By the time war broke out in Palestine in 1948, there was already an emergence of two different, dueling narratives describing the advent of Zionism in the Middle East. These narratives have continued to operate in conflict with one another to the present day. This is where a conversation about this topic can go off the rails rather quickly, as it can generate a lot of emotion. Everybody has their own choice of news sources and Internet sites they follow to get their information about the situation in the Middle East. Nevertheless, these differing narratives are difficult to ignore, so I will try to address them as fairly as I know how, particularly for those who know little about recent and current affairs in Israel, and then allow the Veracity reader to come to their own conclusions.
One story tells about the modern miracle of a genuine homeland for the Jews, a people who have endured centuries of persecution and hatred. The other story is about the colonial ambitions of Western powers, interfering with the principle of self-determination among the Arab peoples who themselves had lived in the land for centuries. These competing narratives have, at various times among various peoples, provided both uplifting encouragement as well as devastating sadness, injecting a good measure of confusion to outsiders, like myself, who are trying to understand what is going on.
Early Years of the Israeli-Arab Conflict
Here is one side of the story: An Islamic group, the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission, has promoted this short documentary that summarizes some of the major early events in the Israeli-Arab conflict, highlighting the difficulties experienced by the indigenous peoples from a more Palestinian Arab point of view. From this perspective, the rapid influx of Jewish immigrants back into the traditional land of Israel has disturbed the harmony of the peoples that have lived there in the land previously for centuries. This will be controversial for some to watch, but what is particularly helpful is that it gives you a sense of numbers and percentages of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs over the time period covered by these events:
Israel and the 1967 Six-Day War
Well, that is one side of the story….
But there is another story to tell. One of the most electrifying events I heard growing up as a kid was about the 1967 Six-Day War. It was quite remarkable. In a brief period of time, the Israeli military led a surprise attack against her neighbors, eventually obtaining control of all of old Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. Israeli Jews could now worship unimpeded at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. With blazing speed, the nation of Israel was able to establish her influence over much of the area originally set out by the Balfour Declaration under the British Mandate, some fifty years earlier. Was it just an incredible military victory, or did it have theological, prophetic significance?
The Christian Broadcasting Network, produced this 5-minute documentary segment about the Six-Day War in 1967, from a pro-Zionist Christian point of view. As described by the CBN commentators and those interviewed, this conflict was an example of God’s hand at work. Again, as in the previous video, but from a different viewpoint, some may find this disturbing:
Infitadas Upon the World Stage… and America
However, what looked like an amazing realization of the dreams of the Jewish people, proved to be complicated by what was happening on the other side of the narrative among the Arabs. The victories gained in 1967 would eventually be set back partially by the Yom Kippur War of 1973. This was when the United States government began to heavily back the beleaguered Israeli nation.
From that point on, Israel became greatly dependent on American guns and dollars for support. To this day, the United States still gives more foreign aid to Israel that any other country. The only countries that come anywhere near to what Israel receives are Afghanistan and Egypt, and each of those countries only receive half of what Israel by herself receives.1
Even with U.S. support, there have been periods of great unrest between Israel and her neighbors. For the past forty or so years, infitadas, or uprisings, a cycle of attack and counter-attack, led respectively by Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, have dominated the media. As the tragedies grew, the moral arguments on both sides began to erode.
Bombings against civilians by Palestinian militants have put terrified Israelis on high alert, thus urging for greater defense of Israel. But sometimes, the Israeli response to these attacks have sparked international protest of their own against Israel. The building of a great security wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has slowed down the flow of violence, but tensions today still remain high. The continued growth of Israeli settlements in traditional Arab areas exacerbates a situation where desperate poverty reigns among many Palestinian people, fueling the desperation. But the situation has not provided permanent security for Israelis either, as both sides live in almost a daily state of stress. Efforts to promote peace make some headway before being shattered by new waves of violence. The years go by as the “peace of Jerusalem” seems more and more like a far off dream.
Should These Differing Narratives Impact our View of Biblical Prophecy?
So, was the 1948 establishment of Israel a fulfillment of biblical prophecy? Christians are divided on this question. Many Christians who believe in a literal return of the Jews to the Holy Land would still agree, despite the escalation of violence. However, there are others with the same high view of Scripture who are more cautious in making such an assessment for various reasons. Some even say that the 1948 event was only a partial fulfillment since only a fraction of the original biblical borders have been restored thus far (see Genesis 17:7-8 and Genesis 15:18-21). It is then argued that the violence itself is no reason to question our view on Biblical prophecy.2 Others would say that atrocities committed by both sides have made the terms “the Holy Land” and “the Peace of Jerusalem” into contradictions, rendering the claims of Zionism as biblically suspect.
In the early days of the Zionist movement, a common slogan among some was “a land without a people, for a people without a land.” However, the suggestion of an “empty land” in Palestine has proved a difficult pill to swallow for many Palestinian Arabs, who were indeed living in the land for centuries.
Nevertheless, as the current generation of World War 2 survivors of the Holocaust continues to die off, there is the opposite concern that people will forget the plight of the Jews. Might this lead to a new wave of anti-Jewish hatred, thus threatening the very existence of modern Israel? The fears of annihilation by anti-semitic forces are set against the fears of Western colonial and imperialist ambitions on the other side.3
Given all of complexities sorting out these different narratives, what can be made of the Zionist movement some sixty plus years since the founding of the nation of Israel? We explore contemporary perspectives on Zionism in our next post.
Have I portrayed the recent history of Israel in the Middle East fairly? Please leave a comment in the comments section below and let me know. To keep up with other posts in this series, please look here.
1. Many American Christian are concerned the United States is “turning her back” on Israel. However, if one uses U.S. foreign aid as a metric to measure level of support, the statistics show that U.S. foreign aid support in terms of American dollars has been steadily increasing since 2008. Do these statistics require adjustment for inflation? Are there other metrics available that can better show us if the United States is really “turning her back” on Israel? ↩
2. The original borders given in the Bible were pretty extensive, from the Nile(?) River, in modern day Egypt, to the Euphrates River, in modern day Iraq (Genesis 15:18)…. A QUICK NOTE HERE: Most scholars contend that the traditional reference to the “Nile” River is incorrect. The actual river for the south western boundary of the land promise is typically identified as the Wadi El-Arish, which is just northeast of the Nile delta (see the Net Bible notes for Genesis 15:18)…. California pastor, David Jeremiah, recently preached a sermon entitled, “I Never Thought I’d See the Day! When America Would Turn Her Back on Israel.” In the sermon, Jeremiah pleads for U.S foreign policy makers to recognize that “Israeli lands belong to the Jewish people, and that Jerusalem is indeed the capital of Israel, and has been, ever since God declared it to be so” (at 21:34 into the YouTube recording). His remarks were met with great applause from his congregation, but I still have questions. Clearly, Dr. Jeremiah is concerned about Israel’s national security. Israel, as it is now, is very tiny compared to her neighbors, and many Islamic extremists have vowed to wipe tiny Israel off of the map. So, Dr. Jeremiah has legitimate reason to be concerned. Yet how does Dr. Jeremiah define the borders that constitute these “Israeli lands?” It is one thing to consider the current border defined by the great security wall going around much of the nation-state of Israel today. But does Dr. Jeremiah believe the “Israeli lands” are determined by the United Nations Resolutions of 1948? Or does he believe in the literal borders described in Genesis 15:18, or something else? I wonder if Dr. Jeremiah were to live in some place like Lebanon, Syria, eastern Egypt, western Iraq, or some other place included within those ancient borders. Would such a situation have any influence on how he views the extent of “Israeli lands?” Or is he content for the Lord to work out such details on the eve of the Second Coming?↩
3. Before I visited the Holy Land in 1994, I only had a rudimentary understanding of the modern history of the Middle East, informed mostly by television headlines and friends in church. But after I read a couple of books, I was blown away by the shear complexity of it all. Two of the most influential to me were Amos Oz’ In the Land of Israel, a travelogue of sorts, made up of the author’s interviews with Israelis and Palestinians, and Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, the recounting of ten years the author spent in the Middle East. Though both books are a bit dated now, the situation really has not changed that much. The above blog post is just an all-too brief sketch.↩