426. Israel and the Palestinians, November 2023 – Part Two

In Part One, Post 425 we tried to grapple with the present situation in the Holy Land, Scriptural teaching about the place of the Jews and of the Christians, and  concluded with asking “What should be our attitude towards the Jews?” Now let’s proceed to the next obvious question:

What should our attitude be towards the Palestinians?

Before my wife and I were Orthodox, we knew not a single Palestinian. However, she who is an ardent reader discovered their side of the story. When she told me, I was amazed. I said “This isn’t what I hear on television. This isn’t what I was taught.” Indeed it was not. Since then, as I said above, I’ve heard far more from Palestinian members of our Archdiocese and our parish.

Palestine before 1948, under the British colonial mandate

The problem with the establishment of the ethnic Jewish nation of Israel was that there were already other people living in Palestine. Of the total of almost two million people, 68% were Arabs (with a large minority of Christians), and only 32% were Jews . We hear sometimes from some Israelis and even others that Palestine was an empty land, with only a few Arab bedouins in it. That is not true.

The nation of Israel was built on the backs of the Arab Palestinian majority. Some were well educated: engineers, doctors, lawyers, authors. Some were people of the land, shepherds or those who kept olive orchards. More than 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and lands.  More than 400 Palestinian villages with their churches and mosques were destroyed. * Palestinians call this “Al Nakba” / “النكبة” / “The Catastrophe”.

  • from the book All That Remains, American University, Beirut, 1992
Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, 75 years later (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Some Palestinians remained in Palestine, the area which has come to be called “The West Bank”. Many Palestinians fled to nearby countries which couldn’t or wouldn’t cope with so many. Some came to the United States which for the most part has welcomed them, thank God. * However, others remained as citizens of Israel, today numbering about 1.6 million, 20% of the population. Today there are ten “Arab Israelis” in the 100 member Knesset, the Israeli parliament. I understand that younger and better educated Israelis are developing some sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

  • except for a recent administration which attempted unsuccessfully to reject all Muslims.

Neverless, today, 75 years later, about one third of Palestinians in the Middle East still live in refugee camps, such as the ones being bombed in Gaza. The West Bank (of the Jordan) Palestinian territory is in fact occupied by Israel. The situation in Gaza has been similar to a crowded prison camp.

Meanwhile, militant Israelis (with tacit approval of the government) are driving Palestinians out of their homes and businesses in East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements continue to expand illegally into Palestinian territory on the occupied West Bank. Militant right wing settlers take the best lands and most of the water. They drive people out of their homes and villages and cut down their ancient olive groves.

I’ve dug up some figures which in fact may minimize the reality, because places with previous Arabic names are now listed in Hebrew and are hard to locate.

600,000 Jewish settlers now live in Palestinian territory, taking over 100,000 hectares (about 250,000 acres / 450 square miles) of land. Almost 5 million Palestinians are facing daily restrictions on their movement. (from Amnesty International)  Simple solution: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is… mine.”

Since 1948: at least 130,000 Palestinian homes and other structures (farm buildings, reservoirs, mosques, churches, community buildings, schools, etc.) have been destroyed in Israel, and about 60,000 in the Occupied West Bank (Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, April 20, 2021) 

The full accounting in detail, with maps, can be found in the book Al-Nakba: 1948 Palestinian Exodus: Palestinian Villagespublished by American University, Beirut: https://aub.edu.lb.libguides.com/c.php?g=342715&p=2477043

Or see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2023/11/03/israel-nakba-history-1948/

courtesy of researchgate.net

Above you can see how much territory has been lost by the Palestinian people since 1947 – not formally and legally, but in reality. However, remember that pre-1947 Palestine had a minority of Jews. 

One would wish that the Israelis who had their own Catastrophe and understood its effects would not impose this new Catastrophe on others, that those who knew oppression would not become oppressors.

In recent times, because of Palestinian Muslim terrorists (I think none of them have been Christians), one can understand why Israelis have erected a wall to protect their people, but this has made life almost impossible for ordinary West Bank Palestinians. When they try to travel, the wall around the illegal settlements (which now have spread deep into Palestinian territory) makes travel extraordinarily difficult for Palestinians. Trips which once took minutes now take hours, getting through checkpoints and often hostile Israeli guards.

The wall near Bethlehem, with Palestinians waiting to pass through.

The wall “is 8 meters high – twice the height of the Berlin Wall – with watchtowers and a ‘buffer zone’ 30-100 meters wide for electric fences, trenches, cameras, sensors, and military patrols. In other places, the Wall consists of layers of fencing and razor wire, military patrol roads, sand paths to trace footprints, ditches and surveillance cameras. The Apartheid Wall’s ‘buffer zone’ paves the way for large-scale demolitions and the expulsion of nearby residents, as in many places the Wall is located just meters away from homes, shops, and schools. The land between the Apartheid Wall and the Green Line has been declared a ‘seam zone’, and all residents and landowners in this area must obtain a permit to remain in their homes and on their lands.” For the full description see: http://www.mofa.pna.ps/en-us/mediaoffice/apartheid-wall-as-a-network-and-the-repression-of-popular-resistance

One other effect of the wall is that many Palestinians and Jews, who once intermingled easily, now are separated and rarely are acquainted, rarely even see each other, and you know how that causes negative ideas about each other to grow worse.

A Statement from the international Holy Synod of Metropolitan-Archbishops of the (Greek) Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, October 16, 2022

In this portion of their letter they describe the root causes of the situation in Palestine. 

“As for the public issues, the Fathers reflected on what has happened and is happening in occupied Palestine and what has afflicted and befallen the honorable Palestinian people. The position of the Church of Antioch, expressed by her Patriarchs and Synod since long before and until today, is clear, bright and well-known. It affirms the importance of Jerusalem in the conscience of every Christian and Muslim, and the right of return of the Palestinian people and the establishment of their independent State.

“The Church of Antioch condemns the siege imposed today on the Palestinian people and on the Gaza Strip in particular, and strongly denounces the genocide committed there, right before the eyes of the world. The violence that is taking place is the result of violating international laws and resolutions which are intended for the application of justice. It is a continuation of the falsification of the identity of the land and history and an attempt to obliterate the outstanding Palestinian cause.”

A side note: Christians in the Holy Land

Yes, there are some. Once there were many.

To understand the present situation we need to go ‘way back in history.

At first, the Jews persecuted Christians. Later and for many centuries, Christians would sometimes persecute the Jews.  As Christ had predicted, the Jews were driven out of Palestine by the Romans in the year AD 70. However they still remained a significant minority in the Roman Empire.

In the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, Christians were dominant in the Middle East, but Jews also were allowed to return to Palestine.

The number of  Christians was diminished after the Muslim conquest in the Seventh Century, but (did you know?) even at the time of the Crusades to liberate the Holy Land, Christians were still the majority in Jerusalem. Never again. The Crusaders killed everyone who looked “Muslim” – Muslims, Jews and Christians alike. It was written that the streets of Jerusalem flowed with blood.

The Crusaders were finally driven out by the Ottoman Turks, who were less tolerant of Christians for fear they would be allied with the West, but still we remained a strong minority. After the Protestant Reformation, the Turks encouraged evangelism by different Western denominations, in order to divide the remaining Christians. By the 1920s Christians still numbered perhaps as many as 15% of the population of Palestine.

The Anastasis (Church of the Resurrection), also called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,  in Jerusalem

Today, most Christians, caught between warring Muslims and Jews, have fled from Israel and Palestine, and now number only about 5% in what’s left of Palestine and about 2% of modern Israel.

Will the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, taught, died, rose and ascended soon be left without Christians?

Lord, have mercy on them. And on us too.

What is the Solution?

I certainly have no idea. Apparently no one does. Modern American administrations pretend to solve the problem by taking only the Israeli side and then wonder why it doesn’t work. A Palestinian woman – an author of excellent Orthodox children’s books * and wife of the mayor of a Palestinian town – once spoke about the situation at our Saint Nicholas, Cedarburg  and kept a stiff upper lip during her talk. But when in private I asked her “What is the solution?” she answered sadly, “I don’t think there is one.”

  • for example, Christina Goes to Church available from Amazon, Holy Cross Press, Light and Life Publications and other places

Today there are over four million Palestinian refugees, none of whom have been compensated in any way for their loss of homes and property, nor are those whose homes still exist given “right of return”.

A Palestinian-American Orthodox priest whom I know was permitted only once to return to his family home in Israel, to which he still has the key. The Israeli guard at the border asked brusquely “What are you doing here?” The priest bravely answered “What are you doing here?” Nevertheless, they permitted him to enter. When he got to the house, an Israeli woman answered and very hesitantly said “Hello”. And that was the conclusion to the story of his pilgrimage to the home where he had grown up and to which he still keeps the key, just in case. But he’s old now.

Can we have some understanding of both sides?

…though I wonder if that is possible at the moment. To repeat: In what follows I am not trying to justify either terrorism or oppression. To understand is not to approve or condone.

To those who sympathize more with the Palestinians:

What if this were your family?

Please try to understand Israel, a small country which has been surrounded chiefly by hostile nations who vastly outnumber them. They are still traumatized by the Holocaust and are terrified of another one happening. It will take generations for the images of their Holocaust to start to fade from the front of their minds.They were attacked by these Arab countries almost immediately after Israel was established.  How might you feel if you and your family, living in a land that you believe belongs to you, were under regular threat from suicide bombers and from other nations who warn that they want to blow you off the face of the map? This explains why Israel has mistreated the Palestinians as they have; it does not justify it. Some Jews, in Israel and other countries, oppose present unjust Israeli government policies, but they sometimes hesitate to speak up for fear of being ostracized. Previous to the Hamas attack (left: courtesy of The Times of Israel) there were massive protests – hundreds of thousands of people  in the streets –  against present Israeli government policies. However the barbaric Hamas attack and the current rise of anti-semitism in the world naturally has had a “rally ’round the flag” effect on them.

For any who sympathize more with Israel:

If you were a Palestinian, how would you react if you and your people were (and continue to be) driven out of your homes and lands, if you have lived under foreign oppression for 75 years, and have lost hope because the richest, strongest nation in the world almost unquestioningly has financed and supported Israel with few or no restrictions.  How would you react if vastly disproportionate warfare was waged against your people? During every Gaza war the number of  Palestinian casualties has outnumbered the Israeli ones by about 10 to 1. Homes, schools and refugee shelters were and are being destroyed.

Today Israel and Palestine are dominated by two hostile peoples and two religions/cultures which officially believe in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Years ago someone commented: “If this continues, both sides will be left without eyes and without teeth.”

To put it another way, this is part of a statement issued by the Orthodox Church of Albania: “The archaic law of retribution ‘eye for an eye’ or ‘tit-for-tat’ not only defines the right but also the limits of retaliation: It is ‘Eye for an eye’ which means ‘eye for an eye’ and not ‘beheading’.” The Orthodox Times, October 24,, 2023 

Gaza City, courtesy of Human Rights Watch

What if this were your home town? Will this get rid of Hamas? Will this produce another generation of terrorists?

This was about a month ago. It’s much worse now. (courtesy of Inquirer.net)

Many American evangelicals today actively support Israeli occupation of and expansion into Palestine, because they believe the Jews have a God-given right to the entire territory “from the River to the Sea”, that Joshua is fighting the battle of Jericho all over again. A few, on the basis of bizarre interpretation of Old Testament prophecy, even believe that this will bring Christ’s Second Coming  – as if anything we humans do could control our Lord and God Jesus Christ! American media ordinarily pay relatively little attention to the situation, and when they do their reporting is usually pro-Israel. There are many reasons for Muslim radicalism and anti-Americanism and anti-Christian attitudes in the Middle East – but this surely is one of the greatest of them, and it is once again increasing rapidly.


To repeat, do not confuse current Israeli government policy with Old Testament Judaism which is a wonderful thing, or with individual Jews who are usually admirable people – and occasionally not, which is to say they’re just like the rest of us.

While there is absolutely no justification for Hamas’ barbaric attack on Israel, the Israeli counter-reaction reminds me of the story of Lamech early in Genesis. Lamech is the symbol of how mankind fell deeper and deeper into the power of sin and evil.  “Lamech said… you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech will be avenged seventy-sevenfold.” Genesis 4:23-24

Oh, just one thing more.

As I researched and read and thought about what I was writing above, something kept haunting me. Finally it came to me: As I sit here comfortably writing this Post, I am on land that once belonged to the Potawatomi tribe. Their land and that of other native Americans was taken by European invaders, often by violence, who kept building their settlements ever farther into their territory. The invaders  came to believe it was “Manifest Destiny”, their God-given right to take over the continent from sea to sea. Native Americans were often confined to reservations. Some were treated abominably. You’ve heard of the Cherokee “trail of tears”, which took those who survived from Florida to Indian Territory in what is now eastern Oklahoma, a land guaranteed to be theirs forever – but then oil was discovered there, and…

That’s the same story I’ve been writing about in these last two Posts. As I sit here on Potawatomi land, that was what was haunting me. It still does.

Next Week:  Please, Lord: a very different approach to things – The Story of Saint John the Merciful

Week after Next: Fasting and Feasting and Fasting and Feasting

4 thoughts on “426. Israel and the Palestinians, November 2023 – Part Two

  1. Thank you so much for these articles. I have learned so much about this painful situation and the history behind it. One can only say “Lord have mercy!”

  2. Thanks, Father, for posting this. I think the pessimists are right, that there really is no “solution” to this. It is very sad. William Dalrymple’s book “From The Holy Mountain”, though written over 20 years ago, is a good look at how things were in the late 90s – things have only deteriorated since then. He tells the story of a Christian village deliberately razed by the Israeli army, after the Israeli government lost a court case brought by the residents of that village after they were exiled illegally. The exiles won their case soundly, the army flattened the village in response then declared it too toxic for the residents to go back. 20 years later the Israeli government turned it into a museum and claimed the ruins (which they created!) were really ancient Jewish ruins from Davidic times (a brazen lie). It’s very sad.

    1. Sad indeed. Dalrymple said that he was writing a modern version of the book “The Spiritual Meadow” which recounted a tour of Christian communities from Asia Minor to Egypt by Saint Sophronius and John Moschos in the Seventh Century, the last days of the Byzantine Empire (and the Christian majority) in the East. Dalrymple felt he was writing of the last days of Christianity itself in the East. Considering how things have gone he wrote, it may well be so, except for Egypt where there is still a strong minority.

  3. Dear Father Bill,
    Thank you for explaining the terrible conflict. It’s so discouraging to live in world filled with hatred and secularism. If only people read scripture and followed the Lords commandments life would be much different.

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