October 7, 2023, introduced some of the worst violence seen in decades in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Yet conflict over the region known as Palestine has evolved constantly since the end of World War I. The tragic discord between Jewish and Arabic people includes facets of religion, territory, ethnicity, economics, and politics. Our age of rapid communication has not reduced prejudices and rumors associated with the situation. Modern culture has instead enabled rushed judgment and political and racial antagonism.
It is crucial for believers to demonstrate reasonableness (Philippians 4:5), Christ-like love (1 Corinthians 16:14), and humility (Ephesians 4:1–3). To give biblical “support” to Israel (Genesis 12:1–3; Psalm 122:6) does not require unthinking approval. Christians can justly condemn calls for Israel’s annihilation and denounce acts of terrorism. We can also rebuke Israel when her actions are worthy of criticism. We can seek peace through prayer (Hebrews 12:14; James 5:16) and whatever other means are available (1 Timothy 2:1–4; 1 John 3:17–18). Sadly, for most Christians around the world, there is little more we can do but pray.
An outsized share of suffering in the Arab-Israeli conflict is borne by innocent people. Most of those afflicted, displaced, killed, or injured—on either side—have no influence on these acts of violence. The Arabs living in Gaza or Lebanon are not identical to Hamas or Hezbollah. Neither are the Israeli people in lockstep with the government of their nation. All men are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28), so we cannot dismiss human anguish, no matter who suffers:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:15–16)That does not mean every act is morally identical. The world at large has accused Israel of disproportionate responses to attacks, harsh treatment of Gaza and the West Bank, and other contributions to the cycle of violence. Some of those criticisms may have substance. Yet they do not represent a perfect counterbalance to acts of extremism. Terrorist groups such as Hamas deliberately target civilians and use indiscriminate attacks. They do so knowing—even intending—that reprisals will kill Palestinians and stoke anger. Many anti-Israeli groups seek the complete annihilation of Jewish people. Holding both sides morally accountable does not mean ignoring the difference between their tactics and motives. There is no moral equivalency between killing children and rooting out terrorists.
Believers should strive to live out the Bible’s model of common sense and cautious skepticism. That applies to any issue; it is especially needed with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict (Proverbs 18:13, 17; John 17:11; 1 John 4:1). It helps to recognize how complex the situation is, both spiritually and politically. Hostility between Arabic and Jewish people is predicted by Scripture (Genesis 16:12). Ancient patriarchs of the two cultures experienced bitterness and division that lasts even today. The influence of Islam has also heightened the intensity of Arabic hostility toward Israel.
Political factors in this conflict are equally ancient. The region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea—sometimes referred to as “Palestine”—has been a disputed land for millennia. This was the homeland of ancient Canaanites and Israelites prior to a series of invasions by world powers. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece controlled the region. Later, the Roman Empire scattered Jewish people around the world. The region of Palestine experienced further conquest through the Byzantine Empire, Islam, the Crusades, and the Ottoman Empire.
In 1922, shortly after World War I, the area came under the control of Great Britain. Attempts were made to create independent states for Jewish and Arabic people. Infighting and the outbreak of World War II stopped those efforts. In the aftermath of the Holocaust came renewed determination to divide Palestinian territory among the same two groups. This again fell apart.
When British control of Palestine ended in 1948, Jewish people living in the territory declared themselves an independent sovereign nation: modern Israel. This was met by attacks from neighboring Arabic countries. Many Palestinian Arabs evacuated during the fighting. When open war stopped, these refugees were barred from returning to their land by Israel—and disallowed from integrating by the Arabic nations where they had fled. In 1967, the “Six Days War” expanded the areas under dispute. The descendants of those displaced people and the land areas in question are the foundation of current disputes.
The current Arab-Israeli conflict has evolved over millennia from imperial conquest to a battle of cultures to a cycle of terrorism and reprisals. What has remained consistent is the devastation and misery inflicted on human beings. The Bible does not prescribe any specific solution to this dilemma. Nor does it offer simplistic answers to complex questions. The best Christians can do, after prayer, is to denounce evil in every form and seek restoration and peace. Through it all, we eagerly look for Christ to return and set all things right (Revelation 21:1–4).