Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reflections on the Israel-Gaza Conflict

Israel and Palestine supporters butt heads in downtown Toronto

People who know me would tell you that I'm a very opinionated person. I have strong views on a lot of religious/political/social issues (it comes with being INFJ, methinks). So when it comes to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, one would think that I have some really firm opinions on the matter. However, the fact is that I don't. And it's not because I'm not well-studied on the issue. I've done plenty of reading on the conflict, and my Facebook newsfeed is regularly inundated by posts both by ardent pro-Israel and pro-Palestine people. So in articulating my views, I will tend to be much more nuanced and tentative. My personal views perhaps comes closest to those presented by Nicholas Kristoff, who finds plenty of blame to go around for both Israel and Palestine. I'm certainly not going to please any of the hardliners, whether they are on the side of Israel or on the side of Palestine. I have to call it as it is, and I'm prepared to take whatever criticism anyone on either side of the issue wants to hurl at me.

Let me begin by saying that in principle, I believe that everyone--Jewish or Arab--should have the right to a safe home without fear of genocide or racial discrimination. That would lead me to some kind of binational solution in the long term, though there are way too many complications at the present moment for that to be a feasible solution in the short term. My heart goes out to all of the people on both sides who are living daily in fear and trepidation because of the constant rain of bombs and missiles upon them. Nobody should have to live in that kind of situation, and the death of a Palestinian youth due to rocket fire should be considered no less tragic than the death of any Israeli who gets killed under similar circumstances. I've seen the pictures of mangled bodies, and it's horrible to have to look at. It just brings out the reality that war is hell, and no nation should ever treat war as a trivial thing--something that gets lost in this world of warhawks and militarist demagogues. If anyone here has my disdain and contempt, it is those who are at work to perpetuate the war, whichever side they may be on.

Now, there is plenty of blame to go around. The spreading of media misinformation is particularly deplorable. I for one do not believe every graphic image or video that appears on my newsfeed, because I am aware that there is a whole industry dedicated to fabricating such videos. There are real atrocities that take place down there, to be sure, but it serves nobody (least of all the cause of peace), when these kinds of fabrications are made. It's also disheartening how facts are omitted when they don't serve someone's narrative. Those on the Palestinian side will speak, for example, about how the IDF kills children in Gaza, but are strangely silent when it comes to Hamas doing the same thing

Also, much is made about the fact that 80 percent of casualties are unarmed non-combatants. While that is undoubtedly tragic, it is actually unremarkable in the history of warfare. Historically, 80 to 90 percent of war casualties are civilians. Sometimes the military deliberately targets civilians (the Nanking Massacre comes to mind), and other times it is simply collateral damage. Which one is it, in this case? I have to say that it's a bit of both. There have been cases of IDF soldiers deliberately targeting civilians (for example, see this). If there is any integrity among IDF's high command, I would hope that those who commit these kinds of attacks are duly court martialed, and that other soldiers are restrained from similar acts. I would also hope that these kinds of incidents are the outliers and not the norm (whether or not that is the case, I cannot determine). In any case, it is precisely these kinds of incidents that reveal the horrors of war--the deliberate targeting of civilians, not just combatants.

Just as horrifying is the kind of racism and xenophobia that is bred among both sides, and is then passed on to the children. Who hasn't seen the videos of children's shows used to brainwash Palestinian kids with Hamas ideology? Unfortunately, something similar seems to be taking place among Israeli youth, as evidenced by the large number of tweets calling for death to Arabs. With this kind of xenophobia being passed on to the next generations, it seems that the prospects for a lasting peace seem rather bleak indeed.

Finally, I want to speak briefly on the Christian dimension to the conflict. It should be known to everyone that there are Christians on both sides of the conflict--Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians. Ministries such as Musalaha are aimed at bringing these believers together in order to promote peace and reconciliation between them. This would seem to me to be the most biblical approach to the conflict As the apostle Paul said, "strive to be at peace with all people"  (Romans 12:18).

This seems to be lost among those Dispensational Premillennialist Evangelicals who see the modern state of Israel as being a fundamental component of God's plan to bring about the second coming of Christ. As a Reformed Christian who is Postmillennial in eschatology, I have grave disagreements with this theology, which I will hopefully speak more on in the near future, Lord willing. In the meantime, I would like to kindly refer to reader to this article by R.C. Sproul Jr., which sums up my thoughts on this theology. Suffice to say, this theology has caused many western Evangelicals to uncritically accept whatever Israel does (as if God had granted infallibility to their political leaders!).

Worse yet, they seem to have no qualms about completely writing off all the Arabs, even throwing the Christians among them under the bus. They seem to think that their very existence is some sort of mistake. However, as Palestinian Christian theologian Derek Rishmawy has pointed out, "as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham’s mistake: I am God’s choice in Christ." See also this Arab Christian girl's appeal to western Christians not to look at modern national Israel as some sort of immaculate entity that could do no wrong. God forbid that we forget these brothers and sisters for the sake of some Dispensational dream of rapture and tribulation. Christians should remember that before we can do good for the world around us, we must first take care of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

That's pretty much my take on the Israel/Palestine debate. I'm sure that by now, I've stepped on a sufficient number of toes. Maybe I'll change my mind and take a firmer stand on one side or the other. Who knows? What I do know is that this is not a simple matter, and I encourage people not to oversimplify the politics of the region.