Third time is a charm. A real, relevant post to end the day! Thank you for your patience. This is what I intended to post here today.
I began writing this a couple weeks ago. As things were heating up toward another armed conflict between my country and the Middle East, with possible ramifications for Israel, I decided to hold off on publishing. I deeply desire peace for Syria, and Israel, and all nations. With so much war and unrest in so many places it’s hard to read the news. While in hope of a diplomatic solution of some kind, I submit this subject:
For the Love of Israel
Tonight I am sitting in a vacant house that my husband and I own. We have spent two weeks getting it ready to put on the market, but we lived here enough years to have two children and enjoy many times sharing hospitality with good friends. It is hard to let this house go thinking of all the memories. Today I was also remembering when our Hebrew Roots congregation went out in the front yard at night to blow shofars at the new moon. Okay, so we had some weird times too. But all the crazy fun times began for us, with a love for Israel.
How I Fell in Love
I was not raised in the type of church that believed Israel still had Chosen People status because we believed we did. I never gave the modern state of Israel much thought and could never figure out what the big deal was about everyone wanting to go to the “Holy Land.” For us a pilgrimage of worth might be the house our prophet was born in, or the very first church building used by our denomination.
One day, years after leaving the late 1800′s variety of American-inspired “Chosen People” for good, I felt a desire to read the book of Ezekiel. Then I read other Old Testament prophets, majors and minors. I became very excited at the discovery of many things I had never seen before regarding the Jewish people and promises of their restoration. I began to wonder if the modern state of Israel was the beginning of these prophecies being fulfilled. Wouldn’t you know, many other people had exactly the same speculations!
I immersed myself in the study of the history of the Jewish people, and then of the history of the modern state. I had always felt a solidarity with the Holocaust victims from childhood because we also kept the Jewish Sabbath in our church, and were taught we would suffer a similar fate for it one day. I had read more World War II books than I could count. But now I wanted to know all about them as a people, past and present.
My husband, not so much interested in Israel, but in the Torah itself as a way of life, was also being drawn to identify with Jewishness as a path of life and worship. As our testimony here shares in far too much tedious detail, we did.
We began to see the Hebrew way as given to a tribal nation thousands of years ago, as the only way. We believed God ordained this forever and for always, and that any who would be obedient to follow Him in this were also Jewish. Judaism itself does teach this. Upon conversion you are as much a part of the nation as one natural born. This is the way the Old Testament teaches, to be circumcised and joined in obedience to Yahweh as explained by Moses, is to become a Hebrew.
Many people in the movement talked of moving to Israel. I studied about kibbutz life and nothing sounded more idyllic to me. I looked into ways to immigrate, and found full conversion to Judaism, proof of ethnic lineage, or joining the IDF were the options, all of which seemed problematic. But my now “Jewish” heart, longed to be in the Land. As many Christians believe, we thought by blessing Israel, we would be blessed and also have front-row privileges to end time events and insider information on current world affairs. That’s pretty intoxicating stuff.
Meeting a Real Jewish Zionist
An Israeli man came to speak to our little tiny group. I’m sure he had bigger fish to fry with much larger pockets, but he was kind to come and speak for us. The way we prepared for his arrival you would have thought the Queen of England was coming to town. He was running a publicity campaign for the Temple Mount and the WHOLE land of Israel as described to Abraham, to be occupied by Jews. Any concession at all to give up an inch of land was condemned as evil and against the will of God. Any Israeli or American leader willing to make compromises for peace was in danger of a curse we believed, and he fueled our zealous convictions. We did not care to speak to him of his Messiah, but he did make many diplomatic patronizing remarks toward the idea of the Messiah – as he was accustomed to speaking in Christian circles. He also had amazing war stories that filled us with admiration and a sense of being on “God’s side”. Maybe the miracles were true. One thing I’ve learned about miracles – they mean God loves us. They don’t always mean we are necessarily right. He was a sweet, charismatic man and I have no reason to doubt the depth of his convictions.
Those Obstructing God’s Will
As far as Palestinians were concerned, we had our talking points. We saw them as one big mob of hate-filled terrorists, not people. Not an ounce of concern or compassion for them found a place in our hearts, nor did we ever hear any of them speak about their situation. They didn’t matter to us. They didn’t belong there, and the sooner they were dealt with the better, although most of us had the realization that we would have to wait for the 2nd coming to see this problem solved. Seriously. I wonder what Jesus we were expecting?
Now, several years later with a new heart, open ears and eyes, I feel compelled to address this issue which is so closely linked not just to the Hebrew Roots Movement, but much of evangelical Christianity as well. I have questioned myself hundreds of times, “Why I should write these things?” They are hard. But it comes down to love. Love for Israel. All of it.
Honesty is Loving
Before I begin to share the hard things, there are several guaranteed reactions to anyone who would dare to look at this situation from any alternate angles. I know, because I used to have the same violent knee jerks so that I nearly bruised my own chin. Calmly place both feet on the floor, and hear my words.
*I LOVE JEWISH PEOPLE no matter where they live.
*I don’t wish to see Israel wiped off the map.
*I am deeply moved by the fear they live in and am well aware of the threats surrounding them daily, and the great suffering they have experienced past and present.
* I could care less about the accusations of conspiracies and evil empires, because I have to include my own country in that discussion. This isn’t about blame.
Now that we have that clearly stated, I desire to speak with honesty. If at any point you feel your feet rising from the floor, please refer again to the list above.
Christians and Israel
I speak now to those who call themselves by the term Christian. This would imply that you believe not only IN Jesus, but that you believe Him. I have been amazed at how easy I have in the past skimmed over very clear, direct teaching as “does not apply” to me. As He has gradually worked on my heart, I am constantly shocked at things I thought were okay that are completely out of line with how He is describing His Kingdom and how it works. This is an ongoing process for all of us who seek to follow Him. This isn’t just a matter of reading words on a page and managing to integrate my thinking from hypocrisy to honesty, but deep heart changes that are incredibly painful, yet freeing at the same time.
Many Christians, especially in the United States, feel a deep affinity for Israel and Jewish people. This isn’t wrong in any way, except when it creates the situation where we only love one side, and God loves both. When we cross over from loyalty to Jesus to blind, unbending loyalty to any earthly, fallen thing, no matter how good we perceive it, we create for ourselves a conflict of interest. This can happen with countless “good” things. The Biblical term for this is idolatry.
Just as we tend to see all Palestinians as terrorists, I think Christians also want to see Jewish people in a stereotype as well. We see them through the lens of the stories of David and Moses, and enjoy the common ground that we both accept the first edition of the Holy Book. Stereotypes generally lead us astray from seeing the diversity in a people. Israel is extremely diverse, maybe even more so than the United States in some ways. I saw recently that the Ultra-orthodox were in a conflict with the government over the mandatory military service. The article stated that they had large families and lived mostly on the welfare system as they believed their duty was to study the Torah and spend their time in the yeshiva. They were exempt from military service because they did not believe in the use of force, but rather trusted in God. I found great irony that this is the opposite perspective of most conservative Christian Zionist, on all issues.
Putting any and all end-time prophecy interpretations aside, because I honestly don’t know or care who is right or wrong about those things – it doesn’t change the foundational Way of the Jesus we follow – and that is to love. We love Him, each other, and our enemies. This “insanity” is the only real proof we have in this hate-filled world, and in my opinion, just as powerful as any miracle working you can manage to conjure up. Maybe more so. Pretty hard to fake loving your enemy. Funny thing happened as I began to listen to these people I had written off. God filled my heart with so much love for them too, just like He gave me for the Jewish people years before. I can’t even explain this love. It’s just there.
The Bottom side of the Security Fence
Imagine for a moment that the Palestinians don’t understand God wanted the Jews to have all the land back at this point in time. You can understand the confusion. (There are those on both sides who want ALL the land, and those who want peace.) Imagine yourself in their shoes. We’d be finding some resistance fighters in our own ranks don’t you think? What’s all this I hear in the last few years about “Don’t tread on me?” Humans of any race or religion don’t take well to being pushed off their land, losing their livelihoods, having travel restricted, or living in fear that any moment you could be arrested or your house taken over for use by an army at their whim. Or shot in random gunfire. It doesn’t sound like a recipe for peace to me. For many on both sides, peace isn’t the goal. Only total victory will satisfy. But there are some on both sides as well who believe in non-violent solutions.
The situation in Israel is complicated, dangerous, and without any clear solutions. Many in Israel do not believe that meeting any Palestinian demands will bring peace. Palestinians do not believe Israel wants peace as long as they continue to build settlements in their territory, which creates the need for more buffer zones, and more confiscated land and difficulty with travel because of checkpoints and security fences.
I realize there is a very real threat of violence that Israel lives under daily. But their military response has been a heavy boot that is hard to imagine and is never talked about in my social circles. I truly believed in the past that any negative story at all about Israel was a lie and propaganda from the other side. The truth is, both sides have plenty of that to go around in any conflict.
Because I don’t live there, I am obviously not qualified in the least to speak of this one way or the other, but I am thankful to have found honesty and truth, from Israelis themselves. Not all Israel’s citizens are comfortable with the way things are. Many are now speaking out about the human rights abuses the IDF routinely displays toward the Palestinian people.
I admire these truth-tellers, because truth is always risky and it takes a lot of courage to speak against what everyone accepts as normal. My country is very severe to anyone who would dare speak out about the abuses of military and government, as we have seen so vividly in the last few years. Please understand I’m not on a witch hunt here. I am sickened by what has been done under the banner of my own flag as well, and what continues to happen. I have been writing about that in other places as this is not a political blog. As I heard one saying recently, “There is no flag big enough to cover the killing of innocent people”. Especially not my flag.
Breaking the Silence
I don’t remember how or where I ran across this group, but their facebook page left me feeling ill and in tears. I have gleaned information from different sources, but this one by far has been the most inspiring. They are a group of former IDF members who have chosen to not remain silent about what they have seen, heard, and done. They also share current news stories of related items of interest. One of the founding members, Noam Chayut, wrote a book called, The Girl Who Stole My Holocaust – A Memoir. I identified with it deeply because the author is telling his story of “waking up”. Anyone who has been through that will recognize the process of gradually seeing things as they are, and the pivotal moments when your cotton candy structures dissolve and you are left ideologically homeless in a world of ideas.
One thing I can also relate to as an American is the contradiction between the good-guy persona, in this author’s case, “the most moral army in the world”, and the reality of human rights abuses as an accepted practice. Most of these actions are not taken as a direct intervention to any threat, but rather as a way to break a people psychologically and keep them in a state of fear and submission. He details the strategy to destroy the terror infrastructure as follows:
Exposure (razing – uprooting trees and flattening buildings)
Targeted Prevention (extrajudicial execution)
Show of Presence (humiliation, intimidation, vandalism)
Neighbor Procedure (using a random unarmed bystander as a human shield in order to enter a Palestinian house)
Passer-by Procedure (same thing, after “neighbor procedure” was ruled illegal by Israel’s High Court of Justice)
Searches (entering homes and damaging their contents)
Deterrent Fire (opening fire indiscriminately in all directions)
Making them pay the price (revenge, letting off steam and collective punishment)
Mapping (invading the last vestige of privacy in the refugee camps: entering every home, drawing the layout of the rooms, listing the names of the inhabitants, scanning their mobile phones, checking out family relations…)
And so “the Palestinian population is to learn that terrorism doesn’t pay.” p. 97
He begins the story with his childhood and growing up with the Holocaust deeply embedded in the psyche with the mantra, “Never forget, never forgive.” He traveled to Europe and was deeply moved by the museums and remnants of that horrific nightmare. Yearly celebrations kept it all fresh in everyone’s minds. In spite of his excelling in music, he chose to join the IDF as a combatant because of his admiration for the war heroes who had preceded his generation.
In one eventful moment as an IDF soldier, looking into the eyes of a young Palestinian girl who saw nothing redeeming in his smile toward her, an awakening happened that took years to fully acknowledge. Here is how he describes it:
“She took from me the belief that I was avenging my people’s destruction by absolute evil, that I was fighting absolute evil. For that girl, I embodied absolute evil… And ever since, I have been without my Holocaust. Ever since, everything in my life has taken on new meaning: the sense of belonging is blurred, pride has gone missing, belief has weakened, regret has grown strong, forgiveness has been born.”
Forgiveness. That is the way out isn’t it? What we refuse to forgive, we tend to repeat. As with fathers and sons, so with nations. This book is hard to read but yet hard to put down. I am sparing you the graphic details. Only that the author states from the time he went to his first post as a soldier in Gaza, to the publishing of this memoir in English, 3088 Palestinians had been killed who took no part in any combat action.
As with most truth-telling, one of the first objections raised is that the atrocities described are exceptional incidents and in no way characterize a regular pattern of behavior. While of course there are many good things to praise, the good things do not take away from the necessity to evaluate other patterns at work. As Chayut began collecting testimonies for Breaking the Silence he relates this discovery:
“I gathered testimonies, and listened to others gathered by my friends. In the first months, I was stunned by the dimensions of violence and humiliation they revealed. The excuse of “rotten apples” within the “moral occupation” cart disappeared In its stead, a whole system of organized evil was revealed….These were the stories of frightened boys who commanded checkpoints, enforced curfews, and patrolled streets and markets. These were the stories of the indifference and numbness they developed there, which swallowed up their own personalities.”
This is when the aggressor becomes the victim of his own war. So many in our military have suffered the same emotional damage and our veterans are committing suicide in record numbers. Fighting terror with terror solves nothing and hurts everyone it touches in some way. American Christians need to come to terms with this in their own country as much as seeing the reality of it anywhere else. Conservative Christians have historically been quick to join the war band-wagons, unless of course it is suggested by an unpopular president. This comes from a deep-seated patriotism that preaches “God and Country.” Not many seem to ask the question, “What does God THINK about my country right now and its actions towards our perceived enemies?” As a Christian, these questions should be thought out in light of the words of Jesus, not our nationalism or patriotism.
But this is not about politics or who decides policies. This is about love being the higher way. I recently saw a video of an Israeli man (on TED Talks) who has taken it on himself via the internet to send love messages to the people of Iran, saying he did not want a war with them, and many others joined in. Then there came many messages back from Iran to Israel with the same desires. What if love was stronger than fear?
I will end this portion with a few videos of Israeli IDF voices from Breaking the Silence. And I strongly recommend getting Noam Chayut’s book. In the next post I will talk about the Palestinian side of the equation (another book and movie review), and what a genuine loving Christian support for the region might look like, no matter what your end-time scenario includes.