This is where I part ways, theologically and ethically, with many of my Christian Zionist friends, many of them happen to be my ministry colleagues in the evangelical community.
Standing up with the Palestinians. This is also a proper time to reaffirm my solidarity with my Palestinian sisters and brothers in Christ who are suffering under the oppressive policies and practices of the Zionist enterprise. My heart resonates with the voice of a Palestinian brother in Christ, The Rev. Dr. Jack Y. Sara: “It seems that evangelicals in the US are ignoring the existence of their evangelical brethren in particular and Christians in general in the Middle East. It is almost as if we don’t exist. They don’t want to listen to our advice, which is born out of the reality on the ground. Often, our opinions and experiences are dismissed as merely ‘politically’ motivated. I wonder at their reactions and I cannot help but marvel at how they call themselves promoters of unity within the body of Christ.”
I’m also listening to Palestinian biblical scholars and theologians who are faithfully voicing out their hearts and minds along with their people. In his book, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict, Naim Stifan Ateek insists: “Justice is foundation for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” And yet, he advocates “a plea for a strategy of nonviolence.”
Meanwhile, the Zionists state and its armed forces continue to abuse their military superiority against civilians, causing the perpetuation of Nakba — a 70-year catastrophic sufferings among a displaced people. I strongly condemn these oppressive actions of the Zionist forces against the Palestinians. Along with many voices of justice-and-peace advocates around the world, I shout “FreePalestine!”
Renouncing Zionist Theology. I grew up within that faith group that blindly embraced an American theology that justifies the oppressive actions of the Zionist State against the Palestinians. It is a sad reality that this American bigotry, wrapped in religious language, is still being perpetuated by many preachers.
I renounced this religious perspectives early in my theological journey. I repented that I embraced it as a young Christian under the influence of American missionaries.
I have deep respect and a sacred view of the biblical term ‘Israel’ (יִשְׂרָאֵל) and I cannot, by conscience, use it to describe the present state that occupied Palestine. Here, I’ll refer to this occupying force in Palestine as the Zionist State — as described by a number of Orthodox Jews.
The United States moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Many Zionist Christians celebrate this as part of biblical prophecy, thinking that this would open the way towards the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. But there is no such prophecy. In 2012, I shared with the evangelical pastors and bishops that Israel is not the sole focus of God’s blessings among Abraham’s children and that followers of Jesus must work towards peace between the Jews and the Palestinians. In 2014, I shared with the same Christian leaders that the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and Jacob is a God of justice and righteousness and demanded that Israel practice justice and righteousness more than mere religious rituals and activities.
Repudiating the Oppressive Zionist Enterprise. While I seek to be objective, listening to the narratives of both Israel and Palestine, my ethical convictions mandate me to question how the current discourse among Zionist politicians are driven by fear and how their policies are unjustly imposed against the Palestinians despite their noble statements in their website.
The Zionist enterprise, which is understood to attract world Jewry to build “democracy, solidarity and equality,” is doing exactly the opposite. As a peacebuilder, I try to look at current events with an awareness that present behaviors and attitudes of conflicting parties are best seen through historical contexts. The Zionist enterprise’s current violence against the Palestinians bring shame to those Jews who suffered and died under Hitler; the Zionist enterprise today acts like her past Nazi oppressors. The Jews were an oppressed, displaced, unarmed people in the past; and yet, today’s Zionist enterprise have become militarized oppressors of a displaced, unarmed Palestinian civilians.
This Zionist enterprise even persecutes their own religious minority who resist being drafted into the Zionist armed forces.
Peace between the Palestinians and the Jews is possible. I still believe peace is possible between the Israelis and the Palestinians because of the hope expressed by Palestinian Christians like the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. “Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them and lead them to act for justice and peace.”
Sabeel’s statement of hope is worth noting here:
“This scenario envisages the total withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied territories including East Jerusalem according to United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinians will establish their sovereign state on the whole of the 23% of the land of Palestine. One way to redeem the settlements is to make them the new towns for the returning Palestinian refugees. This can constitute a part of Israel’s reparations to the Palestinians. Israel must compensate the owners from whom the land was confiscated. The Jewish settlers who choose to remain in Palestine can become Palestinian citizens and live under Palestinian sovereignty.
As to Jerusalem, it will have to be shared. The city must remain open to all. A peace treaty will be drawn up and the two countries will become inter-dependent economically and will help each other develop their resources for the well being of both their peoples.
This is the formula which the Palestinians have been hoping and working for. Indeed, it is not the ideal solution, but it carries within it an acceptable justice which most Palestinians are willing to live with for the sake of peace and prosperity. Furthermore, as this scenario agrees with United Nations resolutions since 1967, it will ensure the support of the international community of nations. This formula gives the Palestinians a state as sovereign as Israel, rids them of the Israeli occupation, and restores to them the whole of the occupied territories of 1967. Indeed, a state within the West Bank and Gaza, composed of only 23% of Palestine instead of the 43% allotted by the UN in 1947, is already a very signficant compromise by the Palestinians. The Palestinians would have to give up their right to most of historic Palestine. Obviously, Israel, with the help of the United States and the international community, will have to compensate the Palestinian people.”
Last year, Hamas seems to have declared a new political program by opening themselves with the idea of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by the Zionist State in the six-day war of 1967. In Article 20 of the New 2017 Hamas Charter, it states: “Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus.”
The response of the Zionist State, sadly, was negative according to CNN: “Hamas is attempting to fool the world but it will not succeed,” said David Keyes, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As a Filipino who have embraced a peace theology, I’ll be waiting for the Zionist State to respond positively.
Prayer for Salaam-Shalom for all. I’m hopeful because there’s a new generation of Jews and Palestinians whose hearts and minds are open for a more just-oriented dialogue about their mutual peace. The mission of the Jewish Voice for Peace, for example, needs to be heard: “Jewish Voice for Peace opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.”
My prayer is that the new generation of Palestinians and Jews would strengthen their resolve as they pursue justice-based peace in their determination to plot a common future — for the salaam-shalom of Jerusalem, and for the salaam-shalom of both Palestinians and Jews, and for the salaam-shalom of all people.
“Our vision involves two sovereign states, Palestine and Israel, who in the future may choose to enter into a confederation or even a federation, possibly with other neighboring countries and where Jerusalem becomes the federal capital. Indeed, the ideal and best solution has always been to envisage ultimately a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel where people are free and equal, living under a constitutional democracy that protects and guarantees all their rights, responsibilities, and duties without racism or discrimination. One state for two nations and three religions.”
Post Script: Several days after this blog was written, the 5th Christ at the Checkpoint Conference was held. This is what they say about themselves in their website: “We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that one of the first hallmarks of discipleship is love for both our own community and for our enemies. We wish to find Jesus at the center of everything we do and to make his life our life. Which means finding courageous love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike.”