Here's a copy of a talk I gave at a recent Wednesday night prayer meeting. I'm one man's voice in a storm of yelling, so take my comments herein accordingly.
The conflict in the Middle East is as old as Abraham. In Genesis 16 we are told the story of Abram (soon to become known as Abraham) and his wife's maidservant, Hagar. Sarai, Abram's wife, was barren, and so she asked Abram to have children with Hagar – rather like a surrogate mother. When Hagar became pregnant, she “looked on her mistress with disdain.” I would tend to think this was because she didn't want to give her child to Sarai.
Then Sarai blamed Abram for the tension between her and Hagar, and [read Gn 16:6-12)
Abram told Sarai: "Your maid is in your power. Do to her whatever you please." Sarai then abused her so much that Hagar ran away from her. The LORD'S messenger found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur, and he asked, "Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?" She answered, "I am running away from my mistress, Sarai." But the LORD'S messenger told her: "Go back to your mistress and submit to her abusive treatment. I will make your descendants so numerous," added the LORD'S messenger, "that they will be too many to count. Besides," the LORD'S messenger said to her: "You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heard you, God has answered you. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp."
Fourteen years later, Abram and Sarai, now known as Abraham and Sarah, were promised a son of their own. Abraham, amused at the concept of being a father at one hundred years old:
Then Abraham said to God, "Let but Ishmael live on by your favor!" God replied: "Nevertheless, your wife Sarah is to bear you a son, and you shall call him Isaac. I will maintain my covenant with him as an everlasting pact, to be his God and the God of his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I am heeding you: I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation. But my covenant I will maintain with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you by this time next year."
Their son Isaac became the father of Jacob - and God changed Jacob's name to Israel. The twelve tribes of ancient Israel were descendants of Jacob's twelve sons.
There is much dispute whether modern-day Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael, but Muslims themselves do believe they are. So you can understand why there is so much hatred between these ancient brothers.
It would take hours to summarize the Arab-Israeli conflict, as much has happened since the formation of the Jewish state in 1948. So I will try to give a brief overview, as it's important to understand the historical context of the current conflict.
Britain had control of Palestine, but was finding it increasingly difficult to keep the peace between the increasing numbers of Jewish settlers and local Muslims. In 1947 Britain gave up, and surrendered control of Palestine to the newly formed United Nations. The following year, on May 14, the state of Israel was officially proclaimed.
Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq all sent troops to fight against the new state. Israel defended itself quite ably against such a massive enemy. Canada has a connection to this conflict as well; George “Buzz” Beurling was our top fighter pilot from World War II with 32 aircraft downed, and he didn't take to peacetime well, being reduced to begging on the streets of Montreal. He accepted an invitation from the Israelis to come fly in their Air Force, but died en route to the conflict.
In 1949 a cease-fire was declared, and Israel had gained some territory and had lost some – most notably the areas now known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
In 1967 conflict erupted again – the famous Six Day War – during which Israel captured much territory from Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, but gave much of it back in the years to follow as new peace treaties were signed.
In 1982, Israel responded to frequent terrorist attacks from southern Lebanon by invading and forcing the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization to relocate their headquarters. Israel maintained southern Lebanon as a buffer zone until the year 2000, when it unilaterally withdrew all its forces from the region.
In the mid 90's many terrorist attacks were launched against Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas and Hezbollah, which are supported by many Arab states, but most notably Iran and Syria. Yassir Arafat, the leader of Hamas, was responsible for many of these, yet his connection to terrorism is rarely mentioned, as he did win a Nobel Peace Prize after all. He was known to make statements of peace and tolerance in English to journalists, and then turn around and call for the death of the Zionist pigs in Arabic. Shortly after Arafat's death, Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren wrote:
There was no excuse for anyone to flatter or appease this monster in life or in death. His narcissism and corruption were his most attractive qualities. He left bloodlakes behind him when he was taken in and sheltered in Amman and Beirut. His Black September pioneered the modern arts of aircraft hijacking and hostage butchery. The Intifadas he launched ended or destroyed the lives of countless innocents Jewish Christian and Muslim alike.
The hushed tones of respect -- whether from the CBC and affiliates or from Kofi Annan Nelson Mandela Jimmy Carter Jacques Chirac -- is indicative of a posturing moral attitude that stinks to heaven.
The current conflict under way in Lebanon is Israel's response to rocket attacks against its civilian population. It is widely known that Lebanon hasn't controlled its southern territories for decades, even after Israel released control of the area six years ago. Hezbollah quickly moved in then and is now deeply entrenched. Again, David Warren:
It is only by disarming Hezbollah, that the Lebanese can hope to have their country back. The Lebanese state being powerless to disarm them, there is a certain amount of winking while Israel does the job.
With all that Israel has gone through since its creation in 1948, I often find myself rooting for them, hoping they wipe out their enemies like back in the days of Joshua in the Old Testament. Yet as Christians we must recognize the dignity of all human life, especially the lives of those who do not act in a dignified manner.
As many of you may have heard from the pulpit, Pope Benedict XVI announced that last Sunday was a special day of penance and prayer for peace in the Middle East.
The Pope's words, from July 23, 2006:
I strongly renew my appeal to the Parties in conflict to immediately adopt a ceasefire, to permit the sending of humanitarian aid and to seek new ways with the support of the international community to begin negotiations.
I take this opportunity to reaffirm the right of the Lebanese to the integrity and sovereignty of their Country, the right of the Israelis to live in peace in their State and the right of Palestinians to possess a free and sovereign Homeland.
Furthermore, I am particularly close to the defenseless civilian populations, unjustly stricken in a conflict of which they are no more than victims: both those in Galilee who have been forced to live in shelters and the great multitude of Lebanese who are once again seeing their Country destroyed and have had to leave everything to seek safety elsewhere.
I raise a heartfelt prayer to God so that the aspiration to peace of the vast majority of the population will be realized as soon as possible through the unanimous commitment of those in charge.
I also renew my appeal to all charitable organizations to convey to those peoples the material expression of common solidarity.
I also entrust the whole of humanity to the power of divine love, as I invite everyone to pray that the beloved populations of the Middle East may be able to abandon the way of armed conflict and, with the daring of dialog, build a just and lasting peace. Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!
The Catechism, 2304-2305, 2308-2309:
Respect for and development of human life require peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity. Peace is "the tranquility of order." Peace is the work of justice and the effect of charity.
Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic "Prince of Peace." By the blood of his Cross, "in his own person he killed the hostility," he reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. "He is our peace." He has declared: "Blessed are the peacemakers.”
All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.
However, "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed."
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
Those who have responsibility for the common good means those who are in authority; it refers mostly to governments. For the Vatican to insist that a Jewish state avoid war – or at least, wage war justly - with Muslim terrorists may seem somewhat odd, but that is what our Church must do.
It may seem like there is little we can do here, snugly nestled in the heartland of a nation whose role in this conflict could be be described as obscure, yet there is one thing. As the Catechism states, “All citizens are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.” The most effective thing we can do here today is to pray. We must pray for true peace, the peace of Christ, to reign in this conflict. We must pray for conversion of the hearts of those who will not listen to reason, and we must pray that hardened hearts be softened to the truth of the Gospel. We must pray for the soldiers who fight with honour; we must pray for the citizens who are displaced by this fight; we must pray for the leaders whose hate for their enemies surpasses their love for their followers.