Last week, President Donald Trump announced his administration’s intent to move our embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Why is that significant? Jerusalem is the functional capital of the Jewish state, but for nearly 70 years, all other nations have recognized Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital as a measure to quell Palestinian unrest regarding what they see as Israel’s “occupation” of the city.
There is a saying that history is written by the victors. The Middle East has known little peace for as long as man has been there. The history of the region is as uncertain as the peace, because, as yet, there is no recognized victor to define what that history is to be. Currently, the history of Palestine is presented as one wants to see it. The Arabs see a history of Zionist oppression and Euro-American intervention that have robbed them of their ancestral homeland and divine grant. Jews and the nation of Israel believe just as fervently that the land of Palestine was given to them by God dating back to the time of the exodus from Egypt 3,500 years ago, and see the Arabs as interlopers who arrived from the east more than 2000 years later. Since there is no clear winner in this ongoing conflict, history remains muddled for the world. As professed Christians and believers in God’s holy scriptures, let us study this history from a biblical worldview.
As you recall from the story of Abraham in Genesis, he and his wife Sarah were becoming quite old and without children when God promised Abraham would be the father of a great nation. As more childless years led Sarah to believe any chance of her giving Abraham a child had passed, she gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham, producing a son named Ishmael. God said his covenant with Abraham was not to be fulfilled through Ishmael, but Ismael’s descendants would be too numerous to count, and Ishmael would live to the east of his brothers, and that he would be as a wild donkey with his hand forever against everyone. His descendants became the Arabs, who much later became the followers of Muhammad. For this reason, Muslims to this day see Abraham as their father. Of course, God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was fulfilled through the birth of their son Isaac, and his descendants occupied the land of Palestine from the time of the exodus forward until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, and the subsequent complete defeat of the Jews by Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD, which began the period known as The Diaspora that continued until the reestablishment of the nation of Israel in 1948.
By early in the 7th century, Muhammad had founded Islam, and the newly powerful Arab Empire captured and occupied the Holy Land through the mid- 20th century, with about 200 years of highly contested occupancy during the Crusades from 1096 to 1291.
During the latter 600 years of Arab possession of Palestine, the land was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until the events surrounding World War One intervened. The Ottoman Empire was allied with the other Central Powers forces of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. Efforts to defeat the Central Powers led the members of the Allied Powers, which included Great Britain, France, and the United States (among others) to seek alliances with various factions across the globe. It was this effort that led Great Britain into two seemingly contradictory diplomatic measures in Palestine.
In a series of 10 letters from 1915 into 1916, Great Britain, through Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner to Egypt, agreed with Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, to support Arab independence in the region in exchange for an Arab revolt against the Ottomans. Almost simultaneously, Britain issued what was known as the Balfour Declaration (1917), transmitted from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Walter Rothschild, leader of the British Jewish community and liaison to the Zionist Federation. The declaration read in part, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. After the war, the area of Palestine became a British protectorate. Britain controlled Palestine by mandate from the League of Nations until after World War Two and the Jewish Holocaust, when the successor to the League, the United Nations, granted a partition of Palestine to the Jews in 1948, including the western portion of a divided Jerusalem. After wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, Israel took control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. The entire area of the small country, even after these annexations, is about 260 miles in length, and 70 miles in width. Comparatively, you could think of a box as wide as from Branson west to the Oklahoma state line, and extending north the length of Missouri. These annexations remain a major obstacle to peaceful coexistence today, but Israel views the parcels as historically, culturally, and strategically important.
So, here is the rub – or, the rubs. First, Abraham and Sarah created a situation through their lack of patience and faith in the word of the Lord where there would be permanent enmity between the two branches of descendants of Abraham. Secondly, the British essentially promised the same land to both of these peoples during World War One. What is the solution? I do not believe there is one. For whatever good reason known only to Him, it appears God is using this conflict for His purpose. For decades, American and other diplomats have tried to broker peace in the region, and failed time and again. This is a land that has been in turmoil since Ishmael and Isaac were born nearly four millennia ago. To fan the flames even hotter, the British agreed to give this disputed territory to first one party, and then the other. Now, President Trump, also recognizing the reality that Jerusalem really is the capital of Israel, is moving our embassy there. Will Trump’s actions lead to adverse consequences? Probably. But, in this perpetual powder keg known as the Holy Land, which actions would not lead to further adversity? No situation in world geo-politics could be more hopeless in the view of man, or more needful of God’s wisdom and direction.
To turn about a well known phrase, What God has separated, let no man join together.
Kevin Huddleston is an Elder at Fellowship at Cross Creek in Branson, Missouri, An Imperfect Church for Imperfect People