I have been waiting a while for someone to submit a question (since I promised myself I wouldn’t write unless I was responding to a question). Today, Stevie sent the following question: “I am going out on a limb here, because I know I shouldn’t have to ask this. But I don’t understand the Gaza Strip controversy. I’m not even sure if the question is one of religion or politics or what. Please help, Craig……”
Let me begin by saying the questions you submit can be wide-ranging in nature. They can cover practically anything ranging from pop culture to politics to the mundane. My job, then, is to take your question and try to put it into a spiritual context. So with that said, let me see if I can address Stevie’s question.
The question you raised regarding the Gaza Strip is a question that fits well under the broader topic of Israel/Palestine relations. While I have worked on many contentious issues over the years ranging from reproductive rights issues to LGBT rights to health care reform and I can honestly say that NONE of them come close to the challenge of trying to address this issue!
The issue has both religious and political connotations – both of which tend to bleed into one another. With that said, I’ll make a couple observations and then invite you into the conversation.
The matter of Israel/Palestine is so charged because you have two groups who feel that this relatively small strip of land belongs to them. Many believe that the land is theirs because God gave it to them. Consequently, there are voices in the conversation who have no desire to compromise WHATSOEVER.
Some folks have hopes of establishing two separate states: one primarily Jewish, the other primarily Palestinian. Others hope for a single unified state. The existence of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are often pointed to as things that could move folks toward the establishment of two states.
One of the challenges with the Gaza Strip is getting folks to agree on what the boundaries are or should be. Another challenge has to do with how much sovereignty people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank should enjoy.
The Gaza Strip has been especially charged since 2005. That was the year Israeli settlers were removed and the rights of Palestinians were expanded. As this was occurring, the more moderate Palestinian faction (Fatah) was defeated at the polls by the more radical faction (Hamas). This development increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians exponentially. The level of tension and distrust has remained high ever since.
So where does that leave us today as a matter of faith for Christians?
It depends upon who you speak to in Christian community. There are some Christians who feel that because the sacred writings of their tradition teach that God gave the Israelites the land, that Israel should be a single, unified state under Jewish leadership. Whenever a conflict breaks out, this group usually sides with Israel. They often label any criticism of Israel as being anti-semitic.
There is another group of Christians who support a two state solution. They believe that the land has – at various stages of its history – been controlled by both groups. As such, both Palestinians AND Israelis have a right to some of the land. They also believe that the safety, well-being, and right-to-exist should be ensured for both Israelis and Palestinians.
This month members of the denomination in which I serve – The United Church of Christ – spent a good deal of time talking about the situation. More specifically, they talked about actions that have been taken against Palestinians within Palestinian territory. Because of those actions, the UCC passed a resolution calling for our bodies to “divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation and to boycott products of Israeli companies based in the West Bank”. In passing the resolution they followed the example of the Presbyterian Church (USA) who passed a similar resolution last Spring.
That’s an extremely simplified overview of some of the issues as they stand today.
When folks ask, what my position on the issue is as a person of faith, I usually said four things. First, I believe that the sacred value and worth of both Israelis and Palestinians should be acknowledged and their right to exist be affirmed. Second, I believe that both Palestinians and Israelis have the right to live safely in their land – free from the threat of violence. Third, I believe that both Israelis and Palestinians have basic human rights that need to be respected, and that those rights must be observed in one other’s territory. Fourth, I believe that if an act of violence occurs the individual and/or organization responsible should be held responsible for the act and face the consequences. Those acts should NEVER, however, be used by either party as an excuse to lash out against all members of a racial/ethnic group.
So how about you? What are your perspectives on the situation?
And please, please, please: KEEP THE QUESTIONS COMING