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Is Israel Facing a Third Intifada?

The recent tensions and troubles in and around Jerusalem escalated this week with the brutal massacre of four Jewish rabbis during their morning prayers in a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of the capital city.

Armed with a pistol, an axe and a meat cleaver, two Arab terrorists from eastern Jerusalem assaulted a minyan of Jewish men at prayer early on Tuesday (18/11) in the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, located in a quiet ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood on the western edge of the city. The killing spree claimed the lives of four Torah scholars from local yeshivas, while another 18 people were wounded in the bloody frenzy of violence. An Israeli Druze policeman was also shot dead as he rushed to the scene of the attack.

The Druze officer was part of a beefed-up Israeli security presence in the city in response to a recent series of riots, stonings, stabbings, vehicular assaults and other terror attacks in Jerusalem, including the near-fatal shooting of Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick three weeks ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the on-going wave of violence and terror on incitement issuing forth from not only Hamas but also Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Under heavy American pressure, Abbas condemned the synagogue attack but in the same breath continued to falsely accuse Israel of "aggression" against the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, as well as of burning mosques and churches.

The levels of Palestinian violence and incitement are no doubt on the rise. During the past month, eleven Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks, more than all those killed during the past two years.

As a result, many Israeli analysts are now questioning whether these are just ‘lone wolf’ terrorists carrying out copycat attacks or is it part of a broader popular uprising against Israel – that is, a dreaded third Palestinian intifada.

Now for the families victimized by the recent wave of terror, the ‘third intifada’ debate is a meaningless academic exercise. They are in real grieving over lost loved ones and clinging to hope for injured and maimed relatives to recover.

But for the nation’s leaders, this is a serious inquiry into whether the Palestinian factions are deliberately seeking to stir up another prolonged, bloody uprising against the Jewish state, and especially in its very heart of Jerusalem.

The first point to note is that there always seems to a bizarre competition between the various Palestinian factions to see who can stir up the most hostility towards Israel. No one wants to be outdone, and especially when it comes to ‘defending al-Aqsa.’ So when one faction starts agitating over the Temple Mount, everyone has to join the game.

The al-Aqsa blood libel is decades old and is the easiest way to heat up the conflict with Israel. This Palestinian fabrication claims that Israel is planning to undermine or topple the al-Aqsa mosque and rebuild the Third Temple. It has been invoked repeatedly to foment violence and bloodshed, including its notorious use in 1929 by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, which led to dozens of Jewish deaths in Hebron and the forced expulsion of its ancient Jewish community.

Whether he instigated it this time or just joined the fray, Abbas has indeed been peddling the al-Aqsa canard of late. When Israel closed the Temple Mount to all visitors for one day last month, following weeks of well-organized stone-throwing incidents on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below, Abbas denounced the Israeli security measure as a “declaration of war” against Islam.

The Palestinian Authority’s official media organs also glorified the recent perpetrators of terror attacks as heroes and martyrs.

When the Obama administration finally urged Abbas to cool the rhetoric, he still called for “days of rage” to protest Israel’s efforts to restore calm, which was then followed by the carnage in the Har Nof synagogue.

Yet Abbas is not really interested in a full-blown intifada at present. Given the upheavals of the Arab Spring, he fears that unleashing too much chaos on the Palestinian street could lead to his own downfall – which is a very legitimate concern.

So the Palestinian leader has sought a controlled uprising, focused on enflaming tensions in Jerusalem while maintaining quiet in Ramallah.

It appears the Palestinian public is not so interested in another intifada as well. While they are cheering on those carrying out the recent attacks, there does not seem to be broad popular support for a mass uprising at this time, knowing the price they would have to pay in travel restrictions, economic losses and the like.

Still, the Palestinians are playing with fire. In a region already riven with conflict and upheaval, to stoke the flames of a religious fight over the al-Aqsa mosque is a truly dangerous game.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem is slowly being divided by the security measures which Israel is having to implement to restore calm and a sense of security to its residents. Roadblocks are being set up in Arab neighborhoods and some Arabs are being released from their places of work in west Jerusalem. So the current wave of incitement and violence will ultimately harm the daily lives of Jerusalem’s Arabs the most.
 


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This article first appeared in the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine.

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Has Hamas been Humbled?

After 50 days of hostilities and a dozen failed truces, there was something different about ceasefire number 13. As Gazans flooded the streets to set off fireworks and celebrate 'victory' in this summer's war with Israel, uniformed Hamas gunmen also came out of hiding to fire their weapons into the air.

This sight had been missing in all the earlier pauses in fighting. From day one of this third Hamas rocket war with Israel in the past six years, Hamas fighters had mysteriously disappeared from view. Many hunkered away in the vast honeycomb of terror tunnels underneath Gaza's urban sprawl, while others shed their fatigues to blend in with the civilian population, all to avoid detection by the dozens of Israeli 'eyes' hovering overhead.

As an uneasy calm settled over the land in late August, both sides claimed to have come out on top. But it may take some time to figure out who really won - if anyone.

After getting drawn into eerily similar conflicts with Hamas in 2009 and 2012, Israeli leaders faced a stark choice this time. They could either launch another limited incursion into Gaza and perhaps face yet another escalation of rocket fire a couple years down the road - referred to in the IDF as the 'mowing the grass' option. Or the Israeli army could retake Gaza and forcibly uproot the terror infrastructure like in the West Bank in 2002, but at unbearably high human and diplomatic costs.

With the Iron Dome system once again neutralizing the rocket threat on Israel's civilian heartland, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu did send troops into Gaza but with a narrow mission - to destroy the newly-uncovered network of attack tunnels running under the border to threaten nearby Israeli communities. Even though IDF casualties began mounting, the country was still solidly behind the security cabinet's moves in 'Operation Protective Edge' up to this point.

Yet when these ground forces finished the task and were quickly withdrawn, Hamas rocket fire persisted for another month and the broad Israeli support for Netanyahu steadily evaporated. By the end, many Israelis left-and-right questioned whether the prolonged and inconclusive battle with Hamas had damaged Israel's deterrence against even greater regional foes.

On the Palestinian side, most Gazans at first also supported the rocket campaign against Israel, despite their heavy losses. But they too eventually lost faith in Hamas, and especially in its ability to gain anything through the endless truce talks.

Nonetheless, senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniyeh emerged from hiding in Gaza to boast that a Palestinian militia had stood toe-to-toe with Israel for seven weeks and "crushed the myth" that its vaunted military was invincible. But Hamas also came out looking soundly defeated.

As many as 1,000 Palestinian militiamen were among the estimated 2,100 casualties in Gaza, with another 10,000 people wounded. Over 5,000 homes and buildings linked to Hamas were destroyed, while up to 100,000 Gazans were left homeless. The destruction inside the crowded strip of land is said to be far worse than any previous war. Hamas also wasted much time and resources on digging miles of terror tunnels that are now all collapsed. Plus its arsenal of rockets is severely depleted.

On the Israeli side, the death toll included 66 soldiers and six civilians. And although the damage was limited, Hamas did manage to launch nearly 4,000 rockets and mortars into Israel despite the IDF's vigilant efforts to suppress the missile fire. Meanwhile, life became intolerable for those living closer to Gaza, while Israelis nationwide will need time to regain their sense of security.

Still, the tally sheet from this war will not be complete until the truce talks resume back in Cairo to discuss all the issues left unresolved by the conflict. For Israel, the game plan now will be to deny Hamas victory by not conceding any diplomatic gains going forward.

From the very start, Hamas and Israel exchanged blows while also engaging in indirect talks to end the fighting through Egyptian mediation. Hamas initially tabled a list of steep demands to halt the rocket fire, such as a lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the free flow of goods, release of Hamas operatives re-arrested by Israel recently, allowing an airport and seaport in Gaza, and paying the salaries of Hamas employees. Israel countered by calling for an unconditional halt to the rocket barrages and the disarming of Gaza.

In a new twist, Egypt sided with Israel, prompting Hamas to bring in its allies Turkey and Qatar. In an even odder twist, the Obama administration sought to include these pro-Muslim Brotherhood regimes in the negotiations, straining Washington's relations with Jerusalem and Cairo.

The US apparently assumed that Turkey and Qatar were more able to control Hamas. But after the Islamist terror militia either rejected or breached 12 ceasefires over the course of the conflict, it was clear they answer to no one and cannot be trusted. Even the Palestinian Authority, which signed a unity pact with Hamas just months ago, learned that all the while its main rival was plotting Fatah's overthrow in the West Bank.

Yet Hamas eventually relented, basically agreeing to Egypt's original ceasefire offer, which puts off talks on its list of demands for a later day. For some Israeli leaders, this signalled capitulation. But more likely it just meant Hamas was getting low on rockets.

Meantime, Israelis come out of this war frustrated that the world does not treat Hamas the same as al-Qaeda and the ruthless Islamic State in Iraq. The foreign media in particular gave Hamas 'equal time' and often slanted coverage once again, which they would never do with these other radical Muslim terrorists despite the fact they all have little regard for human life and violently seek a global caliphate.

But there is also reason for optimism in that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have shown a willingness to cooperate with Israel in standing against both the Iranian threat and the Sunni jihadist militias. Netanyahu seems to have held back some on Hamas, thereby avoiding even greater Palestinian casualties in Gaza, in order to cement this new regional alignment in hopes it will pay higher dividends in future.

The first order of business will be teaming with Cairo to prevent Hamas from rearming. Achieve that and Israel will indeed have won the third Gaza war.

 


This article first appeared in the September-October 2014 edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine.

Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

A House Divided

The biggest revelation from the recent conflict in Gaza was not the extent of the Hamas tunnels into Israel, nor the willingness of Hamas to sacrifice their own people, but the deep rift running through the Arab world today – which could portend major changes in the region.

 

Israel’s new allies

Until recently, the Arab world presented itself as a united bloc, particularly when condemning Israel for Palestinian suffering and even for Arab misery in general.

However, this large bloc is disintegrating with surprising speed. Regional powers like Turkey, Qatar and Sudan continue to bash Israel, but Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and especially Egypt have shown a new cooperative spirit with Israel.

A recent study by Khaled Abu Toameh for the Gatestone Institute noted many Arabic press reports voiced support for Israel’s military operation against Hamas. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sami Shukri squarely blamed Hamas for the mounting Palestinian casualties after it rejected Cairo’s original truce terms. A leading Egyptian commentator concurred that Hamas was responsible for Palestinian losses.

Others described Hamas rocket attacks on Israel as “idiotic” while criticising Hamas leaders in Doha for living in luxury as their people suffered. Another commentator, Azza Sami, wrote in Al-Ahram: “Thank you Netanyahu and may God give us more people like you to destroy Hamas.”

It is true that the historic rift between Sunni and Shi’a Islam has often led to conflict. But their common hatred of Israel unified the Arabs. Yet today, Israeli officials are surprised by the realignment with Jerusalem of Arab rulers opposed to radical Islamists – whether Sunni or Shi’ite.

“Who would have ever thought that Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be our allies in our struggle with Hamas,” a senior Israeli official recently told me.

Arab Spring revisited

This realignment can be seen on other fronts. Syria and Iraq are being torn apart by rival rebel groups fighting the regimes and one another. The most notorious is ISIS, which is slaughtering countless Christians as well as fellow Muslims who do not share their repressive ideology.

In many ways, the major reshuffle underway in the Middle East was triggered by the Arab Spring ignited in Tunisia in late 2010. Yet this hopeful ‘Spring’ quickly turned into an ‘Arab Winter’ when Egypt voted into power the radical Muslim Brotherhood. Then two years later, an estimated 15 million people (some claim 30 million) took to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities to demand the end of Brotherhood rule. It is considered the largest political protest in human history.

This prompted not only a turn towards more moderate government in Egypt but it also had a ripple effect across the Arab world. Just a few weeks ago, a prominent Saudi commentator wrote that these Egyptian protestors rejecting radical Islam spoke not only for Egypt “but they represent the entire Arab world”.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the atrocities by ISIS in Syria and Iraq have triggered something which 9/11 and other acts of Islamic terrorism abroad could never achieve – an Arab backlash against radical Islam.

After the mass terror attacks in Manhattan, Madrid and London, most Arabs were silent regarding these violent acts against the ‘decadent’ West. But the sceptre of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaida has more and more Muslims today realising that Islamic extremists cannot offer any hope to the Arab world.

The Financial Times recently observed the Arab world is starting to shake off its “long state of denial”, and religious scholars and ordinary people now ask: “What is wrong with us?”

It is a fact that the Arab bloc is one of the most underdeveloped regions in our world today. Four consecutive UN development reports on the Arab states found they have the highest rates of illiteracy and greatest lack of basic rights and freedoms worldwide. For decades, the incredible Arab oil wealth did not go into education, science, research or development, but instead produced a society of consumerism reliant on Western imports.

The Arab millennials

In addition, today’s youth have become a significant force in Arab affairs. In his book “The New Arabs”, journalist Juan Cole describes how the millennial generation is changing the Middle East. These youths have greater access to information than their parents. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are used to recruit new jihadists for ISIS, but they also give Arab Millennials a window into the free world as never before. They helped ignite the Arab Spring four years ago, and later unseated the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

Their voice can even be heard in a recent manifesto released by Gazan youths, saying: “We have enough of the bearded men on our streets who want to force us what to think and how to dress.”

The last giant falling

Meanwhile, for the first time in Islam’s 1300 years of dominance in the Middle East we see large numbers of people turning to Christ. While ISIS is spreading terror, Arab pastors report unprecedented growth despite the fierce persecution. A decade before the Arab Spring, “Operation World” already reported historic church growth in almost all Muslim states, a trend that has only increased.

I remember well in the 1980s global leaders like Loren Cunningham and David Pawson came to Germany and prophesied the fall of Communism and reuniting of Germany. Some German pastors ridiculed them, as it was the height of the Cold War. But in 1989 everything changed; Communism fell and Germany soon reunified.

I also remember another message from those meetings: “The last giant which will fall after Communism is the giant of Islam.” I personally believe we are seeing today the slow collapse of the stronghold of Islam, which for centuries kept people from freely choosing their religion. It may not mean the end of Islam altogether, but the release of multitudes from a demonic bondage that held them far too long. Communism did not disappear after 1989 but what was removed was its evil, totalitarian control over people.

A region which for generations seemed impenetrable is becoming a house divided. Jesus declared: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

Communism enslaved Eastern Europe for 70 years, while Islam has gripped the Middle East for over 13 centuries. Therefore, change in this region might take longer and be more violent.

Yet the signs of Islam’s decline should not surprise us. For decades, Christians have prayed for revival in the 10/40 window. We need to remind ourselves that we serve a prayer-answering God.

Therefore, let us continue to pray for Israel while also recognising God loves the Arabs and beckons us to pray for them, too. He wants Arabs to be saved!

The origins of the Arab nations go back to Ishmael, son of Abraham and half-brother of Isaac. While God clearly sealed His covenant with the descendants of Isaac, Abraham also pleaded: “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:17) And God answered:

“I will establish My covenant with him [Isaac] for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.” (Genesis 17:19–20)

The time of blessing for Ishmael seems closer than ever.

Years ago, Rabbi Benny Elon strongly challenged me: “Jürgen, please tell the churches to send more missionaries into the Islamic world.”

I asked him why, as rabbis normally are not very fond of missionaries. He replied: “If the Arabs believe what you believe, then we will have peace in the Middle East.”

May this day come soon!

 


This article first appeared in the September-October 2014 edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine.

Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

From Jonah to Jihad

The world has been shocked beyond words by the inhuman carnage and brutality being exhibited by the Islamic State terror militia in Iraq over recent months, especially against the ancient Iraqi Christian community and other minorities.

The ISIS jihadists are carrying out public beheadings, hangings and crucifixions on a daily basis all across northwest Iraq, just like in eastern Syria. In village after village, its militiamen have swept in and executed the men, raped the women, and enslaved the children. These beastly tactics have led some world leaders, despite widespread war fatigue from the prolonged conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to urge that the West re-engage militarily in Iraq.

Sadly, few of these global statesmen are citing the plight of the embattled Christians of the Middle East as sufficient cause for standing up to the jihadists. They are more worried about terror finding its way to Western shores, as it did in 9/11 or the London Underground bombings. The region's Christians have largely been abandoned, just as they have been for decades.

The rise and retreat of Middle Eastern Christianity

Centuries ago, the Middle East was once the cradle of Christianity, with roughly half its population adhering to the new faith. But this all changed when the Islamic conquest of the seventh century engulfed the Middle East and North Africa, and many Christians were forced to convert, submit, die or flee. Entire Christian communities were decimated, and the remnants forced into dhimmi status and payment of the humiliating jizya head tax for protection.

Nonetheless, many Christians in Arab lands clung to their faith and managed to survive under Muslim dominance. Even as recently as one hundred years ago, they still made up nearly 20% of the overall population of the Middle East. But with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the many conflicts plaguing the region ever since, these proud, historic churches have been reduced to tiny remnants.

The outbreak of the Arab Spring accelerated this Christian exodus once again in recent years. As mass uprisings toppled repressive dictators throughout the region, radical Islamists stepped into the power vacuum and unleashed a brutal wave of persecution against vulnerable Christian communities.

Wherever radical Muslims seized power, they burned and bombed churches, provoked pogroms against Christian neighbourhoods, and abducted Christian women to force them into marrying Muslim men.

Several recent studies have confirmed that although Christianity is the largest religion in the world at 2.2 billion adherents, Christians are also the most widely persecuted religious group today, with the worst persecution occurring in Muslim lands. And the most acute situation for Mideast Christians right now is in Syria and Iraq.

Chaldean cauldron

Most Christians in Iraq and Syria belong to the ancient Assyrian or Chaldean churches and trace their spiritual heritage all the way back to the prophet Jonah, whose preaching in Nineveh some 700 years before Christ led to widespread repentance and belief in the God of the Bible. This made them more open to the Gospel when the Apostles Peter and Thomas showed up in the same region in the first century and founded these churches. Before long, the Chaldean bishopric oversaw a vast network of thousands of churches that stretched all the way from Turkey to China.

But much of this huge flock was lost in the upheavals of the Islamic invasion and other conquests of the region down through the centuries. In modern times, the slow, painful destruction of Chaldean Christianity has continued.

When the Great Powers divided up the former Ottoman holdings in Arab lands after World War One, many of the emerging Arab states began persecuting and chasing out the native Christians. According to a doctoral dissertation entitled The Death of a Nation published in 1968, the Christians of Iraq were pushed out into Syria, but Syria did not want them and chased them back into Iraq. Amid the chaos and bloodshed, over 1.5 million Assyrian Christians were killed.

This tragedy began repeating itself when the US-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. As that conflict morphed into a jihad against the "Crusader West", al-Qaida in Iraq gave Christians a deadline for agreeing to revive the jizya tax. When they refused, al-Qaida simultaneously bombed five churches on one Sunday alone.

The Islamic extremists were quite clear that their goal was to drive all Christians out of Iraq, and indeed the Iraqi Christian population has plummeted from around 1.5 million to as low as 300,000 over the past decade. Many escaped into neighbouring Syria, since they speak the same language, often have family ties and both follow the ancient liturgy and customs of the Assyrian Orthodox and Coptic churches.

But before long the Syrian civil war erupted and many Sunni jihadists joined the uprising against the Assad regime. One of their main targets was the Christian community, which had historically aligned with the minority Alawite rulers against the Sunni Arab majority in Syria. Meanwhile, Assad loyalists also began attacking the Christians for not taking up arms to defend the regime.

Caught between the two warring sides, the Christians inside Syria have faced horrendous conditions over recent years. Many of those who fled Iraq for Syria are now watching the atrocities back in Iraq and wondering where else could they go.

As ISIS forces in Syria have flooded across the porous border into Iraq this summer, they have gobbled up large swaths of the Sunni-dominated provinces in northwest Iraq. One region they targeted in recent weeks was the Nineveh Plain, along the Tigris River above Mosul.

This plateau was the last safe haven for Chaldean Christians left in the country, and the original homeland of this God-fearing people for the past 2,700 years. Yet in only a month's time, all its traditionally Christian towns have been emptied and the last 300,000 Christians left in the region have fled for their lives. Many have sought refuge in the Kurdish autonomous region to the east, while others now languish in refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.

Enforcing 'pure' Islam

These tragic developments evidence a systematic campaign by the Islamic State and other radical Muslim factions to deliberately cleanse the region of its native Christian population, just as the Jewish minorities were forcibly uprooted following Israel's re-birth in 1948. The reason these Muslim 'purists' are driving out Christians lies in certain uniquely ruthless tenets of Islam they seek to enforce.

First, the Islamic faith is very territorial and divides the world into Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, or the "House of War" versus the "House of Peace". This doctrine maintains that any territory which Muslims have conquered and subjected to shari'a law must be kept that way for future Muslim generations, while the rest of the world is a place of war (jihad) still to be conquered for Islam.

Secondly, shari'a law demands that Muslims must never befriend Christians or Jews, creating an inherent hostility towards these minority communities. This command comes straight from the Koran and thus can never be compromised.

For centuries, Muslims also were taught that because they followed a superior religion, they were a superior people to Christians and Jews and thus had a natural right to rule over them. In more recent times, it has been hard for many Muslims to give up this claim of superiority in exchange for modern democratic notions of equality and minority rights.

The national rebirth of Israel in 1948 challenged this mind-set of superiority, and did so in an area once subject to shari'a law. For many Muslims, this was a double blow and thus gave rise to a broader Arab rejection of Israel's existence that remains to this day.

Now, radical Muslim groups like ISIS do not want local Christians thinking they can also gain their freedom. To this end, they are being targeted for conversion, subjugation, eviction or eradication. Those are the only options, and they originate with none other than Muhammad himself.

In addition, Islam selectively borrows from biblical apocalyptic writings but adds a deadly twist. The Muslim faith teaches that Jesus indeed will return one day, but his mission will be to eradicate the heresy of Christianity and declare Islam as the one true faith and Muhammad as the true prophet. That is, he will come back as the destroyer of every last vestige of Christian belief.

So radical Islamist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda believe they are just doing Allah's bidding by wiping out any Christian remnants in Muslim lands. They view this as simply part of their long-term battle against Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims in order to cleanse the world of infidels and ensure Islam reigns supreme.

The declaring of a "caliphate" by ISIS leader Imam Abu-bakr al-Baghdadi is an important step in their minds towards reaching their ultimate goal of Muslim domination of the world. Thus their threats to extend the rule of the Islamic State into Lebanon and Jordan must be taken seriously.

The fallacy of silence

One of the toughest questions to answer these days is why Western Christians are not speaking out more forcefully concerning the plight of our brethren in Muslim lands. This is a question often posed by Jews, who learned the hard lessons of remaining silent during the Holocaust.

Some American Jewish leaders actually contended at the time that demanding more action by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stop the Nazi genocide might actually make matters worse for European Jews. This proved a false assumption, and should not be repeated in the case of Middle East Christians. Things could not get any worse for them than what they are suffering under ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and many other jihadist movements.

We should listen to our Jewish friends. Silence simply does not work!

We must speak out on their behalf like never before. Please pray for our fellow Christians in the Middle East. And make your voice heard in your own countries that the slaughter and hemorrhaging of these ancient Christian communities must be stopped!

Please consider donating to the ICEJ's relief efforts on behalf of Iraqi Christians:

 

 


This article first appeared in the September-October 2014 edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine. Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

The Restoration of Israel

Israel today is a remarkable country. Though small and threatened on all sides, it is nonetheless making major contributions to the world in such areas as hi-tech and medical advances.

Israel is also leading the way in agricultural innovations and water conservation. It pioneered drip irrigation and currently recycles over 80 percent of its wastewater, far outstripping any other nation. And, although over half of its land is still arid desert, Israel exports high-quality farm produce in all seasons, even while its neighbors must import food to feed
their populations.

It also would surprise many to learn that the Israeli people are blessed with one of the most nutritious food supplies in the world. In a recent global survey by the Bloomberg news agency of the world's healthiest countries, Israel ranked an impressive sixth, far ahead of the United States at number 33.

Yet the land of Israel was not always so fruitful, and the Jewish people certainly were not known for having a "green thumb." In fact, the land lay desolate for all the centuries of
Jewish exile, and in both Christian and Muslim lands where the Jews were dispersed, they were largely forbidden from owning land. This meant they had basically lost the ability to farm and had to rely on the Gentiles to feed themselves. This was true even up to some 100 years ago when Jews first began to return to Eretz Israel and tried to scratch out a living in the barren fields.

Yet the law and the prophets both had warned the ancient Israelites that this would be their fate if they turned their backs on God. The land itself would "vomit out" those inhabitants who turned to wickedness (Leviticus 18:28), and the fields would lie desolate in their absence (Jeremiah 18:15-17).

Meanwhile, the Jewish people were also told they would be scattered among the nations and would never find a place to rest their feet (Leviticus 26:26-39; Deuteronomy 28:64-67). The sword would follow after them, and they would bear the reproach of famine while in exile (Jeremiah 14; Ezekiel 5).

Still, God also promised that one day He would come and find His people, no matter how far they had been scattered, and return them to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants as an "everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8). This promise of a future restoration is spoken of by all the Hebrew prophets and is affirmed by all the great covenants of the Bible.

The Process of Restoration

Throughout Scripture, Israel is promised a last-day restoration in the land. This promise rests on the faithful character of God, that He can be trusted to carry out His promises because He cannot lie. This is especially true if it is a covenant promise sworn to by divine oath.

In the Abrahamic Covenant we find the election of both the people and the land of Israel for the purpose of world redemption. The two would merge to become a "great nation" that over time would bless us with all the things we need for salvation (Romans 9:3-5).

In the Mosaic Covenant, the relationship between the land and people of Israel is regulated by their spiritual standing before God, in order to show forth His holy and righteous character. Yet
any separation of the people from the land as a divine corrective measure would always be followed by a return to the land in God's timing (Leviticus 26:40-45; Jeremiah 31:10).

In the Davidic Covenant, we are assured that one day the people and land of Israel will be reunited and restored beyond that which King David had built. In fact, it will be an everlasting kingdom presided over by a promised Messiah, the Son of David, who would rule from Jerusalem over all the earth in righteousness and peace.

Finally in the New Covenant, Jesus proved his Messianic credentials through his perfect obedience even while enduring a cruel death on the Cross (Philippians 2:5-11). He earned the right to sit on the throne of David forever to rule over the earth from a restored Israel. He was already equal with God, but now no one can ever challenge His right to rule as Lucifer once did (see Isaiah 14:9-17).

Now some Christians still question whether Israel is promised a restoration in our day. They contend it was either forfeited or already fulfilled in the earlier returns under Ezra and Nehemiah. Or, they say it is not vouched for in the New Testament and therefore Christians can ignore Israel today as a political accident, or as the result of a 'man-made Zionism' devoid of God's hand.

Yet by the time the New Testament was written the Israelite hope of restoration was such a prevalent idea that the Jews even minted coins in the First Century expressing their longing "For the Return of Zion" or "For the Redemption of Zion." This hope was largely based on
the promises in the Davidic Covenant, beginning with 1 Chronicles 17, that God would establish the throne of David forever and that Israel would one day have eternal rest, in its own land, from all its enemies.

Throughout the Psalms and the prophets, this promised restoration is expounded upon repeatedly and is often expressed in such terms as the Lord will "bring back the captivity of Zion" (Psalm 126:1); "restore the fortunes of Jacob" (Nahum 2:2; Isaiah 49:6); or "show favor to Zion" (Psalm 102:13). It also can be clearly found in such passages as Isaiah 2, Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.

And finally, this promised end-time "restoration" of Israel is indeed vouched for in the New Testament, such as in the specific words of Jesus in Matthew 19:28 and in the preaching of Peter in Acts 3:21. In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul further assures us of a future ingathering
and acceptance of Israel that ends with all Israel being delivered from their sins.

Date Palms in the Dead Sea Region of Israel

The Process of Restoration

All the prophets also agree that Israel's last-days' restoration would involve a two-phase process. First there would be a physical return to the land, and then second, a spiritual return to God. That is, Israel would return to the land in unbelief for the purpose of coming to belief.

Both Zechariah 1:3 and Malachi 3:7 express this two-step process in very simple terms: "Return to Me and I will return to you."

Hosea 6:1-3 also speaks of Israel's return or tshuva (repentance), leading to God's return to them.

Jeremiah 24:6-7 states: "I will bring them back to this land ... Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart."

In Jeremiah 32 the Lord promises: "Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever... And I will make an everlasting covenant with them... and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul" (Jeremiah 32:37-42).

And in the clearest picture of this two-phase process of restoration, Ezekiel 36 declares: "For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you... I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations" (Ezekiel 36:24-30).

For more than 100 years now, the world has been witnessing the physical restoration of Israel to her land with amazing accuracy. The people are returning to rebuild the waste places
of Judea and to plant vineyards once again on the mountains of Samaria. The land is yielding its fruit once more, the desert is blossoming like a rose, and the people are being restored to
health. Indeed, the "reproach of famine" has been removed from the Jewish people in an incredible way, and Israel has become a land of plenty. Not only does it have one of healthiest
diets in the world today, but every year the nation's farmers are somehow producing greater yields with less water.

Now consider again that even within the past century the land of Israel was still barren and that only 70 years ago Jews under Nazi occupation in Europe faced mass starvation and death.
Thus the transformation of the land and people of Israel in just a few short generations is nothing short of miraculous. And if we see the promise of Israel's physical restoration being
fulfilled, with such remarkable precision, it means we can completely trust God for their spiritual restoration as well.

Jerusalem Shuk

The Partners of Restoration

Another core feature of the promised last-days' restoration of Israel is that it would be marked by Gentile assistance. The same Hebrew prophets who foretold of a time when God would set His hand to finally re-gather the scattered Jewish people back to their land, also foresaw that Gentiles would be involved in this restoration.

 

This is made especially clear by the prophet Isaiah, who repeatedly speaks of God bringing “the wealth of the Gentiles” to a restored Israel. The prophet assures, “The sons of foreigners
shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you” (Isaiah 60:10). He adds that, “the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you
shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet” (Isaiah 60:14).

It is hard to find a more apt description of the modern-day phenomenon of Christians coming in humility to aid and assist a people whom our forbearers in the faith once oppressed.

Isaiah also proclaims: “Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; They shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders; Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; They shall bow down to you with their faces to the earth, and lick up the
dust of your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord, for they shall
not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Isaiah 49:22-23).

This particular passage opens with an unusual Hebrew phrase that has been interpreted in various ways in modern English translations of the Bible, including that God would “beckon” or “wave” or “whistle” to the Gentiles. In other words, it is the sort of visible and audible gestures one makes to flag down a taxi. That is, God has not kept this a little secret that He only shares with a few dear saints in their prayer closets. Instead, He is out on the street corner shouting at the Gentiles to get involved in the restoration of Israel.

Thus we Christians have little excuse when we fail to answer that call in this day and age, when it is so obvious that God Himself is gathering the outcasts of Israel.

And the fact is that Gentile kings and queens have indeed contributed greatly to the Zionist cause. In 1865, for example, Britain’s Queen Victoria gave royal patronage to the founding of
the Palestine Exploration Fund for the purpose of settling Jews back in their ancient homeland. The British crown later endorsed the Zionists' national aspirations in the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

Meanwhile, such American presidents as John Adams, Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman openly supported Israel's restoration.

Today, Gentile Christians both great and small are still partnering in the great return of the Jewish people back to their land, knowing that it eventually becomes a spiritual return to their
God. Therefore the question is: What are you doing to help with Israel's restoration?

Conclusion

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem offers many ways in which you can be involved in the on-going restoration of Israel. Whether it is through our Aliyah operations, our
assistance to new Jewish immigrants, our various social aid projects throughout the land, our global prayer initiatives, or our many other ministry activities, you can be a part of repairing the breach, healing the historic wounds, and humbly telling the Jewish people they are
home for good.

By David Parsons, ICEJ Media Director


This article first appeared in the April  edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine. Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

Begin and the Evangelicals

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem co-sponsored a special event in March to honour Menachem Begin for being the first Israeli prime minister to openly embrace Evangelical Christian support for his nation.

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center hosted the gathering as part of their 100th Anniversary observances since Begin's birth. The main address was delivered by Dr. Daniel Gordis of the Shalem College, author of the new biography Menachem Begin: The Struggle for Israel's Soul.

Of all the Israeli prime ministers since 1948, Begin stands out as the first to openly endorse Christian Zionist support and to seek to harness it in defence of the Jewish state. Others before him may have had connections to individual Christian figures, but the story of the Israel-Evangelical partnership as we know it today starts with Begin.

Even from the rise of the modern Zionist movement, there are many examples of personal friendships between Jewish and Christian figures with shared interests in resettling Jews back in the historic Land of Israel.

For instance, when the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore first toured Palestine in 1849 to assess the prospects for setting up Jewish colonies there, he was accompanied by a prominent Christian Zionist named George Gawler.

When Theodor Herzl published his book Der Judenstaat in 1895, he was quickly befriended by Rev. William Hechler, who became a sort of 'foreign minister' for the young Zionist movement.

Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann in turn was befriended by Arthur James Balfour a decade before he became the British foreign secretary and signed the Balfour Declaration.

Israel's founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion also had encounters with Christian Zionists, including Southern Baptist leader Dr. W. A. Criswell.

But Menachem Begin was the first Israeli prime minister to warmly embrace Christian Zionist support in an open manner. He, too, had developed friendships with individual Christian leaders like author Dr. David A. Lewis. But Begin went further by actively seeking Christian support and acknowledging its value in public. There are several reasons why.

First, Begin realised that he shared a certain biblical worldview with Evangelicals. Dr. Gordis noted that Begin looked on the Bible as Israel’s title deed to the land and saw the Jewish return as fulfilment of the vision of the Hebrew prophets, just as many Christians did.

Second, Begin was surrounded by several close advisors who shared his friendly disposition towards pro-Israel Christians. This included Harry Hurwitz, who had been exposed to genuine Christian supporters of Israel in his native South Africa and was the key official within Begin's inner circle who convinced him to approve the founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980.

Finally, Begin's last years in office were marked by several steep challenges to the nation, including the American AWACS sale to Saudi Arabia, the US “reassessment” after the Osirak air raid, and the fallout from the First Lebanon War. To meet these challenges, Begin actively sought Christian support, especially from among prominent American Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell and Ed McAteer.

Yet Begin’s first public embrace of pro-Israel Christians came at the ICEJ's Feast of Tabernacles in September 1981, when he stood before a gathering of several thousand cheering Christians from dozens of nations and told the crowd: "Tonight, I know that we are not alone."

Later, when Begin resigned from office, the Christian Embassy sent him a letter of gratitude for his friendship. In response, Begin wrote back: "Your decision to establish your Embassy in Jerusalem at a time when we are being abandoned because of our faith was an act of courage and a symbol of the closeness between us. Your acts and gestures gave us the feeling that we were not alone."

The partnership between Israel and her Christian friends has grown ever since into what Israeli officials now view as a “strategic asset” for their nation. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows this history well and continues to value and nurture Christian support. But this official embrace truly starts with Menachem Begin.


This article first appeared in the May edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine. Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

Jesus and the Palestinians

For many decades, Evangelical support for Israel seemed rock solid. Today, however, many younger Christians in Western churches are hesitant to give Israel the same unconditional support which their parents did. Stories of Palestinian suffering have attracted the sympathy of young Evangelicals, rather than the struggles and triumphs of Israel.

They appear to be motivated more by the cause of social justice for the ‘oppressed’ Palestinians than a prophecy-driven backing of the restored Jewish state. Many Christian youngsters have sided with the Palestinians as the perceived underdog. And in any case, Jesus in the Gospels seems to have very little to say about the current situation. So for a generation known to read far less from the Old Testament than previous generations, this supposed New Testament ‘silence’ makes a big difference in how they view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, they simply ask: What would Jesus do?

That is, would Jesus affirm the national calling of Israel according to the promises made to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets? Would he affirm Israel’s right to live in the land? Or would he rather side with the Palestinians as a weak and suppressed minority?

A strong guide for answering these questions is to look at how Jesus dealt with the most prominent indigenous minority living in Israel during his time. As we shall see, there are many striking parallels between the Samaritan people in the days of Jesus and the Palestinians of today. So who were the Samaritans and how did Jesus treat them?

A Replaced People

The first time the Bible mentions the Samaritans is in II Kings 17:22-41, which gives their historical background. The passage recounts how the northern Kingdom of Israel was “carried away from their own land” (verse 23) and taken into exile in 722 BC by Assyria, whose King Sargon II followed a common practice of conquering empires in those days. He replaced the dislodged Israelites with people from other regions of his empire. Thus, he took people “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (verse 24).

These new implants, thereafter called the Samaritans, began intermingling with some of the Israelite remnant left in the land and quickly adopted some of their religious practices. Besides their own gods and traditions, they also worshipped and “feared” the God of Israel.

Then in 586-582 BC, a second uprooting occurred when the southern Kingdom of Judah also was forced into exile by the Babylonian Empire. This gave even more room for the Samaritan people to expand and solidify their presence in the Land of Israel.

Resisting the restoration

Some 70 years later, the Jewish people started to return to the land and to rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. Yet the Samaritan communities were among the strongest opponents of this Jewish restoration. They resisted it religiously and politically (Ezra 4; Nehemiah 4:1-3). Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the Temple were restored, and the Jews re-established their presence again in their promised homeland because the Lord was with them (Haggai 1:13).

Still, the Samaritans continued to oppose the Jewish return and to develop their own rival culture and national identity. Over time, they even cultivated their own form of pseudo-Judaism. The prophets and other writings of the Tanakh were rejected and only the five Books of Moses were considered binding. For this reason, they rejected the idea of a promised Messiah from the lineage of David who would restore the Kingdom for Israel. Rather, they expected a messiah figure who would be “a prophet like Moses”, as the book of Deuteronomy foretold, ushering in a moral and spiritual revival but not a national restoration.

Tense Relationship

By the time Jesus came along, the Samaritans had lived in the land for more than 700 years. They developed their own narrative of the region’s history and considered themselves as the true Israel and rightful heirs of the land, claiming descent from Ephraim and Manasseh. The Temple in Jerusalem was considered an apostate shrine and its worship blasphemous to God. During the time of Alexander the Great, the Samaritans built an alternative temple on their holy mountain of Mt. Gerizim - the biblical "Mountain of Blessing" overlooking Shechem.

Meantime, the Jews did not recognise the Samaritans as part of their people and would not allow them to enter the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet when Jesus was a child, around 6-to-9 AD, Samaritans reportedly forced their way into the Temple during Passover and desecrated it by throwing bones into the sanctuary. Indeed, for the centuries it was a relationship characterised by tension and disdain. Jewish writings from 200 BC called Samaritans “the foolish people”.

Thus, during the time of Jesus both Jews and Samaritans refused to mingle (John 4:9). Jewish pilgrims who were on the way to worship in Jerusalem were harassed (Luke 9:51-55). The Jewish historian Josephus reports that in 52 AD, Samaritans even massacred a group of Jews making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For Jews, the name “Samaritan” became a curse word (John 8:48). Even the disciples of Jesus were not fond of them and were anxious to call down fire on their heads (Luke 9:54).

Jesus Crosses the Border

Amid this hostile, complex relationship, Jesus sets a refreshingly different tone towards the Samaritan populace. The Gospels surprisingly record that Jesus healed them (Luke 17:16) and reached out to them individually and as a community (John 4). In fact, Jesus rarely shared such deep thoughts on worship, his own Messianic identity, and the Spirit of God as he did with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. The encounter eventually led to revival in the entire village and it was there that Jesus spoke about the fields being white for harvest (John 4:35ff).

Then there is the legendary parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:30-37). Surely, it was offensive to Jewish listeners when Jesus described the Samaritan and not the Jewish priests as being a true neighbour to the man in need.

Thus Jesus would not allow himself to be drawn in into the negative stereotypes of his time. When his disciples wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not allowing their master to pass, Jesus rebuked them harshly, saying: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” (Luke 9:56)

So Jesus did not consider them as enemies, but reached out to them with compassion and love. He healed them, ministered to them, used them as examples to his Jewish brethren, and even envisioned them as part of the harvest.

Jesus and the Samaritan Narrative

Still, while Jesus may have displayed an unusually kind attitude towards the Samaritans he did not buy into their version of history. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, the only one who returned to thank him was a Samaritan, to which Jesus replied: "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:18)

Jesus had reached out to him with compassion and healing, yet he still considered him a “foreigner”. The Greek word used here is “allogenes”, and is used in the Septuagint translation to mean the “stranger” who dwelt within the land. He would have many rights and privileges but was still excluded from the covenant promises and privileges of Israel. It was the same Greek word used in the inscription around the temple courts allowing access only to Jews but not to “allogenes” - foreigners.

So Jesus reached out to the Samaritan people but also maintained a clear distinction between them and the Jews. He once instructed his disciples “not to enter a city of the Samaritans”, but to focus rather on “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6-5).

Finally, when Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, she confronted him with her people's own narrative: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” (John 4:20)

In other words, she wanted to know whose narrative was correct. And Jesus answered: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth….” (John 4:20–23)

Jesus portends that a new era in salvation history was soon coming when the place of worship would become secondary, and each believer would become a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus did not conclude that Jewish tradition would become irrelevant. On the contrary, he strongly challenged her Samaritan belief system, saying: “You worship what you do not know.” At the same time, he identifies himself with Jewish tradition in a manner rarely found in the Gospels: “We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.”

In a way, Jesus underscores with the Samaritan woman what he also stated to the healed leper, that they were 'foreigners' to the covenants of God with Israel. The only way for them to become truly part of the household of God would be through the covenants and revelation given to the Jewish nation.

Note that he did not say that salvation is received by becoming Jewish, but rather that she should reconsider her theological and personal attitude towards the Jews. Decades later, the Apostle Paul would make the same point: ““What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:1-2; see also Romans 9:4–5)

Jesus thus affirms to the Samaritan woman the ancient Abrahamic calling of Israel, that through them “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). This covenant relationship with Abraham's natural descendants remains even if they reject Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:28).

The Samaritans of Our Day

There is still a small Samaritan community living in Israel today. They number less than a thousand members and are mostly located on Mt. Gerizim, near modern-day Nablus. However, they are too small to play a significant role in current affairs. Instead, the community which more closely mirrors the dynamic between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus is that of the Palestinians.

When the Jews were exiled by the Romans under Titus in 70 AD and later under Hadrian in 120 AD, other people groups moved in. Each successive conqueror seizing control of this major crossroads of the world brought their own ethnic mix, whether the Romans, Byzantines, Arab-Muslim invaders, the Crusaders, the Mameluks or the Ottoman Turks. The result is an indigenous people with a broad amalgam of ethnic backgrounds. Some Palestinian Christians today may claim to be descendants of the first Messianic Jewish community in Israel, but this would be difficult to prove after all the turbulent history in the region.

Scholars have also documented that when Jews started to return and cultivate the Land of Israel in the 1800s, many Arabs from neighbouring countries also came to find work created by the Zionist movement.

Most of these people today would call themselves Palestinians. The vast majority of these Palestinians are Muslims. They not only reject the teachings of the Bible but also maintain that Jews have no right or historic connection to the land. Supported by the global ummah (body of Muslim believers), they resist by all means the restoration of Israel on the land much like the Samaritans in the times of Nehemiah and Ezra.

On the other hand, the small Palestinian Christian community shares in many ways a common faith in Christ and the Bible that we do, yet they have developed their own unique twist to history and theology. Many of the Palestinians Christians contest the restoration of a Jewish State, both politically and theologically. In their own nationalised version of Replacement theology, they not only see the Jewish people as being replaced by the Church but Jesus has become a Palestinian - one of the true custodians of the Holy Land. The promises of God to Israel have elapsed by either being fulfilled in Jesus or now falling to the Palestinian people.

Like in biblical times, both sides rarely mingle and the tense relationship has drawn even more blood than in the times of Nehemiah, Ezra and Jesus.

A Call for Today

The unique approach of Jesus to the Samaritans can help us face the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. Jesus demonstrated a heart of compassion towards the Samaritans, who were not accepted by most of his fellow Jews. Under his ministry, they were privileged as the only people besides the Jews who experienced the personal touch of the Messiah. After his resurrection, Jesus instructed his disciples to consider the Samaritans as the very first non-Jews to receive the Gospel. Phillip, Peter and John did just that and brought a powerful revival to them.

Likewise, the Church today is called to show similar compassion in reaching out to the Palestinian people and in particular the believers among them. They often feel forgotten by many Evangelicals around the world who show support to Israel but ignore their Arab brothers living in the land.

But we also learn from Jesus that despite the fact that Samaritans had lived in the land of Israel for hundreds of years, Jesus still considered them 'foreigners', even though it surely offended them. Jesus did not deny their right to live in the land, but he also affirmed the unique covenant promises enjoyed by Israel, including the land promise.

Paul notes that Jesus “has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Romans 15:8). He was sent by God to “remember his holy covenant, which he swore to Abraham” (Luke 1:72ff), not to forget or forfeit that covenant.

So Christ, in his time of earthly ministry, set a remarkable example for us on how to reach out to the Palestinians - and the Christians especially - without compromising the divine calling of his own people.

This might be a challenging balancing act for today, as the harsh realities on the ground are often more complex than they appear. For Palestinian Christians to look into the eyes of young Israeli soldiers and call them “beloved for the sake of the fathers” is far more difficult than for Christians from abroad. For many Jewish believers, it is equally difficult to accept as their brothers and sisters those Palestinian Christians who question their biblical right to the land and even voice support for Israel's worst enemies.

In the end, the Church in the nations is called to pray and care for both sides. We are called to uphold God’s promises to Israel and support a nation which after 2000 years has returned to the land of their fathers and remains surrounded by implacable foes bent on her destruction. We are also called to recognise the needs of our Arab brothers and sisters in the land who are often caught in between their long-time Muslim neighbours and the new Jewish reality.

That means we are called to be peacemakers without compromising truth. May the Lord help us in pursuing these worthy aims.

Dr. Jürgen Bühler
ICEJ Executive Director


This article first appeared in the May edition of the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine. Read the latest Word from Jerusalem

Christians Rediscovering Passover

For Jews and Christians, the Passover season is a special time for reflection on the rich spiritual truths contained within this remarkable holiday. Indeed, we can all observe the command to “remember” the incredible Israelite deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

For Christians, the events of a momentous Passover some 15 centuries later have given added meaning to this holiday, so that the truths of the first are reinforced in the latter. Deliverance from Pharaoh’s taskmasters became freedom from slavery to sin. The blood of a lamb on the doorposts became a typology of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Yet the parallels between Pesach and Easter were lost for centuries to most Christians when the early Church fathers deliberately severed our faith from its Jewish roots. In time, this hostility to Judaism produced vicious blood libels against Jews at Passover.

Today, however, multitudes of Christians are rediscovering our Hebraic roots. Indeed, TIME magazine recently identified growing Christian interest in our faith’s Jewish heritage as one of the ten top trends of our day.
Even respected Jewish scholars have started joining Christian theologians in rediscovering the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the Hebraic origins of Christianity. One notable in this regard is the late Prof. David Flusser of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, considered the leading Orthodox Jewish expert on the Second Temple era and Early Christianity.

Flusser placed Jesus within the Pharasic tradition and viewed him as among the great sages of his time, such as Hillel and Ben-Shammai. But Flusser concluded that the Galilean preacher went boldly beyond the classic Judaism of that day, for instance by proclaiming the advent of the Kingdom of God and espousing a radical ethic of loving one’s enemy.
As a result of such groundbreaking scholarship, the Feast of Passover is one occasion when the lineage and cultural identity of Jesus as a “son of the covenant” now holds so much more meaning for Christians. In fact, nothing reattaches Christians to their Jewish roots faster than realizing the Last Supper was actually a Passover seder meal being led by a Jewish rabbi.

Thus, we can now see in the Gospel narratives just how closely Jesus held to Jewish traditions in presiding over the Passover meal with his disciples—or rather, his talmidim.
For instance, he followed the custom then developing in First Century Judaism of serving four cups of wine at the Passover meal to mirror the four great “I wills” of Exodus 6:6-7. When Jesus took the third cup—considered the “cup of redemption”—he used it to seal a new covenant with his followers.

Interestingly, he also used customary Jewish words of betrothal at that same moment, promising to go build them all mansions in his Father’s house and to come back for them one day as a bridegroom for his bride (John 14:2-3).
In serving them wine and unleavened bread, Jesus further played off the command to “remember” the Passover by instructing his disciples to always partake of it “in remembrance of me!”

Then, one of the most extraordinary moments of the Last Supper came when he washed the feet of his disciples.
Like other great rabbis of his day, Jesus had developed a unique preaching style by telling parables, many of which are universally known to this day, such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. But he was different in the way he also practiced what he preached. In washing the feet of his disciples, the rabbi Jesus taught by deed and not just words what it means to be a servant in His kingdom (John 13:14-15).

And finally, Jesus demonstrated tremendous grace that evening when he gave the place of the guest of honor to his immediate left to Judas, even though he knew this was the one about to betray him. What a difference it would have made down through history if Christians had understood that Jesus was never bitter towards Judas.

Sadly, it is too late to change that history. But we are witnessing a sea change in Christian attitudes towards the Jewish people today, as we understand better the Jewish matrix of our faith. This historic shift is helping to build Christian support for an embattled Israel at a critical hour. And just as importantly, it is shielding multitudes of Christians against modern-day blood libels and other anti-Semitic lies now being hurled at the Jewish state.

David Parsons
ICEJ Media Director

ICEJ IN THE MEDIA

Over recent years, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been gaining increased attention in the Israeli media, with dozens of reports about our many events and activities appearing in local newspapers and on television and radio broadcasts. Just about every week, the ICEJ has been covered in print, on TV news shows or over the radio airwaves, giving Israelis an added awareness that millions of Christians are standing with them in both word and deed.

Many of the reports in the Hebrew media have focused on the ICEJ’s annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, which draws thousands of Christians to Israel each year for this biblical festival of joy. Others have centered on our AID projects, especially our efforts to enlist Christian help for poor Holocaust survivors. Still other reports highlighted our many contributions to aliyah, particularly in bringing home members of the Bnei Menashe community from India in recent years.

In addition, several articles and TV reports profiled members of the ICEJ staff as well some of our family of representatives and supporters abroad.

For example, Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the ICEJ’s Executive Director, was the subject last year of a feature article in the weekend supplement of Yediot Aharonot, one of the nation’s largest newspapers with a daily circulation of over 600,000. Under the title “I owe my life to the Jewish people”, Jürgen recounted his family’s deep connection to the Jewish people and also described his current work in overseeing all the various facets of the Christian Embassy’s global ministry.

The Yediot sports section recently covered the visit to Israel of Marcos Tavares, a Brazilian football star playing in Europe and also the ICEJ’s national director in Slovenia.

Meanwhile Israel HaYom, the other big Hebrew newspaper in Israel, ran a very glowing feature on our Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors, under the heading “Community of Grace”. The article noted the unique role of the Christian Embassy in launching the first retirement home in Israel solely dedicated to helping needy survivors.

Israel HaYom also recently carried a lengthy interview with MP Kenneth Meshoe, a parliamentarian and ICEJ board member from South Africa, in which he discussed the legacy of the nation’s late president Nelson Mandela and debunked the false ‘Israel equals apartheid’ analogy.

The same Hebrew newspaper profiled Egyptian lawyer Majed el-Shafie and Ugandan pastor Umar Mulinde, both Muslim converts to Christianity who were assisted by the ICEJ after escaping to Israel.

Reports on the ICEJ and our Feast of Tabernacles were broadcast on Israel TV channels 1, 2 and 10 and the new I-24 global Israel channel in English. Arutz Sheva and Israel Radio also aired several very positive reports on the Christian Embassy.
 

The impact of this increased media coverage has been apparent, as many Israelis have contacted the Embassy from across the country telling us they have seen reports on us and were grateful for our steadfast support.

Israel gives warm welcome to Canada’s Harper

Israeli officials rolled out the red carpet recently for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper, one of the most stalwart allies of Israel today. Indeed, it is difficult to think of another prominent world leader in recent decades who has been so consistent and principled in his backing of the Jewish state. Thus the Israeli people received Harper with open arms and he reciprocated with more words of encouragement and admiration for their nation.

Harper is a conservative Christian leader who was making his very first visit to Israel. He was accompanied by a large 250-member Canadian delegation consisting of senior government officials, top businessmen, as well as Jewish and Christian leaders – including ICEJ-Canada national director Donna Holbrook.

Harper’s official itinerary included memorable moments at Yad Vashem, at a state dinner held in his honour, and at a bird watching observatory named for Harper in the Hula Valley in northern Galilee. But the highlight was his speech before the Knesset, where he told the nation’s lawmakers that Canada would stand behind them through “fire and water”.

“Canada and Israel are the greatest of friends, and the most natural of allies”, Harper assured. “The friendship between us is rooted in history, [and] nourished by shared values...”

“[I]t is right to support Israel because, after generations of persecution, the Jewish people deserve their own homeland and deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland”, he continued.

“It is a Canadian tradition to stand for what is principled and just, regardless of whether it is convenient or popular”, added Harper, who explained that his country’s support for Israel means at least three things.

“First, Canada finds it deplorable that some in the international community still question the legitimacy of the existence of the state of Israel...”

“Second, Canada believes that Israel should be able to exercise its full rights as a UN member-state and to enjoy the full measure of its sovereignty...”

“Third, we refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage... [I]n the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy ‘to go along to get along’ and single out Israel. But such... is not a balanced approach, nor a sophisticated one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong.”

Harper also deplored the new anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Israelism, saying it “attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation”.

“You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Harper as he welcomed him to Jerusalem. “I am speaking for all of the people of Israel. This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership...”

For Christians as well who stand with Israel, it is encouraging to know that there is an elected world leader right now who truly shares our biblical faith and worldview.


 

 

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