Saturday, May 14, 2011

Christian Zionism

Since my return from Israel and Palestine I have had the opportunity to have lots of visits with people about my experiences as an ecumenical accompanier with the World Council of Churches.   Most people are very surprised when they hear what I share with them.  Many of them respond something like this:  “I never knew” or “we never hear about the kinds of things that you observed.” 
What is clear to me is that the news which reaches the United States is “laundered”, so to speak, in regards to what is happening in Israel.  Europeans receive a much more balanced version of events in Israel.  Members of my team from Sweden, Norway and Switzerland were much more informed upon arrival about the political realities of Israel and Palestine than I was.   I recently read an article written by an author, Grace Halsell, who wrote a book on Israel some years ago.  She writes in this article about the roadblocks she encountered in trying to get the book published because she was critical of Israel.  I recommend it to you.  It is entitled, “What Christians Don’t Know About Israel.”
Many of my friends and acquaintances I have spoken with since my return are quite confused about Israel and Palestine.  And their confusion stems from a blank acceptance that the “Holy Land” should belong to the Jews.  After all, the Bible describes a narrative in which God’s “Chosen People” are given land. 
Sign on a building in Hebron which was
illegally occupied by Israeli settlers
I think that most people that I grew up with have accepted this simple rationale for supporting the present situation in Israel.  The return of the "holy land" has been promoted by the Zionist movement which began in England in the late 19th century.  After World War II there was a concerted effort to establish a “homeland” for the Jews which was reinforced by feelings of guilt as the horrors of the holocaust became known.  But what I have discovered, after having been there, is that the present situation in Israel and Palestine has very little to do with religion.  It is mostly an economic and political exercise which is often couched in religious terms.
There has also developed an understanding of Zionism which has been described as “Christian Zionism” which supports a political regime in Israel based on apartheid and discrimination.  This has largely been formed by a belief about the “end times.”  This has been popularized in the United States by television evangelists who use the writings and movies of Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye as a basis for believing that the end of the world is imminent and will happen in Israel.  They see the development of a strong Israel as a fulfillment of Biblical prophesy.  And as such there is little incentive to challenge what is happening, much less to give any credence to the plight of the Palestinians.
Barbara Rossing, a Lutheran theologian,  has written an interesting book which challenges the theology and understanding of those who promote this view.  The book is entitled:  The Rapture Exposed:  A Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.
Christian Zionism is essentially a kind of blind support for Israel’s actions in relation to the Palestinians.  Mike Huckabee, who is a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, recently toured settlements in East Jerusalem.  ( as has Sarah Palin)  These  settlements were built by Israelis on land confiscated from Palestinians .   He remarked that Jews should be able to build wherever they want because it is their land.  This notion is not only held by Christian Zionists in the United States, it is a growing phenomenon around the world.  For instance, there is an “International Christian Embassy” in Jerusalem which has been actively involved in promoting Zionism for over thirty years.  I encourage you to check out their website:
I recently became aware of another website that can provide more information about Christian Zionism.  It is important for Christian people around the world to understand and challenge the fallacies around the Christian Zionist movement.  Will the U.S. stand alone among the nations of the world in their blind support of what the Zionist movement stands for?
The United Nations has defined “Zionism” as a form of racism and apartheid.  What I observed happening in Israel is almost a re-enactment of the holocaust with the Israelis as those who are perpetrating injustice and torture.  The Palestinians are experiencing a gradual development of a prison camp in which they are enslaved by barbed wire and very high concrete walls.  
Guard tower on wall in Bethlehem

"Prisoners" in Tulkarm waiting to be "let out" so
that they can get to their day jobs beyond the
"prison" wall
The prison guards are not only perched on towers, they are spread though-out the prison.  Israeli settlers have been incentivized to occupy land within the prison and are armed with automatic weapons to protect them from the prisoners.  Within the prison, movement of prisoners is restricted by roadblocks and checkpoints.  And of course there is the prohibition of any meaningful economic development within the prison.
One of the persons  of the current EA  team 39 in Tulkarm has had an article published in a newspaper in Belfast, Ireland.  Sean compares what he has observed to a soccer game in which the rules are totally arbitrary.  I recommend it to you for your reading.
My husband and I will be heading to Alaska soon for the summer.  I will be bringing some pictures along and hope I have opportunities to share my experiences with my Alaskan friends. 
Continue to pray for the people of Israel and Palestine.  I believe that the unrest in the rest of the Middle East may provide some incentive for positive steps to be taken in Israel between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The rest of the world stands poised to recognize Palestine as a nation.  I can only hope that my fellow Americans can begin to get a clearer picture of the futility of blindly supporting Zionism.