Threats to Israel
It is easy to think of Israel as a strong nuclear power which ignores
world opinion and continues to act unjustly towards the Palestinians.
But it has to be remembered that Israel is a small country (the size of
Wales) with a population less than that of London. It is threatened
with total destruction by Iran and groups like Hezbollah (in Lebanon
and Syria) and Hamas in Gaza.
Israel clearly thinks that a conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon is
growing closer. Hezbollah has 20,000 full-time, trained fighters,
25,000 reservists and more than 100,000 missiles. The UN
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke of the heightened “risk of
miscalculation and escalation into conflict."
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia think that Iran, which is dedicated to
destroying Israel, is trying to establish a corridor from Iraq, through
Syria to Lebanon. The Iranians have started building a missile base in
Syria, south of Damascus, although President Assad and the Russians
have some concerns about Iran’s intentions. Iran’s influence has grown
in Iraq and Syria (with Russian cooperation) and in Lebanon. A weakened
Syria increases Iran’s influence.
After an Iranian drone entered Israeli air space in February Israel
responded by attacking Iranian sites in Syria. An Israeli fighter was
shot down in the operation and the Israelis attacked 12 sites in Syria,
including three Syrian anti-aircraft batteries and four Iranian sites.
Hezbollah hailed the shooting down of the jet as the “start of a new
strategic phrase” aiming to limit Israel’s air superiority. It
threatened to attack Israel’s Mediterranean natural gas rigs in a
Some people think that Saudi Arabia, which opposes Iran, is trying to
encourage an Israeli-Hezbollah war as a means of combatting Iranian
advances. The Saudis are encouraged by Israel’s increasing threats to
strike at Iranian forces in Syria. Some experts say that war in the
North of Israel is only a matter of time.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed that Israel has been having secret meetings with the Saudis about Iran.
ISIS has recently come into conflict with Hamas in Gaza and clearly
wants to set up a base in Palestine. It is tapping into Palestinian
anger at the lack of any progress in the peace process with Israel.
Some Palestinians might think that ISIS is the only effective
organisation operating in the Israel-Palestinian region.
According to Israeli Army Deputy Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi,
in March Israel was preparing for war on six fronts - Iran and probably
ISIS in Sinai, Hamas in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria plus the increasingly
dangerous world of cyberwarfare. It is feared that, following the
West’s attack on Syria after the chemical warfare incident, Russia will
limit Israel’s use of Syrian airspace to attack Iranian targets. Before
that it turned a blind eye to such Israeli attacks. Now Russia is
considering supplying Syria with advanced missile systems, warning that
Israel would suffer catastrophic consequences if it attacked the
missile bases. The Israeli Defence Minister has responded by saying
that Israel will attack the Russian anti-aircraft systems if they are
used against Israel.
All these developments seem to bring the time closer when the prophecy
of Zechariah will be fulfilled “On that day, when all the nations of
the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable
rock for all the nations” (Zech 12:3 see also Joel 3; Ezk 38-39).
A different sort of threat against Israel comes from the UN. As we have
noted before, the UN seems to have singled Israel out for condemnation.
The Autumn 2017 session considered 20 resolutions against Israel but,
as someone pointed out, “not one against gross human rights abusers
such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Pakistan or
Zimbabwe.” Israel has faced 70 resolutions against, it which is three
times the resolutions against Syria (the second most criticised
country). In March the UN Human Rights Council passed five resolutions
condemning Israel and only one against N Korea, Iran and Syria.
Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians
Palestinian diplomats have recently made an official complaint to the
UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They are
accusing Israel of having “the common aim of displacing and replacing
the Palestinian people, for the purpose of maintaining a colonial
occupation.” In particular, they say Israel severely limits Palestinian
freedom of movement, subjects them to “confiscation and seizure” of
their land, including home demolitions, violates the right to equal
treatment before tribunals by using separate legal systems for
Palestinians and settlers, and metes out higher maximum sentences for
Palestinians. If Israel is found to have breached the International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
then all the signatories to it, including the US, would be obliged to
ensure the offences are corrected.
Earlier in the year the Likud Party, headed by Prime Minister
Netanyahu, unanimously backed a resolution calling on the Israeli
government to formally annex the West Bank. Palestinian leader Mahmoud
Abbas commented: “We hope that this vote serves as a reminder for the
international community that the Israeli government, with the full
support of the U.S. administration, is not interested in a just and
lasting peace. Rather its main goal is the consolidation of an
apartheid regime in all of historic Palestine.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter warned that the two-state solution
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is being overtaken by a one-state
reality which will have dire consequences for Israel in the long-term.”
Later the Palestinian Liberation Organisation decided to call on the UN
Security Council to recognise the State of Palestine within the 1967
borders. They also decided to withdraw from the customs union between
Israel and the Palestinian Authority, whereby Israel collects
value-added tax, import duties and other taxes on the PA's behalf and
hands them over on a monthly basis.
In Gaza, water from the fresh water aquifer is 96% undrinkable because
it is so salty. The power supply, which was available between 8-12
hours a day, fell at one time to 2-3hours. Unemployment rose recently
from 30% to 40% with youth unemployment at 65%. Raw sewage flows into
the sea leaving a horrible smell in the air.
In February this year Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot,
warned that Gaza was on the point of collapse due to the humanitarian
crisis. He pointed out that whereas there used to be 800-1200 trucks
per day carrying food and equipment into Gaza, now there are only 300
because the Gaza people are unable to afford more. Israel published a
plan to help humanitarian rehabilitation, asking the international
community to help fund it.
Then recently protestors from Gaza planned a six-week demonstration
close to the border with Israel, demanding a right for Palestinian
refugees to return to what is now Israel. The Israeli army claims that
the demonstrations were camouflage for terror attacks. But Israel has
come under heavy international criticism for killing (according to the
Palestinian Health Ministry) 15 people, including two children, and
injuring another 1,479 during a two day period at the beginning of
April. William Bell, Head of Middle East Policy at Christian Aid
said that Israel’s action against unarmed civilians “constitutes a
violation of the international legal obligation to distinguish between
civilians and combatants.” The Prosecutor of the International Criminal
Court has warned Israel he may intervene because the action could
“constitute crimes under the Rome Statute.” Israeli Defence
Minister Avigdor Lieberman didn’t help by saying “there are no innocent
people in Gaza.” The Israeli army claims it only acted in appropriate
The situation of Israeli Arabs
The Israeli Knesset (government) recently passed a bill which allows
the authorities to strip Arabs living in East Jerusalem of their
residency documents and therefore of their right to live there.
On the other hand many Israeli Arabs are very positive about living in
Israel. A recent poll revealed that 73% of Arabs feel they belong to
Israeli society. 60% said they are proud to be citizens of Israel. 82%
do not wish to live under Palestinian rule. Only 14% said they did.
However slightly less than 50% supported Israel’s right to exist, which
seems inconsistent with the other results.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem
Donald Trump’s official
recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has, of course,
stirred very different reactions. One Palestinian activist said: “This
is an unprecedented escalation by the US president and it will detonate
a third intifada [Palestinian uprising]. History will not have seen an
intifada like this. Unfortunately it will jeopardise the interest of
the US and the lives of US people all over the world if he does this.
The declaration has destroyed the peace process and all the agreements
that have been signed. This will be met with a wave of public reaction.”
A Jewish commentator
stated: “The second intifada – which turned into a bloody two or more
years of death for Israelis at the hands of Palestinian suicide
bombers, and death for Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli
military – started after a 45-minute visit in late 2000 by the then
leader of the Israeli opposition, Ariel Sharon, to the place that
represents the nuclear core of this most radioactive conflict, the site
Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif and Jews call the Temple Mount.” (It
should be noted, though, that Trump called “on all parties to maintain
the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including at the Temple
Mount, also known as the Haram al-Sharif.” He added that his
declaration was not taking a position on the specific boundaries of the
Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem).
The Palestinian ambassador
to London said that Trump’s action amounted to “declaring war on 1.5
billion Muslims”. Others thought the move could adversely affect the
relationship between the US and its Sunni Arab allies (Saudi Arabia
etc) who have already expressed concern over America’s declining
influence in the Middle East which therefore extends the influence of
Iran and Russia.
Mahmoud Abbas said at a
meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that Palestinians
will no longer accept any American role in the Middle East peace
process at all. He said Washington can no longer be accepted as a
“fair negotiator,” having upset Muslims and Christians over the future
of the holy city. King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who had been encouraging
the Palestinians to accept a less favourable peace settlement i.e. a
two state solution without the right of return of Palestinian refugees,
rebuked the Americans. Abbas said Salman promised that there will be no
peace deal without a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its
capital. Similarly Egypt said it would only accept the establishment of
a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, “on the 1967
borders.” The United Nations General Assembly voted by 128 to 9 to
declare Trump’s controversial action “null and void”.
On the other hand, some
Christians see Trump’s decision as a fulfilment of prophecy. They
believe it brings us a step closer to the Return of Christ. Now I
firmly believe that the return of the Jewish people to Israel is a
partial fulfilment of biblical prophecy (e.g. Luke 21:20-24). I also
believe that the Bible foretells that the Jewish people in Jerusalem
will play a very important (though controversial) role in the End
Times. But we need to take the whole of relevant biblical teaching
seriously. This includes the following points:
The Bible clearly calls
upon the Jewish people to act with justice towards the ‘foreigner’
(non-Jew) amongst them. So we must ask if Israel is treating the
Palestinians with justice. Is it right for the Jerusalem question to be
settled unilaterally rather than by (admittedly difficult) negotiation?
(Also on the issue of justice, we need to ask if Israel is acting
justly towards the people of Gaza). God is a God of justice.
The Bible clearly teaches
that God will fulfil all the prophecies about the very important role
of the Jewish people in Israel and Jerusalem in the End Times. We do
not need to worry that if, on the basis of compassion and justice,
Israel gives territory to the Palestinians including in Jerusalem that
will prevent God’s purposes being fulfilled. God can easily overrule
and work out his purposes.
I am well aware that some
Christians favour the rebuilding of the Temple (prophesied by Ezekiel)
on Temple Mount (which is in East Jerusalem). But since the site is
sacred to the Muslims it is very difficult to see how there could ever
be agreement to that happening. We should note that some of Ezekiel’s
prophecies are clearly intended to be taken symbolically. I do not
believe God would want the Jewish people to re-build the temple and
resume the animal sacrifices in the End Times because the death and
high priesthood of Jesus have replaced the old sacrificial system.
Remember the Bible prophesies a massive turning by the Jewish people to
Jesus in the End Times (Rom 11:25-26). He does not want them to
practice the Old Covenant rituals with the Temple and sacrifices. Jesus
is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14) who “provided purification for
sins” (Heb 1:3). “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to
offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for
the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when
he offered himself” (Heb 7:27 cf 9:28; 10:14). He “did not enter a
sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one;
he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Heb
9:24). The earthly sanctuary (temple) “is a copy and shadow of what is
in heaven” (Heb 8:5, cf. 9:24). The old covenant (with its animal
sacrifices) “is obsolete and outdated” (Heb 8:13). “It is impossible
for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:1-4).
Some Christians might
think Israel should “drive out” the Palestinians as it once was called
to drive out the Canaanites from the Promised Land. But the reason for
God’s call to drive out the Canaanites was because they were very
depraved in their worship and were highly likely to draw the Israelites
into their depraved worship practices and so away from God. It is not
credible to draw a parallel between the Palestinians and the Canaanites.
I therefore conclude that
it is not right to accept the unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as
the capital of Israel uncritically. We must ask questions based on the
biblical teaching summarised above and seek to discern what God is
Christians being driven out of Jerusalem?
Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, has expressed deep
concern over a proposed bill in the Knesset which would restrict the
rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. He also
referred to the unacceptable activities of radical Jewish settler
groups, who are attempting to establish control over Christian
properties around Jaffa gate in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian
1. For the protection of Israel from attack, which could lead to wider confrontation.
2. For Israel to act justly with respect to the Palestinians.
3. For the protection of Palestinians from attack.
4. For the United Nations to act justly with respect to Israel.
5. For the deliverance of the people of Gaza from the humanitarian crisis.
6. For a resumption of the peace process.
7. For Christians to follow the whole of the relevant
teaching of the Bible about developments in Israel, not just “exciting”
End Times considerations.
8. For the protection of the Christian community in Jerusalem.