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Still wrestling

Israel has a fraught and mystifying past and present

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Modern Israel is only a few years older than I am, but its roots are as deep as humanity. From the Exodus theme, which I used to pound out on our old upright piano, to NPR bulletins about the intifada heard while driving the kids to youth meetings, Israel has played a parallel soundtrack to Sunday school lessons and daily Bible readings. From King David to David Ben-Gurion, from Philistia to the Gaza Strip, its story is always “news.” And always, somehow, personal.

I recall debating (ineptly) Palestinian rights with my cousin, who was passionate about “the occupation.” I remember the shock of hearing about bombs over Israel during the Gulf War. It was like a dart to the heart—O, Jerusalem! What hold does this scrap of land have on our imagination? Everybody seems to have an opinion, whether religious or secular, Zionist or anti-­Zionist, eschatological or temporal.

When Hamas terrorists boiled over the border to slaughter over 1,000 Israeli civilians in October, they set the world on fire. Though stomach-churning, such barbaric acts are not unheard of, even today. The bloodlust in Rwanda in the 1990s was equally horrific, and on a much larger scale. Warlords in Africa and drug cartels in South and Central America regularly splash their gore across the news, and after a day or two we hear no more about it. But every time Israel is attacked, or when it strikes at a target, the world trains a critical eye for weeks. As I write, the Israel Defense Forces hover on the edge of all-out war while hysterical denunciations rain down on them from all over the world.

I’ve talked with in-laws who say I don’t understand the situation and the hardship Palestinians are laboring under. I nod in agreement that the Israeli government isn’t perfect, but—but—didn’t they withdraw from Gaza and leave it to the Palestinian population to elect their own leadership? And didn’t that population ­immediately elect Hamas, which began stockpiling ammo and digging tunnels and bunkers? Aren’t there other ways to work through conflicts besides hurling rockets and taking potshots over the border? Are there not two sides to this tired story?

The last few weeks have unleashed some jaw-­dropping reactions from the campus, the Congress, and the media. An “Open Letter From Participants in the Palestine Festival of Literature” signed by 90 American writers, poets, and artists may be the worst example. These literati “call on the international community to commit to ending the catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and to finally pursuing a comprehensive and just political solution in Palestine.” But what provoked Israel’s current actions, which have the innocent civilians of Gaza trembling in their homes and fearing for their children? Here’s the letter’s entire description: “On Saturday [Oct. 7], after sixteen years of siege, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza. More than 1,300 Israelis were subsequently killed with over one hundred more taken hostage.”

This much is obvious: The Hamas militants didn’t suddenly “break out” from under Israeli aggression. When they arrived, they didn’t somehow bring about Israelis being “subsequently killed” (note the passive voice—useful for propaganda purposes). Rather, Hamas militants butchered and raped and pillaged and returned to cheering crowds in Gaza, parading the bodies of their victims as the Philistines must have paraded a stripped and blinded Samson in the same city.

I don’t understand such willful obtuseness. To me it says this is much more than a political struggle. It’s a spiritual one bound up with the conundrum of Israel itself: a secular nation built upon divine covenants. A people like no other, with a history as fraught and mystifying as their founder’s wrestling match with the Lord. Israel wrestles still, with modern-day Philistines. And with the Lord.

I have no settled opinions on the future of this tiny nation, only that it remains at the center of the world. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (Psalm 122:6), and especially pray that they be reconciled with their Messiah before He returns.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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