How does a small town girl from the Bible belt of America go from being pro-Palestinian and caring more about the “right of return” for the Palestinian refugees than for the rights of the Jewish people, to living in Israel and finding a new love for the people in the Land? The story is long and cannot be encapsulated in one essay, but there is one main theme throughout the entire story, and that is the search for Truth.
I, like many others in the United States, grew up in a traditional Christian home with limited to no influence from the Church or community around me about the role and significance of Israel in an historical, biblical or modern context, other than the stories of the ancient Hebrews and the patriarchs of the Old Testament that I learned about in Sunday school. Yet, there was no overt correlation drawn between the ancient peoples of old and the Jewish people today or the modern State of Israel.
In my early young adult years, I found a growing enthusiasm to explore the unknown world of diverse cultures, languages, and peoples. My attention gravitated towards the Middle East where eastern religion and thought had been flourishing for over a thousand years. In the midst of this vast region of history and rich cultures, was this tiny, new Jewish nation. According to modern history books, this young country was birthed out of the horrors of the Holocaust in World War II and became a place of refuge for the Jews who were fleeing death camps in Europe.
This is the framework of history that most people know and understand about the modern state of Israel. Within that framework entered the distressing story of what happened to the “natives” of the land when the Jews arrived. This was the narrative of the Palestinian people who were pushed, thrown out, or scared off the land that their ancestors had inhabited for centuries, or so the story went as told through mainstream textbooks and media outlets. The testimonies of those displaced families who suffered and how the generations after them continue to suffer until today broke my heart. Where was the justice? Who would do such an awful thing? No wonder there is war in the Land, the Palestinians are simply fighting their oppressors. Is that not justified in the eyes of the world? Bitterness and animosity took root and I spent years growing in enmity towards the State of Israel for the injustices they incurred on the innocent Palestinian people. I blamed Israel for the struggles of the Palestinians – poverty, lack of education, unemployment, terrorism and more.
My story is similar to an increasing number of people in the West who grow up learning and believing the same narrative that I was given and they continue down a path that leads them towards hatred. However, thanks to the grace of God, my story does not end with hatred. The narrative that I shared before was what I followed throughout my young adult years and was fed to me by the academic elites at the university level in the United States. I am not saying that this narrative is completely false; it is true in many ways. The dilemma is that it is not the only narrative in the claim for this sacred piece of land. It was not until I traveled to Israel and spent a number of months volunteering on a small kibbutz that I heard another narrative for the first time. The story of the Jewish people is also full of injustices, oppression and exodus from the native land of their forefathers from centuries past. So who is right, who does the land belong to and who is to decide? Does the United Nations, the United States, or the United Arab Emirates determine the final status?
My next step changed my whole perspective. I began to pray and ask God to show me how to understand this complicated matter. I began to read the Scriptures in a renewed way; for the first time, I started to connect the dots between the covenants and promises God gave to the Hebrews of old to the descendants that live on today. This renewed understanding began to radically change my understanding of current events. How was I to deny the right of the Jewish people to the land that God had promised them after witnessing verse after verse that read like those found in Genesis 13:15, “…for all the land which you see I will give to you and your descendants forever,” or in Genesis 17:8 when God says, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” God entered into a covenant with Abraham that would be passed down to the generations after him, the Jewish people.
As I began to embrace God’s plan for the Jewish people I still felt an internal struggle; how could I choose between the Palestinians who were suffering and the Jewish people who were promised the Land? In time I began to realize that it was not my place to choose sides or a people group. All people are beloved by their Creator and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). However, it was my job to stand on the Word of God as my authority for Truth, Justice, and Love. I could no longer let the world define for me what justice and love is. Only God, the Giver of Life, has the authority to determine rights, execute justice perfectly, and do it from a heart of compassionate love. The following passage was one that helped me to understand the place of the people of Israel in proportion to the faithfulness of God as He carries out His will.
For you are a holy and set-apart people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a special people to Himself out of all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love upon you and choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the fewest of all people. But because the Lord loves you and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know, recognize, and understand therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps covenant and steadfast love and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments, to a thousand generations…”
God has brought the Jewish people back to the Land that He once promised to them, not because they are more special than anyone else, but because He is faithful to keep His covenants. This is not only a battle over land, but it is a battle over the hearts and minds of people to know the One true God, who is faithful and His mercies endure forever.
My story is not unique unto me. It is a further testimony of God’s faithfulness to bring us into His Truth. The situation on the ground remains difficult and can become a burden for those who fall into despair. I share my testimony as a form of encouragement to those who struggle with understanding the magnitude of the “Middle East conflict” in relation to Israel. If we walk with eyes focused on the understanding of the world, we will be left embittered, burdened and hopeless. If we choose to study God’s word and seek His understanding, then we will be clothed with righteousness and eternal hope.
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