Har Homa, an Israeli "settlement" near Bethlehem, with the mountains of ancient Moab in the background

Har Homa, an Israeli “settlement” near Bethlehem, with the mountains of ancient Moab in the background

An interesting observation, joined to an interesting response, came in a lecture today. An Alabama priest who had drunk deeply of the prevailing political ethos of our institute said, “It’s easy to see who the victims are around here–they’re the Palestinians.” The surprising rejoinder from our lecturer: “Well, no, it’s not so easy. In fact, pretty much everybody around here is a victim.”

Murray Watson, a Canadian PhD who directs French Biblical Programs for the Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) Center along the Via Dolorosa, just north of the Temple Mount, proceeded to recall his undergraduate study years in Jerusalem. It was then that he became aware of the dangerous neighborhood that Israel inhabits, a region where hostile Arab states lie on every side. “Israelis are naturally guarded and fearful,” he said.

Referencing the Second Intifada (an Arab word meaning “to shake off”) of 2000-04, the young professor remembered the spate of bombings carried off by Palestinians at pizza parlors, Jewish weddings, and especially on crowded city buses. “In a real sense, Israelis are victims, too.”

If you’re keeping up with the news, you know that tensions currently are rising in the area of the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem (actually, the areas immediately north, east, and south of the Temple Mount). Certain Israeli Jews are claiming the right to go atop the Mount (called the Haram al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims) and pray.

Given the history of two Jewish temples at the site, that might seem reasonable. But Arabs are suspicious it might presage an attempt to build a “Third Temple”–and perhaps to exclude Muslims from what is their third-holiest site, the Al Aksa Mosque.

The government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is in a hard position, since Jews–while legally entitled to enter the Mount–are not permitted to conduct prayers there. The setting is too volatile. So Jewish prayer is limited to the Western Wall, at the foundation of the mountain.

Add to this the complication of continued Israeli apartment construction in Jewish (and occasionally Arab) neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, plus violent responses from Palestinians in the form of rock-throwing on the Mount and hit-and-run terrorism at tram stations and elsewhere.

One might say it’s simple enough–Israel just needs to cease and desist. Yet even if that placated the Palestinians, it would do nothing to eliminate the threat of Hamas operatives down in Gaza, or Hezbollah up in Lebanon, or the vast network of anti-Israel Islamic terrorism that lies east of Jordan.

Politically and strategically, Israel builds apartments and settlements in Palestinian areas in order to strengthen its position in the region, and to form a buffer against a possible (and possibly hostile) future Palestinian state. Contrary to popular notions in the West, these projects are not constructed on confiscated land. Uninhabited land is either purchased or appropriated, but in any case it is paid-for by the Israeli government and developers.

That innocent Palestinians suffer because of Israel’s complex circumstances is unquestionable. But that’s just the point that Dr. Watson was making: “Everybody’s a victim.” So Christians, at our best, continue to pray for the sufferers on every side.

From Jerusalem, Shabbat Shalom!