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What Does it Mean to Stand with Israel?

"I'm increasingly convinced that to stand with Israelis means American Christians should stand against the policies of the current Israeli government."

By Skye Jethani

In my first post about my recent trip to Israel/Palestine, I talked about the valuable clarity that can only be found on the other side of complexity. Too often the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is discussed with no knowledge of history, debated with incomplete facts, and reduced to unhelpful cliches. So, let's begin this reflection about the war in Gaza where too many American Christians end theirs—with a slogan. What does it mean to "stand with Israel"?

Russell Moore's CT article stating "American Christians ought to stand together with Israel" was written mere hours after the murder of 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of 240 hostages by Hamas. In that moment of shock and grief, the call for Christians to mourn with those who mourn was right and godly. The scenes on October 7 were barbaric. The actions of the terrorists were altogether evil. Some have tried to explain the attack by noting the suffocating sanctions and prison-like conditions imposed upon Gaza by the Israeli government since 2006. However unjust Israel's policy toward Gaza has been, no one who bears the name Christian can excuse Hamas' atrocities. Murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping are antithetical to everything Jesus said and did.

That is why, after October 7, I believed Israel was justified in using force to stop the terrorists and prevent more attacks. I still hold this view. I affirm the moral responsibility of Israel, like every state, to protect its citizens. But that must include all of its citizens, both Jewish and Palestinian.

My concern today, eight months after the Hamas attack, is that the Netanyahu government's tactics in Gaza, its punitive posture toward innocent Palestinians in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank, its lack of a post-war peace plan, and its stoking of racism and discrimination are harmful to the physical safety and the spiritual flourishing of both Israelis and Palestinians. Therefore, I'm increasingly convinced that to stand with Israelis means American Christians should stand against the policies of the current Israeli government.

First, let's consider the physical safety of Israelis. Many have noted that October 7, 2023, was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. It represented a complete failure of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Netanyahu government's policies. Even before October 7, thousands were protesting in the streets against the administration, and Bibi Netanyahu had already been indicted for bribery, fraud, and corruption. During his tenure, the Prime Minister pursued a cynical policy of facilitating corruption in the West Bank and allowing terrorist groups to function in Gaza. This undermined the credibility of Palestinian leadership, which in turn justified Israel's refusal to engage in peace talks.

All of this served Netanyahu politically by appeasing his far rightwing supporters who see peace negotiations with Palestinians as a barrier to their goal of occupying all of the land—including Gaza and the West Bank. The twisted strategy worked—until October 7. Many Israelis, including those I met on my visit, blame Bibi Netanyahu for both the security failure of that day and the cynical policy that turned a blind eye to the arming and training of Hamas militants in Gaza for years.

But what about the government's response following October 7? I spoke to David French on a recent Holy Post episode about the war in Gaza. French is a strong supporter of Israel, but he expressed concerns that the Israeli Defense Force is repeating the mistakes made by the U.S. in Iraq. By not securing territory, protecting civilians, establishing functioning civil services, and ensuring adequate distribution of food, water, and medicine, French says the I.D.F. is creating the same conditions that led to the terrorist insurgency he experienced while deployed in Iraq. Or, as one Israeli said to me, "The war has made Gaza into a Hamas factory." The current strategy in Gaza is not ensuring the long-term security and safety of the Israeli people. It's doing precisely the opposite by doubling down on the dehumanizing policies that led to the failures of October 7 in the first place.

While the physical security of innocent Israelis is important, as Christians our concerns should go deeper. While in Tel Aviv we met with Abbey Onn, an Israeli/American duel citizen whose family was attacked on October 7. Two of her relatives were murdered and three were kidnapped—two children and their father. Abbey, like many family members of the hostages, has been highly critical of the Israeli government. She said to us, "We're in a fight for our lives, not just physically but spiritually. We need to figure out what we stand for as a country."

Her words speak to the less obvious, non-material costs of this war. Yes, we should grieve for the thousands of innocent Palestinian lives lost in Gaza caused by Hamas’s tactics and the Netanyahu government’s obstruction of humanitarian aid,, but there is also a spiritual and moral cost being paid by Israelis as their leaders enflame fear, anger, hatred, bigotry, and vengeance to further their own political ambitions. Harassment of Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, has become widely accepted. For example, 2023 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, and since October 7 more than 500 Palestinians have been killed by I.D.F. soldiers, Jewish settlers, and Israeli citizens outside Gaza.

Even now, eight months after October 7, all crossings between the West Bank and Israel have been closed to Palestinians. As a result, 250,000 Palestinians who worked in Israel have lost their jobs, and cities in the West Bank that rely heavily on tourism, like Bethlehem, have seen their economies tank by 80 percent. Remember, Palestinians in the West Bank are not part of Hamas and had no part in the October 7 attack. But, as one Israeli told me, "Collective punishment is totally, totally normalized here."

Fostering a culture of segregation, vengeance, hatred, and collective punishment is spiritually ruinous. For American Christians to "stand with Israel" must mean to stand for the flourishing of the Israeli people and the health of their souls. We cannot cheer for policies or support actions that deform the character of a nation, even when those policies and actions are in response to traumatic evil. Two wrongs will not make a people righteous.

I'm reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.'s denunciation of racial segregation in America. It was obvious how segregation hurt black Americans, but MLK argued that segregation also harmed the white Americans who practiced it. They were enslaved by the evil of segregation as it distorted their souls and warped their characters. Therefore, King said, "One day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory."

Those Christians who claim to stand with Israel must desire no less. It isn't enough to see Hamas terrorists defeated. It isn't sufficient for Israel to be militarily strong or protected by an impenetrable iron dome. We must recognize the spiritual harm being inflicted upon the Israeli people as their government pursues unjust policies against Palestinian citizens and neighbors. To stand with Israel—to desire both the physical and spiritual well-being of the Israeli people—means that American Christians must advocate for the lives and dignity of Palestinians as well. A double victory can be the only victory in this conflict.


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