I was a very young child when the 6 Day War broke out in the Middle East in 1967 but I can still remember overhearing my mother discussing the war with the man who carried our groceries to the car. He said, "I guess they've been fighting over there for thousands of years and I guess they always will." My mother, with her four children in tow, quickly agreed and we drove off without any need of further commentary.
Ironically, however, my mother had been a congressional secretary during WWII and in the years when the modern nation of Israel was created. She had two basic sources of information about the Middle East, her childhood Sunday school classes and what she had overheard when she worked in Washington, D.C. The Jews were fighting their neighbors in the Old Testament and their neighbors were attacking Israel in 1967 and she was satisfied that this is how it had been in every generation between Isaiah and Golda Meir.
But that isn't the way it was. The Jewish state had ceased to exist in 70 A.D. and though the rise of Islam and the two centuries of Crusades certainly saw a myriad of bloody conflicts in Palestine, it wasn't a battle between Jews and neighboring states. The setup for the present-day war between Israel and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip came at the end of WWII when the victors were becoming aware of just how horrible the Holocaust had really been.
During the war the United States had turned back boatloads of Jewish refugees seeking asylum from the Nazi program of ethnic cleansing. And, as horrible as the German official program of rounding up Jewish people was, some historians estimate that the majority of Jews killed during those years died in Poland at the hands of their Christian neighbors and countrymen. The Allies fought against Germany and Japan but western Europe and the United States were not free of anti-Semitism, actually, the degree to which other nations sympathized with the Nazi disdain for Jews is a tragic reality which few are willing even to mention in these decades since the end of the war.
The majority of Europe had turned on the Jews. The majority of Americans were, at best, indifferent towards their plight. But when the war was over it was clear that there was no going back to the pre-war days of Christians and Jews living side by side, especially not in Germany or Poland. And yet, the weight of the guilt for the Holocaust lay at the feet of Europe but the proposed solution was to create a Jewish homeland in a place where they had not lived in large numbers for nearly 2,000 years. Germany and Poland orchestrated the Holocaust but the land taken to create a Jewish homeland was taken from Palestine.
Christians found it thrilling to think of recreating Israel in its original location. And, indeed, after the 6 Days War, tourism in Israel became their major industry, offering Christians a "walk where Jesus walked" experience which not many of us are able to resist. I can say that I am among those pilgrims to Jerusalem who immediately fell in love with the city and its surroundings on my first visit there in 1981.
One evening, when I was walking alone through the old city, I unknowingly wandered into the Arab quarter just as the sun was setting. I stumbled upon a little shop selling WWII memorabilia, more precisely, Nazi memorabilia. How could such a shop exist in Israel? The heated conversation which followed might have been the end of my education about Middle East politics had a group of Israeli soldiers not come along and rescued me.
Some Christians still quote the covenant between God and Abraham reported in the book of Genesis as the absolute authority for the land grab which displaced Palestinians to create the state of Israel. Muslims quote the Quran to support their unwavering belief that once any land is under Muslim rule it must remain under Muslim rule forever. When I first visited the Middle East, 30 years after the creation of Israel, Palestinians were still mad about the theft of their land by the United States and Great Britain to create Israel. Now, 60 years later, they are still unwilling to accept that the forcible taking of their land to heal a great European sin is acceptable. Which leaves the United States in the terribly awkward position of continuing to support Israel's disproportionate and lethal military response to the Hamas-led attacks on Israel this past week.
I love Israel and yet I accept that taking Palestinian land to resolve the Jewish homeland issue at the end of WWII was a bad idea... romantic, sure, religiously nostalgic, you betya, but politically unworkable. And yet, here we are, irrevocably stuck with an ally we cannot abandon because their precarious situation is largely our fault but an ally we can hardly defend either for their actions nor for their location.
The solution to this crisis is nowhere on the horizon. At least we can take a foreign policy lesson from this situation which demonstrates how a war isn't over when it is over. Sixty years after the creation of Israel it is no more secure than it was a half a century ago and there is little reason to believe that it will be much different a century from now. So, invading foreign nations, changing their governments and moving their boundaries in order to create stable states at the end of the barrel of a gun may not be a good policy for us to pursue in the future.
Dr. Roger Ray (RevDrRay@...) is a local pastor contributing his personal opinion, not that of his church. "From the Left" appears every Wednesday. Coming Tuesday: "From the Right."