Peacemaking and prophecy: US Christians' Mideast ties
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"It seems unconscionable that Congress would block a pathway back to negotiation at this time," says Corinne Whitlatch, director of CMEP.Skip to next paragraph
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The coalition is also disheartened by the scant media attention paid to reconciliatory efforts Â- such as the Alexandria Declaration of last January. At a gathering hosted by the grand imam of Egypt, more than a dozen top Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious leaders pledged to use their religious and moral authority to bring an end to the violence. Media indifference keeps people in the dark about such initiatives and undermines their impact, Ms. Whitlatch says.
Some of the most ardent supporters of Israel at the April 15 Capitol Hill rally for the Jewish state were Christian Zionist groups such as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) and Christians for Israel. For them, Israel has a divine right to the land Palestinians consider as their future state.
Evangelicals' close alliance with the Israeli right began when the Likud party first came to power in 1977. Menachim Begin found common ground with such leaders as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson. Likud called the West Bank "Judea and Samaria" and used religious arguments for confiscating Arab land for Jewish settlements. And evangelicals have provided millions in financial support to transfer Jews from Russia and other countries, provide social assistance programs in Israel, and even support Jewish settlements in the territories, although settlements violate international law.
ICEJ, a Christian group with offices in many countries, also promotes the movement of foreign embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in support of Israeli claims. "Israelis often feel like the world is against them and trying to tell them what to do, and it's well received when we let them know we understand and are with them," says Susan Michael, of ICEJ's US office.
Israeli leaders such as Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon have met frequently with US evangelical leaders. According to Religion News Service, the Israeli Embassy has begun monthly strategy discussions with evangelicals on such topics as boosting Israeli tourism and sponsoring pro-Israel events on US campuses.
But Christian links to a Jewish state in the Holy Land go much further back, to 17th century millennial thinking. A British member of Parliament first promoted Jewish settlement in Palestine in 1621. Christian Zionism began with American William Blackstone, who wrote a popular book, "Jesus Is Coming," based on premillennial dispensationalism. In 1891, Blackstone led the first US lobbying effort for a Jewish state. Lord Balfour, author of the famous 1917 Balfour Declaration, was an evangelical raised on dispensationalism.
Many evangelicals are not Zionists, however. Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU) was formed to educate Westerners about the Arab Christian churches in the region, whose history goes back to the Pentecost, says Don Wagner, EMEU founder and professor at North Park University in Evanston, Ill.
His group encourages partnerships between American and West Bank churches. Dr. Wagner's church home, First Presbyterian in Evanston, has built a close relationship with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, whose Palestinian pastor, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, "preaches in our pulpit every year."
Unfortunately, he says, as the world has focused on the standoff between the Israeli military and Palestinian militias holed up in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, the military entered and seriously damaged nearby Christmas Lutheran Church.
Evangelicals like himself are now considering the urgent need for groups to go and be a protective force, help get food into the cities, and act as human-rights monitors, Wagner says.