Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
I’ve posted about this generally before, but this week I want to explain why, from a Christian point of view, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (by moving the embassy to Jerusalem) is bad news for Israel.
Of course there are many pieces to the Middle East puzzle. But the embassy issue is pretty clear.
To start, we need to recognize what makes Israel special. American politicians and press like to stress the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the region. We like democracies, so it makes sense to help Israel out.
Many Christians are less familiar with the more unique aspect of Israel’s existence. The UN in 1947 did not create Israel to be a religious country, or to fulfill biblical prophecy. Instead, it was constituted to be a “safe haven” for Jewish people. Any Jewish person can immigrate to Israel at any time, no questions asked.
Israel is the only country in the world which automatically permits entry based solely on race. Britain and the US endorsed this idea because anti-Semitism is real, and it is not going away any time soon. Yes, Jewish people are safe in many parts of the world today. But given the experience of the Holocaust, in which most of the world (including the USA) refused to accept Jews who were fleeing Nazi Germany, Jewish people can never be certain that a new tide of anti-Semitism will not spring up. So the world is better off with a country that always promises safety to Jewish people.
A problem Israel faces today, however, is that many of its residents are not Jewish. In July 2017, the CIA’s estimate of the population of the State of Israel, excluding the West Bank and Gaza, was about 8.3 million people, including 6.2 million Jewish people and 1.8 million Muslims (almost all Palestinian).
If Israel were to formally include the West Bank and Gaza, the totals come to 6.8 million Jewish people and 6.7 Muslims – almost 50-50. Even more problematic, West Bank residents have 26.1 births per thousand adults, per year; Gaza Strip residents, 31.4; Israel, 18.1. Very shortly there will be more Palestinian Muslims than Jews in Greater Israel.
This means that if the West Bank and Gaza officially become part of Israel, Jewish people will be in the minority, forcing Israel to make a very uncomfortable choice. A Muslim majority in a democracy will not accept the idea that only Jewish people can immigrate to Israel at any time. The only way then that Israel might keep its unique place as a refuge for Jewish people would be to cease functioning as a democracy. Instead, it would become a country in which a minority rules over a majority.
Christians should work to make sure that Israel is not put in this position. Jewish people need to be able to flee to Israel to escape anti-Semitism, but we also need Israel to exist as a democracy in which Jews and Arabs have equal voting rights. We need to show that we’ve learned lessons from our own Civil Rights era, and from the apartheid of South Africa.
For the past 20 years, the United States and the UN have been working on the “Two State” solution, by which Israel and Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza) would become separate nations. The borders of the two countries would approximate the borders between Israel and the West bank prior to 1967. Arab world nations (including Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and so on) have signed off on this idea, promising to make peace treaties and establish diplomatic relations with Israel once the two states are formed. While this proposal has run into all sorts of problems, I don’t know of any other solution which keeps Israel democratic while preserving its ability to accept all Jewish immigrants, no questions asked. The Trump administration certainly has not proposed anything. So the two-state solution still seems to be the best bet.
One of the stumbling blocks has been the status of East Jerusalem, which sits on the border of Israel and the West Bank. East Jerusalem was on the Palestinian side of Israel prior to 1967, so, everything else being equal, it would seem to revert to Palestine; in fact, except for the era of the Crusades, Muslims have controlled East Jerusalem continuously since 637 A.D! The population of East Jerusalem is mostly Arab, and East Jerusalem also contains the “Old City” and its historic sites (the Temple mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Mount of Olives, etc.) Two Islamic sites on the Temple Mount – the Dome of the Rock, and the al-Iqsa Mosque – make Jerusalem the third-holiest city for Muslims. All of these facts explain why Palestinians are just as attached to Jerusalem as are Israelis.
Obviously, since East Jerusalem is precious to both Jews and Muslims, a solution that satisfies everyone is unlikely. This is why Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama resisted moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem: endorsing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, without negotiation with or compensation to the Palestinians, makes it harder for the Palestinians to accept the two-state solution. If peace is the goal, then we’ve just made that goal harder to attain.
If Israel had been formed as a religious state, we could argue that Jerusalem belongs to Israel. But modern Israel is secular: most government members are not religious, and it has never had a religious Prime Minister. Yes, Israelis feel attached to Jerusalem, but Palestinians do, too.
Psalm 122:6-7 says,
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.’”
There is nothing in these verses about Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Instead, there is a blessing for everyone who loves Jerusalem. Today, those who love Jerusalem include Jews, Christians, and Palestinians.
I hope that Christians today will acknowledge that Palestinians love Jerusalem just as must as Israelis do. If we can, we will be that much closer to fulfilling our calling as God’s peacemakers.
A Christian blog and podcast by Ray Burns.
Helping modern readers engage with ancient biblical texts