The Fate of the Holy Land
In war zones where children die for the mistakes of their fathers, every new generation has an obligation to understand the decisions and choices made by previous ones. Considering the longstanding history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one such way of examining the past in hopes of understanding the present. Unless the tragic history involved is properly acknowledged, there is a strict limit to what diplomacy alone can accomplish for those concerned with the intermittent bouts of violence in the Middle East. Peace in never-ending instalments is sometimes worse than conflict itself because life becomes a war of attrition whose end no one can tell. To understand why lasting peace has become a practical impossibility, this story should be recounted from the very beginning.
Western interest in the fate of the Holy Land is primarily religious in nature. The Bible states that God first promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. In Exodus 32:13 God asseverated: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” This was the covenant God established with Abraham, the first Jewish patriarch, and his descendants. Biblical passages such as Genesis 15:18-21, Genesis 26:3-5, Genesis 28:15 and Deuteronomy 1:8 also support this claim. Israel is deemed to be the Holy Land because it is the eternal home God promised to the Jewish people in fulfillment of the covenant originally established with Abraham and his descendants.
While taking possession of the promised land, God expressly instructed the Jewish people to expel all those standing in the way of his covenant, should any significant opposition arise. As the Almighty proclaimed to the Israeli people in Exodus 23:31-33: "I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates river. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you."
Based on this covenant established between God and the Israelites, Moses freed the Jewish people from more than 400 years of slavery in Egypt, leading them through a forty-year epic journey through the desert before finally delivering them to the promised land. Moses also bequeathed to the Jewish people a significant portion of the Old Testament law that ruled Israeli society for centuries. This is how the biblical kingdom of Israel first came into being thousands of years ago, having countless luminary leaders of timeless renown like King David and Solomon to strive for God´s glory. Those who say Israel struggled against impossible odds throughout its biblical history are surely puzzled by what it means to be on the right side of God. As the Lord solemnly proclaimed to the Jews in Deuteronomy 7:6: "For you are a people Holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you of all the peoples of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession."
Disastrously for Israel, the only trouble in saying the Jewish people would never fall from God's holy grace is coming across a tragic set of circumstances that precludes such a sanguine notion. Despite all the splendor of its heyday, Israel lamentably abandoned the Gospel, and was finally destroyed in the decades following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Having crucified the Son of God at the behest of high-ranking Jewish Church officials with the complicity of their Roman masters, Israel tortured and murdered the one and only true Messiah, momentously diverging from God´s righteous path. As Jesus himself once said in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Unrecognized by so many of his own people, Jesus opened the Gospel to the gentiles through the Great Commission, sending Christian emissaries to preach for every nation, even as a recalcitrant Jewish generation turned its back on the word of God.
The Jewish people then relegated the Abrahamic covenant and were driven of their land. With the diaspora of Roman times, the people of Israel tragically scattered throughout the world, facing two millennia of relentless persecution. Although many excelled in various fields, they remained strangers living in foreign lands, discriminated and mistreated at will by the changing tides of history. A safe return home was an implausible proposition because the very concept of home itself became entirely devoid of religious significance. Despite European attempts to retake Jerusalem during the Crusades, it wasn't until the late 19th century that a man by the name of Theodore Herzl proposed the recreation of the state of Israel in the promised land. By then the biblical land of proverbial milk and honey became an appendage of the Turkish-Ottoman empire, the so-called sick man of Europe.
During the First World War, Britain defeated the decrepit and moribund Turkish-Ottoman empire, acquiring a ruling mandate over the Holy Land based on the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This agreement secretly defined the spheres of influence to be established in the Middle East should the Triple Entente powers, comprised of France, Russia and Great Britain, finally emerge victorious in the world war against Germany, the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and the Turkish-Ottoman empire. With the signing of the treaty of Sèvres in 1920, occupation zones were created within the defeated Turkish-Ottoman empire, forced to cede large territories to the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Greece. While carrying out its ruling mandate under the League of Nations, the international organization that was the predecessor of the United Nations, Britain officially supported the recreation of a Jewish state on the promised land, as previously pledged by the Balfour declaration of 1917.
From the world over, thousands of persecuted Jews then returned home to the Holy Land, but it wasn´t until the Second World War that Jewish settlement efforts truly escalated. A war-torn generation that survived the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust desperately decided it was past time to recreate the nation of Israel as the final home for Jews persecuted everywhere. When faced with mass extermination in Europe, Jews finally decided to return home and start again. Seemingly intractable quandaries sometimes arise in life so that an entire people can better themselves by effectively addressing them, despite all the inconvenient stress of this undertaking. The absolute horror of German concentration camps, their abyssal mass graves, and the unquenchable bloodlust of Soviet pogroms all redefined the concept of anti-Semitic genocide, as the industrialization of death was taken far beyond most people´s primal comprehension.
Despite this tragic motivation desperately impelling the recreation of Israel, the monumental task itself was easier said than done. The Arab population that colonized the Holy Land centuries after the Jewish diaspora of Roman times vehemently opposed Israel's rebirth. Citizens of nowhere, the Palestinians occupying the Holy Land also dreamt of having their own state, albeit in clear violation of the Abrahamic covenant. After the Second World War, the dispute went before the United Nations and resolution 181 determined the partition of the litigious territory. As the Palestinians refused to accept the partition plan, the inability to resolve this dispute diplomatically led to the first Arab-Israeli war. Neighboring Arab states immediately attacked Israel once it declared its independence in 1948. Arabs mistakenly believed they could extract on the battlefield political concessions never to be obtained by diplomatic means. Sadly for them, unfounded great expectations lead only to great disappointment. Although Jordan seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, Israel successfully defended its newborn sovereignty.
Reborn in 1948, Israel was a nation persecuted from conception. Always involved in unrelenting warfare with the local Palestinian communities and nearby Arab states, Israel was perennially forced to fight for survival because none of its neighbors recognized its right to exist. In 1956, Israel went to war with Egypt over the closure of the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping, blocking all Jewish access to the Red Sea. Israel interpreted this move as an act of war, invading the Sinai Peninsula to restore its maritime shipping lanes. While the ongoing Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal triggered an international crisis, leading to the ill-fated military intervention of Great Britain and France, Israel accomplished its primary objectives and maritime trade resumed shortly thereafter.
During the Six Day War of 1967, Egypt and its Arab allies once again battled the Jewish state. This time Israel mercilessly obliterated all opposition, regaining control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, seizing the Golan Heights from Syria, and taking the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Once the war was over, the ensuing territorial disputes could not be resolved diplomatically in the United Nations. Although the acquisition of territory through war was barred by the United Nations Charter, as well as Security Council resolution 242, the conspicuous weakness of international law never guaranteed Israel's sovereignty, only paving the way for future military aggression and armed conflict. There could be no diplomatic solution for what was essentially a political conflict based on differing religious views amid incessant spiritual warfare.
By 1973, Israel once again stood its ground against a coalition of several Arab states when Egypt and Syria mounted a surprise attack during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. Although Israel emerged victorious, the obdurate opposition encountered was nothing like previous confrontations. This time Arab countries even weaponized oil, orchestrating an oil embargo against countries sympathetic to the Israeli cause. This oil shock suddenly quadrupled the price of oil, bearing dire consequences for the world economy. In subsequent years, the general Arab disposition towards Israel hardly ameliorated. Only after signing the Camp David Accords in 1978 did Egypt become the first Arab country to recognize the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation. In exchange for diplomatic recognition, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Peninsula previously seized during the Six Day War.
For the next twenty years, Israel lived under the unrelenting siege of its neighboring states, none of which recognized its existence, with the sole exception of Egypt. Believing past disappointments need not portend future ones, Arab opposition to Israel never abated. Surrounded by an ocean of hatred and contempt, Israel also dealt with rising public exposure to political attacks in international forums. Attempting to strike at the very core of Israeli citizenship and tarnish the country´s international image, the United Nations General Assembly resolution 3379 deemed Zionism to be a form of racial discrimination, proving the extent to which anti-Semitism was still prevalent in the world. Despite the unrelenting persecution Jews experienced throughout the past millennia, the international community deemed the recreation of a national Jewish state for persecuted Jews everywhere to be racially discriminatory in nature.
Terrorism then became the primary avenue through which Palestinian militant organizations voiced their opposition to Israel´s existence. Israeli athletes were held hostage and killed during the Munich Olympics of 1972, commercial airliners were highjacked, embassies were bombed, and government employees assassinated. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was created to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people, pledging to liberate Palestine through armed struggle. To oppose the PLO and its terrorist attacks, Israel went so far as to wage war against Lebanon in 1982, denying them any safe haven. Subsequent Palestinian uprisings such as the Intifada, as well as the tragic recurrence of suicide bombings, increased the diplomatic stakes at hand for all sides involved.
Despite the many terrorist attacks on record, it wasn´t until the Oslo Accords of 1993 that the Palestinian Authority was created to peacefully represent the local Palestinian population, initially exercising limited self-governance over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the time, Egypt remained the only Arab state to officially recognize Israel's sovereignty. The second Arab country to do so was Jordan, establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in 1994. It wasn't until several decades later, with the negotiation of the Abraham Accords during the Trump administration, that four additional Arab countries acknowledged Israel´s right to exist. The United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Sudan, and Morocco were the first four countries in the region to normalize relations with Israel since Egypt did so in 1978 and Jordan in 1994.
Today, there are 6.8 million Jews in Israel living in close proximity to 7.3 million Palestinians residing mostly in the West Bank and Gaza. Millions of additional Palestinian refugees have also settled in neighboring countries such as Jordan. While the militant terrorist organization Hamas currently represents Palestinians living in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority speaks for the Palestinians living in the West Bank and beyond. This demographic reality must be carefully considered when discussing the creation of a future Palestinian state. Given that 20% of the Israeli population is already comprised of Arab-Israelis, accepting an additional 7.3 million Palestinians would render the one state solution completely untenable. This would transform Israeli Jews into an instant minority within their own country, destroying the Jewish nature of the state, and negating the original concept of Israeli citizenship still available to persecuted Jewish minorities everywhere.
In light of this demographic reality, the one state solution became a practical impossibility. If creating a shared national home for both Israelis and Palestinians is untenable, the only remotely realistic option remaining for Palestinians is the two-state solution. Palestinians would then create their own state in Gaza and limited portions of the West Bank while Israelis would live in the remainder of Israel, having Jerusalem as their capital. As this option requires more astringent realism than the parties under dispute are willing to peacefully accept, it comes as no surprise that Israel still lives under an unrelenting state of siege from enemies both foreign and domestic. The more Israel retains control of the territory under dispute, the more violence is used against its people. Had it not been for the Israeli Iron Dome Anti-missile defense system, the 4,000 rockets Hamas recently fired at major Israeli urban centers would not have been intercepted in time, causing much greater loss of life and property.
Controversially, one might object that this account of events represents only the Western pro-Israeli point of view principally inspired by the underlying Christian significance of the Holy Land and its people. Those holding this view must surely concede that anyone who believes in the original covenants celebrated between God and the Israelis would most likely dispute any Palestinian claim to the Holy Land, expelling them from Israel to fulfill the Lord's original promise. Relinquishing Israel´s eternal biblical inheritance in exchange for a politically correct, fleetingly fragile, specious sense of peace militates against the most basic religious values of well-informed Christians and Jews. As previously stated, when originally taking possession of the Holy Land, God expressely instructed the Jewish people to expel all those standing in the way of his covenant, without any negotiations or concessions, as explained in Exodus 23:31-33 and reinforced in Deuteronomy 7:1-6. These instructions remain valid today because the Bible deems the land of Israel to be the eternal inheritance of the Jewish people, as stated in Exodus 32:13.
The only conceivable alternative to war would be to bide time and proceed with Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, deciding the fate of the Holy Land from a future position of greater Israeli strength. Since negotiations first began, every single time Palestinians refused a partition plan, they always ended up with considerably less territory than they had before, especially as untrammeled Jewish colonization has taken its course. Although the passing of time has certainly disfavoured the Palestinian cause, this is not to say that modern day Israel is not a pale version of its former self as well.
With its current borders, Israel is a far cry from the nation it once was before the first coming of Christ. Perhaps it would take an apocalyptic era to set the record straight. As described in the book of Revelation, the final book in the Bible, God reserved a special role for the twelve tribes of Israel and the messianic city of New Jerusalem in the end times. Perhaps for this reason alone, a Christian should offer the nation of Israel and the Jewish people all requisite support as the fate of the Holy Land is decided, and God's eternal promise to the Jewish people is finally fulfilled.
While some may expect lasting peace to arrive only after the battle of Armageddon, others may hope it can be attained much sooner, as the people of Israel finally atone for their sins, acknowledging Jesus Christ as their one and only true Messiah. In war zones where children die for the mistakes of their fathers, every new generation has an obligation to understand the decisions and choices made by previous ones. Perhaps then they will finally understand that those who live by the sword, by the sword will meet their fate, it is pointless fighting towards the straight and narrow gate.