I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews. Let me explain. Both of my parents passed genes to me that they had inherited from forebears who had descended from Abraham. My deoxyribonucleic acid has confirmed that my ancestral mosaic is comprised of members of the Akan, Igbo and Nguni people—African peoples whose Hebraic identities have attracted the interest of many a scholar. And for those skeptics who question the authenticity of African-Hebrews, my genetic make up also contains Ashkenazi traits on my third, eighth, twelfth and eighteenth chromosomes.
You may be wondering why I am sharing this information. Well, I feel a need to establish my pedigree so that the content of this column may not be interpreted as vitriolic “anti-Semitic” diatribe. Like the Apostle Paul whose ethnic characteristics suggest Hamo-Semitic lineage (cf. Acts 21:38), I embrace the special place of Israel’s offspring in Divine ecclesiology (Rom 9-11). Nonetheless, I cannot allow my affirmation of Israel’s election and irrevocable call to influence my observations about the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Many people are aware that the modern state of Israel did not become a part of the global map until 1948. Before this, descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs had not had political control of the land since the seventh decade of the first century when the Roman army led by Titus and Vespasian sacked the city of Jerusalem. Since that time, there had been no “Jewish” state in the region.
So what became of the Jews who inhabited the land in biblical times? Initially, some left for other areas of the Jewish diaspora and a multitude that remained embraced Jesus as the Messiah and adopted a “Christian” model for expressing their faith. Of course, there were also some who stayed true to their inherited identity. Several centuries later when the religion of Muhammad found a home in Jerusalem, many of the descendants of the Jews-turned-Christian became Muslim. This is not to say that the advent of Islam meant the end of Jewish and Christian identity, but the number of people who identified with the earlier two Abrahamic faiths diminished.
Victims of Ignorance
The Jews of the diaspora flourished in their adopted homelands as they contributed to the cultural development of North Africa and Europe. However, while they were fairly well integrated into North African society, they experienced a living hell in Europe as ignorant religionists persecuted and executed them for being “Christ killers.” During the Middle Ages, Edward the Confessor expelled them from Rome, Philip the Fair banned them from France, Ferdinand and Isabella suppressed then in Spain and even the revered reformer, Martin Luther, vilified them in his writings. And just when they thought they had found a home in the Russian Empire, the pogroms of the late nineteenth century led to the flight of an estimated two-million Jews who relocated to Britain and the United States.
Indeed, it was this shameful history that emboldened Hitler to initiate one of the darkest periods in earth’s history, which resulted in the tortuous death of six-million European Jews. In full view of his European brethren, this demon possessed megalomaniac carried out his atrocities unchallenged until he sought to encroach upon their land. Only then did they raise up forces against him—not to save the persecuted children of Abraham, but to protect their own real estate. Indeed, it was out of this faux-guilt that the United Nations voted to allot European Jewish exiles a portion of the land that the “Palestinians” had inhabited for millennia.
Those who had been following the socio-political climate of the region would have known that preparation for this moment had been occurring for about half-a-century. From the late 1890s, Jewish Austrian journalist, Theodor Herzl published Der Judenstaat, in which he called for a home for all Jews in Palestine. Around this time, scores of Jews had their eyes set on the land of their spiritual forebears as they moved to Palestine and purchased large expanses of real estate.
A major incentive for diasporic Jewish migration to Palestine occurred in 1917 when British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, declared that the king’s government was in favor of establishing “a national home for the Jewish people.”
Balfour’s declaration was put forth after Chaim Weizmann, a Jewish scientist, confronted him about the “Uganda Scheme,” an earlier plan under which the British would give a portion of East Africa to the Jews for a homeland. Although Herzl favored the “Uganda Scheme” as a temporary measure, Weizmann would only be satisfied with Jewish acquisition of Palestine. The presence of others in the land did not faze him. As far as he was concerned, this was the place of promise.
With the renewed interest in a Jewish homeland, the Jewish population of Palestine had increased from 3.2% in 1878, when under Ottoman control, to 11.14% in 1922 under the British. With migrants feeling emboldened by the backing of the powerful British Empire, those numbers swelled to 20.59% (220,000) by 1933. By the time of the 1948 vote, Jews were over 30% of Palestine’s population. Although still a minority, the impressive numbers, coupled with the recent reality of the holocaust led to the imperialist decision that has devastated the land to this very day.
Some may wonder why I use the rhetoric of imperialism to describe the 1948 United Nations decision when it originated from a body that claims commitment to world peace. Well, it is no secret that the United States of America was the Zionists’ chief patron in the quest for statehood. This was the same America that had written the blueprint for state Apartheid with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision. This was also the America that had mastered the intricacies of running a multi-tiered race based society where African-Americans and Native Tribes endured second-class citizenship. It comes as no surprise that South Africa was among several other imperialist nations that enthusiastically cast their vote with Israel’s chief sponsor.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all—from a historical perspective—was Britain’s decision to abstain from voting. Somehow—perhaps from their own imperial experience, they knew that nothing good could result from this vote. From the very beginning when it backed the creation of a Jewish homeland, Britain—through Balfour—was clear that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” With unanimous opposition to a Jewish state from the Palestinians themselves and their Arab neighbors, there was no way this mandate could work. Nonetheless, even the Great Britannia could not halt the creation of an apartheid state that would result in the displacement of millions of Palestinians and set the stage for the bedlam we see today.
Conclusion: No Neutrality
It is precisely because of the imperialist foundation of the Israeli state that this genetic son of Israel cannot maintain neutrality in the conflict. There is a principial historical grievance that must be addressed before there can be any hope of peace between the parties. No, I don’t endorse some of the tactics Hamas employs in its quest for liberation. However, I fully sympathize with the frustration of a people who have described their surroundings as the “world’s largest outdoor prison.” As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I cannot remain neutral in a clear case of injustice.
Sadly, many professed Christians feel that they have no choice but to support Israeli aggression as they selectively conjure passages from the Tanak. Unfortunately, they have failed to embrace the conditionality behind the promises related to Israel’s possession of the Promised Land. Further, they have ignored the New Covenant teaching of the post-millennial fulfillment of the expanded Israel’s restoration in the “New Jerusalem.” Ultimately, they have discarded the kingdom vision of the Prince of Peace and have consequently sided with the schismatic agenda of his opponent.
As you reflect on whom you have chosen to side with in this conflict, never forget that “a tree is known by its fruit.”
Keith Augustus Burton serves on the Advisory Board of the Adventist Peace Fellowship.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6167