Is Peace Possible?
A Historical and Biblical Understanding of Current Events in the Middle East
By Jonathan Bernis
From Time Immemorial Ancient Israel Stirs to Life
Jewish Voice Ministries Is Peace Possible
Since the moment God called Abram to leave his father’s household and “go to a land He would show him,” promising this Land to him and his descendants as “an everlasting possession,” the Children of Israel have been a Chosen People inseparably tied to a Chosen Land. Sadly, however, for most of their history, the Chosen People have been forced to live outside this Land. For nearly two-thousand years—scattered to the four corners of the earth—they have survived captivity, dispersions, persecution, inquisitions, crusades, pogroms, loss of homes and fortunes, and finally the Holocaust—miraculously, having no safe homeland on the earth. Israel’s sufferings bring to mind the grievous curses listed in Deuteronomy 28. However, Scripture also promised a set time of restoration, acknowledging that she [Israel] has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins (Isaiah 40:2).
In reaction to the Bar Kochba Revolt in 132-136 A.D., the Roman Emperor Hadrian sought to decisively erase from history the memory of Israel and her God forever. He renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and changed Israel to Syria Palaestina after the Philistines, a people conquered by Israel according to the Bible and no longer in existence.
Despite this, the Jewish People never lost hope in the promised restoration of their Promised Land. This hope was the cornerstone of Jewish prayer and religious life. “Next year in Jerusalem!” has been their enduring motto.
Through the centuries there never ceased to be a remnant of Jews in the Land of Israel. In the 1800s the numbers began to grow as the modern Zionist movement was conceived in response to 19th century anti-Semitism. The 1896 Alfred Dreyfus Affair in France, born of the widespread anti-Semitism of Europe during the Industrial Revolution, provided the necessary spark that organized and propelled Zionism into an effective movement. Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist in Paris, shocked by the venomous anti-Semitic campaign against a Jewish officer in the French army named Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely accused of treason, realized that Jews would not be safe even in “enlightened” countries. Herzl, who became known as the visionary of modern Zionism, wrote passionately and raised awareness and support to establish a place of safety for the Jewish People in their ancient homeland, Israel.
In the late 1800s, Eliezer Ben-Yehudah began his life’s work reviving the Hebrew language to unify the returning exiles to a restored Israel he zealously believed was at hand. Like Herzl, he stirred awareness through his writing and speaking.
Baron Edmond Benjamin James de Rothschild helped Ben-Yehudah when he was gravely ill, likely saving his life. He, along with his famous family, is also honored with providing much of the funding necessary for the initial purchases of land in Palestine at highly inflated sums. Walter Rothschild also received the famous Balfour Declaration of 1917, which committed the British government to use their best efforts to bring about “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Anticipating the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of World War I, the British and the French, with the assent of imperial Russia, secretly formulated the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which became public only three weeks after the Balfour Declaration. The plan split up the former lands of the Turkish Empire into zones of control and zones of influence for England and France. As part of that agreement, the Holy Land was to be placed under British control, who ruled it under a mandate until 1948.
Despite the mandate of the League of Nations in 1922, reaffirming the Balfour Declaration, Israel was not to realize her promised sovereignty until 1948, leaving the Jewish People of Eastern Europe easy prey to Hitler’s nearly successful murderous campaign to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
The massive loss of Jewish life and remaining European hostilities made the establishment of a national homeland in Israel critical for the survivors. To appease the Arab nations’ outcry against the flow of Jewish refugees into Israel, the British established internment camps on the island of Cyprus. Many who survived the Holocaust died in these camps. Caught between growing pressure from Arabs and Jewish resistance groups such as the Haganah, the British turned the matter over to the United Nations.
On November 29, 1947, the U.N. adopted Resolution 181 by a vote of 33-13, known as the Palestine Mandate, partitioning the land between Jews and Arabs. The Jewish State would receive approximately 56 percent, although the U.N. would administer Jerusalem. It was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Arabs. The British announced they would withdraw all troops and officially end the British Mandate on May 14, 1948.
Finally, on this same date, the Jewish People's Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and under a portrait of Theodor Herzl, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel.
An Ancient Conflict Inflamed
Israel in a Hostile Arab World
That night, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, along with troops from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, attacked the fledgling State of Israel. This dramatic threat to Israel’s survival became known as the War of Independence. Their stated aim was to create a “United States of Palestine” and obliterate the Jewish Nation.
The destruction of Israel was at the heart of the War of Independence and every ensuing war after that. The destruction of Israel is fundamental to the Palestinian National Charter and the Hamas Charter. The destruction of Israel is preached and threatened continuously over Muslim television and from Muslim leaders in mosques from Saudi Arabia to London to Detroit. The existence of the Nation of Israel is simply unacceptable to the Arab world.
Why? What is at the heart of this conflict? If you look at a map of the Middle East, it is clear the problem is not the need for a few extra miles of real estate. Israel is but a minuscule island in a vast ocean of Arab lands—with little valuable natural resources. In the natural it may be difficult to understand, for the answer is spiritual— and the hostility as ancient as the Bible.
Of course, the father of destruction is Satan, and the antipathy that would plague Israel was set from the earliest Messianic prophecy. Genesis 3:15 proclaims the serpent’s eventual doom by the seed of the woman—the Messiah to come. Messianic prophecy unfolds throughout Scripture to identify the Nation of Israel as the People that would bring forth the Redeemer. Generation after generation throughout history sees attempts to thwart God’s plan as Satan influences men, movements, and nations to annihilate the Jewish People and prove God’s promise of preservation to be false. Further, when the eyes of the Jewish People are opened to their Messiah, He will return and Genesis 3:15 will be fulfilled—Satan’s head will be crushed. So he fights to delay his inevitable demise and deceives and destroys as many as he can while he still has time.
Today’s Middle East conflict is, in reality, a clash of kingdoms—the god of Islam, Allah (who is actually Satan), opposing the God of Israel, YHVH hwhy. This is a sign of the Last Days, but the conflict began thousands of years ago—with Isaac (the son of promise) and Ishmael (Abraham’s son by Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant, Hagar).
There was much strife in Abraham’s household because Hagar despised Sarah. When Hagar fled to the wilderness, God spoke to her and said of Ishmael, who is the father of the Arab nations:
“You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” —Genesis 16:11-12
It is clear that this prophecy has been fulfilled. From the early days of Islam in the 600s, the religion has advanced by the edge of the sword.
Ishmael received another prophecy from the God of Abraham that has been fulfilled as well. Abraham asked God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” And God granted Abraham’s request. “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him . . . I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:18-20). This, too, has been fulfilled— the Arab nations have been prosperous, wealthy, and powerful.
However, God was clear: “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac” (Genesis 17:21). Although this covenant doesn’t include vast wealth and land holdings like the sons of Ishmael, it does include possession of the one specific place on earth that Adonai says He has placed His Name and from which His rule and reign will flow. It is the City of the Great King, Zion. And He has decreed it is from this place that the Word of the Lord will go forth.
Israel, with Jerusalem as its inhabitants (speaking of the Jewish People), will be the epicenter of all spiritual warfare until the Prince returns and defeats all His enemies.
Who Are They?
When the Arab nations invaded Israel in 1948, they instructed Arabs living in the newly created Jewish State to flee their homes to neighboring countries, expecting Israel to be quickly defeated. “You'll be home in a week,” they were told. When the war to destroy Israel proved unsuccessful, many thousands were left as refugees. Rather than absorb them into their own populations, Israel's Arab neighbors maintained these people in perpetual refugee status. At the same time, the tiny State of Israel immediately absorbed Jewish refugees from all over the Arab world who found themselves no longer welcome. More than sixty years later, many of these Arabs and their descendants still live in “temporary” refugee camps, their numbers exponentially increased. Israel has refused to absorb them under a feigned “right of return,” as their numbers would overwhelm the economic and political demographics of Israel, making the Israeli Jews a minority in their own country.
At a 1964 Arab League summit in Cairo, a new group dedicated to the “liberation of Palestine” through armed struggle, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was formed. Its original charter stated that “Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British Mandate is an indivisible territorial integral regional unit.” It is impossible to correctly understand current events in the Middle East without understanding this background.
The core issue is not borders, refugees, or territories assigned by mandates or won through wars. The issue is Israel’s existence—a Jewish State in the heart of the Middle East.
The bulk of the Palestinian Charter clearly spells out the “sacred” responsibility of the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab world to engage in “armed struggle” toward the “elimination of Zionism” to “liberate Palestine.” This charter, which rejects the right of Israel to exist, has never been changed. This is not about two states living side-by-side in peace. It is about establishing one state only, and that state cannot be the Jewish State.
Prior to the reestablishment of Israel, Jews and Arabs living in the geographic area renamed Palestine were known as Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. There has never been an indigenous Palestinian people with their own language, form of government, monetary system, or unique identity. Many of the Arabs who lived in Palestine were migrant workers from all over the Arab world. “Palestine” has become an effective tool and rallying cry to mobilize support for the diminishing of Israeli land holdings toward her eventual demise.
As Bible Believers, we support Israel not because we believe God loves Jews more than Arabs. God chose the Children of Israel to live in this Land to accomplish His plans and purpose, not just for them, but for all peoples. This is not just about a specific ethnic group, but about His plan and His design for the ages. That purpose has not changed, nor can it be abolished by the will or actions of men. Though Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 A.D., and the Jewish People scattered to the four corners of the earth, ties to the Land have never been broken completely. Through the centuries of exile, there has always been a Jewish presence in the Land, and the return of those dispersed back to their homeland has remained central in the hearts and prayers of the Jewish People. Indeed, the Word of God says in Deuteronomy 30:4, “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back.”
Knowing this, we should be faithful to pray for Israel and the Jewish People. Psalm 122:6 reminds us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee (KJV).” Pray for their safety and well-being, and most importantly, that they might have the revelation of “the Prince of Peace,” the only One who can bring true peace to this troubled land. We also need to pray that those who hate the Jewish People are stopped in their efforts to bring death and destruction upon Israel. We should pray for world leaders to understand the importance of standing with Israel.
There are divine blessings in effect for all those who bless the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob according to God's divine decree in Genesis 12:3. And there are few ways to better bless them than through faithful and fervent prayer.
Let our voices be heard on this issue. If we remain silent, we allow those who oppose not only Israel, but the God of Israel, to dominate the discussion and set the agenda.
Centuries ago Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture References from the NIV ©1984.