In order to understand the Arab Israeli conflict, one must also consider the historical developments that have shaped the past and formed the conflict-laden present that we all live in.
The official narrative for the creation of the State of Israel began long before the country was officially “created” in 1948. Fervor for Zionism has been growing throughout Europe decades before the end of World War II, and after the Holocaust, sufficient political and moral currency existed to establish a Jewish state in Palestine—an area before 1948 that was composed of more than 90% non-Jews and whose land owners were 99% non-Jewish. After the end of World War I, the British controlled Palestine as part of a colonial mandate, and they made plans to partition the region into a Jewish state after their mandate ended, partly in response to United Nations Resolution 181 (also known as the partition resolution). This resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly but was notably nonbinding; it also advocated diving Palestine into Jewish and Arab States when the British relinquished control.
On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born after being recognized both by then U.S. President Harry Truman and then head of the Jewish Agency David Ben-Gurion.
It is important to note that even before May 1948, once plans for the partition were formalized, violence increased in the region out of the expected competition, displacement, and threatened occupation of land between nonindigenous and indigenous people. In fact, the region was engaged in civil war from November 1947 to July 1949 as rival armed forces jockeyed for control.
My purpose is not to point fingers or to blame but to better understand the present by taking a discerning look at history. It seems that from the very start, things in the Holy Land were very messy, and although we are more than 60 years removed from 1948, very little has changed—rival sides still live in perpetual tension and conflict even though the balance of power has shifted dramatically. However, it has reached the point where no one and no side remains innocent and all hands are dirty. The reason being is that violence begets violence, and the perpetual cycles of tit-for-tat justice has absolved all parties of moral legitimacy because invariably, once violence is resorted to, the innocent always suffer, demoting the aggressors to using the same strategy as those they are so vehemently fighting against. Even if one cause is just, it is never just to take the lives of the innocent in the pursuit of retribution.
But didn’t God choose Israel? Aren’t they “special” and “chosen?”
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His loving kindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (italics are mine; from Deuteronomy 7:6-9, NASB).
God is the perfect vow keeper, and the oath that is spoken of refers to the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Note that the election of Israel is neither absolute nor irrevocable; rather, it is conditional based on obedience.
Certainly, throughout the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is considered as God’s chosen people, but the scriptures repeatedly make reference to the fact that this election is not due to any innate worthiness of the people. Instead, it was a gift bestowed upon Israel so that God could use them as an example to the rest of the world. And yes, God did free Israel from Egyptian bondage and brought them into Canaan (the Promised Land or roughly modern-day Israel) by conquest.
But wasn’t this gift a reward?
The answer is no because with any deviant perversion of sound doctrine, this mental orientation draws attention away from God and toward the self. Israel was brought into the Promised Land so that they could be diligent stewards of Canaan and would be blessed as long as they remained obedient to God’s mandates. They were given the prize first and then told to be responsible with it.
So what happened?
After Israel conquered the tribes that dwelled in the region, slowly but surely, they began to drift away from the laws given to them, and they began to adopt false gods and pagan practices. The Old Testament books of I and II Kings are filled with stories about how corrupt rulers drifted away from the Word, institutionalized sin, and lead a nation of idolatrous Israelites down a path of disobedience. In short, Israel’s special place in the world for God’s plan turned itself inside out: grace and mercy turned into blind familiarity, and obedience turned into special favor and privilege.
So what was God’s response?
He gave the Israelites time (hundreds of years, actually) to repent and warned them that if they continued in their disobedience, they would be kicked out of the land. Israel did not, in fact, listen (except for a very small remnant), and as a result of the violation of the covenant, they were exiled from the Promised Land. The Assyrians displaced the northern kingdom, and the Babylonians exiled the southern kingdom.
Fast forward to 1948. On one hand, we have one group of people who were living peacefully in a land for generations and soon found themselves at the whim of an impersonal colonial power and international agency that coerced them, against their own “self-determination,” to accommodate foreign people in their land. On the other hand, we have a group of millions of people who were the victims of a moral atrocity who needed a secure home of their own, free from persecution, and also felt they had a territorial claim to the land that preexisted the current inhabitants. In fact, if I were to get really technical, I would invite anyone to read Genesis 48:4 in order to discern whom Jacob (father of the twelve tribes of Israel) explicitly gave the blessing of the land to. Even further, God gave the human father figure of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, Abraham, a blessing before (Genesis 12:1–3) he had any sons. Resultantly, although Judaism subsequently developed through Abraham’s second son, Isaac, Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, born to an Egyptian mother, shared in the blessing. And when one considers both boys are the sons of the same blessed father with the same blessed lineage, it begins to reorganize how the current Islamic (The Quran, Al-Baqarah, Section 15) and Jewish paradigms of blessing transmission are interpreted. The genuine scriptural response is simple: the children are fighting over land and resources, yet they forgot to realize they are brothers with the same last name and the same father.
In the philosophy of inheritance and privilege, emphasis is placed on the land while ignoring the one who gifted the land in the first place. The same paradigm existed before in Christ’s time when the Jews living in Judea wanted a warlike “messiah” to liberate them from Roman oppression. When Christ came in the breath of peace and tried to show the Jews that it’s not the land per se that’s relevant but the living God in their midst, many did not like that message and instead wanted a zealot who would overthrow the Romans in totality, ushering in a Jewish state. Christ preached this message to the Jews first, and he was rejected. Jesus then opened up his message to anyone and everyone because having an “elect” people did not work—not because God failed but because humans failed to be proper stewards of the blessing. With Christ, closeness no longer knows any limitations.
In short, I think there will never be a peaceful end to the Arab-Israeli conflict because there can never be an amicable harmonization of ideologies that remain so divided and far apart. I cannot speak to my Arabic brethren in Palestine from a stance of faith, but I do have some common bonds with my Jewish brethren in Israel. It seems now that despite all the wars and conflicts, the nation of Israel has emerged as a dominant power in the Middle East, with the appropriate economic and military resources, a nuclear arsenal, and full support from the West. If they so desired, Israel could wipe Gaza and the West Bank off the map, but they have shown some degree of restraint in the current military campaign, not to dismiss the significance of the loss of civilian life. It appears now that Israel has become Goliath, a mighty and all-powerful figurehead in the region who dares to be challenged. Yet, in the Old Testament, Goliath met his match at the hands of a young shepherd by the name of David who used a slingshot to bring the behemoth down. In the end, I am wholly incapable of determining who is just and who is unrighteous, but time will sort out all things. One just better hope they’re on David’s team when the dust settles because in judgment, God will not be mocked.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal