By Prof Roderick R. Hewitt
European foundations of the Conflict
The Palestinian Israeli conflict that is generating so much global media attention does not have its historical roots in biblical times, as fundamentalist Christian leaders would lead us to believe. Rather it is rooted in political and economic conflict between European nations. The post-World War I actions of the British and French maritime interests sought control of the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal sea way that would lead to India and the East to facilitate trade. The presence of the Ottoman Empire’s navy in the area necessitated that they divide up the Ottoman-Syrian province into a number of countries.
In the historic Sykes-Picot agreement between the British and French, the French took control of the Northern area (Syria) and created an additional country that had not existed before, called Lebanon. The British in response to the rise of Saudi-Arabia facilitated the emergence of two nations: Iraq and Trans-Jordan, a divide and rule strategy to control the region. The other side of the Jordan was called Palestine which, in reality, was part of the same ethnic group of people that lived in the new country called Jordan.
Powerful political and economic interest sacrificed the Palestinians
In addition to a small number of ethnic Jews who had been part of Palestine for centuries, European Jews had migrated and lived in the region called Palestine since the 1880’s rule of the Ottoman Empire. They were part of the Zionist movement dedicated to create a Jewish State in the region. But this was no unoccupied or empty land that God gave the Jews to settle in. There were a large number of indigenous people that lived and worked on the land. The European Jews purchased lands from unscrupulous wealthy absentee Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese land owners. This began their systematic process of strategic settlement of Palestine that dispossessed the local people to this day. For the Jewish people, their understanding was that they engaged in a fair and just business deal in purchasing the land and they were therefore the legitimate owners. This commercial real estate transaction resulted in the local people being disposed and expelled from the land.
Unjust and unethical action of the United Nations
However, the fundamental shift happened after World War II with changes in the geo-political landscape of the region. The mass movement of people who survived the European holocaust migrated to the region. This was further complicated by Syria’s claim that the nations of Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine were integral parts of its national sovereignty and was against any part becoming independent. The action of the European and America nations through the United Nations to create a homeland for the Jewish People resulted in an unjust division of the land in which the minority got the majority of the land and the majority became refugees in their own land.
After the end of the British Palestine mandate in 1948 the Jordanian monarchial regime indirectly supported the formation of Israel as a buttress against the competing independent Palestinian State. Historically, none of the three - Jordan Egypt and Syria - supported the creation of an independent Palestinian State.
Sibling Rivalry exacerbated the problem
The historic competition and antagonism of these Arab nations against each other’s interests also contribute to the current Israeli Palestinian problem. On one hand they need Israel as an enemy in order to demonstrate to their people that they are giving support to the Palestinian cause, but on the other hand, they have demonstrated very little pro-active tangible support to facilitate the creation of an independent and strong Palestinian nation. Therefore, the Palestinian problem is not only an Israeli problem, but also an Arab problem. The various wars that have been fought in the region since 1948 have caused the Palestinian situation to move from bad to worse.
The three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas has predictably failed to stop the ill-fated war and senseless cross border attacks that have killed about 2000 women and children and the injuring of close to 10,000, with thousands of home destroyed. The Israelis, like Hamas, have overstepped what is morally defensible by any Christian in their inhumane actions in Gaza. Their immoral and unethical action has created a humanitarian crisis. Hamas’ despicable and morally reprehensible use of civilians in promoting its ideology of resistance has placed the Palestinian in a catch 22 position. Any way that they turn has proven not to be a viable option.
Support for Israel based upon questionable Biblical interpretation
To understand why many Evangelical Christians in Jamaica give such uncritical support to the Jewish State of Israel, one must attempt to identify and then deconstruct the myths that have been intentionally nurtured over decades.
This religious addiction to advance the cause and agenda of Israel has resulted in political enslavement. Each time a conflict erupts between Israel and the Palestinians, the church takes side with Israel. Sadly, it does so, not on sound data that is presented, but emotional, non-critical attachment and appeasement to the political agenda of conservative and fundamentalist American Evangelical Christians and the Zionist Christian alliance with Israel. These groups use the Bible in an ideological way to fit their agenda that Israel must not give up one inch of the covenant land that God promised and gave to Abraham and his descendants that have been captured or occupied.
Blind addiction to a false and unjust ideology
It was the ancestors of many of these white Southern conservative Christians that used scriptures to support the enslavement of Africans and indigenous Indians. Therefore it is paradoxical that Jamaicans, whose ancestors have also suffered from European misuse of the bible to support the evil system of slavery, have now joined forces with conservatives and fundamentalist evangelicals with their flawed theology to support the enslavement, imprisonment and oppression of Palestinians. Such Christians are addicted to support Israel for any reason because they believe that in doing so they are pleasing God and are storing up blessings for themselves.
Contradiction within Rastafari
What is also of interest within the Jamaican context is that Rastafari hermeneutics (interpretation of scriptures) that is built on a strong anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and liberative ideology seems to be embedded in an ideological support of Israel because of its uncritical use of the scriptures. Rastafari use of selective Old Testament texts has further compounded their situation. Their stated commitment to putting up resistance should have aligned them with the resistance of the Palestinian people against colonialist occupation of their land. But I am not aware of any of the songs of Rastafari critiquing the Israeli occupation policy as “Babylon” that Jah will overthrow. This issue must be addressed by Rastafari or else they stand accused of being a movement that is myopic and in support of injustice.
Fullness of Life for all
This article argues that the position taken by the Jamaican church leaders to give uncritical support to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is untenable and against the gospel of Jesus that offers “fullness of life for all”.
If Israel does not regard or respect the Palestinians as human beings, created in God’s image just like the Jews and other people of the world, then neither will their human rights be respected. The full force of the Israeli government and its media allies has engaged in a systemic policy to dehumanize and demonise the Palestinians in order to legitimize the occupation of their lands.
The political, economic and military support for Israel in their historic oppression of Palestinians and the current unbalanced and violent assault on Gaza that has killed over 1,900 people, most of whom are civilians, is an untenable and morally repugnant situation. Church leaders must therefore be willing to ask uncomfortable questions about what is going on in Palestine and to use the lens of the God of life, justice, peace and love that is revealed in the ministry and mission of Jesus to take a stand. This should not be determined by the political agenda of powerful religious conservative and fundamentalist lobby groups that influence the USA policy towards Israel.
The land of Palestine was never unoccupied
These fundamentalist evangelical Christians have promoted the myth that the land of Palestine was unoccupied when the Zionists occupied it in 1948. This is so far from the truth. Palestine has remained consistently occupied by Palestinian Christians and Muslims and other indigenous Arabs and Jewish communities from the time of the Romans through to the end of the Ottoman Empire when the British took control of the area. Therefore any solution of the situation must be a win-win for both Jews and Palestinians.
We must not be tricked into accepting that Israel is fighting for its survival from hostile enemies, as it loves to claim. Neither Hamas nor any other State in the Middle East has the necessary military resource capacity to defeat Israel, which has the fourth largest army in the world that is outfitted by the USA and Europe. It is Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians that has created Hamas, whose despicable acts of kidnapping Israeli civilians and firing missiles on their cities are evil actions born out of desperation and hopelessness. The equation must be changed and it can only come from groups that can influence Israeli-American policy.
When one considers the economic cost of the war in Gaza one can see the inhumanity that has pushed the already battered and besieged economy many years into the doldrums. When one compares the Palestinian condition with Israel getting about $2billion in aid from the USA each year, it becomes clear that there exist little incentives for Israel to make peace with the Palestine. The actions of Israel with the Palestinians suggest that they are using apartheid policies that were perfected in South Africa to construct separate development for the Palestinians that they demonize and make second class humans as they seize their lands.
The Jamaica Government and people that included many conservative evangelical Church leaders took a stand against South African apartheid policies that belittled the human dignity of Africans. A similar case exists with the Palestinian people that demand all Jamaican people of goodwill to take a stand. Therefore, the only peaceful form of resistance open to Jamaican Christians that value peace with justice for the Israeli and Palestinian people would be to lobby for boycott of companies that support Israeli government military polices and machinery, divestment of all forms of Jamaican trade with Israel and to network with other groups around the world that are advocating equal rights and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.
We need to march and protest and make our voices heard. We must educate our people, especially church leaders who misuse scripture to give uncritical support to Israel. They may be sincere in their belief, but they are sincerely wrong. The God of Israel is also the God of the Palestinians. This God of life, seen in the life and work of Jesus Christ, has no favourites, but will consistently defend victims who are oppressed by the powerful of this world.
Prof Roderick Hewitt is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Leader for Theology and Ethics in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics (SRPC) at the University of Zwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. A Jamaican, he served as the Vice President for the Jamaica Council of Churches, Co-moderator for the Mission in Unity project of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and currently serves as a member of the WCC AGAPE Reference Group. Dr. Hewitt has served two terms as Moderator of Synod of The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and as Moderator of The Council for World Mission.