Theology and Colonialism in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
In order to understand the particular historical narrative concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict that is adopted by Christian Zionists, we must understand the theological context that underpins the basic presuppositions of the Christian Zionist worldview regarding the Zionist State of Israel. The historical narrative adopted by Christian Zionists regarding this conflict is virtually identical to the Zionist colonialist mythology of the State of Israel, with very few exceptions. The reasons for this marriage between the sectarian Christian theology of Christian Zionism and secular Zionist mythology is that this union is an absolute necessity for Christian Zionists in order for them to justify the unconditional support they give the State of Israel. Christian Zionists must contend that their support for the Zionist state in no way contradicts the obvious mandate, in both Old and New Testaments of scripture, for God’s people to care for the oppressed and marginalised. For Christian Zionists to adopt the narrative of the conflict as espoused by scholars like Pappe, Finkelstein and the Palestinian people as a whole, would force them to admit that their theological stance regarding the Zionist State of Israel has lead them to a position of supporting outright oppression and injustice. Adopting such a position would lead to a faith crisis of cosmic proportions and so all measures are taken to avoid it.
Christian Zionists maintain that non-Jews have no entitlement to the land of Palestine regardless of how long they may have occupied the land and in whatever number. An Arab majority presence in Palestine is completely irrelevant. Jewish people own the land of Palestine and have an entitlement to it by virtue of their Jewishness alone. Hence the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs from their land of birth is not a crime, it is completely just. Palestinian Arabs occupy the land “illegally” in the minds of Christian Zionists regardless of how long they have been there or how great a majority they have been at any one time in the past, present or may be even in the future.
When the brutal reality of Palestinian dispossession confronts Christian Zionists, they often resort to arguments that amount to “blaming the victim”. The brutality of Arab dispossession is entirely the fault of the Arabs themselves since they were unwilling to welcome the Zionists or leave the land of their birth if they could not tolerate the new arrivals. Resistance to the Zionists is clear evidence of both their unwillingness to subject themselves to the will of God as well as their in born hatred of Jews. Since no injustice has been committed against the Palestinians, that is not ultimately their fault, any real compassion or desire to advocate for their position is unwarranted and against the will of God. All that is afforded them is a weak sentiment of sympathy that is ultimately extinguished by the self assertion of Christian Zionists that all would have been different if they had only agreed to self-dispossession. A corollary to this position is that the Arab leadership are really the ones to blame for the circumstances of Palestinians, not the Israelis. Whatever spin is adopted by the Christian Zionists, the final judgment must, and of necessity be, one that portrays the Israelis as being in the end without basic fault. When Christian Zionists get “squeamish” about the obvious oppression and unfairness of a minority imposing their wishes on the majority, they once again resort to the Zionist colonialist mythology to come to the rescue.
This Zionist mythology has some basic elements that are vital to Christian Zionism.
1. The land of Palestine was basically vacant before the Zionist migrations.
2. The continuous presence of Jews in Palestine for thousands of years, underscores the Jewish people’s entitlement to the land over and above the wishes of other inhabitants of Palestine. Arab migration into Palestine is “invalid” when “compared” to Jewish migration. Migration to Palestine by Arabs confers no concept of rights to self determination regardless of when it occurred.
3. Arabs had no real interest in Palestine until the Zionists made it into a land of “milk and honey”. Arabs had done “nothing with the land”.
4. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was “miraculous” and gave legitimisation before the world community to the entitlement of Zionists to Palestine.
5. The 1948 War of Independence was “miraculous” as was the ‘voluntary flight” of thousands of Arabs from the newly created Israeli state in that same year. Hence there was no “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine. The Arabs left of their own free will and no foul was done to them by the Israelis as a whole.
6. All Israeli wars with Arab nations are therefore the result of pure anti-Semitism and have no basis in alleged injustices against Palestinians.
7. Arab nations have never wanted peace; they have deliberately sabotaged all attempts by the Israelis and their allies to create a lasting peace with the Palestinians.
8. The Six Day War of June 1967 was, once again, “miraculous” and evidence of the hand of Providence, legitimising the state of Israel’s existence.
9. Palestinian terrorism is entirely unprovoked and hence provides further evidence of their basic anti-Semitic tendencies.
10. The Israeli state is under constant threat of annihilation.
This mythology (every single point has been thoroughly and rigorously refuted by Jewish and Arab scholars) perfectly deflects any criticism thrown at Christian Zionists for their unconditional support of Israel. Hence there are no embarrassing facts of history that would lend credence to the idea that Christian Zionist theology leads to an unbiblical ethical stance towards Palestinian Arabs. Israel is “squeaky” clean and so is Christian Zionist theology. Any errors are only minor and of no ultimate consequence. Christian Zionists can lie in their beds with the assurance that they are righteous and justified in their determination to see Arabs dispossessed in Palestine.
Colonialist myths are designed to justify the “entitlement” of the colonial power in taking land that is basically not theirs. The basis for this entitlement can be a conflation of religious and non-religious ideas. Crimes against humanity, committed by the colonialists, are covered up and written out of the history books. In my own case I can testify how, when it came to Australian history, I was not taught of the massacres and dispossession of Australia’s previous inhabitants. Only the courage, hard work and sacrifice of the white settlers and pioneers was worthy of mention.
Jewish people growing up in Israel are likewise not told of the ethnic cleansing that was an integral part of the creation of the state of Israel. Christian Zionists have a vested interest in promoting the colonialist mythology of Zionism over and above the version of events as told by the Palestinian Arabs who have lived in the land for centuries. The Christian supporters of Israel are therefore not even remotely dispassionate and unbiased when “analysing” the historical evidence pertaining to the history of the Zionist state of Israel. Their view of this history is fundamentally coloured by their theological pre-suppositions. Until they can remove these pre-suppositions, their view of events will always be suspect.
It has been my experience that the findings of Israeli and Jewish scholars that take into account the Palestinians perspective are much more reliable. They often do this at great personal risk. They are the ones labeled “traitor” and “self hating Jew”. They suffer all the same persecutions suffered by anyone challenging the colonialist myths of their resident nations or people’s. They are the “whistle blowers” of history. They span political and religious denominations. Their concern is not to validate sectarian religious doctrines or to help the ruling class with their project to indoctrinate their citizens with nationalist propaganda. Their research stands on its own merits.