Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

12/29/2008 (3:55 pm)

Gaza Provides a Reminder

Amid the noise and predictable posturing following Israel’s weekend of air strikes against Hamas rocket launchers, training centers, and weapons caches in Gaza, today’s New York Times slips in a quiet reminder of one of the primary causes of the conflict that hardly anybody mentions: the unwillingness of countries surrounding Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to become citizens of their countries.

From 13 paragraphs into the Times story:

Much of the anger was also directed at Egypt, seen by Hamas and some nearby governments as having acceded to Israel’s military action by sealing its border with Gaza and forcing back many Palestinians at gunpoint who were trying to escape the destruction.

And from page 2:

In Beirut, protesters were bused to a rally outside the United Nations building, holding up Palestinian flags and Hamas banners. Muhammad Mazen Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Palestinian who lives in one of the refugee camps here, choked up when asked about the assault on Gaza.

“There’s an agreement between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel against Hamas,” he said. “They want to end them; all the countries are in league against Hamas, but God willing, we will win.”

That sentiment is widespread here. Many see Ms. Livni’s (Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs) visit to Cairo last week as evidence that Egypt, eager to be rid of Hamas, had consented to the airstrikes.

Following the 1948 war in which Israel won its statehood, streams of refugees crossed the borders in two directions: Arabic residents of Palestine fled the area, and Jewish residents of the surrounding nations fled their homes and poured into Israel. The Jews left their homes because of sometimes-official persecution, and in many cases were ordered to leave. The reasons for the Palestinian exodus are less well understood, being mired in controversy; conventional wisdom at the time said they were encouraged to leave by their leaders, but some modern historians have added that there were some deliberate acts of violence on the part of Israelis that motivated them as well.

Regardless of the reasons, the two streams of refugees were treated very differently. Israel, eager for manpower and already possessing an attitude of welcome for refugees, readily absorbed the Sefardim (Jews of Arabic descent); today, Sefardic Jews in Israel number about 3 million and account for more than half of the Israeli population.

The nations surrounding Israel, however, refused citizenship for the roughly 800,000 refugees, and instead built fence-enclosed camps in which they must live. The camps remain to this day, and house about 4 million Palestinians, some of whom are 4 or 5 generations removed from ever having lived in Palestine.

The refusal of the Egyptians to allow Palestinians to cross into Egypt reminds us that this policy refusing emigration continues. Of all the nations surrounding Israel, only Jordan has permitted Palestinians to become citizens, and Jordan stopped permitting West Bank residents to become citizens in 1991. Lebanon actually refuses to allow Palestinians to own land or hold certain professional jobs.

It has been argued, with some support, that the purpose of the camps was to foster hatred against Israel and create a permanent source of militants to attack Israel. The goal of Muslims in the Middle East remains to remove Israel completely; Israel represents a reminder that Islam, which they believe to be destined to rule the entire world politically, cannot even rule entirely in their own corner of the world. Allow me to recommend a review of this monologue by Caroline Glick, Deputy Managing Director of the Jerusalem Post, that I posted on my blog about a year ago.

Arguably, though, governments wanting a stable environment within their own nations might prefer to keep organizations like Hamas at arm’s length. Whatever the goal may have been 60 years ago, Egypt probably is not so keen on inviting militants within their borders.

This is one of the reasons I personally oppose a two-state solution in Israel. It’s not just that Israeli concessions of land always become launching points for military assaults against the state of Israel, though that would be reason enough. It’s that the real solution is to allow the refugees to start lives elsewhere. The violence against the state of Israel would probably dwindle to tiny proportions if the camps were emptied and the residents permitted to take root in their homes.

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December 29, 2008 @ 8:50 pm #

I think you are right that if the Palestinian people had a place to go, that terror against Israel would wither away. I have a question for you Phil. Please don’t jump to conclusions by the nature of the question. You are much more familiar with the Bible than I am. I believe there were occasions in the Old Testament, under the reign of Saul(?)(prior to David) perhaps, where the Israelites destroyed their enemies to the last man woman and child. My question is, what was different then? How was Israel threatened that required that kind of response as compared to today?

December 30, 2008 @ 6:13 pm #

Hey, feeb –

You’re not asking an easy question.

There were several occasions where God commanded the Israelites to leave no survivors, and a few when He left no survivors Himself. Joshua, while leading the Israelites into the promised land, operated under a general order from God to spare nothing and nobody. The instance you’re thinking of was King Saul, who was ordered to demolish the Amalekites and not even keep their livestock. He didn’t obey, and the Bible later records that Saul was killed by an Amalekite, and that an ancestor of the Amalekites attempted to annihilate the entire race (Haman, in the book of Esther, was identified as “the Agagite,” Agag being the king of the Amalekites that Saul was supposed to slaughter.)

Regarding what was different, I can think of two important things:

1) We’re operating under a dispensation of grace in Christ, not living out the fairly ordinary, violent pattern of life in the Ancient Near East. So, we’ve come to think of genocide as barbaric, as well we ought.

2) The sin of the modern Palestinians is nowhere near as complete as that of the ancient Amorites. For this, I refer to a comment God made about the residents of Canaan to Abraham, I think in Genesis 15, where he says “the sin of the Amorite is not complete.” By the time Joshua arrived about 450 years later, archaeologists tell us the Canaanite peoples were doing stuff like dedicating new houses by sacrificing a child and burying it beneath the doorposts. Whatever you might think of Palestinians, I doubt they’re doing anything like that.

It’s a sobering thought that an entire people might grow so completely corrupt that God Himself says, “They cannot be redeemed.” It’s happened several times in history. I don’t think the Muslim populations of the Middle East are near that, yet, though.

Does that help?

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