By David Sedaca
The year 2008 ended with another battle between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group in control of Gaza. As soon as the truce ended in early December, Hamas began raining rockets into southern Israel. Everyone was expecting Israel to fight back, and it attacked the Hamas strongholds in Gaza. Regrettably, there were high civilian casualties as well. When will this cycle of violence end? Is it possible for Israel to live in peace with its Arab neighbors? To understand this conflict, we must consider Israel’s recent history.
By the 1850s, anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe and Russia. In 1897, the first Zionist Congress (named after Mount Zion in Jerusalem) was called by Theodor Herzl. The Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland and included 200 delegates representing most European communities. After some deliberation, the Congress declared that “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz-Israel secured under public law.”
By 1860, a small number of European Jews began to settle in Palestine, which was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire at the time. In those days, Palestine was sparsely populated by Bedouins and a relatively small number of Arabs. As Jewish people began to leave Europe and settle in Palestine, they changed the landscape, transforming deserts and swamps into farms – which in turn attracted more Jewish immigrants (chalutzim).
With the defeat of Turkey in World War I, the League of Nations put Palestine under British control, which lasted from 1921 to 1947. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a classified formal statement of policy stating that the British government “view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” with the understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Jewish immigration to Palestine continued to increase under British rule, but the Arab leaders of Jerusalem began pressuring the British government to stop further Jewish immigration. A foretaste of what was to come occurred in 1920 when Jewish youths, nearly all recent arrivals from Europe, paraded in Jerusalem professing the wish for a Jewish Defense Arm. Reaction by Arab religious leaders resulted in an attack on Jews by Arabs in the Old City of Jerusalem, resulting in a number of fatalities and casualties. The police were heavily outnumbered, and the military was called in to restore law and order.
Bowing to Arab pressure, Britain imposed a limit of 5,000 Jewish immigrants per year. In a sad twist of history, European Jews who had escaped Nazi concentration camps and made their way to Palestine by sea were sent back to Nazi-occupied Europe. By the 1930s, in reaction to the British ban on Jewish immigration, Jews in Palestine began an underground paramilitary movement (called Haganah – meaning “the defense”) to combat British rule.
Arab resentment of the increasing numbers of Jewish immigrants continued to grow. On October 13, 1933, a “peaceful” procession in protest of Jewish settlement was planned to take place in Jerusalem. The procession rapidly deteriorated into a riot and was followed by further rioting in Jaffa two weeks later. Additional disturbances took place in Haifa, Nablus and Jerusalem.
A British Royal Commission of Inquiry was sent out to propose changes to the British Mandate of Palestine. The commission arrived in Palestine in November of 1936 to investigate the reasons behind the Arab uprising. It returned to Britain the following January, and in July of 1937 the commission published a report that, for the first time, recommended partition. This proposal was declared unworkable and formally rejected by the British government.
By the end of World War II, the British had lost control of the situation in the Holy Land and asked the newly-formed United Nations to handle the matter. The United Nations agreed to divide Palestine into two states, one Arab and another Jewish. On May 14, 1948, following the UN vote in favor of partition – which was unanimously rejected by all the Arab states – the Jewish state declared its independence, and the modern State of Israel was born. On that same day, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq invaded Israel and a six-month war for survival ensued. Israel lost control of Jerusalem, and finally a cease-fire was declared. But the state of war with Israel’s Arab neighbors continued.
The next major war was in June 1967, when Israel was attacked by the combined forces of six Arab nations. In six days, Israel utterly defeated the Arab forces and took control of the Sinai, Samaria, the Golan Heights and, most importantly, the city of Jerusalem. Vowing revenge for the Six Day War, Egypt’s President Nasser led a coalition of six Arab nations that invaded Israel in 1973 on its holiest day, Yom Kippur. After a series of defeats, Israel counterattacked, and ten days later its forces reached the outskirts of Cairo, Damascus, Amman and Beirut. After threats from Russia, the main backer of the Arab states, Israel pulled back to the 1967 borders and signed a cease-fire. In the years that followed, Israel negotiated peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, returning all of Sinai to Egypt and securing its borders with Jordan.
Outright war with Arab countries was then replaced by terrorist attacks within Israel. Beginning with the murder of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972 and continuing to the present day, continuing terrorist attacks forced Israel to seek accords granting autonomy to the West Bank and Gaza. The idea of the “two-state solution” was formalized in Oslo, Norway on August 20, 1993, and partial progress has been made. This process has been called “The Roadmap to Peace.” Israel has pulled back from the West Bank, which is self-governed, but Gaza has been under control of the terrorist group Hamas, with the backing of Syria and Iran. It is in Gaza that the recent conflict has erupted.
But what is God’s “Roadmap to Peace” for Israel? The first step is found in the vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:11-14: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel'” (v. 12).
Today the modern State of Israel is indeed alive, but this prophecy is not yet completely fulfilled, because it also says, “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it…” (Ezekiel 37:14). Israel has not yet received the Spirit of the Lord, but the day will come when “…all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26).
The second event that will usher in God’s plan for Israel’s peace is the return of Israel’s Messiah. Nations will again rise against Israel, as the Lord told the prophet Zechariah: “For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled….Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives…the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You….And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be -‘The LORD is one,’ and His name one. All the land shall be turned….The people shall dwell in it; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited.” (Zech. 14:2-11)
Although there is a constant concern about the current events in the Middle East, we who trust in the Lord and believe His Word know who is in control and how the conflict ends. Meanwhile, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. ‘May they prosper who love you…'” (Ps. 122:6).
David Sedaca has been a leader in the Messianic Jewish movement for over 30 years. He currently serves with Chosen People Ministries as a Vice President. His wife, Julia, is the Office Manager of Chosen People Ministries’ International Headquarters.