The comments below are specific to the Gaza crisis but part of a wider excellent interview on broader issues.
TOJ: You conclude your chapter “Myths of Human Rights” by saying that “[. . .] a rigorous argument for human rights (as in a Christian theological perspective) will radically expose the hypocrisies and double standards of those powerful nations whose domestic and foreign policies run counter to their lip service to universal norms.”3 Given your aforementioned admonition that we Christians must advocate for Muslims and Christians who are exploited by the socially powerful, what do you make of the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the corresponding coverage in the news? Where do you see the hypocrisies and double standards of powerful Westerners as they apply to this situation?
VR: Both the outgoing American president and the secretary of state placed blame disproportionately on Hamas. The incoming president has been silent so far. Hundreds of rockets from Hamas militants killed one Israeli over a period of six months. On a single day, Israeli bombing killed over three hundred Palestinians. That is how the equation always works out. More than one hundred tons of explosives have been dropped on an enclave crowded with 1.5 million people. If this is not terror, then what is?
Moreover, Israel launched its strikes against Gaza on a Saturday morning when the streets were crowded with shoppers. The targets were not the training camps of Hamas’s military wing but police stations. In attempting to destroy the entire administrative infrastructure in Gaza, Israel is alienating all those who want a moderate Palestinian state. Israel’s policies of blockade and shock-and-awe are ensuring greater support for Hamas, which is a political movement and not merely a guerilla army, just as the same approach strengthened Hezbollah’s status in Lebanon. This is exactly the wrong way to go about wooing Arabs away from supporting Hamas. Clearly, Israeli leaders are drunk with a sense of their military superiority but have little political acumen. They are experts at dealing with symptoms while ignoring causes.
The temptation to use children to win others over to a cause is real and must be guarded, and yet the fact is in war the children suffer the most. And we must never ignore that fact.
It is the most vulnerable-children and other civilians-who experience the greatest suffering in these situations. In the current attack on Gaza, dozens of children have been killed or injured, adding to the more than 1,000 Palestinian and more than 100 Israeli children who have been killed in the conflict since 2000. Furthermore, an untold number of children in Gaza and southern Israel live in fear as a result of the broken ceasefire. We mourn for all those killed and are deeply concerned with the lasting impact of this violence on the affected populations.
I would agree that while we may start with the heart, it’s better sooner than later to move the conversation forward with cool headedness. On the question, “Who started the latest cycle of violence?” The fingers are still pointing the other side. I guess the world is watching and asking “Who will start stopping the latest cycle of violence?” If I’m a resident afraid of rockets shot into my backyard, and if I’m a mother who would soon be a widow, or children destined to be on my own tomorrow, that would be my question.
This is a good model of how to process what we read in the papers from a compassionate and reflective Malaysian perspective especially relating it back home.
It’s important for Christians who are starting to be aware and engage the themes brought to our glaring attention these past weeks, that many have gone before us and we stand on the shoulders of others.
. . . Bakke told attendees about a conversation he had with a Jewish rabbi concerning the current existence of modern Israel. “Every people, to be a whole people, must somewhere in their history be stewards of power. We Jews have always been victims of power. The state of Israel is our first opportunity to be stewards of power,” said the rabbi. Then with a tear rolling down his cheek, he finished, saying, “If God is just, he will have to remove us one more time for what we have done to the Palestinians in this land. We are treating them the way the Nazis treated us.”
. . . Antoine Haddad, vice president of Lebanon’s InterVarsity Fellowship, said that America has had a blind support for Israel, ignoring injustices the Palestinians have faced. He said that this “created seeds for instability in the Middle East region and led to wars and civil wars, dictatorships, poverty, oppressive regimes – all of which have been negatively reflected on the Christian presence in (the Middle East).”
And while the western Church’s response has been poor, Haddad says the Church in the midst of the conflict has also reacted incorrectly: “The response of Christians has been emigration, forsaking the cradle of Christianity and forsaking their roots.”
. . . Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church just outside Chicago said that she knows there must be some action after this dialog. She compared the Sounds of Hope conference to her experience of going to Africa five years ago to learn about AIDS. She left Africa asking the question: “How have I ignored this situation? Why didn’t I ever let what I knew in my head travel down to the level of my heart?”
She continued, “And now I’m going home with that same question that I left Africa with: What’s happened this week is that I’ve seen the pain. I’ve heard the anger. I think Christians in the Church in the West have shown a lack of concern. By supporting global policies that have very much hurt the Middle East as a whole we have betrayed our Christian brothers and sisters here. What am I to do? That’s a prayer that I know God will answer, but not easily; but I go home with that prayer.”
I will never forget my encounter with Rev. Samer Azar years ago whom helped me see a glimpse from the inside.
For generations, Palestinian Christians, Muslims, and Israeli Jews have suffered the fear and pain of ongoing warfare and insecurity.
Palestinian Christians and Muslims have suffered the loss of their land and dignity, disruption of their livelihood, and lack of human rights. This land is sacred to three monotheistic religions, whose adherents have the right to safe and unfettered access. On the positive side, this common cause offers opportunities for interfaith collaboration. In terms of global politics, what happens in the Holy Land can either help resolve conflict in the Middle East or expand it into even more deadly conflicts.
The 1995 ELCA social statement For Peace in God’s World begins, “We of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America share with the Church of Jesus Christ in all times and places the calling to be peacemakers.” Two aspects of this calling, proclaiming “the Gospel of God’s final peace” and working for “earthly peace,” are central to our efforts to educate ourselves and others and to urge a just earthly peace for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Further, our legacy from both the Gospel and from the teaching of Martin Luther impels us to treat all people of the world as neighbors to be known, loved, and served.
The ELCA’s commitment to accompaniment with our global companions is an extension of this theological legacy. The ELCA’s companion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) moves us to be in solidarity with all the people of the region and to give voice in particular to the concerns and aspirations of Palestinian Christians, as they strive for reconciliation and independence.
Christian Zionism is a politically mobilized strand of Christian fundamentalism committed to preserving Jewish control over all of historic Palestine to ensure the realization of Christian Zionists’ own endtimes hope. In its contemporary North American forms, Christian Zionism is based on the “rapture theology.”
While even Martin Luther had an intensely apocalyptic hope, our hope is not for escape from this world; rather, our hope is that the world will be reconciled in Christ through God’s mercy and love.
The focus of Christian Zionism on the United States and its support of the State of Israel leads to intense nationalism that stands at odds with the traditional Lutheran understanding that no political entity is uniquely blessed by God.
Christian Zionists also damage interfaith relationships when they portray Muslims as a global menace and when they treat Jews as a temporary means to their apocalyptic ends.