Several years ago I had the privilege of taking a dozen Western Seminary students to
Israel to participate in three-week study program at Jerusalem University College. We had
a wonderful experience of touring the land, visiting the biblical sites, and learning about
the geography, history, and culture of the biblical world. Having taking many students to
Israel over the last ten years, I am convinced that a study program in Israel is one of the
best investments a Christian can make to prepare for studying and teaching the Bible.
There were many special highlights during the trip–visiting Bethlehem two days after a 30-
day siege at the Church of the Nativity; a hike into the wilderness of Judea; and an
evening communion service on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. But one of the most
educational and instructive experiences was an opportunity toward the end of our visit to
discuss the controversy over the Holy Land with representatives of the people who live
there–a Jew, an Arab, and a Palestinian Christian.
Jonathon Kaplan is a Jew from the United States who immigrated to Israel as a young
man, became an Israeli citizen and has served in the Israeli army. Jon gave us a stirring
lecture on the history of the Holy Land since the Roman period, highlighting Israel’s War
of Independence in 1948. He took us to Castel, the site of fierce fighting between the
Israelis and the Arabs as both groups sought to control the road leading from the coast to
Jerusalem. John explained that the Jews who had survived the holocaust had established
the State of Israel as a refuge for all Jewish people facing antisemitism and persecution
throughout the world. He explained that much of the land now called Israel was purchased
from absentee landlords for the purpose of establishing Israeli settlements in Israel. Other
parts of the land were conquered by warfare. And parts were annexed to the State of
Israel after Jordan abandoned any claim to the West Bank territory.
Jon, and many Jews like him, believe that the Jewish people have an absolute right to the
land of Israel. These Israelis are prepared to fight and die for this land, for, as Jon said,
“We have nowhere else to go.”
Issa Jaber is an Israeli Arab, a Moslem, who received his citizenship when he found
himself living in Israel after the War of Independence in 1948. He resides in the city of
Abu Gosh, a prosperous community which boasts a blended population of Jews, Arabs
and Christians. Issa is involved community politics and gives leadership to an
organization which works for tolerance and coexistence among Moslems, Jews, and
Christians. He notes that in spite of Arab-Israeli conflict and violence in the surrounding
regions, there has been no such problems in Abu Gosh.
Living within the State of Israel has been good for Arabs who are fortunate enough to
possess Israeli citizenship. They have freedom to travel, voting rights, and opportunities
which are denied Arabs living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. And the existence of a
peaceful, Arab city very near Jerusalem has been good for Israeli Jews. On the day we
visited Abu Gosh we saw Jews filling Arab restaurants for a Sabbath lunch. Arab food is
delicious and the Arab waiters are the world’s leading experts in hospitality and food
service. Yes, the falafels--filled with lettuce, pickles and humus--were delicious!
Issa acknowledge the problem of extremists on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but
he did not want to dwell on this subject long. The main point of his visit with us is that the
community of Abu Gosh demonstrates that it is possible for Arabs and Jews to live
together in peace and enjoy a mutual benefit from a multi-cultural co-existence.
Dr. Alex Awad is a Palestinian Christian, educated in the United States, who serves as a
teacher and administrator at Bethlehem Bible College. Alex experienced the suffering and
personal tragedy resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict when his own father was killed in
the fighting that followed Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. More recently, he has
experienced the suffering of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem when the Israeli Defense
Force has entered the city, imposed curfews, and attacked suspected terrorists.
Sadly, Christians are often caught in the middle of the Arab-Israeli conflict and suffer
greatly. Many have lost their jobs and sources of income as violence has paralyzed the
economy and frightened away tourists. One Palestinian Christian I met had fled from his
home because of shelling and shooting between militant Palestinians and Israelis. I asked
what hope he had for a better situation for his family. He replied, “There is no future here.
The only hope for my family is to immigrate to America.”
Alex places the blame for the current conflict squarely on the State of Israel. “Building
Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories is the ultimate terrorism,” he says. He goes
on to blame the U.S. for supporting Israel and for failing to solve the problems of the
It is easy to be an expert on the issues confronting the Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians in
the Holy Land . . . until you meet them and hear their stories. The Jews suffered in
Europe during the holocaust. The Arabs suffered the loss of homes and property when
Israel became a State. Palestinians, both Christian and Moslem, continue to suffer due to
oppressive and sometimes excessive measures taking by the Israelis in defense of Jewish
civilians and settlers.
I asked Rida Abdeen, a Moslem shop keeper in the Old City of Jerusalem, for his solution
to the problem. He identified three issues that must be resolved before the Arabs will
make peace with Israel. First, Israel must stop building homes and settlements in
Palestinian (West Bank) territories and give back the lands that have been taken.
Second, Israel must grant Palestinians authority over the Old City of Jerusalem. Third,
Israel must allow the refugees from the War of Independence and Six Day War the right
to return to their lands or be compensated for their losses.
What solution do the Jews suggest? They are desperate for an end to the bombings and
violence. A physical barrier–a fence--is currently being built to seal off Israel from Arab
occupied regions and protect Israeli citizens from terrorists attacks. Should Israel give the
West Bank to the Arabs? Jonathan Kaplan’s answer is a resounding, “No! They fought us
and lost the war.” While some Israeli Jews are willing to give up “land for peace,” the last
two years of suicide bombings have dampened the peace movement. Jewish settlers
demand all of “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank) as the land promised by God to His
people. The Israeli Jews are united in their unwillingness to consider giving up the Old
City of Jerusalem.
I asked a Palestinian Christian the same question, “What is the solution to the problem,”
and he replied, “The Second Coming of Jesus.” I have to agree with him. The coming of
the Lord is the ultimate solution to this problem. For when Jesus comes, he will
inaugurate a kingdom which will protect the rights and interests of everyone. Yes, God
promised the Holy Land to the people of Israel (Gen. 12:1. 13:15. 15:18). But they will
receive that Land when they become a repentant, believing people (Ezek. 36:24-28, Jer.
31:31-40). That hasn’t happened yet. And when God grants the Promised Land to Israel,
He will do it with justice and fairness for all peoples, including the resident aliens who live
among the people of Israel (Ezek. 47:22).
As visitors in the Holy Land, how should we relate to the Israelis and Arabs (both Moslem
and Christian) who are engaged in this conflict? First, recognize that there are two sides
to every conflict. As visitors and observers, we need to keep our eyes and ears open and
our mouth mostly shut. Try to learn from each person you speak with about this conflict.
Second, recognize that both the Arabs and the Jews have historic family roots in the land.
Many Arabs and Jews can trace their family roots back hundreds of years. Third,
recognize that both the Arabs (both Christian and Moslem) and the Jews have suffered
considerably through this conflict. Many have lost family members. This is an emotional
and personal issue, not just political or religious. Fourth, remember that while God has
promised the land to Israel for duration of the Millennium, Israel today is a secular,
unbelieving State. When God grants the Land to his believing people, it will be with justice
and consideration for all the residents in the land, both Jewish and non-Jewish. We
should be careful not to expect kingdom conditions to prevail in this present church age.
Fifth, appreciate the fact that there are no simple solutions to this issue. The problem is
unbelievably complex and intensely emotional. It will take strong and courageous
leadership to bring about a peaceful resolution to this conflict in our day. Finally, as the
psalmist said, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). And let’s especially
remember to pray our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered
greatly as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
|Reflections on the Land of Israel
by J. Carl Laney
View of the Dome of the Rock from the Mount of Olives