This promise to Abraham of a homeland
for his descendents brings up the whole issue of the existence
of Israel today. And through the wonder of modern technology I
can now control our slide projector with my iPhone :) I was in
Israel and two years ago, many of you know this picture looking
out at the Golan Heights:
When I went on that trip, that was
sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, and we met with a
staff member of AJC at the international chapel in the airport
at JFK before flying out. A rabbi Noam Moranz was his name. And
he said to us that just the idea of a homeland for the Jews is
the most important idea in Judaism. 95% of Jews identified that
as their highest value.
I asked Rabbi Maurice Harris, one of the
rabbis here locally, about that, if he agreed, and he said
"Well, I wouldn't put it that way, but I would say that Jews
have great diversity -- they rarely agree on anything :) --
except for the existence of Israel. That is the one thing that
unifies nearly all Jews".
And even that is beginning to be challenged by some, as
witnessed Wednesday in the op-ed published in the Register Guard
by a young Jewish woman, describing the International Jewish
Anti-Zionist Network. The IJAN opposes Israel as a colonial
power and is calling upon Israel to allow the return of all
refugees. And to cease its existence as a Jewish state. An idea
that is gaining acceptance on many campuses across the country,
and as such it is then an idea that has a great majority of our
Jewish cousins deeply worried.
And so the challenging question I think for us, that I invite
you to consider this morning is this: is the existence of Israel
as a Jewish nation import to us as Christians? Or, should we
advocate for a single state in Palestine with no single
religious affiliation as a vision of peace and justice for all
of God's people?
And I want to share with you my own struggle with that question,
especially as I continue to reflect on that powerful experience
I had while visiting Israel and the West Bank, and where I've
come out on it. Now, 20 minutes cannot adequately cover all of
that, so get comfortable, we'll be here for awhile :). But
seriously, I do invite you to join me Tuesday afternoon in our
"theology on tap" at Cosmic Pizza at 5:15 p.m. where we're going
to converse on this topic. And I've invited a couple members of
J Street, the new Jewish lobby organization, to come and be in
conversation with us. J Street seeks to offer a different voice
that is both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, a voice for peace.
I want to do three things: I want to briefly summarize the issue
at stake, secondly, I want to give a few arguments for the whole
idea of two states versus one state, and thirdly where I have
come out on the topic and why I believe it is important for us
as Christians to be involved in this issue -- not simply to say
'you know, it's their problem, let them work it out'.
So, what are the issues? Why is it so
dang hard to bring peace to the Middle East?
Well, consider first of all the history of the region. In this
text from Genesis 15, we have a kind of a nice summary of the
origins of that conflict, in which God speaks to Abram and says
'Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a
land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there and they
shall be oppressed for 400 years. But I will bring judgment on
the nation that they serve and afterward they shall come out
with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your
ancestors in peace, you shall be buried in a good old age. And
they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the
iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete".
And so I asked my friend, Rabbi Maurice, about that passage, and
he replied to me that he does not view that as the actual words
of God as if God spoke to Abraham, he says "Instead, for me
these passages tell me that my ancestors in ancient Israel found
a sacred bond between themselves, God, and their homeland, and
those were the words they used to express that truth. It's still
a powerful truth, but it doesn't negate the fact that
Palestinians and others also have had that kind of experience in
the same land".
And so the conflict, when have two different peoples that
contest the land as something God has given to them.
And so from the very beginning there has been this conflict.
Those conflicts, of course, would continue for over a thousand
years and would not come to an end until the greatest imperial
power the world has ever seen destroyed Jerusalem in the year
70, and exiled the majority of the Jews from the holy land 60
years later. And so it was, under Roman rule in the second
century, at the long Diaspora began and Jews became a people
without a land. Treated with suspicion and mistrust in most of
the places where they lived, and often expelled from many of
them, they remained a people without a country to call their
own, until 1948.
And so the Zionist movement began in the
late 19th century, and many, especially European Jews, sought to
emigrate to Palestine to flee the anti-Semitism prevalent in
Europe. And little did they know that the greatest persecution
was yet to come, making the dream of a Jewish homeland not just
a luxury but a necessity.
Prior to the beginning of Holocaust, that began in 1938 with
what in Germany was called Kristallnacht (the night of the
broken glass) there were 18 million Jews in the world. Seven
years later, 6,000,000, one out of every three worldwide, were
dead. Today, 65 years later, Jews comprise 15 million people. In
other words, they are still 3 million below that pre-World War
II number. Compared to 2 billion Christians, nearly 2 billion
Muslims, and you can understand why Jews feel so greatly
outnumbered in our world. And therefore are worried whether or
not Israel will remain a Jewish country.
Now, I'm not going to go into the recent history since 1948 and
the wars and all the controversy around that, the expulsion of
somewhere between 400,000-800,000 Palestinians, in what
Palestinians call the "the catastrophe". One of the Jewish
professors that we spoke with in Jerusalem said that 1948
represented for Jews a return home, but for Palestinian it was
the equivalent of rape.
So secondly, consider the geography:
The Middle East is a
predominantly Muslim area of the world, represented in this map
by the green. The light green being the Sunni Muslims, the
darker green being the Shia Muslims. The irony of Genesis 15 is
that it names the area between the Euphrates River, which of
course is in the middle of Iraq, and a river in Egypt,
presumably the Nile, although it had a different name, and so if
you look at that region in between those two rivers it is
predominantly today Muslim.
Well, of course, if you include Ishmael as one of the
descendents of Abraham, his first son by Hagar (Sarah's
handmaiden), who is considered to be the father of Arabic
people, then that promise has become true. But of course, most
Jews would not see it that way.
And Israel today is of course a
much smaller nation than that:
And just how small it is became
very evident to me when we went to you an area on the border
between Israel and the West Bank, in the narrowest area of
Israel. We were standing there at the border, and this soldier
is pointing out areas of the West Bank and the security barrier
that has been erected there:
And when you turn and look to the west
(so I'm the eastern border of Israel, looking west) and you can
see off in the distance Tel Aviv:
Here is the same picture
"zoomed in" a bit:
So there's Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is on
the coast -- on the Mediterranean coast. So I'm standing on
the eastern border looking at the western border of Israel.
That's how narrow the country is. Then, if you overlay a map of
the state of Oregon, you can see that the entire area --
including the West Bank -- would fit in between I-5 and the
That's how small the entire region is -- it's not
a very big country.
And lastly, consider the demographics. 15 million Jews in the
world today, as I said. 5.6 million of them living in Israel,
roughly the same number living in the United States. That leaves
somewhere around 3 1/2 million Jews in the rest of the world.
There is no country with more than 2% of its population Jewish
(even the United States -- about 2% of the United States is
Jewish). And there's no country that has a greater percentage of
And when you look at Israel itself, with 5.6 million Jews,
1.8 million non-Jews in Israel (who are full citizens with the
right to vote), and 500,000 citizen settlers living in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem. Compared to Palestinians -- 1.5
Palestinians living in Israel (who are citizens of Israel, have
voting rights, members of the Knesset), 2.3 million Palestinians
in the West Bank, .2 million in East Jerusalem, 1.5 million in
Gaza, for a total 5.5 million. In other words, in the holy land
today, there are roughly the same number of Jews as there are
Palestinians. And if you allowed the right of return for a
couple million Palestinians living outside of the holy land, you
can see immediately that area would lose its Jewish majority.
Hence the fear and suspicion of many that what Israel is really
trying to do is ethnic cleansing -- to remove the Palestinians
from that area so that they may maintain their Jewish majority.
Now, there are many reasons for a single state where
Palestinians and Jews have equal status as full citizens. It
sounds very appealing, especially in this country where the
separation of church and state is commonly accepted as the norm
of democracy. True democracy, after all, requires that all
people be given equal voice. And the Palestinians have just as
much claim to the land (this text notwithstanding) as do Jews,
and in many cases even an older claim. Further, by international
law, those who fled during the war in 1948 have the right to
return. And so a one state solution would allow them that right.
And perhaps the best rationale for a single state of Palestine
is that the holy land should be a place of peace where the three
Abrahamic faiths can live together in harmony as a witness to
God's intention for the whole world, instead of divided so
Now, there are many more reasons for sure, there's a prominent
Palestinian proponent of the one state solution who is going to
be in Eugene on Friday, speaking on the campus of the University
of Oregon at one o'clock if you're interested, the details are
But they are also compelling arguments for two states, Israel
and Palestine side by side. And the first of course is that
because we only have one Jewish nation in the world. We have
many Muslim nations, many predominantly Christian nations, but
we only have one nation that is Jewish and one state would mean
the end of a Jewish state. The importance, even the necessity,
for a Jewish homeland I think was clearly established in World
War II. That Israel is perhaps the one sure thing, and the only
thing, that can prevent another Holocaust from occurring.
And as a witness to the survival of Judaism in the face of the
Holocaust, Israel also provides a constant reminder to the world
for the need to protect any and every people from genocide. But
just as Israel gives Jews a collective means of self
determination, dignity, and respect, so to a state of and for
Palestinians is needed. A Palestinian state would restore
dignity and respect for Palestinians and gave them the needed
ability of self-determination. And would provide them with a
greater voice in world affairs as a recognized member of
And as I learned from my years of working with farm workers,
true justice can never be achieved when one side has little
power and is always at the mercy of the other side. And that
became especially evident for me in visiting three different
families in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, and hearing the stories
of how they have suffered under the current conditions.
The creation of a Palestinian state
alongside Israel, which fully recognizes the right of Israel to
exist and vice versa, is the only way the balance of power can
be restored and true peace and justice achieved.
So those are some the arguments that I would name for one state
versus two states. So the question then comes: which should we
as Christians support, if any. And these are difficult choices,
many Christians will find themselves on opposite sides. So the
first thing I have to say is the importance of respecting those
who may be on the other side. Demonizing one side or the other,
referring to Palestinians as terrorists or Israelis as Nazis, is
not okay. It's never okay.
One of the organizations I belong to is Churches for Middle East
Peace. I had an opportunity to hear Warren Clarke this week in a
conference call, former ambassador of the United States, talk
about a recent tour that he took, a congressional delegation
that he led just recently to Israel. And the one thing that he
emphasized from their perspective, from that organization, is
that Christians must always be on the side of peace. We don't
have to choose sides between the two, we simply have to choose
the side of peace. I heard the same thing from a Palestinian
Christian that we visited with in the West Bank, who said
"Listen, I'm not asking you to take my side or the Israeli side,
I'm just asking you to take the side of peace".
At the same time, and I don't think this is a contradiction
necessarily, I have come down on the side of two states, for at
least five reasons.
First and foremost, I believe that we should support Israel as a
Jewish nation because it is one of the most important ways that
we can make amends for 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism.
Wherever anti-Semitism exists, the possibility for serious
violence against Jews remains high. And we have witnessed some
of that here, even in Eugene. And now with the prospects of the
Aryan Nations forming a headquarters in John Day, it brings home
to us the fact that anti-Semitism is very real and very
threatening. And so the necessity for Israel to remain as a
Secondly, bi-national states, as proposed in the one state
solution, that is 1 nation with two roughly equal populations,
rarely works. Look at the historical record. Lebanon, deeply
divided, often a failed state. Former Yugoslavia;, divided now
between its Serbian side and its Muslim side. Rwanda. India,
before the division of Pakistan (much to the chagrin of Gandhi,
who wanted to see that remain as a united nation of both Hindus
The reason why most nations of the world
are formed around ethnic identity and why so few countries have
repeated the great American experiment is that it is simply very
hard to do. And given the history of the Middle East, I don't
believe a one state solution will work there, at least not yet.
And third, we have a unique and special relationship with
Judaism. A Jewish homeland may not be important to us as
Christians, but it is important to most Jews, and therefore we
share that with them because of that relationship. That does not
mean that we should not advocate for Palestinian rights to their
homeland. Indeed, we should as a matter of basic human rights.
The house demolitions, the expansion of the settlements and the
like, simply has to stop.
Fourth, forming a Palestinian state will be the best method to
restore justice for the Palestinian people, and enable Israelis
and Palestinians to resolve their differences as equals.
Therefore, the goal for us should be to empower Palestinians
rather than to dis-empower the Jewish majority in Israel.
Lastly, it is important for us as Christians to recognize that
the covenant between God and the Jews is still valid. But that
covenant includes living justly in the land with all its
residents. Even as we honor that covenant by respecting the
rights of a particular people to a specific homeland, we must
also recognize the validity of other claims by other people and
reconcile the conflict between the two when it occurs for the
sake of peace and security of the whole world.
For truly, only when there is peace in the land and respect for
the rights of all its inhabitants, can we then call it holy. May