by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 13 August 24th 2007
Ministries encourages Christians to understand and pray
about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, seeing it through
the eyes of both people groups involved, and taking the
needs, fear and pain of both sides seriously. Its director,
the Rev Tony Higton, who was Rector of a church in the Old
City of Jerusalem for a number of years, circulates this
email newsletter, speaks at seminars and encourages support
of indigenous reconciliation ministry in Jerusalem. The
is available free on request to those who add their email
address to our Newsletter update list, available on the top
of the 'Newsletter'
page. Alternatively, send your email address and name to
us via our online
Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
There are distinct signs of hope in the conflict in the Holy
Land, with a great deal of talking going on and various
positive actions being taken. However, moves towards peace
are, as always, painfully slow, frustrating and fraught with
The Palestinian situation
There is no love lost between the two main Palestinian
factions: Fatah and Hamas. President Mahmoud Abbas has made
scathing criticisms of Hamas, condemning their brutality in
taking over Gaza and accusing them of planning to
assassinate him. He refuses dialogue with “these
murderers.” Unlike Hamas, he claims, he stands for a
single, democratic homeland ruled by law and order, not
violence, whereas Hamas serve Iran and aim at an Islamic
Fatah has detained many Hamas people in the West Bank. It
has also gained control of militant Islamic organisations,
hitherto controlled by Hamas. Abbas ordered all unarmed
non-government groups to obtain new operating licences -
within one week! However, he is up against the fact that
some of these Hamas welfare organisations provide
much-needed support for increasingly poor Palestinians. The
government has limited financial resources available. Abbas
also outlawed all non-government armed groups. There are
fears that Hamas might stage strategic assassinations in the
West Bank. Fatah claims that Hamas was behind an
assassination attempt on Abbas. Then Abbas sentenced the
Hamas Security Executive in Gaza to up to seven years jail.
In reply, Hamas accused Fatah of corruption, collaboration
with Israeli security and Western loose morality. Ismail
Haniya, deposed as Prime Minister by Abbas, denied the
assassination allegation and that Iran had any influence in
their take over of Gaza.
Hamas has been improving its military strength with more
Qassam rockets and it is thought that soon it will obtain
Katyushas with 20 kilometers range, and larger warheads. It
has some 13,000 armed and disciplined guerillas.
The Palestinian Christian situation
In his criticisms of Hamas, Abbas said it hadn’t even
respected Christian churches, having looted and burnt down
one of the oldest churches. “There are Christians among us,”
he said, “and they are our brothers, and now we discover
that [according to Hamas] they are enemies and must leave
[Palestine]?!... This is a mark of shame on the Palestinian
On June 19, masked Hamas gunmen looted and burnt down the
Rosary Sisters convent and school. "The torching of the
convent," Abbas said, "is one of the rotten fruits of this
black coup perpetrated by the Hamas militias. Blinded by
fanaticism... they broke the law and desecrated the holy
places and houses of worship of our Christian Palestinian
One Christian in Gaza said: "We are afraid of being
attacked... If I get the chance to leave the country, I will
not hesitate to do so. Someone from the [Hamas] Executive
Force tore the crucifix from my neck, saying: 'That is
forbidden.' Then he added: 'Islam is the solution.'"
Hamas official Nizar Rayyan announced that the secular era
in Gaza had ended. “Today heresy ends. Today the struggle is
between Islam and the infidels, and it will end with the
victory of the faith.... How can we not fight against those
who desecrate the sanctity of Allah, execute clerics and
sell out the Palestinian cause – those who blasphemed in
houses of worship, burned mosques, Korans and [Islamic]
education facilities and executed jihad fighters? We will
hold dialogue with these [people] only through the barrels
of our guns."
However, Ismail Haniya, claimed that Hamas was not seeking
to create an Islamic emirate in Gaza.
The Israeli-Palestinian dialogue
On June 25th Israel, and the Palestinian
Authority, together with Egypt and Jordan, met at Sharm
el-Sheikh in a summit aimed at strengthening Abbas
politically. Ehud Olmert announced he would release 250
Palestinian prisoners unconditionally. The PA has also
begun to co-operate with Israel on security matters in the
West Bank. Abbas asked Olmert to allow the 15,000-strong,
Jordan-based Palestinian Badr Brigade to enter the West Bank
to aid security.
Subsequently, Olmert offered to negotiate with Abbas towards
an “Agreement of Principles” which are likely to include:
The establishment of a Palestinian state on 90% of the
West Bank and Gaza.
Exchange of territory from Israel to the Palestinians to
cover the other 10% (key Jewish settlements).
Building a tunnel (and/or bridge) to connect the West
Bank and Gaza directly.
The Palestinians declaring Jerusalem as their capital
(with Israel withdrawing from Arab parts of East
The very difficult matters of final borders, Jerusalem and
the return of Palestinian refugees will be left until later.
Olmert and Abbas have arranged a series of meetings leading
up to a conference in Washington later in the year. The
moderate Arab states are rather sceptical about this
conference succeeding and there is some doubt about Saudi
Arabia’s involvement. Israel is no longer
demanding full recognition by these Arab states but rather a
gradual rapprochement with the Arab League.
Meanwhile Israel is seeking further financial support for
Abbas from the Quartet (the US, UK, UN and Russia).
Israel has also agreed to:
Release the frozen Palestinian taxes (customs duties and
VAT). $118 million has already been returned.
Continue humanitarian aid (water, food, medicine,
electricity) to Gaza, which is still economically
dependent on Israel.
Allow greater access to Israel for Palestinians
Allow rifles and armoured cars to be transferred to
Fatah forces in the West Bank.
Evacuate illegal settlement outposts this year.
Return control of law and order in Area B (where the IDF
controls security) to the Palestinians.
However Israel is not yet removing roadblocks in Palestinian
areas because of opposition from the army. Also it is still
the case that about a third of the areas controlled by
settlements is on Palestinian land.
The Arab Initiatives
The moderate Arab nations are against the potential division
of Palestine between Fatah and Hamas, and seek
reconciliation between the two factions.
In a remarkable move,
the Jordanian and Egyptian Foreign Ministers visited
Jerusalem to promote the Arab Peace Initiative. The former
said: "Israel has always said that it was to be accepted in
this region and to be part of it. The Arab Peace Initiative
grants precisely this," "This is a collective offer [from
the 56 members of the Arab League]s ... this will be an
important achievement for the region and a historic
opportunity for Israel." The entire Islamic Organization
Conference, barring Iran, are supporting this. The US has
also expressed support for the Arab Peace Initiative.
The window of opportunity
It is encouraging to remember the various factors which
favour the present window of opportunity:
The moderate Arab nations are worried about Iran’s bid
to become a regional superpower and the effect of this
(and of Hamas’ success) on their own extreme Islamist
opposition groups. They fear the consequences of a US
withdrawal from Iraq which could produce a dominant
Shi’ite Islamist force in the region. This could
threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and
perhaps also Egypt.
Both Olmert and Abbas are in a weak position politically
and need to be bolstered by achieving something in the
peace process. (However, Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud
Barak claims that Abbas is not a credible partner for
Both of them also realize that it is important to
undermine Hamas’ popularity and success. It seems
obvious to many that this will not be achieved by
sanctions but by improving the lot of the Palestinians
in the West Bank. They must be set free from the
disastrous economic situation, unemployment and other
traumatic problems. Abbas needs to build a good social
welfare system in the West Bank.
Israel realizes it cannot fully defend itself against
Hamas and Hezbollah rocket attacks, even with the new
Iron Dome anti-missile system it will have operational
in 18 months time. An additional factor is that fighting
against these groups is extremely expensive for Israel.
The hindrances to the peace process
There are still many obstacles to a really successful peace
The ideological/religious opposition amongst the
Palestinians and other Arabs to the Israeli state, which
will remain, despite pragmatic and mutually-beneficial
moves towards peace.
The divisive tendencies (and corruption) within
Palestinian society which militate against successful
The extremism of Iran.
The tensions between Israel and Syria. Each country is
seeking to reassure the other that it does not intend to
go to war. But each is quite paranoid and so is making
many military preparations. The danger is of an
unintentional war caused by misunderstanding of each
How should we pray?
This is crucial time in the relationship between Israel, the
Palestinians and the Arab states. We need to pray earnestly
for all the parties concerned:
For continuation of talks leading to positive action
between the Israelis and the Palestinians
For God to prosper the efforts of Olmert, Abbas and the
moderate Arab leaders to make peace and to give them his
For God to prosper Palestinian state-building efforts.
For God to frustrate the intentions and efforts of
extremists on all sides: extreme right wing Jewish
Israelis, Palestinian terrorists, Iranian and Syrian
extremists, groups such as Al Quaeda, etc.
For God to grant wisdom to all who influence the
situation, including Western powers who sometimes lack
understanding of the outlook of those in the Middle
For God to transform Christians who hold extreme views:
extreme Christian Zionists who neglect or are negative
towards the Palestinians and extreme pro-Palestinian
groups who are negative towards Israel.
For a growth in contact and understanding between Jewish
Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
For a massive improvement in the economic conditions of
Palestinians and for a clearing out of corruption in
For the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.
For the welfare of Christians under pressure in Gaza.
For a relaxation of the tension between Israel and
Syria, and for talks between the two.
I hope to be in touch with you soon about new developments
in Paradox, including a website full of valuable information
and a somewhat new and improved approach to the ministry.