Will there ever be peace?
The signs are not
good and we must pray all the more earnestly – for the sake of both the
Israelis and the Palestinians. Controversy and threats continue. One current
controversy is over the action of the UK in 1917.
The Balfour Declaration
It is 100 years since the Balfour Declaration when the UK
Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour wrote: “His Majesty's government view with
favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,
and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this
object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may
prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in
Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other
There have been demands for the UK government to apologise
to the Palestinians for the statement because it led to “mass displacement” and
injustice. But the government refused saying:
Balfour Declaration is an historic statement for which HMG (Her Majesty’s
Government) does not intend to apologize. We are proud of our role in creating
the State of Israel. The task now is to encourage moves towards peace. The
Declaration was written in a world of competing imperial powers, in the midst
of the First World War and in the twilight of the Ottoman Empire. In that
context, establishing a homeland for the Jewish people in the land to which
they had such strong historical and religious ties was the right and moral
thing to do, particularly against the background of centuries of persecution.
Much has happened since 1917. We recognize that the Declaration should have
called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in
Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination. However, the
important thing now is to look forward and establish security and justice for
both Israelis and Palestinians through a lasting peace.”
A minority of Jewish people (mainly Sephardi Jews) living in
Palestine in the 1920s thought a bi-national state – for Jews and Arabs –
should have been set up. Yosef Castel was a public spokesman for this view. But
Jews living in Palestine objected that, whereas Jewish Zionists living in the
UK were consulted, they were not. However the majority of Jewish people
welcomed the Balfour Declaration. Like most political decisions the Declaration
was not without self-interest. The British Government had been concerned for
some time about the number of Jewish people entering the UK from Eastern Europe
where they were being persecuted.
Later Britain realised it was going to face great
difficulties administering the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine so it
watered down its commitment to a Jewish homeland, and eventually in 1939,
having suppressed the Arab Revolt, came out in favour of “an independent
Palestine State” where “the two peoples in Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share
authority in government.” Then the Second World War changed the situation and
in 1948 Britain relinquished the Mandate. The UN Palestine Commission condemned
Britain’s action as a “catastrophic conclusion to an era of international concern
for the territory.” Britain also abstained in the historic UN vote in 1948.
Zionism in Israel
Zionism is controversial in Israel today. Writing in an
Israeli newspaper in April 2017 a columnist Yossi Klein said that “Religious
Zionists are dangerous. They’re more dangerous than Hezbollah, hit-and-run
drivers or girls with scissors… Their religious nationalism is extreme
nationalism wrapped in hypocritical fear of heaven.”
On the other hand Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked,
speaking about the nation state bill which states that Israel is the home of
the Jewish people, criticised the Supreme Court for not giving sufficient
consideration to Zionism but concentrating on individual rights. The court
disregards the Jewish majority. However some of the lawyers listening to her
shouted out that Israel is an apartheid state.
Some people point out that Jordan was created out of
Palestine and has a population which is over 70% Palestinian. They conclude
that this is effectively the State of Palestine. On the other hand in the 1930s
it was anticipated that the part of Palestine to the west of the Jordan River
would be divided between Israelis and Palestinians. And, of course, many
Palestinian Arabs left their homes in that area due to the violence which
followed the re-establishment of Israel. So the commitment to the idea of a
Palestinian state west of the Jordan remains strong in the Arab world and
elsewhere. Donald Trump also spoke in favour of a Palestinian state but added
he would be “satisfied with whatever makes both parties happy.” Jeremy Corbyn
called on Theresa May to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration by
recognising the Palestinian state. God is a God of justice so justice for the
Palestinians, as well as security for Israel, is important biblically.
Jerusalem and Temple Mount
In the face of on-going demands to divide Jerusalem between
the Israelis and the Palestinians the Israeli parliament decided in July that
any concession of sovereignty would require a majority vote of at least 80 out
of 120 members. At present both Jewish west Jerusalem and Palestinian East
Jerusalem are governed by Israel. A right wing political leader said: “The
United Jerusalem Law that was passed today in the Ministerial Committee for
Legislation will prevent any possibility of dividing Jerusalem.” One Israeli
newspaper pointed out that in East Jerusalem, 80 percent of the population is
below the poverty line and 80 percent of the homes are built illegally. It
added that Jerusalem has two public transportation systems, two electric
companies, two types of civil status and two separate sets of laws.
Temple Mount is, of course, a very sensitive site, being
holy to both Jews and Muslims. In April a group of several hundred Jewish
people celebrated the Passover, including an animal sacrifice, just a few hundred
meters from the Mount. Israel MP Yehudah Glick said: “Ultimately the government
wants to serve the people, and the people want the Temple; the people want to
offer sacrifices. At this rate the day isn’t far off – just a few more years –
when we’ll be privileged to do sacrifices on the Temple Mount itself.”
This year Israel installed metal detectors at the entrances
to the Mount, which enraged the Muslims and led to a boycott by Muslim
worshippers. In the end the Israelis removed them. In July two Israeli Border
Police officers were killed on the Temple Mount. As a result, Muslim
worshippers were banned from the Mount but Muslim muftis encouraged worshippers
to break into the Mount.
Occupation and Settlements
This is a controversial issue in Israel.
On the one hand, in July two Tel Aviv University professors
did a survey as part of a campaign called “Save Israel. Stop the Occupation.”
But they found that only 30% of Israelis view Israeli’s action on the West Bank
as “occupation.” In 2004 the figure was 51%. Many would regard the West Bank as
Judea and Samaria promised to the Jewish people in biblical prophecy.
On the other hand, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet
intelligence agency said the country was being “driven by this occupation
towards disaster”. He added: “This country was established on the values of
liberal democracy, values written in the only kind of constitution we have –
which is our declaration of independence – values we don’t fulfil any more. You
can analyse what happened to us in the last 50 years, but everything is under
the shade of occupation. It has changed us a society. It has made us an
Isaac Herzog, head of the Israeli opposition demanded a
total freeze on settlements as a condition of joining the unity government with
Netanyahu. A former head of Mossad, Israel’s secret service, said the
occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was the only threat to Israel’s
survival. Yet, for the first time ever, the Israeli government applied its own
civil law to land it recognised as Palestinian in order to legalise 4000 Jewish
Despite all the warnings of serious consequences of
settlement activity, Israel seems to be doing well. Its economy is thriving.
There is less violence in Israel. India and China who in the past supported the
Palestinians are trading with Israel and the key Sunni Muslim Arab states
regard Iran as a greater enemy than Israel. Hence there does not seem to be a
move towards freezing the settlements to promote peace.
The Israeli government is clamping down on civil rights
groups it claims act against the state. These include B’Tselem, which documents
human rights abuses in the occupied territories and Breaking the Silence which
encourages Israel soldiers to reveal any abuses practised by the army.
International action against Israel
The US has urged the UN Human Rights Council to stop its “obsession
with Israel” and added that Donald Trump is considering withdrawing America
from the world body. A hundred US Senators signed a letter to the UN Secretary
General asking him to act against the organisation’s “anti-Israel agenda.”
In March the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western
Asia (ESCWA) published a report saying that Israel is a racist state which “has
established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a
whole.” ESCWA is composed of 18 Arab
states. The UN said the report was published without UN approval. A spokesman
said the UN didn’t have a problem with the content of the report but objected
to proper procedures being ignored.
Israel is open to criticism but to single it out for
repeated condemnation whilst ignoring or minimising much injustice elsewhere in
the world is profoundly unjust.
Israel and Christians
In July Prime Minister Netanyahu told a conference of Christians
United for Israel (CUFI) that evangelical Christians were the best friends
Israel had. But that doesn’t seem to apply to Israeli Messianic Jews. A
rabbinical court ruled that Messianic Jews cannot be married as Jews but must
either renounce their belief in Jesus as Messiah or must be married as
Christians. In September Orthodox Jewish “anti-missionaries” demonstrated
against a new Messianic Jewish congregation in Arad and claimed they had prevented
locals from joining it.
Also Catholic, Ethiopian, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox,
Lutheran, Syrian and other churches in Jerusalem joined in protests over what
they claim is a major change in their status. A Jerusalem court had ordered the
Greek Orthodox Church to sell three buildings in the Old City to a Jewish
settlers. They also opposed an Israeli bill that would transfer ownership of
church land sold to private citizens to the state.
The possibility of peace
It seems clear that there is no consistent will in the
Israeli government to further the peace process. Prime Minister Netanyahu has
spoken about peace from time to time but does not appear to be serious about
it. Former President Jimmy Carter said that Netanyahu had “no intention at all
of having a two-state solution.” However, one Israeli newspaper holds out hope:
“Political deals such as the nuclear accords with Iran, the reconciliation in
Ireland and the peace agreements that Israel signed with Egypt and with Jordan
have proved that even the most far-fetched deal is attainable.” What is needed
therefore is a prime minister who is actually committed to peace.
On the Palestinian side there is a need for Palestinian
leaders to condemn incitement to violence and hate. Netanyahu also demands that
the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
In May this year the Nation State Bill passed a significant
preliminary vote in the Israeli parliament. It establishes Israel as “the
national home of the Jewish people,” and adds that “the right to realize
self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It
also revokes Arabic's "official language" status in Israel. It
effectively states that Israeli Arabs are second class citizens.
Hamas and Gaza in crisis
This year Hamas has developed short range heavy rockets with
a range of 10 km which can cause great damage to Israeli towns near the Gaza
Strip. However the organisation said in a document some months ago that it
would drop its call for the destruction of Israel and would accept the setting
up of a Palestinian state along the agreed 1967 borders. This sounds good until
it is noted that the document also says they are still rejecting Israel’s right
to exist and support armed struggle against it! What the document actually
means is that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within temporary borders
as a step towards eradicating Israel. The Israeli government responded that
Hamas was “attempting to fool the world.”
In September Hamas, which has been seriously weakened by the
Israeli and Egyptian blockades, decided to end its administration and to seek a
unity government led by President Abbas, thus ending a long dispute with the
Palestinian movement Fatah.
Gaza is facing a water and electricity crisis. Some 96% of
its water is not fit for drinking and, in winter months, some areas only have
three hours of electricity supply. This not only hinders washing, showering,
cooking and doing laundry, but hospitals are warning that frequent power cuts
endanger patients’ lives. Hamas doesn’t help by diverting electricity from its
UNICEF water desalination plant to its terror tunnels, through which it
launches attacks into Israel.
Other problems are that about 100 million litres of raw
sewage flows into the sea from Gaza each day, unemployment is around 40% and
movement restrictions severely hinder industry. UN Middle East envoy Nickolay
Mladenov has said that “unprecedented Israeli restrictions” are partly to blame.
Israel must take this seriously.
The threat of Iran
There is no evidence that Iran has violated any clause of
the nuclear agreement signed over two years ago. But it still threatens Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has accused Iran of using the Syrian civil war to “gain
a foothold to fight Israel” because Iranian troops are stationed along the edge
of the occupied Golan Heights which form the border between Israel and Syria. He
also accused them of establishing sites to build missiles in Lebanon and Syria.
He warned that anyone who attacks Israel will “put themselves in existential
danger” – referring to Israel’s nuclear capability. One expert on Lebanese
affairs has said “I have never seen such a high degree of anxiety among
Lebanon’s political elite that war is coming.” He means war with Israel.
The Iranians continue to make overt threats against Israel. Iran's
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted there would be
"nothing" left of Israel by the year 2040. One of its top generals
said recently “Israel should stay quiet and count the days until its death. Its
smallest mistake will result in its destruction.” Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad said: “Any freedom lover and justice seeker in the world must do its
best for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the path for
the establishment of justice and freedom in the world.”
Netanyahu warned Vladimir Putin that Israel might have to
act unilaterally to prevent Iran establishing a power base on the border with
Israel. A recent survey shows that 56% of Israelis believe there is a
moderate-to-high chance of war with Iran in the coming year and 50% fear for
Israel's survival in such a war.
We must always take seriously the feelings of threat which
many Israelis feel, otherwise we will not understand their response to the
political situation. This will undermine the effectiveness of our prayers for
justice and peace.
thanks that God has brought the Jewish people back to their homeland as
prophesied 2000 years ago and pray for their security.
for the Palestinian people to avoid violence and to be treated with justice and
respect, especially for those families who had to leave their homes in what is
now Israel back in the 1940s.
for an end to unjust singling out of Israel for criticism by the UN but for
Israel to heed the criticisms.
for the safety and welfare of Messianic believers and Gentile Christians in
Israel, including in the Old City of Jerusalem.
for the people of Gaza facing huge problems and that both Hamas and Israel will
for the curbing of the threat of Iranian influence in Syria and the Middle