Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Neighborhood Bully

Zechariah 2:7-8 (New International Version)

“7 Come, O Zion! Escape, you who live in the Daughter of Babylon!" 8 For this is what the LORD Almighty says: "After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you-for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye”

The Palestinian people will be voting in less than a week now. It’s been a long time coming and I believe the timing is good and holds some promise. Yasser Arafat has passed from the scene.

The world is hopeful. I am too, but I must say that my hope is muted by the facts of history.

My hope is muted by the facts of history. In the past few years terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens and the Israeli responses have been used as a pretext for Arafat and his supporters to derail the elections and the peace process proposed by the Bush administration. At the time the delays set it the Christian Science Monitor filed a report on the failure to hold the elections. A part of that report follows:

“A key facet of the Bush administration's road map for returning to Middle East peacemaking has been a demand that the Palestinians undertake democratic reforms.”

“But the road map's promise to call elections for the 3.3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has been kept on hold - a delay for which many Palestinians blame the US as much as Israel. Israel said earlier this week that it intended to withdraw its forces from four cities in the West Bank, but disagreements over negotiations, and a deterioration in the cease-fire have put those plans on hold.”

We’ve been close to peace before, when the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, D.C. on the White House lawn in September of 1993, for example. But no matter how close we come, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians continues to either simmer or boil over.

Why has peace eluded these two parties, parties who have been linked as brothers for thousands of years? (Genesis 16-25)

I believe it comes down to one thing – both firmly believe they have a God-given mandate, even a duty, to occupy the “Land of Canaan.” With Abraham as father of both Isaac and Ishmael, the offspring of both sons have for thousands of years believed the land was, and is, theirs, to occupy. Further, they believe the land is theirs by Divine right, not United Nations mandate.

How, under these circumstances, can this ages-old problem be solved? I recall working with a devout Muslim in the early and mid nineties. He was an absolutely wonderful man. His work ethic and personal ethics were close to being above reproach. We struck up a friendship as soon as I was assigned by the engineering department to train him. I found that he was a quick study. In fact he was so good that it wasn’t long in our professional relationship that I found myself being mentored by him. While our official roles had not changed, I recognized his talents and learned to learn from him.

In the course of our friendship the subject of religion came up. I recall many lunchtime discussions with him and Muslim friends he had invited to have lunch with us. I developed a real taste for Middle Eastern food, sharpened my debate skills, and grew to love him like a brother. It was that kind of relationship.

In the course of our discussions the subject of Israel-Palestine inevitably came up. I recall the discussion well. It began when an office mate asked him why this “land” was so important to the Palestinian people that they would be willing to even kill themselves to further what she saw as a futile cause. She put it this way. “This fight over a tract of land is just utterly foolish.” I could see that he didn’t really want to talk about the subject, so I decided to try to head off any conflict. “You know,” I said. “We’re complaining about what’s happening in the Middle-East and the land, but we need to take some time to look at things from a Middle-Eastern perspective. We’ve got teenagers in our inner cities killing each other for Nike’s. How foolish is that?”

Now I know that didn’t answer the real question at the heart of the debate, but it dide gain me some credibility with him. The real question is, “Can the two parties find a way to peacefully co-exist under these circumstances.”

That’s always been my question. I’m an evangelical who believes that we somehow, with God’s help, need to find a way to peace for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. That was the question I always put forward to my friend (I would use his name, but I’ve been unable to contact him for some time and don’t believe it would be proper to do so without his permission). I would begin with one question. “Israel is willing to give up land for peace. How much willingness is there on the part of the Palestinian side to accept a “land for peace” deal?” His answer was always the same. “There is nothing that would be acceptable. Our aim is to drive Israel into the sea. Even if they gave up all the land but an acre or two we would not find this acceptable.”

He always had two questions for me. “Why do you Americans insist on supporting Israel? Why do you Americans prop up these evil regimes in the Middle-East?” I responded as best I could, knowing that my answers would not be satisfactory. To the first question my answer was “I support the rights of both sides, but how can we fully support the aims of one side whose intent is to exterminate the other?” My answer to the second was “We haven’t been blameless here, I know. But I also know that democracy is the answer. We Americans support the use of the ballot box, not the right of tyrants to rule over any people.”

I realized two things from those discussions. I believe my answers to his questions were right, but I also believe they were never accepted.

About six months ago I read Alan Dershowitz’s book, “The Case for Israel.” When I first saw the book I took an immediate interest in it, in part because Mr. Dershowitz is a very bright man, and in part because he’s someone who does not share, for the most part, my political, social, or religious views. I wanted to find out what he had to say about all these things.

I was quite surprise by what I found. Each chapter addresses a specific question about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Each chapter contains what Mr. Dershowtiz calls “an accuser,” “an accusation,” what he calls “the reality,” and “proof.”

Now Alan Dershowitz is not considered by many to be a friend of evangelicals or conservatives who have been Israel’s staunchest supporters since 1948. But, bear with me, dear reader. It’s not important to me that you agree with my views or Mr. Dershowitz’s. It’s important to me that you hear me out, and him, with an open mind.

I’m going to follow with some of his documentation. In doing so, I hope it will pique your interest to explore the whole matter further.

First, from chapter two, which is titled “Did European Jews Displace Palestinians?”

The Accustaion

“The European Jews who came to Palestine displaced Palestinians who had lived there for centuries.”

The Accusers

“The Jews stole our land. What else do you want us to do, just go away?” (Mohammad Abu Laila, professor of comparative religion at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, in the context of defending suicide bombers as martyrs)”

The Reality

“The Palestine to which the European Jews of the
First Aliyah immigrated was vastly under populated, and the land onto which the Jews was moved was in fact, bought from absentee landlords and real estate speculators.”

In addition to Palestine being an appropriate place for Jewish refugees because of its close connection to their history and ideology, it was also seen as appropriate because of the demographics of the land to which they were moving, or in their word, returning.”

The Proof

“There have been two competing mythologies about Palestine circa 1880. The extremist Jewish mythology, long since abandoned, was that Palestine was “a land without people, for a people without a land.” (This phrase was actually coined by the British Lord Shaftesbury in his 1884 memoir). The extremist Palestinian mythology, which has become more embedded with time, is that in 1880 there was a Palestinian people; some even say a Palestinian nation that was displaced by the Zionist invasion.”

“The reality as usual, lies somewhere in between…..The entire population of Palestine (defined for these purposes as current Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) was probably in the neighborhood of half a million at the time of the First Aliyah in the early 1880’s. That same area today supports a population of more than 10 million, and is capable of supporting a far larger population.”

“Furthermore, absentee landowners owned much of the land that was eventually partitioned into Israel. According to land purchase records, many lived in Beirut and Damascus, and some were tax collectors and merchants living elsewhere. These landlords were real estate speculators from foreign countries who had no connection with the land and who often exploited local workers or fellahin. Like refugees in other countries, the Jewish refugees in Palestine bought land, much of it nonarable.”

The next portion is from chapter five, titled “Were the Jews Unwilling to Share Palestine?”

The Accusation

“While the Arabs were willing to share Palestine with the Jews, the Jews wanted the entire country for themselves.”

The Accusers

“From the beginning of serious Zionist planning for Palestine…..we can note the increasing prevalence of the idea that Israel was to be built on the ruins of Arab Palestine.” (
Edward Said)

The Reality

“The goal of Arab leadership was not only to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in any part of Palestine but to transfer the Jews of Palestine out of their historic home and to make all of Palestine empty of Jews. Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were willing to make painful compromises as long as they could have a Jewish homeland in those areas of Palestine in which they were a majority.”

The Proof

“In an effort to control this violence (Author’s note – the violence Mr. Dershowitz speaks of includes violent pogroms directed against Jews in Palestine following the Balfour Declaration and the years following up till World War Two), the British appointed Haj Amin al-Husseini the grand mufti of Jerusalem, the spiritual and effectively political leader of the Muslims in Palestine. The hope was that by centralizing the religious and political power in one man, whom the British thought they could control, they could limit the passions of the mob. But they picked the wrong man. Husseini was a virulent anti-Semite whose hatred of the Jews was both religious and racial. He was eventually to become a close ally and adviser to Adolf Hitler, and an active supporter of the “final solution” – the mass murder of European Jewry. In 1940, he asked the Axis powers to settle the Jewish problem in Palestine in accordance with the “racial interests of the Arabs and along lines similar to those used to solve the Jewish question in Germany.” (Author’s note – Mr. Dershowtiz here cites a letter from Husseini to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, June 28, 1943)

The attitudes Mr. Dershowtiz cited in the above chapters still exit today. Little has changed in the Palestinian mindset.

There are other chapters I could cite. For example, chapter twenty eight’s title question is “Is Israel the Prime Human Rights Violator in the World.” Chapter twenty one’s title is “Is Israel a Racist State?” Each chapter follows the same format – an accusation, the accusers, the reality, and the proof. I hope I’ve given you enough of a taste of Mr. Dershowitz’s work so that you’ll investigate all of this further.

I believe there’s a bottom line to all of this. I believe there’s a solution. Our administration has told the world that the United States supports a two state solution. Israel supports that solution as well. My hope and prayer is that, through free elections the Palestinian people will divest themselves of the demagogues and tyrants who have defied good sense and good will for far too long now. It’s time for a solution!

And, for the world community it’s time to stop treating Israel as the “neighborhood bully” in this equation. What has Israel done to earn this title? Songwriter Bob Dylan asked this question and came up with the following answer:

“Now his holiest books have been trampled upon,
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on.
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth,
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health.
He's the neighborhood bully.”

- Bob Dylan – Neighborhood Bully

The world’s view needs to follow Dylan’s lead here if there’s to be any real hope that a peaceful settlement can be reached and sustained.

The hope for peace rests on willingness for all parties to change. The Israelis are willing to trade land for peace and secure borders; they are, and have been, willing to change. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen willingness till now for the Palestinians to truly accept what would bring peace to the region. And, the world community needs to change its thinking about Israel.
I pray that the upcoming elections will be the first real step in the right direction.


thebloke said...

Thanks for sharing. The bit from Dershowitz' book is enlightening.

Tom Reindl said...

Osama Bin Laden has been saying what the Palestinians, and all Arabs want for years. This book really does osund enlightneing, but I knew much of it. I just didn't realize how far back the terrorism extended.

Here's my take. As much as we want peace in that region, I believe it will never truly happen. I am not normally a pessimist. However, if a people wants an entire race removed from the area, no peace will be long lived. Almost ALL of the terrorism against the US, and in the Middle east, as far as I know, has at it's roots racism, and much of that is Anti-Semitism.

Jesus spoke of Jerusalem being surrounded by enemies. I wonder if He meant in our day? Because we know Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome also.

Sorry Phil, I don't see any real hope for peace here.

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


You may be right, but I still believe we need to work toward some resolution in this situation.

I can't say that my hope is rock solid. But I just think we need to do what we can to bring peace to this region.

Teri said...

I wish I could believe all of that. But having been there, seen how Israelis treat Palestinians, seen and felt the depression in Bethlehem, watched an ambulance being turned away at a West Bank/Israel checkpoint, talked with Palestinians who say that the situation is only getting worse and they have no hope...well, I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears that some of the things the Palestinians "think" are going on really ARE going on. Not a day goes by that I don't think about my summer trip to Israel last year. Not a day goes by that I don't pray for the hundreds of Palestinian Christians I met. Hundreds of people working for peace--and just as much Arabic as any of the Muslims. If only I could model hope for them, but most days I can't. It's awfully rich to say (as a nation with more land than we know what to do with) to a people who have existed in a place for a long time--longer than our nation has existed--that they should give part of their land to those who invaded it. Especially when the part they're being asked to give up includes 90% of the water sources for the region. And especially when they're being quarantined in their towns, cut off from their fields and orchards, by a concentration-camp wall. For some reason this isn't what I though the New Jerusalem would look like.