya promenade we settled at an outdoor restaurant.
As we began our meal a powerful explosion rent the air. The percussion hit my chest leaving me breathless. Shards of glass, pieces of metal and billows of smoke showered us all. Silence. Then the screams as the crowd hysterically ran in all directions. Voices shouted for loved ones and friends.
A stolen car packed with explosives had been detonated by remote control. Shop fronts were shattered along both sides of the street. Two people were dead and many suffered serious injury. The police and ambulances were on the scene clearing the crowd for fear of a second bomb. And religious Jewish men lovingly picked up every piece of flesh carefully putting it in a bag ready for burial.
A nation that regularly begins its national daily news with funeral arrangements for citizens and soldiers killed the day before has to be unique. I am writing at the end of Passover when Jewish people ask, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Today's answer, "Because tonight 27 were killed and 140 were injured by a suicide bomber in a Netanya hotel while they remembered how God delivered their ancestors from Egypt."
In the Seder1 the instructions encourage each generation to see themselves as being delivered by God from suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. The cry from Israel, and on Israel's behalf, today needs to be, "Deliver us from this horrific plague of terrorism." Almost daily we read reports of suicide bombers executing themselves, hoping to take with them as many Israelis as they can.
We also receive reports of bombs that fail to explode, or of lives being protected for some other reason. A few days ago a bomber was intercepted driving into a populated area of Jerusalem. The intercepting policeman was killed, and that is tragic, but how many lives were protected by his action at this holiday time?
I have since discovered that young policeman is a believer in Jesus. In this terrible struggle Jesus is the only answer, both personally and nationally, for both the Jews and the Arabs. He is the Prince of peace.
Yesterday a plot for suicide bombers to destroy Tel Aviv's 'twin towers' was foiled by the Israeli police. We pray and praise God for this discovery.
As a Kiwi who has lived in Israel for two years and has visited Israel and the neighbouring Arab countries annually for twenty years, I realise it is difficult for New Zealanders to imagine the shocking effect of the trauma that marks some people for the rest of their lives.
One morning a young woman discovers - after having a medical scan - that she is pregnant. By evening she, her husband and infant are dead, buried the next morning. A grandmother wails inconsolably at the graveside while her son, his wife and her two grandchildren are buried. A young man utterly distraught as his bride is pronounced dead. Two children bewildered as their parents, brother and sister are buried. The list is endless.
A young Arab lifts his shirt to expose the bomb belt he is wearing to a young waitress in a café. Spontaneously she screams, "Terrorist!" The manager throws a chair at him. This split second delay gives customers time to run outside or dive under a table. That night one life is lost when the bomb explodes: the bomber's life.
Children are arriving at school when an Arab masquerading as a religious Jew detonates himself. A policeman is mortally wounded. Children are protected from injury, but not from seeing the bomber's head lying in the school grounds.
Terrorism is an ugly thing. It has no rules. Suicide bombers are committed to death. How can you stop them? We are talking about people in their late teens and early twenties - even teenage girls! What drives them to do this?
It is popularly believed that these young Palestinian Arabs are not terrorists but 'freedom fighters'. That their people have been deprived of their land and homes firstly by the emergence of Israel in 1948 and latterly by the expansion of Israel.
It is further believed that if the Palestinian Arabs are permitted to form their own state the issues will be solved and that peace will reign in the Middle East as the people of Palestine live side by side with the people of Israel.
Is this realistic?
Palestinian Arabs have told me that from infancy hatred for Jewish people is instilled in them. The child who throws little stones at passers-by is simply emulating an older brother or cousin who uses catapults to fire large rocks at Jewish people. And now they have graduated to M16s and the fashion is to wear bomb belts packed with explosives and nails to inflict as much destruction as possible.
What really drives teenagers to waste their lives for this cause? I know of a Muslim mother who on giving birth to a son was elated. She now has a son who when he grows up can give his life to the cause of Islam. And that cause is summed up in Psalm 83: "Come let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more."
Christian Arabs I know tell of their struggle with Jesus' command to love your neighbour when their neighbour is Jewish. Sadia is an example. She explained to me how she wrestled with this issue when she joined a reconciliation group of young Jews and Arabs.
Could she really go against all that her family had taught her about the Jews? Did Jesus require her to forgive Jewish people? Little by little over many months she admitted that these young Jews did not measure up to the image she had of them. They seemed genuine. Gradually she melted.
And then the uprising started. The cry of her nationalistic friends at the Arab university plunged her back into Palestinian nationalism, which required her to break the precious fellowship she had with young Jewish people.
Yoni, a young Jewish soldier who knows Jesus as his saviour, told me how he struggled with relating to Arab Christians. "I had only known Arabs wrapped in their black and white kaffiya2 firing rocks at me and even worse throwing their deadly homemade bombs. It took me ages before I could trust their forgiveness was real. Now I know some as my brothers. Only Jesus can do that!"
I have heard similar comments by young Arabs who see young Israelis only as soldiers. Soldiers who search them at checkpoints. Soldiers who have fired at them. Soldiers who have beaten up their brothers or cousins. Soldiers who have tortured their fathers or uncles. Soldiers who have demolished their homes. "But now this young Israeli asks my forgiveness and wants to be my brother. How do I handle this? Can I forgive him as Jesus asks me to?"
I have never been exposed to hatred like I experience in this Arab-Israeli conflict. I am convinced that fundamentalist Islamic teaching is at the root of the problem. Islam does not mean 'peace' as some suggest, it means 'submission' - submission to Allah.
Now on the surface that may appear acceptable. But when the Koran, Islam's holy book, states that God is one and has no son, we realise that Allah cannot be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Koran teaches there is peace only for those who totally accept Islam. It states, "Take not Jews and Christians for friends."3 "Let those who disbelieve [that is, who are not Muslims]4 suppose that they can overcome. Lo! They cannot escape. Make ready for them all you can by armed force . . . ."5
Naively, many of us in the west do not take Islamic statements seriously. We need to listen carefully and act appropriately. There are two common statements we hear in Israel that tell us major objectives of Islam.
"First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people!" The Jewish people worship on Saturday, they are the first to be conquered. Then the Christians, the Sunday people, are next on the Islamic hit list.
"America is the great satan and Israel is the little satan." Islam directly links America and Israel; it is the link between Jews and Christians as in the first statement. America is perceived as the leader of Christianity; therefore non-Islamic believers, and of course Israel, the Jewish state, is supported by America. It is commonplace to see Muslims burning American and Israeli flags just as we frequently see effigies of American and Jewish leaders being burned.
When we think on the events of September 11, 2001, we begin to understand the rationale for the attacks. And why our television screens showed us Muslims celebrating the tragedy as a victory for their cause. A cause that seeks to take the world for Allah - a cause called 'jihad'.
As the west's war against terrorism escalates so does Islamic anger, hatred and reaction. The Koran is explicit, "The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and his messenger [Mohammed]6 and strive after corruption in the land is that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land."7
George is an Arab Christian worker who lives in Bethlehem and works in Jerusalem. George explains the intense pressure Christian Arabs are under from Muslim Arabs. Bethlehem, once a Christian city, is now predominantly Muslim as Christians have fled - some to other parts of the country, but most abroad to freedom. This intimidation also accounts for many Christian Arabs either converting to Islam or succumbing to Islamic demands.
In recent months I have had close contact with Mohammed, a Muslim who converted to Christianity. He was taken to a Christian community for protection from his family who threatened to kill him for choosing to become a Christian. Amazingly he has been partially reconciled with his family. He is unwavering in his new faith and is a member of a Messianic Jewish congregation, acknowledging that Israel is a nation regathered by God according to God's promises in the Bible.
Amos is an Israeli with whom we were doing business and who knows we are Christian leaders. He asked, "Why is the Church silent?" This Jewish man, born in Israel and who has fought in three wars to defend his country, was mystified why Christians worldwide were not speaking out against the injustices being committed against Israel. In fact he quoted instances of church leaders condemning Israel for the current situation.
Amos' argument was one we have heard from several Israelis. Their reasoning goes like this. "The Palestinians asked for authority to rule their own people. In the Oslo Accords we agreed to work towards this with them so that they could one day have their own state. We agreed to them forming the Palestinian Authority: they have issued their own stamps, have their own government, their own police force, their own airport.
"Then when Ehud Barak was our prime minister he offered them all the land in the West Bank where they have towns and villages, and even offered them part of Jerusalem for their capital. But they refused this best deal they have been offered. While all this was going on we discovered they had been stockpiling weapons, sophisticated weapons through secret tunnels, and even bringing them in by ship. Weapons they now use against us hoping to destroy our nation. How can we trust them?"
Some months ago as tension was snowballing throughout Israel and many Jewish people were asking what of the future, the Jerusalem Post featured an article by a rabbi declaring that the only answer to Israel's crisis is prayer. Then a few days ago another rabbi called Israel to a day of prayer and fasting. Christians, Jews and Arabs responded throughout the nation.
Today, God in his love and mercy is calling intercessors worldwide to stand in the gap on behalf of Israel and the Arab people. Congregations of Messianic Jews and Arab Christians throughout the land are holding prayer meetings: praying for the leaders, calling on the Lord for his mercy upon the people and pleading for peace.
Too often Christians look at the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis through their own prejudices. They have reasons for favouring one party or the other and frequently justify those prejudices. We need to see the situation through biblical eyes. God is seeking a righteous nation in Israel whom he plans to be a light to the gentiles.
God promised Moses the nation would be scattered out of the land for their sin8 and he also promised a time of regathering from the four corners of the earth to the land he covenanted to Abraham, Isaac and his descendants. He is precise: "I will gather them to their own land not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord."9
God has spoken strongly against Israel's sin which he describes as "profaning my holy name"10 but nevertheless continues to declare repeatedly that "I will . . ." regather, make holy and restore the nation to himself. The nation will be raised from the grave as dry bones restored to life.11
Paul describes God's purposes for both the Church and Israel. Addressing the Gentiles Paul writes: "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved . . . ."12 Paul also points us to the Church's responsibility towards Israel: provoking them to jealousy.13
But what of the Arabs? God specifically promised Abraham that he would bless both sons, Isaac and Ishmael, and their descendants, but uniquely promises the covenant line will be established through Isaac.14
In the magnificent scene God revealed to Isaiah of the day when Israel is restored to himself, when nations are attracted to the Lord in the nation of Israel, we discover that they are living with the Arab people. Midian and Ephah are Abraham's sons to Keturah, Kedar and Nebaioth are Ishmael's eldest sons: their descendants are living in harmony with the descendants of Isaac. The Jews and the Arabs are redeemed; they know the Saviour and are living according to his will.15
We need to pray for this glorious day when the eyes of the blind are opened and all see the glory of the Lord.