The arab-israeli conflict affects at least three groups of Palestinians: the refugees, the inhabitants of the West Bank, and the Israeli citizens. Any peace solution must take into consideration these three different groups, paying special attention to their particular problems. The refugees were initially some 700,000 persons who left their families, possessions, and homes in 1948 to flee for safety. It is customary to blame the Arab leaders of 1948 for the displacement of this group, though the conclusions of John Davis, the former Commission-General of UNRWA, have shown that Israel was also responsible for the mass Arab exodus during the fighting. At the present both Arabs and Israel are guilty for the way they have treated the Palestinian refugees. The Arab countries have not done enough to improve the living conditions and utter misery in the camps or to help the Palestinians blend with the rest of the population. Israel is wrong in not making greater efforts for the repatriation or compensation of a group that lost everything. Any positive solutions coming from Arab-Israeli negotiations must allow this group to determine its own destiny and speak for itself, whether it desires to meld with the rest of the Arabs, return to Israel as full citizens, or become a separate political entity in the Middle East. The Palestinians must be able to participate in negotiations, or else there can be no guarantee that they will abide by the terms acceptable to Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
The inhabitants of the West Bank are better off than the refugees, but they do face great injustices. Since they are not citizens of Israel, they have no right to vote and have no power to change the system. They must, however, pay high taxes to Israel and submit to regulations they did not legislate. Theirs is a classic example of taxation without representation. Americans who remember their colonial history should appreciate the hostilities of this group. To blame it for not accepting the yoke of Israel is like blaming the French resistance for opposing the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Arabs who live in Israel and have political rights are at best second-class citizens. This can be seen all the way from petty harassment at military check points to the number of Arab representatives serving in the Knesset. If the government wants to gain the allegiance of this segment of its population, then it should stop these foolish acts of discrimination and treat Arabs as full citizens with equal protection under the law.
The Palestinians, as a whole, are puzzled by two more things. First, they feel that they are being punished for what Nazi Germany did to the Jews. The world seems to be compensating the Jews for the evils of the Holocaust at the expense of the Arabs. The innocent party is paying for the guilt of Hitler’s Germany. Second, it is ironic that the Jews who experienced such discrimination and homelessness should turn against the Arabs and treat them unjustly. By reverting to such measures the Jewish people are in effect endorsing the very principles that their own persecutors used against them.
The Church must stop its indiscriminate support for Israel. The Arabs are wrong on some issues, but so is Israel. God demands that governments act justly, uphold his standards, walk humbly before him, and recognize his sovereignty. Some of the fiercest denunciations of social injustice, corruption, and immorality come from Amos, Micah, and Jeremiah. The prophets spoke boldly against the evils of their times, especially when the guilty party was their own government.
The Church must be careful not to confuse its political ideas with the teaching of the Scripture. Zionism is a human ideology that even many atheist Jews hold. God may indeed use the present state of Israel, but he does not have to. It is quite possible that he may allow it to perish and then replace it with another government. He is not limited by our theological charts and speculations; history lies in his hands, not ours.
The Church must take the great commission seriously. There are some one hundred million Arabs who need the Gospel. The message of the cross should not be clouded by political favoritism and prejudice. Such errors abound in history. At one time the “church” sent crusaders, who killed innocent people and ravaged the country, to the Middle East. At other times the “church” appeared as the champion of colonial imperialism in Africa. We cannot afford to repeat these mistakes. By identifying itself too closely with Zionism without denouncing the evils on both sides, the Church will unnecessarily alienate millions of Arabs. It cannot afford to evangelize the Jews at the cost of not reaching the Arabs.—SAMIR MASSOUH, instructor in Old Testament, Trinity seminary, Deerfield. Illinois.
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