Victims of our own “righteous” agenda

Source: Photo by Latrach Med Jamil on Unsplash

It almost seems cyclical; every few years we hear of Israel and Palestine exchanging rocket fire, the suffering of casualties, an armistice, and then a period of silence and forgetfulness ensues. During the cease-fire, Israel rebuilds its enormous and deadly arsenal with the support of its allies — mainly the United States. Debate and discussion around this highly politicized issue usually only occur during times of active conflict; we only focus on it while we can see it happening. After the media fanfare dies Americans seem to forget about it, even though in the background the United States government is complicit in the internationally denounced conflict. While attention to the conflict may be seasonal; the conflict’s life-changing consequences for the people and children of Palestine are lifelong. Now more than ever, Americans need to rethink their support for Israel — a country whose human rights violations go largely unpunished and undeterred.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch (2021) have summarized what is happening in the region: “deprivations… so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” When people think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict they often think of two countries at war with one another, but this understanding is far from true. Instead, the conflict is between the Israeli government and Palestinians which live under de facto Israeli rule (Human Rights Watch, 2021). The Israeli government places harsh restrictions on Palestinians which limit their ability to claim citizenship, move freely (there are strict limits to where Palestinians can live); the government even limits due process for Palestinians by remanding them to military tribunals instead of civilian criminal courts (Amnesty, 2021, pp.201–204). These restrictions add to growing tensions in the region. Most recently, the forced displacement of Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah by Jewish settlers and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at holy sites like the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan celebrations have exacerbated tensions (Bowman & Estrin, 2021). The result was increased bloodshed as Israel and Hamas, a militant group that has declared control of Gaza, exchanged rocket-fire. The disparity of the participants is evident in the casualties of the conflict. In all, ten Israelis, including two children, lost their lives; losses suffered on the Palestinian side were much worse with 219 people dead — almost a third, 63, were children (Hunter, Fouché, & Ghannam, 2021).

Sadly, despite international denunciations, loss of life, and a notable imbalance of power the United States has remained committed to Israel. The United States allocates $3.8 billion in funds for Israel annually; the total expenditure now sits at $236 billion (AJ+, 2021-b). Government policies on Israel have remained the same throughout the years with both parties declaring their support for the country (Khalid, 2021). A root cause of Israeli support stems from the religious views held by many evangelical and other Christian denominations (Bump, 2018). University of North Texas professor Elizabeth Oldmixon explains, “the tenet of Christian Zionism is that God’s promise of the Holy Land to the Jews is eternal” (Bump, 2018). A LifeWay survey further substantiates these claims as eighty percent of respondents believed the establishment of Israel fulfilled Christian prophecy (Bump, 2018). Change is slowly happening. The recent calls for racial equality following the death of George Floyd and the rise of progressive politics in America are changing how we look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (AJ+, 2021-a). Shibley Telhami (2021), a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute discusses a new shift — younger evangelicals are abandoning their support for Israel. The shift in momentum is crafting the environment needed to install change.

However, achieving change means having difficult conversations about the conflict and its consequences — a daunting task when you consider you are mixing politics and religion too. One must approach the issue tactfully; people are defensive of their religious and political views, insulting them will accomplish little. Instead, here are some suggestions:

  • Do not make it political. Discuss the innocent victims of the conflict. Children who held no political beliefs on the matter yet paid the ultimate price. Discussing this from a humanitarian viewpoint rather than a political one can help motivate others to rethink their stance. We are all human after all and none of us want to see children suffer. In a recent discussion about the conflict with a colleague, I shifted the conversation to the unfortunate loss of life — it deepened the conversation which would have otherwise ended fairly quickly. It also allowed me to share my views on the matter without it seeming overly political.
  • Find common ground and amplify it. Some issues around the world have garnished bipartisan support in American politics. Most recently, the mistreatment and detention of Uyghurs in China have been condemned unanimously by Americans. Discussing the injustices faced by this population and establishing common ground can help segue the conversation into similarities occurring in Israel.
  • Fight fire with fire — but in a positive way. Find commonalities and take advantage of them. Sharing similar religious beliefs provides an area of common ground. Evangelicals and Christians who oppose the Israeli occupation can discuss the moral repercussions of supporting pro-Israeli policies. These consequences (bombings, killings, and injustices) are inconsistent with the Christian faith, so make others aware of it.

Ultimately, winning the discussion means developing relationships with the other side, discussing their viewpoints in a civilized manner, and making them aware of the consequences.

References

AJ+. (2021-a, May 22). The U.S. media has a Palestine problem. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8jN-Suxos0

AJ+. (2021-b, May 26). What your taxes pay for in Israel. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nLZRmKXmmc

Amnesty International. (2021). Amnesty International Report 2020/21: The state of the world’s human rights. Amnesty International Ltd: London, UK. Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL1032022021ENGLISH.PDF

Bowman, E., & Estrin, D. (2021, May 8). Israeli-Palestinian clashes escalate in Ramadan night violence at Al-Aqsa mosque. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2021/05/07/994940939/israeli-palestinian-clashes-escalate-in-ramadan-night-violence-at-al-aqsa-mosque

Bump, P. (2018, May 14). Half of evangelicals support Israel because they believe it is important for fulfilling end-times prophecy. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/05/14/half-of-evangelicals-support-israel-because-they-believe-it-is-important-for-fulfilling-end-times-prophecy/

Human Rights Watch (2021, April 27). A threshold crossed. Retrieved from: https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution#

Hunter, J., Fouché, A., & Ghannam, A. (2021, May 19). Israel-Gaza violence: The children who have died in the conflict. BBC. Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57142627

Khalid, A. (2021, May 21). How the Gaza violence marked a shift in the American political debate over Israel. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2021/05/21/998955323/progressives-are-mostly-pleased-with-biden-that-deepened-frustration-over-israel

Telhami, S. (2021, May 26). As Israel increasingly relies on US evangelicals for support, younger ones are walking away: What polls show. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/05/26/as-israel-increasingly-relies-on-us-evangelicals-for-support-younger-ones-are-walking-away-what-polls-show/

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