Monday, December 27, 2010
Tourism Minister Stas Miseznikov noted the importance of the increased numbers. "The year 2010 is a milestone for the Israeli tourism industry, a year in which both the government and the economy in general understood that tourism is an economic force of the first degree."
One benefit of the current lull in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians is that tourism also increased for Palestinian-controlled areas like Bethlehem. About 1.5 million tourists visited Bethlehem this year, and during Christmas celebrations 90,000 tourists flooded into the town, almost tripling its normal population of 50,000.
It's nice to report on good news coming out of the Holy Land!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Today Abbas declared, "We have frankly said, and always will say, if there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it." So Abbas is saying that not a single Jew would be allowed to live in any future Palestinian state. But at the same time he is also demanding the "right of return" for all Palestinians to return to the state of Israel. So Israel must allow all Palestinians to return, but the Palestinians will not allow any Jews in their country--not those living there now nor the thousands who were also dispossessed from their homes in the past.
When the UN partitioned Palestine in 1947, they voted to create two states--Israel and Palestine. They also said that Arabs and Jews who chose to live in the other state would have full rights as citizens. Israel agreed to the partition and ultimately gave citizenship to those Arabs living in towns like Nazareth, which was within the boundaries of the new state. The Palestinians refused to accept the existence of a Jewish state and went to war to oppose it...which is why a state of Palestine never came into existence. Now Abbas is saying he is willing to accept a state of Israel...as long as all Arabs who want to live there can. But he adamantly refuses to allow any Jews to live in a future Palestinian state.
And it's Abbas who wants the world to condemn Israel as the racist state!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The part of the story that will not appear in most accounts is the fact that both women are followers of Jesus. Kristine worked for CMJ (Church's Ministry Among Jewish People), and Kay is the main educator for Shoresh Study Tours, a ministry of Christ Church Jerusalem.
Believers in Christ do not mourn as those who have no hope, but they still struggle to say goodbye to a love one--even when they know that person is now in heaven. Kristine's family will spend this holiday season arranging for the funeral of a loved one who was taken away so suddenly. These are times when the words of Psalm 116:15 ring so true. "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."
The CMJ website has posted a statement on the attack, and their final paragraph is worth repeating here. It is both a fitting testimony for Kristen...and a reminder for us that success in life is measured not by the number of years we live, but by our level of faithfulness during those years. "In life Kristine was a faithful follower of Jesus and gave herself fully to the work of her Lord. In the midst of grief and great sorrow, we know Kristine’s life and work were not in vain and we take comfort in the promise of eternal life through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah."
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
For the shopaholics of the world, a visit to Istanbul is not complete without a stop at the Grand Bazaar. Its 5,000 shops stretch along 60 streets and feature an incredible variety of exotic goods. It's one of the largest covered shopping places in the world...and also one of the oldest! If Christmas hasn't satisfied your enthusiasm for shopping, then perhaps you are a good candidate for the Grand Bazaar.
Mark Twain visited it on his extended trip to the Holy Land, and the place is much the same today as it was when he penned this description:
We went to the Great Bazar in Stamboul, of course, and I shall not describe it further than to say it is a monstrous hive of little shops—thousands, I should say—all under one roof, and cut up into innumerable little blocks by narrow streets which are arched overhead. One street is devoted to a particular kind of merchandise, another to another, and so on. When you wish to buy a pair of shoes you have the swing of the whole street— you do not have to walk yourself down hunting stores in different localities. It is the same with silks, antiquities, shawls, etc. The place is crowded with people all the time, and as the gay-colored Eastern fabrics are lavishly displayed before every shop, the Great Bazar of Stamboul is one of the sights that are worth seeing.So happy anniversary, Grand Bazaar! It was here where I was able to buy my father, my son, and my brother-in-law genuine "Rolodex" watches. (Guaranteed to run for at least 24 hours!) They were worth the price in the fun we had buying them!
Monday, December 20, 2010
Two recent items highlight the role Ahmadinejad's beliefs plays in his understanding of current events. First, a December 7 report from Al Arabiya quotes Ahmadinejad stating that America is doing everything possible to prevent the coming of the Mahdi. "We have documented proof that they [the U.S.] believe that a descendant of the prophet of Islam will raise in these parts and he will dry the roots of all injustice in the world....They have devised all these plans to prevent the coming of the Hidden Imam because they know that the Iranian nation is the one that will prepare the grounds for his coming and will be the supporters of his rule."
Second, Debkafile reported today on a similar reference in a speech Amhadinejad delivered Sunday when he announced crippling new economic measures, including massive increases in the price of bread, cooking oil, and gasoline. "In addressing the nation Sunday, Ahmadinejad declared that...Iran's oil and gas resources belong to the Invisible Imam (Messiah), whose coming is imminent, and must not be squandered."
The key question now is: So what? Are his words nothing more than those of a skilled politician appealing to the religious beliefs of the masses to advance his political agenda? Or do his constant references to the Mahdi give us insight into the beliefs that drive Ahmadinejad himself? I believe the latter is true. (See my earlier post from September 23--"Ahmadinejad's UN Speech" in which I followed this theme through his past six speeches at the UN.) Ahmadinejad's obsession with the coming of the Mahdi--and the role he and Iran might play in that end-time event, has remained remarkably consistent over the years, though most secular media seem to be tone deaf to what he is saying. Here's how I ended that previous post.
The key unknown variable is Ahmadinejad’s personal beliefs on this issue. From his speeches it is clear he believes in the return of the Mahdi. It is also clear that he expects it to be “realized in the near future.” More troubling is his call to the nations to “play a part in the fulfillment” of this event. While that could be nothing more than a call to embrace Islam—and in that way hasten the approach of the end—he keeps making the statement in the context of his hope for the soon coming of the Mahdi. Is it possible he sees himself as being placed by God in his current position for this very reason?
Most secular reporters downplay this possibility. They can’t imagine someone longing to start a worldwide conflagration—possibly one involving nuclear weapons. But they don’t understand the internal logic of such a decision. An Islamic suicide bomber can willingly take his or her own life because of the firm belief that such an action results in immediate entry to Paradise. If Ahmadinejad believes such a conflagration is part of God’s end-time program—and if he believes God has raised him up “for such a time as this”—he could very well be willing to bring about his own destruction if that is what it takes for the Mahdi to return. Perhaps this is what he had in mind in his 2006 address when he asked Allah to “Include us among his followers and martyrs.”
If the West underestimates Ahmadinejad’s devotion—or his determination—it could be to our harm.
If anything, Ahmadinejad's most recent statements reinforce what I suspected before. He does see himself having been raised up by God to play a pivotal role in end-time events. And it's just possible he might be right. But if he is, he will definitely be surprised by how everything will end!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
At best, the ads demonstrate the group's naive understanding of the reality behind events in the Middle East. At worst, the ads are intended to incite hatred against Israel for daring to defend itself against terrorism. Israel is battling Islamic fundamentalist groups bent on their destruction. These groups have sent suicide bombers against civilian targets, have shot rockets and mortars at civilian centers, and (this weekend) brutally attacked two female hikers. Israel has a right to defend it citizens against such attacks.
I hope Christians in Seattle will raise their voices to protest these messages...and to support Israel's right to exist as a nation, and to defend itself against terrorism.
This very device is under development by Ehud Givon, CEO of WeCU Technologies in Caesarea, Israel. According to the company's website, the device will offer several advantages to the current systems of airport security.
- No bottlenecks. The system can be operated without interfering with existing work processes and without interrupting the flow.
- Covertness. The system does not require the subject’s cooperation. Subjects are not aware of being screened.
- Privacy protection. The system is non-invasive and works without human interrogation.
- No discrimination, There is no violation of human rights. The system is absolutely objective and does not profile or discriminate against subjects in any way.
- Independent and reliable. The system identifies individuals without requiring any sort of a-priori information or alarming signals, while being highly accurate.
- Resistant to countermeasures. Even trained persons will not be able to cheat the system.
This system fundamentally differs from the approach currently employed in the U.S. The goal of our screening process is to find potential weapons or explosives. This requires all passengers to undergo the same level of scrutiny. The Israeli approach focuses on identifying terrorists, not their weapons. If this new system, and approach, could be implemented throughout the U.S., the vast majority of passengers could go through security after answering a few simple questions while only a small minority would be subject to additional screening.
Just think, a system that could eliminate the need to take off one's shoes, place one's computer in a separate bin, or go through an invasive body scan.
Where do we sign up!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
What comes to mind when you hear the word archaeology? For some, the word conjures up romance and excitement—Indiana Jones galloping after the ark of the covenant. Others stifle yawns as they mentally wander through dusty museums filled with artifacts. Still others picture sun-bronzed archaeologists on a “dig”…gently brushing away dirt to expose treasures from the past.
Archaeology is a study of a civilization’s material culture that seeks to explain how people lived. Sometimes the work is exciting; most of the time it is tedious. But much of the archaeology done in the Middle East has helped us understand more clearly God’s Word. Specifically, archaeology helps us in three ways.
Archaeology helps interpret God’s Word
Some archaeological finds have served as keys, unlocking the message of God’s Word. Archaeologists discovered an ancient city in northern Syria named Ugarit. During the excavations they uncovered clay tablets containing stories about the god Baal and a stone monument to Baal. The tablets and the monument pictured Baal as the god of lightning and rain. He was the storm god responsible for bringing fertility to the land.
These archaeological discoveries help us understand the ministry of the prophet Elijah. King Ahab of Israel “set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria” (1 Kings 16:32). God’s response was to announce through Elijah, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives...there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). God challenged Baal in the very area that was supposedly Baal’s strength—the ability to bring rain.
Several drought-filled years later Elijah summoned Baal’s prophets to a contest at Mount Carmel. Each group would prepare a sacrifice. “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God” (1 Kings 18:24). This seemed fair...since Baal was supposedly the god of lightning.
The archaeological finds at Ugarit help us understand why rain and fire are so important in God’s contest with Baal. God’s withholding of rain—and His sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice—are clear proofs that He, not Baal, deserved Israel’s worship as God.
Archaeology helps illuminate God’s Word
I vividly remember the first time I ever looked closely at a high definition television screen. I was walking through an electronics store, and I wanted to see if all the hype concerning these new televisions was really true. I realized the difference when a car commercial came on…and I could actually read the fine print at the end explaining the details of the “special offer”! The higher screen density brought out details that were lost on our regular television at home. Archaeology can have the same effect on the Bible, highlighting details that would otherwise not be so obvious.
In the Book of Ephesians, Paul wrote to Gentiles who were once “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Paul announced that Christ’s death “destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14) that had excluded Gentiles from God’s place of blessing.
Paul used the temple standing in Jerusalem to illustrate his point. Gentiles were permitted into the outer court, but they were prohibited from entering any further into the temple by a low wall that marked the limit of their access to God. In 1935 a portion of a stone from this wall was discovered. An inscription on the stone warned Gentiles of the severe consequences of trying to go beyond this barrier. “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure around the temple area. Anyone caught doing so will bear the responsibility for his own ensuing death.”
This archaeological discovery adds vividness and depth to Paul’s words. The barrier in the temple was a visible reminder that Gentiles had been excluded from the blessings God had given to His people, Israel. But Christ’s death on the cross shattered the barrier and gave all believers “access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph. 2:18).
Archaeology helps validate God’s Word
Sometimes archaeology has helped defend the accuracy and reliability of God’s Word. Many scholars have criticized the unity of the Book of Isaiah. Instead of accepting Isaiah as the author, they assign different parts of the book to multiple authors over several centuries. They assume Isaiah 1–39 and Isaiah 40–66 were written at different times and were joined together at a still later date.
In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd found several ancient manuscripts on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. These manuscripts became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The final collection contained portions of nearly every book of the Old Testament. The scrolls were 1,000 years older than any previously known copies of the Old Testament.
Scholars were excited because they hoped these scrolls would shed light on their theories as to how the “pieces” of the Old Testament had come together. A complete copy of the Book of Isaiah was discovered in almost perfect condition. Would this archaeological find prove, or disprove, the unity of the Book of Isaiah?
In this manuscript, the text of Isaiah 39 ends one line from the bottom of a column. Isaiah 40 begins on the very next line—with absolutely no evidence of any division! This archaeological discovery supports the unity of the Book of Isaiah.
And in conclusion . . .
The Bible does not depend on archaeology for its authority. It is authoritative because God is the author. But archaeology can help interpret, illuminate, and validate God’s Word. It’s encouraging to know archaeological discoveries support biblical facts.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
The International Continental Scientific Drilling Program is underway at the Dead Sea. Forty scientists from six countries are working around the clock to drill a borehole and extract a continuous core sample from beneath the Dead Sea. The team has already drilled down 1,500 feet.
If you are interested in reading more about the project, you can read the daily posts on their website . Their posts on the recent storm that hit Israel are very interesting. For example, we all know the Dead Sea is quite dense (all the extra minerals in the water), but did you know that it makes the water 30% heavier. (And that means any waves kicked up by the wind carry an extra punch!)
Bookmark the site and keep tabs on their progress!
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
At a rally celebrating the 23rd anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh made the following statement. "We will never recognize Israel."
Some will likely view this as hyperbole, reflecting the frustration of the Palestinians in Gaza and their "aspirations" for a Palestinian homeland. I suspect many in the media will focus instead on Haniyeh's desire to end Israeli "occupation" of the Palestinian homeland. "We say today that there will be no occupation of the land of Palestine and then we can say there is no future for the occupation on our land."
But most will miss the exact nature of the "homeland" envisioned by Haniyeh. Exactly which part of "Palestine" does he believe Israel is occupying? Sadly, he's not referring to the West Bank or other Palestinian areas currently under dispute. Instead, he is referring to the entire country of Israel itself!
Most in the West don't understand that Haniyeh and Hamas are absolutely serious when they demand the elimination of the entire state of Israel. In part, this is because the secular West doesn't understand the deeply-held religious principles guiding Hamas. And in part it's because those in the West don't know geography. In his speech Haniyeh stated very clearly the extent of the land he considers occupied...and that needs to be part of the future Palestinian state. "I mean from the sea to the river and from Rafah up to Naqoora."
I've included a map to help the geographically impaired understand his statement. The "sea" is the Mediterranean, and the "river" is the Jordan. "Rafah" is on the southern border between Gaza and Egypt, and Naqoora (or Naqoura) is in Lebanon, just across the northern border of Israel. The Palestinian State he envisions would replace the state of Israel. From west to east, and south to north, Haniyeh is demanding all for the Palestinians...and leaving nothing for the Israelis.
There is no room for compromise in that position!
Stratfor is a company based in Austin, Texas, that specializes in analyzing key political, economic, and military developments around the world. They just released a Geopolitical Weekly article focusing on the real significance of the WikiLeaks project revelations on world events.
The article is worth reading in its entirety for at least two reasons. First, George Friedman does an excellent job analyzing the significance of the material that has been leaked as well as the potential impact the leak will have on future diplomacy. I believe his analysis helps strip away the media hype to reveal the real significance of the cables.
Second, Friedman also demonstrates why confidentiality is necessary for all organizations, including government, to function. One quotation illustrates the clarity of his argument. "This is the contradiction at the heart of the WikiLeaks project. Given what I have read Assange saying, he seems to me to be an opponent of war and a supporter of peace. Yet what he did in leaking these documents, if the leaking did anything at all, is make diplomacy more difficult. It is not that it will lead to war by any means; it is simply that one cannot advocate negotiations and then demand that negotiators be denied confidentiality in which to conduct their negotiations. No business could do that, nor could any other institution. Note how vigorously WikiLeaks hides the inner workings of its own organization, from how it is funded to the people it employs."
Sunday, December 12, 2010
To listen to the media, one would assume the key obstacle is Jewish settlements. But that is a very simplistic answer. I believe there are at least five key issues at the core of the debate. To achieve peace, both sides would need to reach agreement on all five.
1. Israel's demand to exist as a Jewish state
In 1947 the UN voted to partition Palestine into two states--one Jewish and one Arab. Israel accepted the vote, but the Palestinians--and all the surrounding Arab countries--rejected it. Egypt and Jordan are the only two countries in the region that later accepted the existence of Israel. Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state surrounded by Arabs? Mahmoud Abbas, current President of the Palestinian Authority says no...and this is a major stumbling block to peace. (If I were Israel I would be reluctant to make any agreement with someone who can't publicly acknowledge my right to exist.)
The key to this issue is whether or not land once conquered for Allah can ever be controlled by non-Muslims. Both Hamas and Hezbollah have declared that this cannot be. Anwar Saddat, the President of Egypt who made peace with Israel, paid for his courageous decision with his life. To me, this is the most difficult of all the issues, because it is grounded in Islam's belief that the land belongs to Allah.
2. The Palestinian demand for a "right of return" for all Palestinians
In 1948 and again in 1967 the UN passed resolutions calling on the Arab countries to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and calling on Israel to allow Arab refugees to return to their homes. Because the Arab nations refused to accept Israel's right to exist, the refugee problem has been allowed to fester for over 60 years. The Middle East conflict produced hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides. Almost the same number of Jews were forced from their homes in Arab countries as there were Arab refugees who fled their homes in areas that were later controlled by Israel. The main difference between the two groups is how they treated their refugees. The Jewish refugees became Israeli citizens and started over in their new homeland. But the surrounding Arab countries refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Instead they were forced to live in refugee camps as political pawns.
The Palestinian Authority claims that the original 600,000-800,000 refugees have now grown into a refugee population of over 7 million...and they demand that all 7 million be allowed to return to Israel. Were that to happen, the Jewish state would disappear overnight, overwhelmed by this sea of refugees. Israel will not allow this to happen.
3. Israel's demand for security and trust
Israel has been forced to fight for its very existence for over 60 years. One demand in any peace agreement is that Israel must obtain real peace. Yasser Arafat renounced violence, but history shows that it was an empty promise. Israel gave back Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas took over and used Gaza as a launchpad for rockets and mortars. As a result, Israel is reluctant to make any additional sacrifices unless the Palestinian Authority can demonstrate that they can form a stable government that will stop terrorism. Some of the Palestinian Authority's recent threats to end cooperation with Israel and to renounce their earlier agreements makes Israel less likely to trust them in the future.
4. The debate over final borders
The 1948 Armistice Agreement established temporary borders between Israel and the Arab countries that had attacked her. Permanent borders were to be negotiated. Israel is demanding that a peace treaty provide permanent defensible borders, which will include Israel keeping some of the land she captured in 1967. The Palestinians are demanding that Israel return all land captured in the Six-Day War. Israel will not agree to such a demand. And the hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers in portions of the West Bank are "facts" that Israel has created to bolster her position.
In one sense Jerusalem is a subset of the previous point. In the 1948 War of Independence Israel lost access to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall. The Jewish presence in the Old City had extended back for hundreds, if not thousands, of years; but the Jewish inhabitants were forced out. When Israel recaptured the Old City in 1967, she annexed Jerusalem as her eternal capital. Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the nation, extending back to the time of King David. At the same time Jerusalem contains the Al Aksa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Jewish temple sat on the mount where the Dome of the Rock now rests. Jerusalem is more than just real estate. It represents the spiritual reality of two competing religions, both claiming to descend from the same father.
To me, these are the five issues forming the chasm that separates Israel and the Palestinians. As the U.S. tries to restart the peace process yet again, look beyond the hype and rhetoric...and listen carefully for substantive discussion of these five issues.
I'm not optimistic.
A powerful storm lashed Israel over the weekend. While the rain was much needed, the strong winds accompanying the rain have been devastating. Along the coast, the wind-driven waves caused severe damage...and at least one death.
A report in today's Jerusalem Post describes the storm's impact on the excavations at Caesarea. "A modern-day seawall outside the Caesarea archaeological site collapsed in the surging storms early Sunday, leaving the walls of the ancient port exposed to the crashing waves. Authorities from the parks authority said Sunday if a solution is not found, the waves could cause irreparable damage to one of Israel's most-cherished archaeological sites."
I took the picture of Caesarea above. It shows how vulnerable the site would be to such a storm. In the foreground are the ruins of the palace of Herod the Great which extend out into the Mediterranean. The open space just beyond the palace contain the excavations of the city's original hippodrome. A low sea wall was the only barrier protecting those ruins. And the buildings in the distance mark the location of the city's ancient harbor.
This weekend's storm washed away part of the protective outer wall, exposing the more fragile ruins to the pounding waves. One can only hope that the ruins haven't been destroyed, and that a new seawall can be built before another storm lashes the coast.
As I read about the storm that hit Israel, I also thought about how the Bible used the power of storms to illustrate the majesty of God. My favorite example comes from the Book of Isaiah. "For I am the LORD your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar—the LORD Almighty is his name" (Isa. 51:15). A storm is powerful, but it's no match for the God who controls the wind and the waves!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
So is Israel really to blame?
Let's look at the facts.
On November 25, 2009, Israel imposed a 10-month moratorium on all West Bank settlement construction to help move the peace talks forward. The moratorium did not include Jerusalem. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the time, "Regarding Jerusalem, our sovereign capital, our position is well known. We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital."
After delaying for nine months, the Palestinian Authority finally agreed to begin direct negotiations. But 30 days later Israel's moratorium expired, and settlement construction resumed. The Palestinians walked away from the negotiations, and the U.S. began feverishly looking for ways to bring them back to the table.
The U.S. offered incentives to both Israel and the Palestinians if they would return to the talks. In exchange for a 90-day extension to the settlement moratorium Israel would receive U.S. assurances that they would not be pressured for any additional extensions and would be protected against any adverse actions against them by the U.N. Initial reports also hinted the U.S. would give Israel additional advanced fighter jets, but those reports turned out to be somewhat inaccurate. (Israel would need to pay for the airplanes.)
Netanyahu indicated his willingness to impose the additional 90-day moratorium if Obama's guarantees were put in writing. But the Palestinians chose to changed their conditions for resuming talks. A resumption of the previous moratorium was no longer sufficient. Now the moratorium on building needed to be extended to include Jerusalem. Israel refused, the "peace talks" totally collapsed...and nearly everyone is blaming Israel.
Was Israel to blame for wasting the first nine months of the initial 10-month moratorium? No, it was the Palestinians who didn't come to the negotiating table. Did Israel change the understanding regarding the extent of a second moratorium once a deal was almost complete? No, it was the Palestinians who demanded additional restrictions.
It seems to me the Palestinians are the ones who are doing everything possible to scuttle the negotiations. Perhaps we need to ask if they were ever really serious about reaching a deal in the first place.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Israel will respond to the increased attacks, and it's possibility the violence could ratchet up dramatically. Israel's Chief of General Staff has already warned that the situation is "very fragile and may deteriorate rapidly."
Israel can't allow terrorists from Gaza to continue launching attacks against its citizens. At the same time, an attack against Gaza could result in retaliation from Hezbollah in Lebanon. The situation is tense.
And that makes it a critical time for us to pray.
- Pray for wisdom on the part of Israel's leadership to know how best to respond.
- Pray for the physical protection of those who live under the threat of these terrorist attacks.
- Pray for the followers of Christ in Israel, Gaza, and Lebanon. Help them to be bold in their witness for Him.
Turkey unsuccessfully sought to replace al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated administration with a Sunni-backed one. But why was Turkey so interested in ousting an administration they had earlier supported? I believe there are two reasons, one religious and one political. Religiously, Turkey's population is 80% Sunni Muslim. So it makes sense for the Turkish government to push for a Sunni-influenced government rather than one dominated by Shiite parties.
But Turkey's support for the Sunni-backed candidates involved more than religious preference. The Shiite-dominated government of al-Maliki is a coalition government composed of both Shiite and Kurdish parties. Turkey continues to battle the Kurds within their own country who are pressing for an independent country of Kurdistan. In supporting the Sunni candidates, Turkey was hoping to weaken the power of the Kurdish party within Iraq. And northern Iraq has been a base of operation--and a safe haven--for Kurdish rebels.
WikiLeaks has certainly harmed the prestige of the United States around the world. But the leaks are also proving to be an embarrassment to other countries, like Turkey, as revelations surface regarding their attempts to shape world events to their own national advantage.
Monday, December 6, 2010
However, I came across an analysis of WikiLeaks documents related to U.S. Middle East policy that I believe is worth reading. The article highlights the flawed assumptions behind the current U.S. policy of "engagement" in the Middle East--a policy that assumes it's in our long-term interest to engage former enemies like Iran and Syria and to pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian problem, which is supposedly the root cause for most turmoil in the Middle East.
The article, "Wikileaks reveal flaw in US Middle East policy," shows the fallacy behind our current policy. As the documents demonstrate, many of the countries in the Middle East believe the root problem is not the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, it's Iran and her commitment to export Islamic fundamentalism. I'll cite one example from the article to illustrate this point. The article quotes cable detailing a meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and White House adviser John Brennan. The cable quotes King Abdullah's response to a suggestion that a solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would help diffuse problems in the Middle East. “A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble.”
King Abdullah sees Iran, not Israel, as the real source of trouble in the Middle East. The article also quotes other cables from leaders like Egyptian President Mubarak in which these leaders try to help the U.S. understand Middle East "facts of life." They believe the real "neighborhood bully" is Iran, not Israel. And they wish the local cop on the beat (the United States) would do something about the bully before it's too late.
Friday, December 3, 2010
And if you are a member of a denomination or group promoting divestiture from Israel, consider "divesting" yourself from that group. Don't support groups that, in the name of Christ, are actively seeking to harm the state of Israel.
Drive around Jerusalem—or many other parts of Israel—and you will soon come face-to-face with one of the most visible symbols of the current Middle East crisis. In most areas the “wall” is really just a high-tech fence, while in others it is a massive concrete barrier that cuts across the countryside like a giant scar. (This picture, taken near Bethlehem, visualizes the imposing nature of the barrier in some places.)
But is this fence/wall a symbol of racial apartheid and exclusion . . . or is it a symbol of protection against an implacable foe? The fact that a fence/wall is being built is undisputed; but the purpose for the structure is hotly debated. The Palestinians call it the “racial segregation wall” or the “apartheid wall,” while most Israelis call it the “security fence” or “separation fence.”
So why is the fence/wall being built?
Some claim the barrier is being built as a way for Israeli settlers to gobble up additional portions of land that rightfully belong to the Palestinians. But this view clashes with the historical facts.
The concept of a barrier was first suggested by Yitzak Rabin, the Israeli leader who was assassinated for trying to make peace with Yasser Arafat. Rabin proposed the idea of a separation barrier in 1992 after an Israeli teenager was killed in Jerusalem. Two years later, after a series of violent incidents in Gaza and the West Bank, Rabin stated more clearly his intentions for a barrier. “This path must lead to a separation, though not according to the borders prior to 1967. We want to reach a separation between us and them. We do not want a majority of the Jewish residents of the state of Israel, 98% of whom live within the borders of sovereign Israel, including a united Jerusalem, to be subject to terrorism.“ The purpose for the barrier—as envisioned by Rabin—was for protection, not apartheid.
Since the beginning of construction in 2003, there have been several changes to the exact route of the security barrier. As originally conceived, the barrier roughly paralleled the “Green Line”—the 1949 armistice line that divided Israel from the West Bank of the Kingdom of Jordan. However the barrier did diverge in several places to incorporate key Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These variations originally included about 7% of the land that was on the Arab side of the Green Line.
In 2004 the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that a portion of the route violated the rights of Palestinians and mandated that those portions be rerouted. In 2006 a new route was approved that left fewer Palestinians, and less West Bank land, on the Israeli side of the barrier.
So what do we need to know?
First, we need to realize that the 1949 armistice line (the Green Line) was not intended to be the final boundary for Israel. It was to serve as an interim border until a final peace treaty was reached. Unfortunately, no such treaty was ever signed.
Second, we need to realize that Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the 1967 Six-Day War, which began when three countries (Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) threatened to “push the Jews into the sea.” After the war Israel offered to exchange the land it had captured in exchange for peace with her Arab neighbors. That offer was rejected.
Third, we need to acknowledge that the fence/wall has imposed hardships on some Palestinians. Some private land was appropriated for the project. And the barrier has restricted access from the West Bank into Israel . . . and even between some villages in the West Bank.
Fourth, we also need to acknowledge that the barrier has resulted in a tremendous drop in terrorist attacks within Israel. Since the beginning of construction, terrorist incidents in Israel have almost been completely eliminated. This is Israel’s stated purpose for the barrier, and it seems to be working.
What’s the bottom line?
Simply put, the barrier is saving Israeli lives . . . but at the cost of making life more difficult for those living on the other side. So what can be done? Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who later emigrated to Israel and entered politics, expressed the dilemma for Israelis and Palestinians.
Our government understood that there were three options to maintain an acceptable level of security for our citizens. The first was to wage a total war against Palestinian terror using weapons that would claim many innocent Palestinian lives. The second was to keep our reserves constantly mobilized to defend the country. The third option was to build the security fence. Had the Palestinian Authority become a partner in fighting terror, as it was obliged to do under all the agreements that it signed, none of these options would have become necessary.
I believe Christians need to respond to the current situation in two specific ways. First, we need to become better informed about the history and purpose for this barrier. To that end I recommend you click on the following links. For a Jewish perspective, read Israel's Security Fence. For a relatively neutral perspective, read Israel's West Bank Barrier. And to view the issue from a Palestinian perspective, read Denying Palestinians Free Movement. Read each article and decide for yourself which one best presents all the relevant facts.
Second, I believe we need to pray for the people who live on both sides of the barrier. Ask God to continue thwarting terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. And ask Him to give those designing and building the barrier a full measure of wisdom and compassion to construct it in a way that gives Palestinians the greatest possible freedom and ease of access within the West Bank.
Finally, remember this. The barrier is not being built to fence in the Palestinian people; it’s being constructed to keep out terrorists. And it is working—but at a great cost to many Palestinians with no connection to terrorism. Like Natan Sharansky, I blame the Palestinian Authority. Israel was forced to build the barrier because the Palestinian Authority failed to fulfill its promises to fight terrorism. I don’t blame Israel. One key role for government is to protect its citizens—and that’s why Israel finally decided to build the barrier.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The story brought to mind Jesus' description of events leading up to His Second Coming. "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many....At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'There he is!' do not believe it" (Matt. 24:4-5, 23).
This is just one more link in a chain of false messiahs...with more to come!