By Jonathan Kuttab
March 2, 2018
I am a Palestinian Christian and the most pressing question about Christian Zionism for me is not its theological predictions about the end times, prophecy, or the Second Coming, since the Bible makes clear that no one knows the exact time for the fulfillment of these prophecies, except the Father (Mark 13:32), and Christian church history has been full of those who made wrong predictions about the end times and the Second Coming, starting with St. Paul himself, through Martin Luther, and up to Hal Lindsay.
The troubling thing for me is the expressly stated view that Christian teaching requires Christians today to take specific political positions regarding Zionism, the modern state of Israel, and its conflict with Arabs and Palestinians.
Being a Palestinian Christian myself, I am obviously concerned by this, since I recognize that God has sovereignty over all aspects of my life, and that my faith should take precedence over my political or national concerns. Christ said “My Kingdom is not of this world”(John 18:36) and resisted the Zealots of his time who tried to coerce him into taking political power, so I expect that his teachings for political behaviour would consist of such general teachings as justice, peacefulness, and love of neighbour ( and enemies) rather than unqualified support for one political faction, or state ( including one’s own) regardless of its behaviour.
And since I believe that God’s commandments to Christians should be the same whether they happen to be Americans, Palestinians or of whatever other nationality or racial or ethnic group, I would like for you, to put yourself in my shoes, and think on how any political statements you make would impact me, your Christian brother, and my people. And whether you really think it would be normative for us to follow such political views as the Christian biblical position.
Zionism is a political movement seeking to establish a Jewish state in biblical Palestine, and since Christian Zionists claim that support for this movement and this state is biblically mandated for Christians, this clearly raises serious existential issues for me:
1. I believe I am a child of God and that He loves me.
This is what the Bible teaches. The New Testament, in particular teaches that God so loved the world ( including Palestinians) that He gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life ( John 3:16). The New Testament also teaches that God’s love and salvation is no longer limited to Jews: “To his own he came, but his own received him not, therefore to all those who received him he gave the power to be children of God, that is those who believed in him “ (John 1: 11). Peter elaborates, speaking of Gentiles like us who became Christians that we “who were once not a people, are now the people of God” (1Peter: 2:10), and “heirs and inheritors of the promises” (Galatians 3:25). I realize such verses have been used in the past to disparage the Jewish people and justify the evil sins of anti-Semitism, but I am not speaking here for displacement theology, because God still loves the Jewish people. He just loves others as well, including myself, and all gentile Christians. These verses do however, pronounce the end of any tribal or exclusive claims to God and his salvation.
2. Jesus brought about a new understanding of the “people of God” that is inclusive, and broad, and which includes both Jews and gentiles who believe in Jesus.
We are warned us Christians, (who have been grafted into the vine Romans 11:17) not to get too arrogant , yet Jesus had no room for Jewish particularism and favoritism. Jesus infuriated his listeners by bringing to their attention Old Testament examples of God working with Gentiles as well as the Jews (Luke 4:25-27). Both Jesus and the early church were clear that God is no respector of persons (Romans 2:11, Acts 10:34), and that any appeal to privilege and exclusivity ( “we are children of Abraham”) was met with Jesus’ saying God can create out of these stones children for Abraham. (Mathew 3:9). Christian Zionism seems to want to push that tribal view of “chosenness” which Jesus resisted, back into the forefront, and claim rights, including political rights and land rights to Jews and the state of Israel based on their ethnicity, rather than their spirituality or moral behavior. I see this as running contrary not only to the verses I quoted, but to the whole thrust of the New Covenant.
3. It is clear from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well that Jesus not only revised the view of Chosen People and peoplehood, but also rejected the narrow geographic understanding of the “Holy Land” stating that God is spirit and those who worship him need not pray in Jerusalem or Samaria, but rather “in spirit and in truth” (John 4: 23,24). In this sense Christians are liberated from land-centered Temple worship as they were liberated from the need of animal sacrifice. Are we to try and bring these concepts back as Christians?
4. The Zionist movement is a political movement that has worked to create a Jewish state by bringing in Jews from all over the world, and pushing out ( and keeping out) most of my people.
In no other way could they demographically create a Jewish- populated, and dominated state. To this day they refuse me and my people the Right of Return, since they argue that Israel cannot be a Jewish state, and Zionism cannot be fulfilled if they allow the local indigenous non Jewish population to remain and return and live in the land. Is this what Christians, including myself should be supporting??? Was I required , as a Christian to evacuate and leave the Land to the new Jewish immigrants?? Should I tell my relatives, who are now living as refugees to abandon their hopes of returning, and forget their heritage and ancestry, since that is a biblical requirement??? Should I tell my cousin, a minister of a Baptist church in East Jerusalem, to stop his tortured struggle to maintain a visitor’s visa, or to smuggle his congregants from Bethlehem into Jerusalem every Sunday, and accept the fact that as Christian non Jews, they have no “right” to be in Jerusalem or Israel at all, as their very presence is inimical to Zionism??? Should I tell all Palestinians that their very nationalism is inimical to God’s plans and they should try to negate their very identity, as it is in conflict with God’s plans and promises??
5. The Zionist movement realized early on that creating a Jewish state, could not be obtained by agreement with the local Palestinian non-Jewish population, and that it must therefore be done by force of arms, and that the new state would be required to constantly face and overcome with military power such Arab resistance.
Zionist realize that their dream depends on constant and continuing military dominance, and denial of rights to Palestinians, both Christian and Moslem. As a Palestinian Christian, does this commit me to support a constant militarism and violence against my own people whose displacement ( literally) was a requirement for the creation of the state of Israel?
6. The creation of a Jewish state that serves the interest of Jews (as opposed to the interests of all its own citizens) and requires structural, organic discrimination against non-Jews who are within its borders including citizens of the State of Israel ( 22% of its population).
This is not to mention the millions of others in the West Bank and Gaza who are under its rule and control, but who are not citizens. Does the Christian position require that I accept and support such discrimination and disenfranchisement in perpetuity??? While everyone recognizes these days the evil of the sin of anti Semitism, and discrimination against Jews in many countries, culminating in the Holocaust, must I as a Christian be silent when the State of Israel systematically discriminates against non Jews, including myself, and my fellow countrymen???? Are we now the new Amalek ( 1 Samuel:15) who need to be obliterated and ethnically cleansed to make room for the Chosen People??? Is my own status in Christ totally irrelevant to the national and ethnic needs of Zionism?
7. Public land, and public institutions in Israel are constitutionally used to serve and support “Jewish” interests, and openly discriminate against non Jews, including those who are Israeli citizens.
This is the essence of a Jewish state, and the very heart of Zionism. Private land is also systematically taken from my people, declared to be public, and as befitting a Jewish state, is used to serve the Jews, whether local or new immigrants. Non Jews are barred from owning, renting, or living on such “Jewish land” ( read the Constitution of the Jewish National Fund, which acquires and holds land on behalf of Jews everywhere). Some of this land belonged to my family, and to other Christian Palestinians as well as Moslem Palestinians. Should I welcome and support such take over of our lands, and such discriminatory use of the land and public institutions? Or should I fight for equality, and equal access to public institutions in Israel? And on what basis can I do so, if God promised and mandated that Jews have priority and “rights” to the Land.
8. In the territories occupied in the Six Day War, Israel has made no pretense of granting political or other rights to Palestinians and has used a variety of methods to take land, and water rights, and to put them exclusively at the disposal of Jewish settlers.
They have also created a totally separate system of governance for these Jewish settlers separate from Palestinian Arabs, including myself and my family and friends. Jewish Settlers not only are given our land and generous subsidies and services, they live in and control separate areas where we cannot enter without permits; a separate road system; separate judicial, police, health, educational, social welfare, and residency systems. The world considers all these activities a form of apartheid, and illegal, under international law, but should we , as a Christians, demur? And support such inequalities and injustices at the expense of Palestinians’ rights, because these actions are Zionist, and Zionism is the biblically mandated position?
9. I happen to be a pacifist, and understand Jesus’ teaching as prohibiting me from killing my enemies. Even those Christians who justify war and violence in national conflicts and wars still recognize war to be bad and peace to be a Christian virtue.
Yet in the Middle East today, peace, if it is to come at all, will require major concessions by both sides, including abandonment of the apartheid system of settlements, and abandonment of “Jewish sovereignty” over all or most of the territories occupied in 1967. But if these territories were biblically mandated and promised to “Jews” as Christian Zionists proclaim, then should we as Christians work hard to oppose ANY peace or peace negotiations, and insist on maximalist positions by Israel requiring it to keep all the land of Israel, and keep its non Jewish population disenfranchised ????That seems the logical consequence of Christian Zionism. Indeed Christian Zionists Like John Hagee were scandalized that Israel “withdrew” from Gaza and that it would consider withdrawing from any of the occupied territories. What does this do to Christian teachings about being a peacemaker?? “Blessed are peacemakers for they shall be called children of God”(Matthew 5:9). Can it really be that God wants us as Christians to be actively opposed to peace and peacemaking under these conditions? In concrete political terms, Christian Zionists seem if anything to be eager for Armageddon, rather than seeking peace, let alone justice!!!!!
I bring these points in a humble spirit of openness and learning, and I am open to anyone who wants to dispute these views, or offer new perspectives that would make sense, spiritually as well politically, to Palestinian Christians, and be relevant to the current situation.
from Jonathan Kuttab, March 28, 2018