Each time a conflict arises in Israel (seemingly every year or so!), I hear the same questions and challenges. Below is a single, canonical list attempting to answer them. I intend to keep this list up-to-date in the years to come, referring back to it as needed.
# Why are they fighting again?
A. [Circa 2014] Because of Hamas, the Palestinian group governing half of Palestine.
# What’s so bad about Hamas?
A. Nothing, if you’re cool with forced conversion to Islam under threat of death, firing rockets at civilians, instituting fundamentalist Islamic law, using kids as human shields, a special Hamas-version of Mickey Mouse, and a culture that loves murder in the name of God.
# How did this war start?
A. [Circa 2014] Hamas increased rocket fire into Israeli towns, formed a unity government with Fatah, and kidnapped 3 Israeli teenagers and executed them. Israel is now bombing Gaza in an effort to stop the rockets.
# Isn’t Israel just as evil as Hamas? They killed that Palestinian civilian teenager!
A. No, the State of Israel arrested several Jewish teens who murdered a Palestinian teen in a revenge killing for the murder of 3 Jewish teens the week prior. The Israeli Prime Minister condemned the murder, calling it no different than Palestinian terror, and prosecuted them to the fullest extent of law. By contrast, when the Jewish teens were kidnapped and executed, Palestinian civilians celebrated by handing out candy on the streets, and Hamas publicly praised it.
# Isn’t that a one-sided view?
A. Yes, that is one side. The other side is, “Israel has no right to exist, therefore, we wage religious war.”
# Maybe Israel doesn’t have a right to exist. Didn’t Israel steal Palestinian land?
A. No, Jews have lived there before the modern term ‘Palestine’ came into existence. If we’re going by “who lived there first”, then it is Arabs who stole it from Jews.
# Palestinians may have stole it from Jews, but Jews first stole it from Philistines, the ancient Palestinians!
A. You’re mistaken, and need a history lesson. Philistines were a Canaanite people in the late Bronze Age, with no relation to Palestinians.
(Ironically, if the ancient Philistines were alive today, Palestinian Hamas would have them put to death for worshiping Baal, Astarte, and Dagon.)
Jews are the oldest surviving people group indigenous to Israel. Philistines don’t exist today.
# If they’re not related to the ancient Philistines, then why are they called “Palestinians”?
A. Because Rome once hated Jews almost as much as Hamas does. Rome renamed Israel to Syria Palestina in an effort to suppress Jewish ties to Israel.
Having sacked Jerusalem and the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, and just prior to the failed Jewish revolt against the Romans in 135 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian renamed Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina in honor of one of his Roman gods. Scholars believe it was around this time the Roman province of Judea was renamed to Syria Palestina, in honor of the Bronze Age enemy of ancient Israel.
# And that’s where the Palestinians come in? Right after the Roman conquest?
A. No. There has never been, in the history of humanity, an independent state called Palestine. Even when it was Syria Palestina, it was merely a province of the Roman Empire. Ditto for when it was Mandate Palestine under the British.
# But now the State of Palestine exists! #FreePalestine
A. After World War I, the British took over the land of Israel from the Ottoman Empire, and divided the land into Palestine – a national home for Jews – and Transjordan, a land for the Arabs living there.
# So modern “Palestine” was actually created as a home for Jews?
A. Yes, in fact, Jews that lived under the British Palestine mandate were known as Palestinian Jews. The preamble to the British mandate document is explicit about its intentions for a Jewish homeland called Palestine:
Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
# When was the modern state of Palestine created?
A. After the British created Palestine as a national home for Jews, the Arab League created a faux-government called All Palestine in 1949. It was a mostly symbolic government, and was dissolved and absorbed back into Egypt within a decade. While All Palestine claimed authority over all the land of Israel, no one recognized it except Arabs in a strip of land in Israel called Gaza.
# So Gaza was the home of the first Palestinian government?
A. Yes; sort of. All Palestine was an attempt by Egypt and the Arab League to create an Arab state in the land of Israel. It remained in Egyptian control until the failed Egyptian invasion of Israel in 1967. (An invasion that went so terrible, to this day Arabs refer to it as An Naksa, “the setback”.) After the failed invasion, Egypt renounced all territorial claims to Gaza, passing it back to Israel. And after a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Israel began building homes in Gaza.
# Gaza was conquered by Israel.
A. No, Egypt held Gaza and relinquished control to Israel after the failed Egyptian invasion of Israel in 1967.
# Israel occupied Gaza! Israel is the evil occupier!
A. Countries which own land tend to fill that land with its own citizens. Calling Israel “occupiers” is like calling Native Americans occupiers of the United States. Jews are the Native Americans of Israel: the oldest living inheritors of an ancient land.
# How you can blame the Palestinians for violence when Israel is an evil occupier, building Jewish settlements on Palestinian land?
A. “How can you blame the German Socialists when the Jews are occupying German land?!” Except your argument is worse, since Jews are the oldest surviving natives of the land of Israel.
# If Israel just demolished their settlements and ceased their occupation, we’d have peace.
A. No. To convince yourself, consider this was already attempted in 1994: Israel transferred Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. And within a decade, Israel demolished the home of every Jewish person who lived in Gaza. The outcome is what we are seeing today: a never-ending barrage of rockets from groups whose mission is to destroy the world’s only Jewish state. If the problem was settlements and occupation, Gaza should be an exemplary peaceful region. But it’s utterly violent and chaotic and despotic, because the problem is neither settlements nor occupation.
# What’s causing war in Israel?
A. Armed fundamentalist Islamic groups whose raison d’etre is destruction of the world’s only Jewish state. It is a spiritual battle manifesting as a religious war, where one side is trying to defend itself from rockets and suicide bombs, while the other works towards its goals of Islamic domination meanwhile drawing sympathy from the secular West.
Dennis Prager’s short and concise lesson will fill you in quickly enough.
# How did Gaza end up in Hamas’ hands?
A. The failed land-for-peace deals. Yasser Arafat’s Islamic political organization, the PLO (now called Fatah) launched suicide bombing attacks at Israel civilians, then sued for land. Israel gave away Gaza in 1994 to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for peace. Then, in 2007, the Palestinian civilians voted Hamas into power, who subsequently gunned down their rival Palestinians, and, ahem, threw them off of rooftops:
# Israel gave away Gaza in exchange for peace?
A. The trade was Israel gives Gaza goes to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel gets peace in return. The land trade happened and stands to this day. But the peace part hasn’t stood, because Fatah and Hamas do not want peace.
# Can’t both Arabs and Jews share the land and be at peace?
A. Israel is willing to make this happen: as proof, consider there are thousands of Arab Israelis, and several Arab Israeli parties hold seats in the Israeli government. But Hamas and Fatah, the 2 ruling Palestinian parties, exist to ensure Israel is destroyed and replaced with a fundamentalist Islamic state, so peace is about as likely as snowfall in a Jerusalem summer.
# If Hamas controls Gaza, what about the other part of Palestine?
A. The other part of Palestine, the West Bank, is controlled by Fatah. Fatah is the original group formed by Yasser Arafat; you might call them the “original” Palestinians. Their charter calls for the destruction of Israel, stating, “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine” from “the Zionist aggression”.
# Yeah! Those evil Zionists and their aggression! Shame on them! Umm, what is a Zionist, again?
A. A Zionist is someone who loves the land of Israel (Zion). Most of the early Zionists were secular Jews – Theodore Herzl (founder of Zionism), Eliezar Ben Yehuda (revived the Hebrew language and an early settler in Jewish Palestine), David Ben Gurion (first Prime Minister of Israel). These were non-religious people who loved the land of Israel so much, they devoted their lives to restoring it and bringing Jewish people back to it.
# Why bring Jewish people back to Israel?
A. Anti-Semitism – hatred of Jews – forced Jews to go back to their historic homeland. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, was a non-religious Jewish journalist in the late 1800s. On a journalist assignment in 1890s France, he witnessed French mobs shouting “Death to Jews” during the Dreyfus Affair. Upon seeing this, he realized Jews needed to return to their ancient homeland to escape anti-Semitism, devoting the rest of his life towards Jewish return to Zion. Little did he know that 30 years later, Adolf Hitler would capitalize on Europe’s anti-Semitism in the form of the Holocaust, killing 2/3rds of all Jews.
# That’s all secular fluff; there are no Biblical reasons for bringing Jews back to Israel.
Secular reasons are important. But there are also religious reasons for bringing Jews back to Israel.
First, nearly the whole of the Torah (the first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bibles, the core of Judaism) is Israel-centric. Jews cannot fully practice Judaism without the land of Israel. Examples: Deut. 16, Ex. 23, Lev. 23, Num. 29. To this day, the daily prayers of Judaism remain Israel-centered.
Additionally, the Jewish and Christian Bibles record God giving the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an “eternal possession”, that is, it belongs to Jews forever. See Gen. 17 and I Chronicles 16.
Furthermore, the Jewish return to Israel was spoken by God and recorded by prophets like Ezekiel:
“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.”
One Bible scholar puts it like this: “[In the Bible], habitation of the Land of Israel is contingent on obedience to God, possession of the Land is based solely on the patriarchal/matriarchal obedience and on God’s irrevocable oath.”
# I feel bad for the Jews. The Holocaust was bad. But anti-Semitism doesn’t exist anymore, so stop using it as a crutch!
A. It’s stronger than ever, and this time it’s disguised: Universities in the United States and Europe have pushed the BDS movement – the movement to boycott, divest, and sanction the world’s only Jewish state. Numerous Christian Churches, mostly recently the Presbyterian Church of the USA, have joined the boycott, while Christian leaders like Stephen Sizer are working to demonize Zionism and turn Christianity against Jewish Israel. Pro-Israel views are shouted down, silenced, and labeled apartheid.
# Yeah, death to apartheid Israel! Umm…what’s apartheid again?
A. Racial segregation. Palestinian propaganda claims Israel is an apartheid state. Consider, however, that Israel is comprised of Jews and Arabs (and Christians and Armenians and Bedouins and…). Consider that Israel’s government is comprised of non-Jewish parties. Consider that Israel allows its holiest site – The Temple Mount – to be controlled by Islamic Arabs. Consider that none of this is true for the Palestinians, where virtually everyone is Sunni Muslim and there is no room for diversity or debate. If there is state-sponsored racial segregation, it is happening among the fundamentalist Islamic imperialists, not secular Jewish state.
# OK, but isn’t Palestine holy to Muslims?
A. Palestine is mentioned in the Quran -- written 2500 years after Israel was founded -- and when it is mentioned, it’s in reference to God giving that land to Musa (Moses) and the children of Israel.
By contrast, in Judaism, Israel is central and can hardly function outside of it: kings like David and Solomon were kings of Israel, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets of Israel sent to Israel, the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers) were given to the people of Israel on their way to the land of Israel. Basically, the whole of the Hebrew Bible is centered around Israel, Jewish life and daily prayers have Jerusalem as their locus.
# Israeli Jews are Europeans, not true Middle Easterners, so they cannot claim any historical rights to the Holy Land.
A. No. Demographic statistics show that 61% of Israeli Jews are Mizrahi, that is, of Middle Eastern descent.
The argument is also a non-sequitur: why should Jews who were forced to emigrate to Europe or the New World be denied access to their historic homeland? There is no good reason.
# Jews have no claim to Israel because they aren’t actually Jewish, but rather, converts from the Khazarian Empire.
A. First, converts to Judaism are considered Jewish, and their bloodline is soon mixed with the rest of Israel, and they have the same rights as a native. Secondly, the theory here, dubbed the Khazarian theory, is largely rejected by scholars as an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. (Indeed, this theory is popular primarily with neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic groups, which is ironic, seeing as how Hitler certainly considered European Jews to be Jewish.)
The idea behind this theory is that European Jews aren’t Jewish, but were just converts to Judaism from the Khazarian Empire circa 990 AD. There is a kernel of truth here: that about 1000 years ago, some Khazarians converted to Judaism. And it’s true that modern DNA research on European Jews suggests a mix of paternal DNA from an ancestor in the Near East (likely Israel), and maternal DNA from European ancestors (likely converts or intermarriage).
More importantly, none of this matters. Suppose that all European Jews were ancient converts to Judaism some millennia ago, with no physical descent from Jacob, no Jewish bloodline. Would this change their rights to the land of Israel? Can we say those European Jews who have lived as Jews for generations, suffered as Jews for a thousand years through pogroms, crusades, expulsions, and the Holocaust, can we say they have no rights as Jews?
No, of course not. Israel is, and always has been, comprised not only of Jacob’s descendants, but also converts and people who joined Israel over the ages. Adolf Hitler certainly considered them Jewish enough to murder 6 million of them; those who say otherwise likely have ulterior motives, likely delegitimizing Jews in Israel.
Ashkenazi (European) Jews are Jews, even if their bloodlines are mixed with non-Jews.
# More Palestinians civilians die than Israeli civilians. This shows who is really evil.
A. It is foolish to judge right and wrong merely by civilian deaths.
Consider that more German civilians died in World War II – roughly 5 million – whereas the United States lost only 1/10th of that number. Does that mean Nazi Germany was good, and the United States evil?
Of course not. We must judge the motives and actions of each side. The motive of Hamas and Fatah is primarily Islamic conquest, and their actions align accordingly. By contrast, Israel’s motive is to live free and at peace in their historic homeland, and their actions align with accordingly.
# If Israel’s intentions are so pure, how do you explain the lopsided casualties between Palestinians and Israelis?
Israeli technology, and Hamas hating Israel more than it loves Palestinian children.
Israeli defense technology – particularly the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system – shoots down 90% of the rockets Hamas fires at Israeli civilian populations. This decreases the casualties on the Israeli side.
Hamas fires rockets from civilian homes, mosques, and other civilian areas, knowing that if Israel destroys the launch pad, they’ll incur civilian deaths. This increases casualties on the Palestinian side. Hamas encourages non-combatants, including Palestinian children, to stand near rocket launch sites to take advantage of Israel’s respect for human life.
A great example of this is how Israel warns civilians of a pending attack by shooting a flare and dropping pamphlets before an attack. Many civilians flee. Some Islamic fundamentalists consider it an honor to die for Islamic conquest, so others will stand on the roof an await death, knowing Israel will be shamed by the West if they proceed with the attack.
# Jews have no biblical right to the land since they remain in a state of non-repentance; they do not accept Jesus.
A. This theology, a form of supersessionism, is inconsistent with the Christian Bible.
Supersessionism argues that God has rejected Jewish people and canceled his promises to Jews – including the promise of the land of Israel, and instead replaced (superseded) Jews with the Christian Church.
But Paul, author of a significant portion of the New Testament, and a Jew himself, combats this directly in Romans 9 and 11:
I ask, then, did God repudiated his people? Heaven forbid! For I myself am a Jew, from the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not repudiated his people, whom he chose in advance.
While they may be enemies of the gospel, being the chosen people they are loved for the sake of the Patriarchs. For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
If God’s gifts are irrevocable, then God has not revoked his gift to the Jewish people.
More tellingly, consider the actions of the early Christians. Did they preach that the Jews no longer have God’s promises, that Jews no longer belong in Israel? Such a teaching isn’t found in the New Testament. If supersessionism was God’s intent, it was lost on the early Christian community.
# God’s promises about the land of Israel were fulfilled (Joshua 21). Therefore, the land of Israel no longer belongs to the Jews.
You are conflating fulfilled and cancelled.
God’s promise about the land of Israel is this: the land belongs to Jews forever.
The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
This is repeated again many generations later,
He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
“To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit.”
I Chronicles 16:16
God’s promise to the Jewish people is that the land of Israel will be theirs forever.
For God to fulfill this promise, it must belong to the Jewish people forever. Not just for a few years after Joshua, not just until the prophets, not just until Messiah. Forever.
Dear readers: I hope to have compile a comprehensive list of questions and answer, objections and challenges, regarding Israel and Palestinians. I would like to refer back to this post over the years to come. Feel free to contribute your own questions and challenges in the comments, we’ll make them part of the canonical list.