I’ve been reading a book about the history of Israel and the Palestinians that could have an incredible impact for world peace if American Christians would read it. Sadly, I don’t expect that to happen: most Americans prefer to keep their heads in the sand when it comes to the injustices done to the Palestinians.
That view, however, shows a blind ignorance of the story. The plight of the Palestinians — millions of whom continue to live in refugee camps 60 years after being displaced from their homes by order of the West — is something we’d just rather not think about.
But we should. The book I’m reading is Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People. It’s written by Alex Awad, a professor and dean of students at Bethlehem Bible College. Awad began the book as an effort to review the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. As he neared completion of the volume, his mother died, leading him to personalize the book by appending a brief history of his own family and the way his mother Huda heroically cared for seven children after her husband was shot and killed as Palestinians were being evicted from their homes in 1948.
Awad’s book is helpful on several fronts. First, it puts human faces on the Palestinian issue, when Americans tend to see only rock-throwing gangs of children. Secondly, it provides a helpful history of how the current conflict has developed in Israel-Palestine, putting things like the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, and the United Nations partition plan in context.
Perhaps most helpful for American Christians is the attention Awad pays to the explaining the rise of Jewish Zionism in the late 19th century, how the emergence of Christian dispensationalism aided the Zionist cause, and why this still impacts America’s one-sided support for Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.
I’m convinced that many Americans would feel differently about how the Palestinians have been treated if only they knew more about the matter, but it’s an unpleasant subject and we’d rather just comfort ourselves with Bible stories about God giving the land to Abraham, assuming that everyone else is an automatic interloper.
Awad includes a lengthy critique of Christian Zionism that would give many of us pause if only we’d stop to think about it.
When Campbell University Divinity School sponsored a trip to Israel and the West Bank this summer, one of my goals was to have participants visit Bethlehem Bible College so they could learn something about the Palestinian side of the story. Some were surprised to learn that there are Arabs who are also Christians (though there are fewer and fewer of them in Israel-Palestine, as it becomes more intolerable to live there). Others were amazed when they saw how Palestinians who remain in the land are kept behind walls and fences, with all movements controlled by the Israelis.
I don’t want to suggest that there are any easy solutions for Israel and Palestine — far from it. I’m very aware that no group of people has suffered more persecution over a longer period of time than the Jews. But, I’m also aware that the persecution and murder of millions of Jews did not come at the hands of Arabs, but was mainly the work of Europeans, especially European Christians. Following World War II, the West sought to assuage its collective guilt toward the Jews by giving them a homeland. In doing so, however, it compounded the problem by evicting nearly a million Palestinians from their homeland.
I have a lot of sympathy for Israel and the Israelis — don’t get me wrong. But I also have a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinians who continue to be displaced and dominated in ways that are wrong in the sight of God and man. The West has perpetrated unspeakable crimes against the Jews through the years — but trying to balance the scales on the backs of the Palestinians just adds one great crime to another.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.