THE PALESTINIAN TRAGEDY: ONE CHRISTIAN’S RESPONSE

Posted on January 19, 2009

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I am a Christian. As such my response is one Christian’s response to the Palestinian tragedy. I speak for myself.  I have asked no one or group permission to speak. I represent no one or group but myself.

My birth year coincides with the UN resolution which brought statehood status to Israel which unfortunately also contributed to much of the problems faced by the Palestinian people. Hence, my personal interest and concern for the Palestinian people has been over a long period of time beginning as soon as I became educationally of age.

First and foremost, the current situation in Palestine is a humanitarian tragedy with many lives lost and families separated and properties damaged and serious threats of fearful diseases. The Gaza strip is experiencing a colossal complex humanitarian emergency which requires immediate and continuing large-scale humanitarian response. Such a humanitarian response should and must be supported by all regardless of ethnic, religious or political persuasions. Humanitarian response supersedes   any  and every  loyalty we human beings may have. There are many Christians in Palestine. But I would have responded (in speech and deed) even if there were only Muslims in Palestine. Regardless of ethnic origin, religious creed or nationality, as human beings we must respond to the sufferings of other human beings.

The Palestinian tragedy encompasses tragedies of various categories and combinations.

Humanitarian tragedies have human causes. We should be wary of blaming humanitarian tragedies merely on nature or the devil. We human beings are often to blame for the tragedies which plaque other human beings. A mixture of arbitrariness and injustice and arrogance and a good measure of ignorance combine to bring about human tragedy.

Let me illustrate with the declaration of war on Iraq. George W. Bush citing (unproven) WMD and Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda’s attacks on USA launched a war on Iraq ending his speech with “And may God bless America”. As a Christian I was appalled and incensed by such narrow self-serving partisanship. You are about to visit a country with the state of the art weaponry and wreak havoc and calamity on its people and all you could think of is your own country? God should only bless your people but not the people you are about to bomb?

God is brought into the picture. God is on America’s side. America is blessing the rest of the world by carrying out God’s agenda. According to some sources, the American president had even claimed that God had spoken to him about invading Iraq and Afghanistan. Bringing God into unethical, unwise, and unfair decisions is religious blasphemy (not religious truth).  As a Christian I don’t want any leader of any nation to hijack my religion and force God Almighty into his particular smallness of heart and mind. You want to make war do so in your own name and take responsibility for it yourself. Don’t drag God into the equation to justify your own human decision.

Israel without American backing would not have been able to do what they have been doing to the Palestinian people over so many generations.  I am appalled as a believer in Jesus Christ at the fact that in giving undying support to Israel, America has the backing of so many American Christian churches and people. 

I believe that many human tragedies including the Palestinian tragedy have arisen through a combination of misplaced patriotism on the one hand and mistaken religious theology on the other hand. These are deadly combinations resulting in untold hardship and misery to countless human beings.

Misplaced patriotism is the cause of wars throughout human history. It gives rise to chauvinistic arrogance and irrationality. Other people commit wrong not us. It is these other people and nations who do bad things not us. Blame the other person or people and take no responsibility for yourself or your nation.  I can do no wrong and the other person can do no right.

Unquestioning Christian support for Israel is the result of weak bible knowledge resulting in bad theology.  For me as a Christian the “new Israel” expounded in the New Testament of the Holy Bible is not synonymous with the political Israeli state of today. Israeli membership with the United Nations isn’t the same thing as the aspiration and intention of biblical prophecy.  To believe that the belligerences of the Israeli state today is somehow sanctioned by the God of both Old & New Testaments of the Holy Bible is simply bad theology and does not represent Christian Faith and Truth. As a Christian I owe the present Israeli state no allegiance of automatic support. Like all other nations, the Israeli as well as the Palestinian states must accept their own responsibilities for whatever wrongs they have humanly committed. The good which any nation commits is to be credited in the same way as any wrong they commit is to be summarily condemned. Let no nation claim biblical status and act against the very values and principles which God commands of every human being.

Lest it should be said that as a Christian in Malaysia my views on the Palestinian issue is influenced by an Islamic-centric view, let me quote an American Christian source. In 2002, a letter was addressed to the US President from over 40 evangelical Christian leaders. (I apologize for its length but it is only fair to quote them in full.) In it, the evangelical Christian leaders wrote:

Dear Mr. President,

We write as American evangelical Christians concerned for the well-being of all the children of Abraham in the Middle East – Christian, Jewish and Muslim. We urge you to employ an even-handed policy toward Israeli and Palestinian leadership so that this bloody conflict will come to a speedy close and both peoples can live without fear and in a spirit of Shalom/Salaam.

An even-handed U.S. policy towards Israelis and Palestinians does not give a blank check to either side, nor does it bless violence by either side. An even-handed policy affirms the valid interests of Israelis and Palestinians: both states free, economically viable and secure, with normal relations between Israel and all its Arab neighbors. We commend your stated support for a Palestinian state with 1967 borders, and encourage you to move boldly forward so that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for their own state may be realized.

We abhor and condemn the suicide bombings of the last 22 months and the failure of the Palestinian Authority in the first year of the intifada to stop the violence against Israeli citizens. We grieve over the loss of life, particularly among children, and the suffering by Israelis and Palestinians. The longer the bloodletting continues, the more difficult it will be for both sides to reconcile with each other.

We urge you to provide the leadership necessary for peacemaking in the Middle East by vigorously opposing injustice, including the continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement. The theft of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes and fields is surely one of the major causes of the strife that has resulted in terrorism and the loss of so many Israeli and Palestinian lives. The continued Israeli military occupation that daily humiliates ordinary Palestinians is also having disastrous effects on the Israeli soul.

Mr. President, the American evangelical community is not a monolithic bloc in full and firm support of present Israeli policy. Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions – of both Israelis and Palestinians – on the basis of biblical standards of justice. The great Hebrew prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, declared in the Old Testament that God calls all nations and all people to do justice one to another, and to protect the oppressed, the alien, the fatherless and the widow.”

(Among the signatories of this letter were such recognizable names as Richard J. Mouw, Tim Dearborn, Ronald J. Sider, Leighton Ford, Steve Hayner, Luci N. Shaw, Richard Stearns, Peter Kuzmic, David Neff, Philip Yancey, a few of whom I know personally.)

The role of religious belief in the affairs of state is a given but this being the case, leaders of nations as well as religions (Christian and Muslim) must do their homework and ensure that their knowledge of their respective Holy Scriptures and the theologies based thereon must be more sound and accurate. Otherwise, their “religious” conclusions and pronouncements can only sow discord and incite divisions and inspire unending conflicts. (Chauvinistic stance and rhetoric can only make matters worse and postpone further the day of liberation. I believe that a chauvinistic stance hurts more than it benefits the Palestinian cause in the same way that a chauvinistic Israeli stance hurts even the legitimate Israeli case.)

Let us pledge our support to alleviate the undue sufferings of all human beings in West Asia. Let us pray for peace not war. Let us strive for solutions beyond our rhetoric.

(An address given at the recent C.O.M.P.L.E.T.E. (COALITION OF MALAYSIAN NGOS AGAINST PERSECUTION OF PALESTINIANS) on January 18, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur)

 

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Posted in: Perspective