King's Evangelical Divinity School

3 June 2010

Guest Post: Larry Helyer on the Gaza Flotilla Episode

Yesterday Larry Helyer sent me a comment on the flotilla issue which I suggested we post here as a guest post, to which he agreed.  Larry earned his Ph.D. at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, and has also studied in Jerusalem. He has taught at Taylor University, Indiana, since 1978, and has various publications in biblical studies, theology and archaeology. He is joining King's as a distance learning tutor from September 2010.

I have followed the Mideast Crisis regularly since 1968. I continue to be amazed by the conflicting versions of violent episodes that, tragically, regularly occur. One might think the Israelis and the Arabs (to simplify a rather complex situation) live in different universes.

The rhetoric employed and conclusions drawn often defy rational discourse. Why is it that the Arab press and diplomatic spokespersons typically resort to "over the top" language when reporting on or responding to these tragedies. Can one take seriously the Turkish prime ministers' accusations of "state terrorism" perpetrated by Israel? What is perplexing to me is that this pattern is endemic in the Arab world. I can list example after example of this kind of distortion. We all laughed at the nonsense of the Iraqi minister of information during the most recent Gulf War. He maintained with a straight face that U.S. troops were being beaten back from Baghdad when in fact they were virtually right outside his office. The Six Day War affords so many examples of absolutely false and hysterical reports it's wearisome. The psychology of this is mystifying.

Now, on the other side, Israel practices state censorship and often prevents journalists from having direct access to information or events. This creates in the minds of many the impression that they are not trustworthy and are hiding something. In some instances, they have indeed hid things.

Bystanders must make a choice: they can accept uncritically either the Arab version or the Israeli version; they can dismiss both as completely self-serving and disingenuous; or they can sift through the conflicting versions and assess which version corresponds more closely with what actually happened. In my opinion, the Israeli version has proven more reliable than its Arab counterpart over the years.

In the flotilla episode we now have competing videos of the affair! The evidence is quite clear that this was a premeditated, staged event for media consumption. Tragically, the consequences were worse than probably both sides anticipated. It will, however, serve as fodder for the Arab media's unrelenting attack against the "Zionist Nazis."

American sympathies tend to favor the underdog. Those without any biblical or theological commitment to a future for Israel in God's plan tend to identify with the plight of the Palestinians. I personally lament the deep suffering and oppression of the Palestinians. I have personally known Palestinian families and have grieved over the harassment and penalties they have had to endure. But I also resent the way their leadership and the Arab leaders of Israel's neighbors have so poorly served them. A peace agreement and a two-state solution could have been achieved years ago had moderate voices prevailed. Alas, such has not been the case.

Though it is politically incorrect to say it, Islamic ideology lies at the taproot of this ongoing crisis. Palestine lies within the Islamic domain. The notion of a Jewish state within their midst is abhorrent. This then colors everything and influences the rhetoric of this conflict.

At Taylor University, Daud Kuttab (a Palestinian Christian) paid a visit and shared his apparent optimism for a Palestinian state in 2011. After listening to him, I must sadly declare that nothing he said leads me to share his optimism. As an example of what I view as totally unrealistic, he listed the several items that he felt must be realized for a Palestinian state. The very first condition he laid down was the following: Israel must take full and complete responsibility for the refugee problem. This is a deal-breaker! And it is so obviously unbalanced and distorted that I come back to my starting point. How can we account for such distorted explanations of the situation? Perhaps we fallen human beings simply cannot be objective when we find ourselves in such emotional distress. So now I conclude with a question: Can the Holy Spirit enable individuals deeply committed to a deeply held political cause to transcend biases and seek the truth and nothing but the truth? I want to believe he can.

Larry Helyer


Stephen Kneale said...

An interesting and well balanced post.

I think Calvin was right in his previous comments when he said it is best to take an Israel: right or wrong approach (and I think that is as true for those theologically committed towards an future for Israel in God's plan as those who are not). Equally, the same approach should be applied to Palestine as well. In reality, it always seems unhelpful - wherever our sympathies may lie - to simply see either Israel or Palestine as wholly good and infallible or wholly wrong and degenerate.

Perhaps in light of that, and with our own perspectives on the issue in mind, I can say I agree entirely with the comment 'A peace agreement and a two-state solution could have been achieved years ago had moderate voices prevailed.' Perhaps some moderation from those of us outside of either state would prove beneficial for everyone as well?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Stephen, you meant "best not to take an Israel right or wrong position" I think?

Stephen Kneale said...

Apologies - you are correct - the perils of typing too quickly!

The underlying point - we should not be uncritical, nor unnecessarily critical, of either side.

Andrew Sibley said...

This is a very useful article Larry and Calvin.

But we make a mistake to think that either side is living by Christ-like values of forgivness and restraint. There is a 'Talmudic-interpretation-of-the-Mosaic Law' ideology on the side of the State of Israel as well that is at the root of the problem. Ehud Barak is reported to have said this;

"We live in the Middle East, in a place where there is no mercy for the weak and there aren't second chances for those who don't defend themselves," he was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying.

The truth is that humility can disarm kings - as Jesus said 'the meek shall inherit the earth.' Why cannot the Jewish State grasp this truth? that Jacob became Israel and found security when he trusted and submitted to God, not when he relied on his own cunning and strength.

For me the gloss for Zionism faded slowly when I tried to justify the State of Israel's actions in light of Matt 7:16 'By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?'

Calvin L. Smith said...

But Andrew, I'm not sure anyone here has said either side is Christ-like. This and several other comments by you seem to equate holding the view God retains a purpose for the Jewish people with dual covenantalism or an "Israel right or wrong" stance.

Andrew Sibley said...

Hi Calvin

I believe that God still desires to include Jews within the Kingdom of God; and Muslims. I believe that God desires to bring the modern State of Israel within the Kingdom of Jesus, as he does with Muslim and secular nations as well, and that God may have a future positive purpose for a majority Jewish State within his Kingdom in the Middle East. But God may also have other plans that we are yet unaware of, and nations cannot live outside of God's will and abuse others and expect to get away with it; that applies to all nations equally.

I would question whether there is a tendency even amongst Christian organisations that rightly seek to bring the gospel to Jews in the State of Israel to not see the nature of zionist ideology because of a strong love for Jews and place more blame on Islamic ideology. Larry wrote this "Though it is politically incorrect to say it, Islamic ideology lies at the taproot of this ongoing crisis." In truth both sides are living by the same corrupted interpretation of the Mosaic Law, one side the Talmud, the other Sharia Law, where might makes right and revenge is sweet. But instead the just shall live by faith in Christ.

Also Larry wrote this; "Palestine lies within the Islamic domain." I don't believe that really is the case. Palestine has had an ancient Jewish/Gentile Christian community for 2000 years and should be seen within the Christian sphere I would argue. There are good reasons to speak up for Palestinian rights I believe.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, Palestinians are within the Islamic domain. See Loren Lybarger's Identity and Religion in Palestine: The Struggle Between Islamism and Secularism in the Occupied Territories. He traces two decades of radicalisation among traditionally secular Palestinians. Anecdotally, I rarely saw headscarves in Jerusalem years ago, but now they're everywhere. During my last visit an Arab Jerusalemite made exactly the same observation. Islamism is not the only issue, but it is a major part of the problem (Hamas is, after all, Islamist).

Moreover, it is, I think, pretty well acknowledged by observers on all sides that Israel's existence on what is regarded as Muslim land contributes to this longstanding conflict. As long as this existential threat exists, Israel isn't going to submit humbly to those seeking her destruction, as you rather idealistically suggest in your previous post.

Finally, I see you still insist anyone exercising any support for Israel must be of what was clearly a virulent and uncompromising strain of Christian Zionism you formerly belonged to. But as I've pointed out several times, not everyone rejecting supercessionism is an extreme Christian Zionist. Do you really see it so black and white, or does nuance trouble you?

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - I fully recognise there are different strands of Christian Zionism, those who are moderate and those who are more extreme, and I have not tried to suggest you are an extemist.

I believe that Paul in Romans does speak against supercessionism, but I believe it concerns Jews as a people, not a separate Jewish nation. There are also the letters of Ephesians, Galatians and Hebrews which speak about unity between Jews and Gentiles, the 'one new man' Eph 2:15 being built up together in Christ.

In light of this I became increasingly troubled by the idea that God was allowing and approving of Palestinian' loss of homes and land so that a Jewish state called Israel could expand to its ancient capital and borders, especially when many Palestinians who have been excluded were already Christian. See Wagner, (2002)
"Palestinian Christians; An Historical Community at Risk?"

I then believed that perhaps God would bring spiritual revival to Jews in the State of Israel after bringing them into part of the land, but as yet that hasn't happened. I hope it will. Later I began to understand that the Christian Church has a legitimate right to see itself as built upon the fruitful remnant root of Judah and Israel. In other words, the Kingdom of God is established as Israel in Jesus upon the face of the whole earth.

I don't oppose the right of the State of Israel to exist, but do not feel the need to support it strongly beyond upholding the right of its people to live in peace and security. The same applies to Palestinians.