by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 27 June 3rd 2010
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
What really happened on the
terrible tragedy of May 31st shocked and
horrified all decent people. The majority laid the blame
squarely on the Israelis and it was seen as another example
of Israel’s crimes.
But how are
we Christians to respond to such an event? Surely, it is to
follow the way of Christ. That does not mean always being
“gentle, meek and mild.” That is a children’s hymnwriter’s
definition of Christlikeness. (I don’t know of any hymn
which explicitly praises Jesus condemning religious
hypocrities as an evil “brood of vipers,” ‘sons of Hell’,
and ‘whitewashed tombs’!) It is not un-Christlike to
perfect discernment but he was not judgmental, in fact he
condemned judgmentalism. Our discernment is imperfect, as is
our knowledge. If Israel really deserves to be condemned, so
be it. But is that the case? Is it the whole story? For the
passionate Christian Zionist and the passionate
pro-Palestinian activist the conclusion is clear. But we
need to avoid such extremes (see my article below).
If we are
going to be Christlike we shall:
until we have an adequate knowledge of the facts.
Listen to both
Try to identify
with the fears and pain of both sides.
an appropriate response.
writing this extra newsletter now because of this major
trauma. We may not know all the significant facts. But here
are some of them:
ON THE FLOTILLA’S
The activists were
justified in taking a stand against Israel’s treatment of
the Gazans which, it is widely accepted, goes beyond proper
security considerations into oppression of the people of
Gaza. This causes great suffering and even the death of
innocent people who are effectively denied medical
The activists were
justified in taking action which was guaranteed to focus
world attention on the issue.
with solely humanitarian motives were justified in risking
being arrested by Israel in order to make their point.
with solely humanitarian motives were justified in not
The ships were
still in international waters.
ON THE ISRAELI
Israel is aware
that there are groups and nations who are committed to her
destruction. Iran and Hamas are two examples and Hamas is on
Israel’s doorstep, well able to launch rocket attacks on
innocent Israeli civilians. As a sovereign nation, Israel
has a right to defend itself, and does so against the
background of almost 2000 years of anti-Semitism. It is
afraid that Gaza could in effect become an Iranian base.
Israel knows that
arms are being smuggled into Hamas-controlled Gaza and is
justified in seeking to prevent this.
justified in seeking proper control over aid reaching Gaza
to prevent it being used for armaments.
Israel warned the
flotilla not to proceed but to channel their aid via Israel.
Israel, as a
sovereign nation, has the right to prevent invasion of its
justified in thinking the flotilla included those linked
with terrorism, who had non-humanitarian motives. (The
Turkish group behind the flotilla, The Foundation for Human
Rights, Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), according to
French and Danish sources, has been involved in Islamic
extremism including an attempted bombing of an airport in
have a right to defend themselves, including with guns, if
their lives are seriously threatened (which appears to have
been the case. The troops were faced with a crowd armed with
metal pipes, knives and stun grenades. Israel claims they
also had night-vision goggles, gas masks and life vests).
However, it has to be
said that, although Israel allows a considerable amount of
aid into Gaza, it also restricts aid, which has a very bad
effect on the people of Gaza. This is both morally wrong and
politically unwise because it only serves to bolster the
Hamas government which is committed to the ultimate
destruction of Israel.
I am no military strategist, but
it does not seem impossible to me that Israel could have
followed a safer strategy than to drop commandos out of the
sky in the middle of the night on a ship in international
waters. It left their troops very vulnerable and led to
their having to defend themselves with guns. A daylight
stand-off might have led to a peaceful negotiated
We need to pray that
God will bring
healing to those injured and bereaved through this incident.
Israel will modify
its blockade of Gaza so that humanitarian considerations
will be met.
Turkey will not
turn away from the West towards Islamic extremists in Iran
You might find the following article, which I felt inspired
to write a few days ago, helpful.
The Holy Land
conflict needs less Christian passion
remember the excitement I felt as a child that Jesus could
come at any moment and “rapture” us to heaven. I was brought
up on this view (Dispensational Premillennialism) but no
longer accept it as true to Scripture. However, it isn’t all
wrong and the New Testament does encourage us to live in the
light of the fact that “The Judge is standing at the door!”
(James 5:9), i.e. ready to come onto the world stage. In my
experience most Christians never really think much about the
Second Coming and would perhaps die of fright if it
happened. My excitement may have been somewhat excessive but
it wasn’t totally misplaced.
One of the
aspects of my excitement was over the re-establishment of
the State of Israel and the special place of the Jewish
people in God’s purposes. Here was biblical prophecy being
enacted before our very eyes. It was a sure sign that the
return of Jesus was imminent. Now I still believe much of
that, but in this article I am concentrating on the
excitement, the exhilaration which I felt then and which
many Christian Zionists feel today.
when our church in Essex had an experience shared by many
Christians around the world in the 1980s. It began out of
the blue when my wife began to experience what she described
as a “deep inner weeping” for the Jewish people. This was a
wholesome “burden of intercession” which soon affected the
whole church. With it came a love for Israel and an
exhilaration about its re-establishment and remarkable
development. It led to feeling Jewish people were special,
even holding them rather in awe. It was a very powerful
experience and much of it was good. It is interesting that
I felt it again recently as I read a Christian Zionist
magazine published in Israel. The magazine was very clear
that Israel should not give up any land to the Palestinians
and, despite the fact that I don’t agree with that, I felt
that old excitement about it.
therefore wrong to take the view I now do, favouring
reconciliation and the two-state solution? Have I
compromised and gone “liberal” or, worse still, anti-Israel,
even anti-Jewish? I take such questions seriously and don’t
just assume I’m right. In fact, I thought about it as I read
the magazine, and, as I did so, one important point became
clearer to me than ever before.
hold to much of what are called Christian Zionist views
because I believe them to be biblical. I believe the
re-establishment of Israel is very significant in God’s
purposes, that Israel’s survival and development is
remarkable and that God has a purpose for the Jewish people
in Christ. But I hold those views in a less emotional, more
of Christianity shows that if the devil can’t stop
Christians believing a truth he gets them to go overboard on
that truth in isolation from other truth, which can lead to
heresy. Passion in belief is a wonderful thing and I have
plenty of it. But emotional passion can cloud our
understanding and objectivity. This happens in belief about
the End Times in general and Israel in particular. It leads
to an unhelpful idealisation of the Jewish people and
Zionism is a powerful, inspiring legend. There is very
important truth in it but also a very idealised view of
Israel. Even after living there for some years I can still
say that Israel is a special place historically and
spiritually. It is the holy land. The re-establishment and
survival of the state and what it has achieved in many areas
of life is little short of miraculous.
Israel is also aggressive, oppressive, secularised and
anti-Christian. It persecutes Messianic Believers. It
oppresses Palestinians and even shows disrespect for Israeli
Arabs. It is at times racist. It has all the aspects of a
secular democracy: self-seeking politicking and corruption.
It is as godless as Britain. It rejects and shows contempt
for Jesus. It uses Christian Zionists as what Karl Marx
called “useful idiots” to bolster its own protection and
welfare, whilst rejecting their Saviour and Lord. Living in
Israel for a few years normally corrects the legendary
aspects of Christian Zionism. Also any idealistic view of
the Messianic Movement (Jewish believers in Jesus) is
misplaced. Its growth in the last 30 years is remarkable and
exciting. We met many wonderful believers. But the Messianic
Movement suffers from the same faults as the Gentile Church
even though some of them, like new churches in the UK, would
prefer to think otherwise.
important to remove the highly emotive legendary aspects
from Christian Zionism. By all means appreciate the
significance of the re-establishment of Israel, see it as a
partial fulfilment of prophecy, recognise it as a sign of
the End Times, and pray for its deliverance from all its
many enemies. But it is irresponsible and ultimately sinful
to float about on some End Times cloud supporting and
justifying everything Israel does. Israel is very far from
perfect as are the Jewish people. God does not call us to
uncritical support of any people group, let alone a modern
political state. True friends of Israel who want to be
biblical will criticise the aggression, oppression,
secularism, racism, corruption and downright anti-Christian
godlessness in Israel. To do so is to be truly prophetic.
At the same
time Scripture calls us to be godly enough to hate injustice
and to further justice not only for the Israelis but for the
Palestinians, whom God loves, too.
joke that I like to upset both sides in the
Israel-Palestinian debate, so, before finishing, let me do
that! Those who are passionately pro-Palestinian and perhaps
anti-Israel need to understand what I’ve described above
about Christian Zionists. If you don’t understand the deep
excitement and exhilaration many Christian Zionists
experience you won’t be able to help them.
you too need to watch your own passion. I have seen many
passionate pro-Palestinian Christians. Sometimes the passion
comes over as deep anger. There is such a thing as godly
anger. It can be prophetic. But it is only a few millimetres
away from ungodly anger which can lead to prejudice, hatred
and even racism. You rightly see the desperate need, pain
and fears of the Palestinians. But if you don’t recognise
the need, pain and fears of the Israelis, in their tiny
land, threatened by (sometimes neighbouring) groups and
nations who seek their destruction, after 2000 years of
anti-Semitism, you are not thinking straight. If you do not
recognise their need of a safe homeland, controlled by
Jewish people, after the Holocaust and in the light of
on-going anti-Semitism, despite the effects on the
Palestinians of the UN decision to divide what was
Palestine, you are not showing compassion.
which leads to such errors is just as bad as the passionate
Zionism I have described above.
We all need
to stand back, think carefully, try and imagine being in the
shoes of both sides and to ask God to help us act on the
whole teaching of Scripture including prophecies of the End
Times on the one hand and issues of justice and equality on