Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
I’ve been posting recently about Muslim attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (you might want to look at a couple I´ve done in the last ten days). In another week or so I’ll post about some publicized Palestinian attitudes toward Jews. But before I do so, readers might want to look at these numbers of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the last eight years.
The organization which compiled these statistics, B´tselem, is a respected Israeli human rights group. If you look around the web, you will find some controversy about B´tselem´s methods for gathering statistics (which is true for everyone who reports on the Middle East). However, I have not found anyone who has argued against the main finding of this report, that, year after year, more Palestinian civilians are killed by Israelis, than Israeli civilians are killed by Palestinians. (For example, a similar page from the strongly Pro-Israel http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org does not include numbers of Palestinian civilians killed by Israelis).
The word “civilian” is key here. “Civilians” are people who are not military, and who have not taken part in terrorist activity. They are innocent bystanders, in the wrong place at the wrong time. And no matter who is compiling statistics, over the past thirty years (with a very few exceptions), each year Israelis kill more Palestinians than Palestinians kill Israelis.
The Israeli government tends to explain these figures by arguing that Palestinian terrorists often hide near civilians, so that when they are attacked by Israel, some innocent people are killed. And, of course, the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) is not perfect; just as we have a few bad policemen in the USA, some IDF personnel use more force against Palestinians than they should.
Even with these explanations, however, Christians must be concerned, for several reasons. I´ll list three.
First, as we Christians tend to support the State of Israel, the Bible requires us to be sure that our side is acting justly. Israel has better weapons than the Palestinians, and is supposedly using violence only to stop (and perhaps retaliate against) Palestinian violence and terrorism. When a Palestinian terrorist attacks an Israeli civilian, the just response is to punish the attacker – not to kill a Palestinian civilian! (Some Americans don’t see things this way, believing that it is fine to kill an innocent Palestinian for the death of an innocent Israeli. But this idea is anti-Christian.) Israel does take precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but the statistics (and the underlying research from B’Tselem and other human rights organizations) suggests that Israel can and should do more to be sure that it does not harm innocent Palestinians.
Second, while many Christians are unaware that Israeli kill more Palestinians than vice versa, many of our Muslim friends and neighbors are very aware. While we tend to be mostly concerned with Israel, Muslims identify more with the Palestinians. We can overcome this difference between Christians and Muslims only if we work hard to understand each other´s views. This means that we cannot avoid facts which are unpleasant for our side. American Christians (and Jews) often talk about the bad things Palestinians do (I will discuss more of this in a future post), and insist that Palestinians need to change their behavior. If we wish to have credibility with Muslims, then we much acknowledge the fact that more innocent Palestinians than Israelis are killed each year.
Third, there is a very practical part to this. When Israelis who kill innocent Palestinians are not held accountable, it becomes hard to convince Palestinians who knew the victim that the Israelis are the good guys. Many Palestinians (and others) become terrorists for this reason: they know innocent friends and family who have suffered unjustly, and so decide to get revenge.
According to the Bible (and the Qur´an!), peace in the Middle East, and around the world, must be centered on justice. When an innocent Israeli is killed by a Palestinian terrorist, God wants Christians, Muslims, and Jews to strive to capture and punish the terrorist. And when an innocent Palestinian is killed by Israelis, God wants us all to do justice for the victim. These days, Israel does a pretty good job of punishing Palestinian terrorists. But, along with B´tselem, I´m less confident that Israel is taking all necessary steps to prevent the deaths of innocent Palestinians.