How do we not lose our evangelical souls in the Middle East? While we will not always agree on how to carry out our responsibilities in the public and political spheres, one thing we must commit to is equally critiquing all parties involved in a conflict…Yes, Israel policies have sometimes increased Palestinian suffering and have been injurious but Arab governments themselves have also contributed to this situation—Egypt has closed their own borders and tunnels to Gaza and has kept aid from getting in. And so has Hamas, who hid their soldiers at Al Shifa hospital, and who Palestinians themselves accuse of gross mismanagement, corruption and violence towards anyone who opposes them.
The current war between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas continues to ratchet up heat surrounding the most polarizing issue in our world today. As Christians observing all this, our response can sometimes produce more heat than light but recently published articles like this one are well-intentioned attempts to navigate through difficult and complex current events.
Most Christians would agree that the events in the Middle East are more than political and military engagements—indeed, they also engage, at their core, moral questions concerning violence, justice and power. But the difficulty for Christians—and where the debate really lies—is the movement from moral principles to public policy. Suddenly, biblical principles struggle to shine with their eternal clarity as they bog down in the muck of a sinful world. A complicated issue is made more complicated as a result.
Some have rightly argued that Dispensational theology—a recent invention in two millennia of theological reflection—has given rise to a carte blanche treatment of modern Israel and its policies towards Palestinians and Arabs. If the modern, political state of Israel is indeed the prophetic outcome of the Scriptures, it makes sense to prejudicially side with the eternal victors as a moral “right.” But modern, secular Israel is not a fulfillment of prophecy and Christians should be rebuked for embracing a position so poorly supported in the Scriptures themselves while ignoring or minimizing the plight of non-Jews made in His image that have suffered greatly throughout the Middle East.
But woe to Christians and anyone else who swing the pendulum so far the other way that they generate further confusion. And because there is currently so much misinformation lobbed at us regarding Israel, it deserves an informed response. It has been argued, for instance, that because Zionism—the 19th century movement to create a homeland for Jews that eventually culminated in the establishment of Israel in 1948—is a secular enterprise, “Orthodox” and “Torah Jews” are even today opposed to the State of Israel as a secular, political entity. This is proclaimed as evidence that Zionism, despite its current success, isn’t supported by religious Judaism but the facts do not bear that out.
While many Orthodox Jews did oppose Zionism before World War II, the Holocaust changed all that. And just three years ago, Pew Research noted that support for the state of Israel is actually strongest among Orthodox Jews.
Another common assertion is as follows: when Israel was founded in 1948, Israelis immediately practiced “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” by “forcibly” removing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Arabs from their land (it is also claimed this happened again in 1967). What isn’t given is proper context—the day after Israel declared its independence, Arab nations surrounding Israel launched a surprise assault in a united effort to sweep the Jews out to the sea (and it was war—in this case the “Six Dar War”—that preceded the 1967 refugee crisis as well). It also ignores the historical facts that many of those who left did so on their own accord either out of fear of reprisal or because they rejected the possibility of co-existence with Jews.
It is morally troubling when assertions are made in such a way as to place moral blame almost solely on the Jews without understanding context and history. The pursuit of a homeland is about more than a secular 19th century philosophy but about freedom from constant persecution. Jews have been a minority for two millennia and wherever they have lived, persecution has followed them like a shadow.
There were the pogroms of 19th century Russia. There was the Farhud (Arabic for “violent dispossession”) of 1941 Baghdad, home to an ancient Jewish community 2500 years old, where Arabs committed barbaric atrocities similar to those perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th towards Israelis. And of course the Holocaust that killed six million Jews, which did more to unite differing Jewish opinion on Israel than anything else. Jews have repeatedly been expelled from their lands and have come to Israel not as colonizers but as refugees. The feeling of being hunted and hated is ever present.
Second, those opposed to Israel often use the “moral equivalency” fallacy. It goes like this: “A has done bad things but so has B. So B (in this case, Israel) is no better than A (Hamas).” For example, it has been said “Jews have their own terrorist organizations like Irgun,” ignoring the fact they were dismantled seventy years ago. Or Israel is accused of genocide (while citing no evidence they are seeking to kill a whole people group) so that they are made to look no better than those seeking to kill them.
No, let us be crystal clear here—Israel is nothing like Hamas. Let us not forget the charter of Hamas—its “constitution” and guiding document—which set out quite publicly its intention to destroy Israel and Jews when it said, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
We now know that on October 7th—in the largest loss of life of Jews since the Holocaust—Hamas committed beheadings, extreme sexual violence (mutilating sexual organs in addition to rape) and torture (though there are still people, just like the Holocaust deniers before them, who deny this and accuse Jews of fabrication).
It isn’t Israel that seeks to practice genocide (despite those now claiming Israelis are now “Nazis” in this war) but those who oppose them who are committed to obliterating their very existence.
Today, in the U.S and around the world, antisemitism is on the rise. In the U.S., in the last year alone, incidents of violence, hate speech and similar behavior is up nearly 400% among Jews while anti-Muslim acts have risen only slightly. The chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” which calls for the elimination of Israel and its Jews, is chanted freely in the streets by millions worldwide. College campuses, bastions of far-left politics, have been the scenes of violence towards Jews at places like Harvard and Tulane University while the presidents of Harvard, MIT and University of Pennsylvania, under oath this week in Congressional testimony, couldn’t bring themselves to admit that calling for the genocide of Jews in speech violates codes of conduct and ethics on their campuses.
Meanwhile, on those same campuses, if you “misgender” a trans student, you are guilty of violence and hate towards that student and are then punished. Such is the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of our times.
So, how do we not lose our evangelical souls in the Middle East? While we will not always agree on how to carry out our responsibilities in the public and political spheres, one thing we must commit to is equally critiquing all parties involved in a conflict (Israel is under a microscope in the global community so we don’t have to wonder if they will be critiqued). Yes, Israel policies have sometimes increased Palestinian suffering and have been injurious but Arab governments themselves have also contributed to this situation—Egypt has closed their own borders and tunnels to Gaza and has kept aid from getting in. And so has Hamas, who hid their soldiers at Al Shifa hospital, and who Palestinians themselves accuse of gross mismanagement, corruption and violence towards anyone who opposes them. We must ensure that we do not create double standards concerning morality.
Violence in the Middle East is intractable, it seems, this side of the New Heavens and New Earth regardless of who perpetrates it. And so as we seek with wisdom to know how to act, we must also pray, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!”
Scott Armstrong is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America is Lead Pastor at City Church-Eastside (PCA) in Atlanta, Ga.