Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
One of the big pieces to the ongoing conflict between Israel and its neighbors is the role of the group Hamas, which has a major leadership presence in Palestine. Christians who want to understand the complexities of creating a safe, secure Israel must consider the challenges that Hamas brings.
I had been writing a series of posts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to explain some common Muslim points of view. (Check the archives for January!) I got away from this for a few weeks in order to discuss pressing news about Islam in the United States today. The Bible commands Christians to take up the cause of justice, especially justice for the outsider – and today, many Americans look upon Muslims with suspicion. I will keep posting about current events, but this week, its back to some underlying issues about Israel and Palestine.
Since this blog is about Islam, I need to stress first that while Christians tend to reflexively side with Israel about Middle East issues, Muslims naturally sympathize with Palestinians. To get to agreement with our Muslim neighbors, therefore, we must be willing to look beyond our own feelings, and try to understand the plight of the Palestinians.
While there is some debate about precise definitions, Hamas is probably best defined as a terrorist group. Hamas is firmly committed against the existence of Israel, and sometimes creates terrorist attacks to try to get what it wants. Worse, the democratically elected government of Palestine has at times in the past ten years voted in Hamas representatives to lead its government.
Today, Palestine is undergoing a government reorganization in which the rival political party Fatah (which has indicated that it favors the so-called “Two-State solution,” a peaceful Israel and Palestine, side by side) will essentially control Palestine. This is good news for those of us who want peace between Israel and Palestine (even though Hamas will continue to have a stake in the government for at least the next several years).
Many Americans do not realize that most of the world, including most of the Arab world, has repeatedly rejected Hamas leadership of Palestine. The “Quartet” (US, Russia, the European Union, and the UN) has made aid to Palestine conditional upon Palestinian promises to act non-violently and to recognize Israel. Whenever the Palestinian government has not taken these steps, the Quartet has held back aid. As a result, Palestine seems to be trying to organize a government that will at least discuss peace and security for Israel.
Sometimes Christians wonder, “Why should we have sympathy for Palestinians when they sometimes elect terrorists committed to the destruction of Israel?”
There are two very good reasons. First, as I’ve written before, Christians must recognize that throughout the past 70 years, Palestinians have been treated unjustly. Hundreds of thousands of have had their land taken away and have suffered great economic loss, and thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed by Israelis (many more innocent Palestinians have been killed than Israelis in the past thirty years). In my view, Christians are not required to figure out whose fault this is, but we must recognize great injustice.
Second, Christians need to accept that even in a strong democracy, the government often does not really represent the desires of the majority. We in the United States know this well, given that more than 80% (!) of American evangelicals voted for Trump a man who has bragged about his affairs with married women, has spent his life promoting casinos and greed, and who has never seemed to admit that he was wrong about anything. Does this mean that Evangelicals now approve of extra-marital affairs, gambling, and a life without repentance? Most Evangelicals say “no,” and that they voted for Trump for other reasons (things like the Supreme Court, dislike/ distrust of Hillary Clinton, and worries about security and the economy). So when we think about Palestinian leadership, we must recognize that while much Palestinian leadership oppose the existence of Israel, the people tend to disagree with their leaders on this point.
While the majority party in Palestine, Fatah, has generally supported the Two-State solution, it had also gained a notorious reputation for corruption, and the Palestinian economy suffered as a result. In the 2006 elections, Hamas candidates ran on a “Change and Reform” platform (remember the popularity of Obama’s “Hope and Change” in 2008?). Palestinians felt like they were choosing between an end to corruption and hope for peace with Israel. They went for economics, and so Hamas took leadership. We may not like this result, but this is how history often works: economics caused Germans to elect Hitler in the 1930’s, Russians to elect Putin in 2012, and Americans to elect both Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016.
More promising, however, is that it seems that the current government of Palestine is at least open to the possibility of the Two-State solution, which is supported by most of the modern world, include the Arab nations. I don’t know whether we will see an independent Palestine and Israel, side by side, but at the moment this solution still seems to be the greatest hope for peace.
The Palestinians have made many mistakes in the past; they’ve rejected reasonable offers and proposals for peace. In 2017, however, Christians need to be able to overlook past mistakes. I don’t know if peace in the Middle East will come about anytime soon; however, I’m pretty sure that, as both the Obama and Trump administrations have said, peace becomes less likely whenever Israel builds settlements in the West Bank. (When Trump agrees with Obama – pay attention!) This is the heart of the UN resolution that Obama declined to veto earlier this year: despite the past, and despite the problems with Palestinian leadership, Israel must refrain from seizing more Palestinian territory.
Christians are not obligated to agree with Trump and Obama, of course. But as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the safety and security of Israel, we must also consider the plight of the Palestinians. If we become committed to justice for both sides, then we will soon find ourselves closer to our American Muslim neighbors.