by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 19 August 20th 2008
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
Ehud Olmert is going after only two and a half years as
Prime Minister. It is hardly unexpected in Israel. He became
very unpopular because of his mishandling of the recent
Lebanon War. Many accused him of rushing into that conflict
without proper preparation or a wise strategy. In the end it
was the corruption charges which brought him down, although
he claims to have answers to them. He admitted to making
will not contest the Kadima party leadership elections on
September 17th but he may actually remain in post
until February 2009. This is because the two favourites to
succeed him: Tzipi Livni (Foreign Minister) and Shaul Moraz
(Transportation Minister) may find it difficult to set up a
new inter-party coalition and a general election would be
important question is what this means for the peace process
in the Holy Land. He has not succeeded in settling the
border between Israel and the Palestinians.
Olmert is determined to press on with the peace process,
even though he has been criticised in the past for focusing
on them to increase his popularity. Now critics are saying
he will try to achieve something merely in order to leave a
more positive impression behind him, including over the
Golan Heights with Syria and over dividing Jerusalem.
Previous Israeli prime ministers have been similarly
THE ISRAEL-HAMAS CEASEFIRE
ceasefire has been maintained in general although rockets
have been fired from Gaza into Israel and the Israelis have
retaliated by temporarily closing the border. There have
also been terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, two perpetrated by
Palestinian drivers of construction vehicles.
late July a series of explosions in Gaza killed four Hamas
activists and injured 80 others. Hamas blamed Fatah and
attacked Fatah establishments in Gaza with 11 people being
killed. 180 Fatah people fled to Israel where some needed
medical treatment. This all proved a humiliation for Hamas
which claims to be in control of Gaza. The organisation has
lost some popularity because it is seen as being oppressive
and violent towards its opponents.
However, Hamas will, as expected, be building up its arsenal
of weapons. It may well now have the capability to force
Jewish communities near Gaza to move out which would be a
interesting story has come to light. Masab, the son of Sheik
Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank has become a
Christian. He assisted his father politically for many
years. He is quoted as saying: "You Jews should be aware:
You will never, but never have peace with Hamas. Islam, as
the ideology that guides them, will not allow them to
achieve a peace agreement with the Jews. They believe that
tradition says that the Prophet Mohammed fought against the
Jews and that therefore they must continue to fight them to
the death .... An entire society sanctifies death and the
suicide terrorists. In Palestinian culture a suicide
terrorist becomes a hero, a martyr. Sheikhs tell their
students about the 'heroism of the shaheeds [martyrs].'"
THE ISRAEL-FATAH PEACE TALKS
July 13th Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas met in Paris
together with the French President. The question is whether
Olmert will be able to achieve something lasting in
negotiations before he leaves office. The history of such
negotiations suggests that this could happen. Agreements
which appear to be shelved when a prime minister leaves
office have been revived by subsequent negotiators. This
happened in the case of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.
However, one thing which Olmert and his predecessors have
failed to do is to take the Arab Peace Initiative seriously.
The Israeli cabinet has not even considered it. Yet it was
offering normal relations with the 22 members of the Arab
League. One new positive sign is that King Abdullah of Saudi
Arabia held an interfaith conference in Madrid on July 17th
and invited Jewish participation.
There is a sad history of Israel not taking such moderate
Arab initiatives seriously. King Khaled of Saudi Arabia
offered to recognise Israel in 1975 if a Palestinian state
were established. The 1981 Arab summit offered the same
(adding a requirement of compensation or repatriation of
Palestinian refugees). Saudi Arabia repeated the offer in
2002 and again in 2007.
About a week ago Olmert offered a detailed peace plan to
That Israel would withdraw
from 93% of the West Bank
That Israel would exchange
the extra 7% of land for 5% of what is now Israeli
territory plus a corridor between the west Bank and Gaza
(which would remain Israeli territory but allow free
However Abbas has rejected this because it didn’t offer a
united Palestinian state with contiguous borders and with
Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel has also agreed to release 200 Palestinian Fatah
prisoners to bolster Abbas’ position and to indicate that
his negotiating approach achieves results unlike the violent
approach of Hamas. Abbas threatened to dismantle the
Palestinian Authority if Israel released any Hamas
Olmert’s recent detailed peace plan would mean that about
220,000 Jewish settlers in 48 settlements would remain on
the 7% of Palestinian land which would be transferred to
Israel. A further 70,000 in 74 settlements east of the
security fence/wall would have to move out. Most of the
latter are hardliners who may well resort to violence.
is important to distinguish between the majority of settlers
who are law-abiding and non-violent from the minority – many
of them young – who resort to violence. When we lived in
Jerusalem some of my Jewish staff lived in settlements like
Ma’aleh Adumim. These were sincere followers of Christ
(Messianic Believers) who would reject violence (except in a
proper military context). But they did not see anything
wrong in living in a settlement. They probably regarded what
the world calls the West Bank as Judea and Samaria,
legitimate parts of Israel. Such people should not be
associated with the violence of the extreme minority of
settlers. It should also be noted that soem settlements are
large well-established towns.
However, the behaviour of the violent settlers, normally
living in smaller settlements, is shameful. Settler attacks
on Palestinians include:
People, including children,
being shot at, stoned, beaten and being injured by hit
and run car drivers.
Homes being stoned and
Crops being uprooted,
burned, destroyed by flocks of settlers’ animals being
let loose on Palestinian land or by settlers’ tractor
Palestinian farmers being
prevented from accessing their land including at harvest
Assaults on mosques,
including settlers playing loud music on the roof during
times of prayer.
report 429 incidents of settler violence in the
first half of 2008, compared with 587 incidents in all of
2006 and 551 in 2007. Sadly, the Israelis admit that some
police, and soldiers turn a blind eye to this behaviour.
a related issue the Israeli High Court criticised the
government for ignoring the court’s ruling of a year ago to
change the route of the fence/wall running through lands
belonging to Bil’in villagers.
Similarly, an Israeli military court indicted Lt. Col. Omri
Borberg because one of his soldiers fired a rubber bullet at
point blank range at the legs of a shackled and blindfolded
Iran now claims to have planes which could reach Israel
without requiring refuelling. The American government is
discouraging Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities
and says that, in any case, they would not be able to
achieve that mission without repeated strikes, unlike
Israeli attacks on such facilities in Iraq and Syria.
For the Palestinian people
who suffer at the hands of violent settlers.
For Israel at a time of
political uncertainty and that God will use Ehud
Olmert’s remaining time in power to further peace and
That a new prime minister
will be elected who will also further peace and justice.
For the continuation of the
For God to prosper those
Palestinians working for peace with justice.
For those suffering from the
effects of violence: fear, pain, bereavement.
For God’s purposes in the
Middle East to be furthered even in these years of
tortuous and fragile negotiation.