by The Rev. Tony Higton
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Ministry
in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Issue 6 July 19th 2006
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
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Please encourage others to join the mailing list.© Tony
War on two fronts
It seems such a long time ago when the alarm was raised
about Qassam rockets from Gaza hitting Ashkelon for the
first time. Yet it is only three weeks since it happened.
Now a much more deadly and serious conflagration is in
process, proving just how quickly war can flare up in the
POSSIBLE AGREEMENT BEFORE THE LEBANESE CONFLICT
It had seemed possible that circumstances might force the
warring parties towards some sort of agreement.
Egyptian President Mubarak was urging Assad to press Hamas
to accept the prisoners’ document. 58% of Israelis favoured
negotiation and release of Palestinian prisoners. The IDF
made it clear it would not favour release of prisoners “with
blood on their hands” but only those not involved in
terrorism. The Israeli Government, though, maintained a hard
line against negotiation.
Meanwhile, a poll of Palestinians revealed that Hamas was
favoured for its record on education and health but was less
popular as a political party than in February. Only 30.8%
would vote for Hamas in June as opposed to 41.4% in
February. However support improved to 33.1% as Israeli
attacks escalated and more civilians were killed.
On July 7th Nasser al-Lahem, editor-in-chief of
the independent Palestinian news agency, Maan, wrote an
article criticising the kidnapping and those who fire
Qassams into Israel. He pointed out that the many
Palestinian casualties and other problems were too high a
price to pay for such attacks on Israel. At the same time
Ismail Haniyeh Prime Minister of the Hamas Government called
for a cease-fire on both sides.
Mahmoud Abbas regarded the successful attack on the IDF and
the kidnap of Gilad Shalit as an attempt by Hamas to torpedo
any agreement between Fatah and Hamas on the document drawn
up by the Palestinian prisoners concerning a two-state
It is clear that the conflict in Gaza was being run by
Khaled Meshal, the hard-line head of the Hamas political
bureau in Damascus. Meshal was the victim of a botched
Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Two Mossad
(Israeli Secret Service) agents poisoned him, but were
caught. King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the
antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents.
Meshal is in league with Syrian President, Bashar
Assad and the Iranians. Assad sees Meshal as a very useful
pawn after Hamas won the Palestinian election.
ATTACK BY HEZBOLLAH
Then, on July 12th, Hezbollah, under cover of a
barrage of Katyusha rockets and mortar shells, kidnapped two
more Israeli troops. Ehud Olmert said this was an "act of
war" by a sovereign state – Lebanon – because Hezbollah now
has a Minister in the Lebanese Government, and Lebanon has
de facto rejected UN resolution 1559, which called for
disarming Hezbollah. Olmert promised that "Israel's
response will be restrained but very, very, very painful."
Army reservists were called up. IAF planes flew ominously
over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's palace, because
Syria was seen as behind the Hezbollah attack, and Israel
began its bombardment of Hezbollah positions.
In response, Hezbollah rockets began for the first time to
rain down on Nahariyah, Haifa, Tiberias and Safed.
HOW SHOULD WE UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION?
The present attitude of Hamas
Like Hezbollah, Hamas is a terrorist organisation which has
always been committed to the destruction of Israel. However,
as we have noted in earlier editions of Paradox, the
realities of winning the Palestinian elections with the
consequent worldwide economic sanctions against them, have
brought Hamas to the point of considering a peace agreement
with Israel. It is true that the Qassams have continued to
be launched from Gaza into Israel, with the support of 60%
of the population of Gaza. But Hamas would argue that this
is in response to Israeli military actions in Gaza since
Israel withdrew from the territory.
After all, the people of Gaza have experienced bombing and
shelling which has killed and wounded civilians, including
women and children. There have been assassinations, and
damage to infrastructure including electricity blackouts.
Abductions and executions are seen as against international
law, as is the deliberate use of sonic booms by aircraft to
create fear amongst a whole population. The Gaza Community
Mental Health Center reported that the supersonic booms
caused loss of concentration, loss of appetite, bedwetting,
and other disorders amongst children, and headaches, stomach
aches, shortness of breath, etc., among both children and
adults. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states
that "Collective penalties and likewise all measures of
intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited … Reprisals
against protected persons and their property are
it should also be remembered, of course, that the deliberate
targeting of civilians by rockets is a war crime. Also it
can be argued that any use of Qassams, which are so
inaccurate, even against military targets, always endanger
innocent people and so are illegal.
The Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that the
organisation ultimately wanted to make peace with Israel,
but added that it had been preparing to fight Israel,
stockpiling weapons for years. It threatened that all
of Israel is now within the range of its missiles (see
Hezbollah’s talk about making peace is contradicted by its
unprovoked attacks on Israel, despite Israel’s withdrawal to
within its internationally recognized northern border. It is
also contradicted by its close connections with Syria and
Iran, both of which signed a military co-operation agreement
in June. Iran is publicly committed to
an escalation of the violent activity against Israel and
against "Zionists" around the world. It is also seeking to
draw world attention away from its nuclear programme, which
succeeded at the recent G8 conference. Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is constantly speaking of the need to
destroy Israel. Syria is frustrated by having to withdraw
from Lebanon and would dearly like to increase its influence
in the country.
Iran has provided Hezbollah with
some 11,500 missiles and rockets, 400 short- and
medium-range pieces of artillery, and a huge number of SAM7
shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. This arsenal includes
Fajr missiles with an effective range of 100 km, Iran130
missiles with an effective range of 90-110 km, Shahin
missiles with an effective range of 150 km and
335-millimeter rockets with an effective range of 150 km.
3000 Hezbollah fighters have been trained by Iran in
guerilla warfare, missile aiming and launching, use of
artillery, handling of unmanned aircraft, use of hang
gliders, naval warfare techniques, handling of speedboats
and conventional warfare. Iranian Revolutionary Guards have
assisted Hezbollah in setting up 20 permanent missile bases
along the Lebanese border with Israel. The Iranians also use
advanced means to track the movement of the Israeli forces
in the field, and select targets in Israel.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran, said on
Iranian TV on July 16: “Hezbollah will not be disarmed.”
The right of Israel to defend herself
The leader of an Evangelical Christian Zionist organization
in Israel is quoted as saying: "This was certainly an
unprovoked attack and Israel has every right to go in and
pound them." I agree that no sovereign state can stand by
whilst terrorist organizations are showering much of its
territory with deadly missiles. But I have to say that I
was moved to tears as I watched TV reports of the suffering
of innocent individuals on both sides, resulting from the
“pounding.” There is very widespread sympathy for Israel
making some military response. The question is whether they
will be able to destroy Hezbollah without destroying Lebanon
and causing a completely unjustifiable amount of “collateral
damage” (a chilling euphemism for the unintentional deaths
of innocent civilians). A further question is whether the
conflict will become wider, although, despite
“sabre-rattling,” this seems unlikely to me.
Some Israelis are calling for an agreement with Hamas,
doubtless based on the Palestinian prisoners’ document
mentioned earlier. For all its violence, they regard Hamas
as a lesser-of-two-evils potential legitimate partner. Such
an agreement could divide the two terrorist organizations.
However Hezbollah is seen as a totally negative force,
seeking Israel’s destruction, which must itself be
It is easy for other nations to call for a cease fire. But
this could leave Hezbollah in place, with a very weak
Understandably, Israel cannot tolerate that.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said in an interview
with an Italian newspaper: “It's not a mystery that
Hezbollah answers to the political agendas of Tehran and
Damascus …. The entire world must help us disarm Hezbollah.
But first we need to reach a cease-fire."
Experience teaches, however, that even international
peace-keeping forces can be ineffective too. Also with
long-range rockets, an internationally-policed buffer zone
in southern Lebanon seems irrelevant.
President Bush has called on Syria, which has great
influence over Hezbollah, to rein the organization in. But
Syria is an unpredictable partner, virulently anti-Israel
and seeking its own advantage in Lebanon.
Also, behind Syria is the spectre of Iran with its extremist
leaders. Kayhan, the conservative Iranian daily paper,
linked with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, makes that country’s
position clear. The editor wrote: “The annihilation of the
Zionist Regime is not only a religious and national duty,
but a universal human duty; the whole world must be made
unsafe for the Zionists, [and] their political and
commercial centres.” He speculated that the day when Israel
would be “wiped off the map” has already begun. Then, in
language which will interest Christians who are into
eschatology (teaching on the End Times), he urged the G8
summit to “send Israel a strong message to halt its mad rush
towards Armageddon." He went on to make it clear that Iran
sees itself as the central pillar of the Islamic world.
We must not forget the underlying clash of theologies in the
Middle East conflict. Jews and many Christians see Israel as
the promised land for the Jewish people. But most Muslims
see it as part of the one Islamic nation which has been
temporarily usurped by the Zionists. This dispute will not
go away, however secure Israel is made by international
agreement and the Israelis know this.
The Israeli over-reaction?
Israel’s increasing use of force in Gaza has encouraged
suicide bombings, the firing of Qassams etc. Many would
condemn what it sees is Israel’s attempt to topple a
democratically-elected government by force, including
arresting members of its parliament.
It is in Israel’s interest for Palestinians to enjoy a life
of prosperity and fulfilment, yet Israel has destroyed
Gaza’s power station and other infrastructure, condemning
Palestinians to more hardship and poverty. Gaza is shut off
by land, sea and air, except for the Rafa crossing. The
people cannot visit family in the West Bank or seek work in
Israel (a factor on which the Gazan economy has relied for
some 40 years). Clearly, no-one is going to invest currently
in development in Gaza. Whatever justification Israel makes
for this, it is not in her interests. Poverty and oppression
breed violence, and promote the use of Qassams to remind the
world of their plight. (To be fair, though, some of the
poverty and oppression is caused by criminal activity and
corruption within Gaza and the Palestinian leadership
By contrast, Israel has sat back, hence allowing Hezbollah
for many years to build up its huge arsenal of weapons and
to make occasional rocket attacks without the strong
military reaction we are now witnessing.
HOW SHOULD WE PRAY?
For the protection of innocent civilians in Gaza, Israel
and Lebanon, and healing of those injured, traumatized
For the neutralizing (ideally by diplomatic efforts and
negotiation, including by Lebanon and Syria) of all who
For an acceptance, however grudging, of Israel’s right
to exist within secure borders, especially on the part
of the Hamas government and, if possible, Hezbollah.
For wisdom and proper restraint, within international
law, on the part of Israel in its use of its massive
For frustration of Iran’s efforts to see Israel
destroyed and to draw international attention away from
its nuclear programme.
For the removal of poverty and oppression in Gaza and
the rebuilding of infrastructure etc., in Gaza and
Against any spread of the conflict.