Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
Rami and Bassam were born to be enemies.
Rami is a Jewish Israeli, born and raised in Jerusalem. Growing up, he learned that God had given Israel to his Jewish people forever. Rami was taught that Arabs must acknowledge Israel as the homeland of God’s chosen people. Arabs who do not agree that Israel has a right to control the land need to be made to agree, or else be driven away. Rami was also taught that violence and hardship in and around Israel are mostly the fault of the Palestinian Arabs.
Bassam is a Palestinian Arab from Hebron in the West Bank. Growing up, he learned that the Jews in Israel were the descendants of “squatters,” people who had moved to the region, uninvited, around the turn of the 20th century. These invaders had established Israel by taking property from the people who had lived there for centuries. The State of Israel and its Jewish citizens controlled the resources of the region, with little regard for the rights and welfare of non-Jewish residents. Bassam was taught that violence and hardship in and around Israel are mostly the fault of the Israelis.
Rami and Bassam learned to hate each other.
Rami spent many of his early adult years in the army, defending Israelis and hunting Palestinian terrorists. In 1973 Rami’s reserve unit was attacked by Egyptian forces. Eight of the eleven tanks in Rami’s units were destroyed; many of his close friends were killed.
Growing up, Bassam frequently witnessed Israeli soldiers entering Palestinian homes to beat and even kill his neighbors and their children. When he was twelve, a Palestinian boy was shot and killed in front of him by an Israeli soldier. At 17, Bassam went to prison for throwing grenades at an Israeli jeep. While in jail he and his fellow Palestinian prisoners were sometimes ordered to strip naked so that they could be beaten by smiling Israeli soldiers until they could no longer stand.
Rami and Bassam have excellent reasons to hate each other.
In 1997 Rami’s fourteen-year-old daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem. She had been buying schoolbooks with her friends.
In 2007 Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter Amir was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. She had just left the store with her friends, carrying only the candy she had bought.
So we should expect hatred from Rami and Bassam.
Rami and Bassam have decided not to fight each other.
Rami has come to realize that people who have lived in the region for hundreds of years are not going to just suddenly leave. He understands that if Israel and the West insist that all people have rights, then Palestinians will inevitably assert their rights.
Bassam now recognizes the futility in trying to rid the land of a people who have nuclear weapons. No matter how the Jewish people came to Israel, no matter what they did to acquire the land, Arabs will not be able to evict them.
Rami and Bassam have developed empathy for each other.
Rami understands the degradation Palestinians feel at being reduced to second-class citizens in their own land. He now recognizes that Palestinians routinely suffer from Israel’s control of scarce resources, and understands why some Palestinians resort to violence.
Bassam now identifies with the horrors of the Holocaust. For centuries much of the world has hated Jewish people, and much of the world continues to hate them. Bassam understands that historic world-wide Anti-Semitism and violence against Jewish people sometimes plays out in over-zealous behavior of Israelis.
Rami and Bassam are co-laborers in the cause for peace and justice in Israel.
Rami has become a passionate advocate for the welfare and rights of Palestinians.
Basham strongly supports the existence of a strong, safe, democratic Israel, to which all Jewish people may immigrate, at any time, for any reason.
Peace with the enemy was not the first choice for Rami or Basham. But after paying a horrific price in family blood, they agreed that peace is their best choice. They determined to hear each other, empathize with each other’s sorrows, learn the history of each other’s people, and work together to urge other Jews and Muslims to reject violence and hate.
Today, Rami and Basham are good friends (that’s them in the picture at the top). They work together to convince others that understanding and compromise are the best way to peace and prosperity for everyone in the region.
Rami and Basham have one more thing in common: neither is a Christian. Yet, somehow, they have become peacemakers.
Or, as Jesus put it, “children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Like Rami and Bassam, many Christians have ideas about the “right” solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Even without losing loved ones, we hold strong opinions.
Can American Christians, called to obey Jesus, also become “peacemakers”? Can we push the United States to be a genuine agent of peace in the Middle East?