“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” With that casual aside, the biblical account of Abraham and Sarah arriving in Canaan states that the territory already was populated. “To your offspring I will give this land,” God told Abraham (Genesis 12).
Today near the northern border of modern Israel there’s a Canaanite city gate built about 1750 BCE — approximately when Abraham and Sarah arrived. Did they go through this gate? Did they know that their descendants someday would dispossess Canaanites of life and land?
Made of mud bricks, the ancient gate today stands under a hangar-like canopy for protection. A small model nearby shows how the gate effectively was a fortified building with a central passageway.
Descendants of Abraham and Sarah, after a 400-year detour into Egypt, returned to conquer Canaan with swords and claims of divine mandate. Entire Canaanite cities perished. It must have been brutal for indigenous people.
Today conflict still simmers, this time between Jews and Palestinians, who both trace lineage to Abraham. Most Palestinian descendants of Abraham are Muslim, and many likely also have Canaanite DNA.
The Palestinian population includes the largest group of Christians in Israel and the West Bank. These followers of Jesus, not fully accepted by Jewish or Muslim majorities, need support — as do all Palestinians committed to peace. Since my Christian faith springs from Judeo-Christian wells, I also am deeply drawn to Judaism and want Israel safe.
While Jewish Israelis have suffered substantial casualties since becoming a nation in 1948, Palestinian loss is far greater. A 2016 book by Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, helps me understand why Jewish nationalists have been aggressive and assertive. Jews suffered staggering losses through centuries of mistreatment culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, and certain Middle Eastern nations still vow to destroy Israel.
So some Jewish Israelis continue to settle in the West Bank on land belonging to Palestinians. That violation makes Israel less secure, creating a focal point for the wrath of opponents.
Speaking up about that injustice, however, gives me pause: I own Indiana land stolen from Pottawatomie people just as surely as Jewish settlers have taken land from Palestinians. Am I ready to give it back?
It has become popular among religious and political progressives to glibly condemn Israel. It is equally common for Christian conservatives to blithely support everything Israel does. Neither extreme is acceptable. Especially for outsiders, humility is in order.
I want to promote safety for both Jews and Palestinians, especially those committed to peace. I do not support strategies that shame or isolate; a wounded psyche is likely to respond with more hostility and violence.
I want to stand in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah and Jesus, who called for justice but also loved Jerusalem and wanted its gates open to become a “house of prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56; Mark 11).
J. Nelson Kraybill is a retired pastor, and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more biblical reflections and information on upcoming Holy Land tours at peace-pilgrim.com.