The Table Podcast

Moving Forward in the Current Israeli Conflict

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock , Dr. Mitch Glaser, David Brickner, and Dr. Jim Sibley discuss Israel and the Middle East, focusing on how Israel moves forward in the current conflict and how we as Christians ought to think about it.

Israel and the Middle East
  1. Backgrounds to the Current Israeli Conflict
  2. Moving Forward in the Current Israeli Conflict
Dr. Darrell Bock
Jim, your take on what’s going on here in terms of – we talked about the human shields, but in terms of what happened to the memory of the holocaust.
Jim Sibley
Yeah I think that’s true. You know the Jewish people say, “Never forget.” And we certainly should not forget the holocaust and the atrocities o the holocaust. But beyond that, if Israel is based just on the holocaust, that’s not a firm foundation. And I think that we have to understand that there’s much more to it than that. We’ve discussed the biblical claim, the historic claim, there’s also legal claims. And by international law, Israel has legitimacy according to international law. That gets a little far field from the discussion of the holocaust. But I do think it’s relevant.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, why don’t you walk us through some of the background. And let me fill in here because it’s an important transition. You know part of what goes on here, and I said that we would discuss this, is related to the terminology of what you get. So for example, from the Palestinian side, you get the idea Israel is occupying the land. You get that kind of language.

And so the impression is made of an invasion and something illegal going on in the fact that Israel is even there at all. This obviously is fueled by the commitment, in some cases religious and in other cases probably ethnic, that Israel shouldn’t be there at all and doesn’t have any right to be there at all at any different level. So let’s walk through how we got to the state of Israel if I can say it that way. And the legal claims that she has to the land. In other words, let’s set aside the Bible for a second, and let’s talk legally from a secular point of view as anyone would look at this as Israel’s right to be in the land.

Jim Sibley
I am not competent to really get into the legal background. I mentioned to you before the show about a book by Howard Grief that’s titled, The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel Under International Law. It’s about a 700 page book that lays out the case from a legal perspective.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You can’t tell me in 90 seconds what those 700 pages say?
Jim Sibley
Go back to the San Remo peace conference after World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and just follows it right on through. So there is a very solid legal case according to international law. As far as the purchase of land, this is an area of real contention. But beginning in the late 1800’s, the Jewish National Fund and other organizations were purchasing land from the Arab land owners. And they purchased actually quite a bit of land, mostly in the coastal plain, some in Galilee and some along the Jordan Valley, especially toward the Dead Sea.

The reason for these particular purchases was because this was land that was deemed worthless. Malarial swamps, land that was saturated with salt, land that had been so eroded it was covered with sand. These were worthless lands that were purchased cheaply by the Jewish National Fund. And then the swamps were drained, the land was reclaimed, the salt was leached out of the soil to produce agricultural land.

So all of that took place prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, there was the purchase of land. Only when Israel was attacked in 1948 by the surrounding nations and Israel won that war, was additional land taken. Many of the Arabs who lived there were told by the surrounding nations to desert, to leave their homes and their properties because as soon as the Arab forces drove the Jews into the sea, they would be able to claim not only their land and their homes, but the Jews’ property as well.

And so many left. I believe there may be a legitimate right to the spoils of a defensive war. I’m thinking in particular of the Golan Heights, which Israel took in 1967. From the Golan Heights, they were under constant bombardment by the Syrians. In the Sixth Day War they took that land, not through aggression but through fighting a defensive war. And it added to the security of the State of Israel.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So the point is that different pieces of land have come into control the nation through a variety of means, but the core presence of Israel as a state in the land is something that has gone through a very internationally recognized process that some people have hesitated to accept and are trying to fight as a result. And that’s what some of the language come from that we see about some of these conflicts. Mitch, what’s your take on the roots of the State of Israel and the language that gets used as we talk about what’s going on?
Dr. Mitch Glazer
It’s a great discussion. I again appreciate everything that Jim added there. We have to remember that Jordan, Iraq, Syria, all of these Arab countries were for the most part of the Ottoman Empire. It was broken up; they were re-divided. There was no Jordan. There was no Israel, allegedly. And so you basically had western victorious powers dividing up land and you have to see that after a period of colonization, you see this a lot in South America and Africa as well – we’re in a post-colonial period, which is why there’s just so much of this stuff going on.

And Israel is almost thrown into the mix of a lot of this post-colonial divisiveness and contention. And you see this all over the place. And if you don’t understand this in terms of – the Arab Spring was again a response to a post-colonial movement. That’s why when everybody was saying, “Well the Arab Spring is good because people will become more democratic and everything else.” I remember looking at my wife one day and saying, “Oh boy. This is not going to go well for the Jews.”

And the point was, even briefly as a result of the Arab Spring, you had the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt. And so, can you imagine if the brotherhood was in power in Egypt right now what would be going on in Gaza? And so you have to understand that there’s been this turf fighting for land. So without the biblical perspective that the land belonged to the Jewish people, then it’s one big political post-colonial morass where everybody’s trying to grab what they need.

Secondly, on the issue of defense I agree with Jim, that the land that has been called the occupied territories, all of that land came to Israel for the most part as the result of war. At least the Golan did and East Jerusalem did. And then I think it’s very interesting to see that the one little piece of land that was populated by allegedly about 1.7 million Palestinians, that was given over totally to Palestinian rule. Gaza, where the Jewish people actually left. You know nobody’s debating about settlements in Gaza right now, there are none.

You know, who would do that? And so the only place where there are no quote-unquote settlements is Gaza. And look what’s happened there. With total removal and giving it over, it basically made that area of land and the population there vulnerable to Muslim extremists who have taken ripe advantage of this. And that has not only been bad for average Palestinians, it’s been really bad for Christian Palestinians.

And it’s been bad for Israel. I think that a lot of the defensive actions of Israel, whether it be Golan, whether it be East Jerusalem, whether it be building a wall, whether it be checkpoints, I understand that these are all very difficult for some of the more innocent Palestinians to handle. And there was a day when a lot of these weren’t there. But what happened? We had a couple of interfodors, we had Hamas come on the scene. And so right now I don’t see how Israel can relax its defense poster or how many tunnels are going to be built and how many Israelis are going to be killed.

America would never tolerate this. Europeans would never tolerate it. And so we don’t have a prospect for Israel relaxing her defense infrastructure, which is what is rubbing so many more neutral Palestinians the wrong way. And rubbing a lot of Americans who really want the best for everybody – rubbing them the wrong way. They don’t understand the connection between self-defense in Israel and what’s going on. So the only thing that can really happen right now is that Hamas has got to be stopped.

And until Hamas is stopped, until that strain of fanatical extremist fundamental militant Islam, until that is rooted out you’re not going to have any prospect for Israel relaxing its defenses. The U.S. never would do that.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, I like to use the illustration that if you were sitting in Albany or Rochester, New York and you had bombs or rockets coming at you from Toronto and from Buffalo and up from New York City, etc. – and that was going on in the United States, Americans wouldn’t put up with that for a second. So I think part of what we’re trying to do with this podcast is to put everything in a larger context so that people understand, not just what they’re seeing – the images that they’re seeing on the television that are disturbing there’s no doubt about it.

But also understanding the context of what’s generating the nature of this conflict and what’s going on. David, your take on the language and kind of where we’re at in terms of these kinds of questions.

David Brickner
Yeah, I would absolutely affirm everything that both Jim and Mitch just said and I would add this. And that is that the narrative of Palestinian nationalism is the most recent narrative to be created. And frankly I believe it’s a canard. It’s based upon a false ideology that’s just simply designed to delegitimize Israel’s claim to the land. The problem is that Israel has no negotiating partner on the other side. Whether it be in the past at the very beginning of this Palestinian nationalist claim, you had Yasser Arafat.

And now you’ve got Abu Mazen with the Palestinian authority, who has no real authority. And then you have Hamas whose authority is only at the end of a rocket. And so there’s really nothing that Israel has to do. And when they go to Egypt, you know they’re trying to work out some sort of an agreement, but who’s going to enforce the agreement from Gaza? Or from Ramallah? It’s not a fair negotiation from the start because Israel has the ability to keep its commitments and the Palestinians don’t have any intention to because it’s written into their very charters to see Israel destroyed. And unless that gets changed and unless Gaza is demilitarized, it’s going to be a cycle of violence. And I want to say that in all of this, there is a real positive component that Christians need to realize. That especially among Israelis and younger Israelis, there’s an unquenchable thirst for peace.

And we don’t see the emotional, psychological toll that it takes on this population to have to be running into bomb shelters twice a day at a minimum with the children and the families all having to stop on the side of the road when the sirens go off. It’s just an intolerable situation. And like you said, America would never put up with this and yet Israel is living in – to say it’s a rough neighborhood is the understatement of the century. And we as Americans and Christians needs to recognize that this is an intolerable situation that has no legitimate negotiable outcome other than a truce.

And yet, there’s this desire for peace. And in the midst of all this, we have an obligation to bring the only hope for peace, who is Jesus the prince of peace. And from our perspective right now, the greatest openness of the gospel of any Jewish community of the world is among, especially Israeli young people. And so we want to redouble our efforts, not only to preach the gospel there, but to recognize that when Arabs and Jews can say to one another, “I love you in Jesus’ name.” The world will truly see the reconciling power of the gospel. And that is our hope today.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, I’m torn as to what direction to go because you’ve opened up how do we move towards any kind of resolution or are we stuck and locked in a cycle. And obviously unless hearts are changed an attitudes are changed, we’re seemingly locked into a pretty deep cycle here. But there is one other questions I just want to tackle before I go there and it’s this.

How should Christians view the plight – if I’m going to say it this way – of the average Palestinian? I’d hate for us to walk away from this podcast and simply say well here’s how you need to understand the situation that Israel is in. fact is, the Middle East is a mess. And being a mess, there’s a lot of people who are caught in the middle of what’s going on here who are being put in very difficult situation and circumstances.

And I know all of you have been to Israel and I think most of you have spent some time on both sides of the wall, if I can say it that way. So how do we think about the Palestinian who’s there. And I have two groups in mind. The Palestinian Christians on the one hand and then the average Palestinian on the other. How should Christians think about their plight in the midst of what we’ve described, which obviously is a complex mess? Jim?

Jim Sibley
Well Darrell, we lived in Israel for almost 14 years. And I had opportunity to develop good relationships like you said on both sides. Preached in Palestinians congregations, churches. And had many friends. I still come back to what the scripture says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” For Israeli Arabs, there are many Israeli Arabs now who are a growing number I understand, who are recognizing that their future really is with Israel.

And some are beginning to serve in the Israel defense forces. They are really casting their lot with Israel and turning their backs to other Palestinians who are striving for nationalism or whatever. and for the Muslim, for the Palestinian Muslim, if some way could be found for them to lay down their hatred, their anti-Semitism and find a way to peacefully coexist with Israel, I believe it would be the only way to lift them out of poverty and out of backwardness and into the 21st century.

They could hitch their wagon to Israel’s star. I just recently read a great book by George Gilder called, The Israel Test, in which he makes this point from a secular perspective that if you really love the Palestinians, you need to help them to see that the way to prosperity, the way to liberty and freedom is by getting on board with what’s happening in Israel. And I think biblically that fits as well.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mitch, what’s your take on how we should view the Palestinian plight?
Dr. Mitch Glazer
Well I still remember a few years ago when a guy in his early thirties who was the head of the Palestinian Bible Society bookstore in Gaza was dragged off, two or three kids, were dragged off and killed, and by Muslim extremists. Now the population of Christians in Bethlehem has gone from – you know it’s dropped by 70 percent. I mean every Palestinian Christian knows what’s really going on. Basically if Israel pulled out of Israel – the Jews pulled out of Israel – and Hamas and the Palestinian authority took over, how soon there after do you think Sharia Law would be established.

And what would happen to the Christians? The same thing that’s happening to the Christians in Syria and Iraq and so on. So the Palestinian believers need our compassion because they’re between a rock and a hard place. They understand they do have loyalties as Palestinians and they do carry some of the narrative and agenda. It’s even more difficult for those that believe Israel does have a right to the land theologically.

But they’re faced with if they support the Palestinians, if they support Gaza, if they support the Palestinian authority and they throw in – well their future is very dismal. And I think the average more secular Muslim feels the same way. Before the interfodors began, people had thriving construction businesses. They were in college, in university. I mean, things were really pretty normal. But then this whole post-colonial extreme Islamic militaristic agenda has swept through the whole Middle East, including Israel.

And I think it scares the daylights out of the average Palestinian. I think they’re terrified. They’re more terrified of what’s going to happen if Israel doesn’t have anything to do with them than if they did. There’s a lot of talk about Hamas leaders being corrupt. And you know there’s always political corruption on all sides. But I think that certainly we know that with Arafat’s bank accounts were huge. And so I think that that’s a problem.

I would make one suggestion to the brothers and sister listening. And that is without buying into all of these agendas and with proper concern for your own safety, I think that a time for humanitarian relief on the part of Christians in Gaza is really acute. And I believe that it would be a great thing for Christians to mobilize and to be a presence within Gaza for relief work because it’s going to take billions of dollars and it’s going to take so much work to put Gaza back together again.

And as much as I do not want to see – or let’s put it the other way – as much as I want to see Hamas and Gaza demilitarized, I also think that Gaza needs to be rebuilt so that it’s citizens can have a good life. And so I would think Christians should consider what they can do to help Gaza.

Dr. Darrell Bock
David Brickner
Yeah, there’s no question that as followers of Jesus we have to demonstrate that loving Israel does not mean hating Arabs. And we have to have a very reliable opportunity to demonstrate that. And that’s the problem right now as we know. A lot of the aide that came in after operation cast lead in the form of cement and other building supplies ended up being used to make the tunnels by Hamas.

And so to find a way to provide the humanitarian aide that is so desperately needed without knowing that it’s not going to be used for other means. That’s the challenge we have yet to uncover. I would also say that there are genuine efforts to bring about some platform for reconciliation between younger Arabs and Jews. A ministry that I would commend named Mussalaha, that tries to bring Arabs and Jews together. They go out into the desert. They break bread together. They sleep under the stars together. And they discuss their lives. In a biblical framework, sometimes the participants are believers, sometimes they’re not.

But there are efforts like that underway to establish a peace and a sense of a basis for reconciliation and wherever we as believers in Jesus can affirm that, can encourage that, can use if you will this current conflict as a theological laboratory for demonstrating that the gospel is a gospel of peace.

That has implications beyond just the proclamation of the good news, but actually works towards bringing people together. Reconciled first to God and then to one another. These are efforts that are really worth Christians investing their resources in.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Now I want to begin to wrap up. And I want to do it with two questions here at the end. And that is, what would you say to people in terms of what we can be likely to expect – and I’m not going to make you into a prophet, but I want you to think about realistically what we can expect from the region? And then the last question is, in what kind of hope do we have as we look at the current situation?

And David, I’m going to start with you and then go to Mitch. And then Jim, I’m going to let you wrap up. David, how would you respond to what we can expect and then where’s the hope?

David Brickner
Well if the Bible is our guide, then we can expect that the conflict will continue. And yet, in the midst of it will be a great opportunity for the gospel. And I really believe that’s what we can count on. And we’re beginning to see right now the first fruits of that final harvest. I never would’ve imagined 10 years ago that the largest branch office of Jews for Jesus in the world would be in Tel Aviv. And yet now we have 25 Israelis there actively going out preaching the gospel. Trying to be a good witness.

The other day they were down handing out copies of psalms and bags of candy to soldiers going to the front lines of the conflict. And as I said before, a greater openness to the gospel among Israeli young people than any other group of Jewish people that we’re ministering to in the world. And so as believers in Jesus, we need to recognize that this conflict, I believe will continue in one form or another until Christ returns.

But the obligation of the church is to preach the gospel to Jews and to Arabs in the Middle East. And that’s where we need to focus our efforts. And that is a very hopeful prospect. We had a group of American Jewish believers out on the streets on Rothschild the other day. And they had big posters up that had a map of the world. And it said, “Peace”— P-E-A-C-E — “by piece” – P-I-E-C-E. And they were inviting Israelis to come up and put their hopes for peace.

And it provided a tremendous opportunity for conversation with these Israeli young people that were out there hanging out, trying t live a normal life in the midst of the sirens going off. And like I said, the evidence is that there’s a tremendous hunger for peace. And there’s a sense of despair of the inability of the leadership on either side to find a path toward peace. And we know that real peace, lasting peace begins in the heart through the transformation of the work of the holy spirit in the gospel.

And that really is, as simple as it may sound, the only hope for peace. And that’s what as Christians, looking for realistic ways to provide relief, need to make the major focus. And that is the proclamation of the gospel of peace in that land. And God will answer our prayers. And we will see Jews and Arabs come together in the name of Jesus.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Mitch? What do you think we’re headed for and where’s the hope?
Dr. Mitch Glazer
I think that we’re going to continue to see armed conflict for years to come. I believe that the only possible way as long as you have extreme radical militarized group of people – that the only way that Israel can protect itself is by continuing to have a strong defense. And I know that the IDF will have a lot of self-reflection. They always do after these kinds of operations. I think thank god there has not be insurgents from the north, just very minimal. But if there’s ever a moment of peace in that area, that could open up a whole other front as well.

We don’t’ know about the stability of Jordan at this point. There’s a lot of pressure on them. So I think just being honest for years to come, I think there’s going to continue to be difficulty whether or not – I’m not an expert so I don’t want to get into whether a two state solution or some other form of a one state solution or all these other possibilities. But I don’t think anything is a possibility as long as radical militants with a disregard for human life are in charge of the political process.

I think they want what they want. They want the land and they want the Jews out. And they want a Muslim country. And that goes against the ideals of the nation of Israel and same with America. When it comes to hope, my hope is that Israel will be level headed. Israel will be measured. My hope is that Israel will maintain a strong defense. My hope is that Britain and I think Spain and some other countries will not be as influenced by their own local populations of more radical and militant Muslims.

And that they will sell arms to Israel. I hope that I think a strong Israel is good for Jews. It’s good for non-militant Palestinians. And it’s really good for the west. I think that we have a vested interest. I think unfortunately, some of the more – I have to use the word cause I’m a Jewish New Yorker and I live there – but some of the more liberal elements of our own society are even at heart to some degree they’re uncomfortable with democracy. Or sometimes they’re anti-west.

And I think that those values are creeping into their positions and my hope is that they have very limited impact and influence on our own government. What is our hope? Chosen People has been ministering in Israel since before Israel was a country. Remember we’re 120 years old. And so we’ve been everywhere for a very long time and we’re doing a lot of things again. And so our work in Israel has been very active. And we have a lot of missionaries there, mostly Israelis.

And one of the areas that we’ve been very sensitive to because some on our staff are Russian Jews. And a number of them have come from families of holocaust survivors and so on. There’s still a little – around 200 thousand holocaust survivors in Israel. The majority of them actually speak Russian. The majority of them came over after Perestroika. And because they survived by fleeing to Russia from Hungary and Poland and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

And we’ve had a tremendous ministry among them. But I’m thinking most particularly of the people in Sderot, which is a town right adjacent to Gaza. About a mile and a half, two miles away. And you have hundreds, maybe a few thousands, very elderly Russian Jewish holocaust survivors who have been living through basically through a living hell because of Gaza. Not just now, but they’ve been enduring this for almost 14 years or close it.

So they’ve been living under threat of rockets and we’ve had a great ministry to them, but one of our best ministries – right now we have 35 of these people from Sderot and a few other cities, Ashkelon and Ashdod, they’re in Poland believe it or not. It was very difficult to find a safe place in Israel for them. The average age is about 80. And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen them try to make it to a bomb shelter within 15 seconds. And so we’ve had to take them out and Polish Christians and of course it’s a twist of faith because so many of the Poles were anti-Semitic and worked in concert with the Nazis.

But we have such a great group of Polish evangelicals who are loving on these holocaust survivors. And so they’re out there for two weeks having Bible studies and just getting a rest from all the tension. And so I think that the hope in Israel is the hope that’s everywhere. I agree with David. The hope is always Jesus. It’s always the gospel. And so I see minimal hope politically. I see a lot of hope when it comes to the gospel because when life is difficult and times are hard people are looking to solutions from outside this world for their problems.

And so Israelis young and old, right now many of them are looking to God. And thank the lord we’re able to bring the message of the prince of peace on the ground to Israelis. And we just really need to prayer that Israelis will come to faith. And that is our best hope.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Jim Sibley
Well I agree with David and Mitch as well. I think I would put it in terms of good news, bad news. And the bad news is that Israel is not dealing with just Palestinian nationalism. As David mentioned earlier there really is a spiritual dimension here. When Yasser Arafat died in his compound were found huge stacks of Mein Kampf translated into Arabic. Most of these groups all around Israel are really infected with a really deep anti-Semitism.

That’s a spiritual issue that has to be dealt with. So bad news, I don’t see the prospects for peace any time soon until, of course as scripture tells us, anti-Christ comes and offers a false peace for a period of time. And one of the reasons it will be so astounding is because the world will have given up all hope for political peace. And I think that’s the process.

That’s where we’re heading. All hope has not been killed yet, but we’re almost there. But on the other hand, there’s good news. The good news is that peace is breaking out in the Middle East. It’s breaking out in the hearts and lives of individuals, both Arab and Jew, who are turning to Jesus and finding there the peace for which they long.

Dr. Darrell Bock
You know what, the core of the gospel is not just the hope of a reestablished relationship with God, but ultimately as well a reconciliation that happens between people who are estranged, not only from God, but from one another. And that is at the core of or the result of what it means to respond to the gospel. So unless there is a really significant change of heart, it’s going to be very hard to change the situation on the ground.

I want to thank you all for taking the time to talk with us. Being very realistic about what’s going on. Giving some detail and background. It strikes me, we’ve spent just slightly over an hour talking about this and we literally have only scratched the surface. I can think of 20 questions in the back of my head I still want to ask. So I suspect we’ll be doing this again some time. So I thank you for your time. And I thank those of you who’ve joined us on The Table where we discuss issues with God and culture. And we hope that you have found this particular conversation enlightening and informative. And we look forward to having you back with us again.

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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
David Brickner
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live.
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