Did God give the land to Israel?
Scripture asserts that God promises land to the people of Israel. Some biblical texts suggest that God gives the land with no conditions or expectations.2 Other passages place conditions on the gift. The Book of Deuteronomy, for example, details calamities which will harm the land or separate people from the land, if they break the covenant with God.3 Texts such as Leviticus 25:18 and 26:31-34, Amos 5:6-9 and 6:1-7 and Jeremiah 7:1-7 concur with this idea of conditionality.
Scripture also asserts that the earth belongs to God.4 Land is a gift linked to covenant responsibility in relation to God and others. Land is a gift linked to covenant responsibility in relation to God and others. Meanwhile, both Palestinians and Jewish people have deep connections to the historic land of Palestine.
Aren't the people of Israel God's chosen people?
In the Bible, we see God depicted as forming a covenant with Abram and Isaac, while also blessing Ishmael.5 Other texts show destruction, not blessing, for non-Israelites.6 Yet Israel is to be a light to the nations, so that God’s salvation will reach “to the end of the earth.” In other words, “chosenness” does not negate God’s love and blessing for all people.7 God’s definition of “citizen” is expansive, not exclusive, embracing the alien or sojourner8 and naming consequences for those who harm sojourners.9 In Ezekiel, God says that sojourners are to be treated as citizens in land inheritance.10
Christians embrace Jesus’ words to love God, neighbour and enemy, and to pray for those who persecute us.11 Jesus, the Jewish teacher, says that on love of God and neighbour hang all the law, or Torah, and prophets.12 As in all matters regarding a theology of land and chosenness, followers of Jesus are called to love all people, the Jewish neighbour as well as the Palestinian neighbour.13
What about the claim in Genesis 12:3 that God will bless those who bless Abram’s descendants and curse those who curse them?
For biblical prophets,14 acknowledgment of God’s promise to Abram includes a call to practice justice. Genesis 12:3 notes God’s purpose in giving the land to Abram’s descendants so that through them “all the families of the earth” would be blessed.
Whether reading Genesis 12:3 as intended solely for the Jewish people or for all of Abram’s offspring (Jewish, Christian and Muslim), blessing Abram’s descendants includes a call to love mercy and do justice,15 while holding ourselves accountable to that same standard in our own contexts.
Is biblical Israel the same as the modern state of Israel?
The state of Israel has a beginning point, May 1948. For some, it is clear therefore that modern Israel and biblical Israel are two distinct realities – the state a contemporary secular, political entity, and the land a geographical place promised, given and repossessed by God in the Torah and prophets. Others see today’s state as part of an enduring promise of Jewish sovereignty in the land.
Whether one views this question from a modern human rights perspective or through the prism of biblical covenant, all people are to be regarded as created in the image of God and as citizens, with security on the land and the other rights that implies.
What is Christian Zionism?
As noted in the section on recent history, Zionism emerged in the 1890s in Europe as a mostly secular Jewish movement working for a safe homeland and to fulfill the dream of restoring Jews to the land of their birth as a people. However, the home was established on land inhabited by Palestinians for centuries. Christian Zionists believe that the 1948 creation of the state of Israel fulfills Old Testament prophecies and is essential for Jesus’ second coming. They interpret God’s land promise to include support for the state. Most Palestinian and other Middle Eastern Christians find this support troubling. Such support usually impacts their own local work and presence negatively (see “Palestinian Christians,” page 8). Some other Christians share these concerns. For instance, a number of evangelical theologians “… see a complex relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament covenants” when it comes to Israel, Palestine and theological implications.16
What is an Anabaptist perspective on a Jewish state?
Anabaptists have long upheld the separation of religion and state. As some Anabaptists have experienced, states which favour one faith or ethnicity frequently discriminate against minority groups. In general, statehood is not seen as an end in itself. States can sometimes help guarantee basic human rights. Governments are judged according to the extent that they deter evil conduct and approve the good.17
A sovereign state, Jewish, Palestinian or otherwise, is a potential tool to realize the ultimate goal – the well-being of all people, including Jews and Palestinians.
MCC works with both Palestinians and Israelis who are committed to nonviolence, whether they believe that peace, justice and reconciliation are best secured in the context of a two-state solution, or that this will be best achieved in the framework of one, bi-national state of equal citizenship. Because Scripture says that all are made in God’s image, Christians work for the rights of all to be respected in a nation-state of any form.
What is a Good News theology for both Jews and Palestinians?
All people are created in God’s image.18 In God’s kingdom inaugurated in Jesus, none are elevated above others or granted privileges at others’ expense.19 The Bible articulates God’s love for the whole world20 and desire for everyone to experience new and abundant life.21 The Lord requires that we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”22 This imperative stirs the church to act. Where the Spirit of God is at work, injustice cannot be ignored.
In the context of Palestine and Israel, this includes recognizing that “the land happens to be the homeland of two peoples,” as Rev. Mitri Raheb says. “Each of them should understand this land to be a gift of God to be shared with the other. Peace and the blessing on the land and on the two peoples will depend on this sharing. Only then will the biblical promises be fulfilled.”23
2 Genesis 26:1-5, Exodus 6:8.
3 Deuteronomy 28:15-68; 30:1-10.
4 Leviticus 25:23; Psalm 24:1.
5 Genesis 17:20-27.
6 Joshua 6:17, 8:1-2.
7 Isaiah 42:5-9; Isaiah 49:6.
8 Leviticus 19:33-34.
9 Exodus 22:21-24, Deuteronomy 24:14-15.
10 Ezekiel 47:21-23.
11 Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, Matthew 5:43-44.
12 Matthew 22:40.
13 Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:25-37.
14 Isaiah 5, Jeremiah 11-20, Amos 6:4-7.
15 Micah 6:8
16 Gary M. Burge, “Evangelicals and Christian Zionism” in Donald E. Wagner and Walter T. Davis, eds., Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land, Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2014, p. 178.
17 Romans 13:1-7.
18 Genesis 1:27.
19 Galatians 3:28.
20 John 3:16.
21 Romans 6:4; John 10:10.
22 Micah 6:8.
23 Mitri Raheb, I am a Palestinian Christian, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p. 80.