After 38 years of occupation, Israeli forces and settlers will withdraw from the tiny Gaza Strip beginning Monday, Aug. 15. While a majority of Israelis are in favor of the pullout, many in Israel and the international community fear that violence will ensue.
Some settlers are digging in their heels and saying they'll refuse to leave. But Israeli soldiers have orders to remove any settlers who haven't voluntarily left by Wednesday. There's been much speculation that if Israeli soldiers are forced to use violence on Israeli settlers, it could create deep division and discord among the Israeli public.
There's also the longstanding division - many would say enmity - between Israelis and Palestinians. Militant Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, have long used Gaza as a base for launching rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli citizens. Many Israelis fear that removing Israeli forces from Gaza will unleash lawlessness and terror, jeopardizing Israel's security. Most of the nearly 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza, whose frustration with what they view as oppressive Israeli policies is exacerbated by the squalid, overcrowded conditions in which they live, see violence as the only way they can get any leverage in their struggle for statehood.
But there was another people, not too long ago, who felt oppressed, whose frustration the world believed would erupt in violence that would engulf them and their oppressors in a bloody civil war. But instead, their country - South Africa - gave the world proof that justice, forgiveness, and peace can triumph over injustice, hatred, and violence.
In the 1994 elections, South Africa's black majority - voting for the first time in history - joined with the white and "coloured" minorities to peacefully bring to power a new, democratic government. Though the country is still grappling with many significant challenges, the reconciliation and progress evident in that historic transformation serve as a beacon of hope for the world.
"God does have a sense of humor.... We were destined for perdition and were plucked out of total annihilation," said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in helping South Africa transition from apartheid to democracy. "We were a hopeless cause if there ever was one. God intends that others might look at us and take courage" (Desmond Tutu, "No Future without Forgiveness").
Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians - and all the citizens and leaders worldwide who yearn for peace in the Middle East - can find comfort and courage in the South African example. Certainly God wouldn't help the South Africans and then turn His back on the Middle East. What kind of God would do that? A lazy God? A forgetful God? A mean God?
But God, divine Love, is neither lazy, forgetful, nor mean. Nor is He absent, powerless, or indifferent. Rather, He is a universal God whose care, protection, and justice extend to each one of His children. So the same divine grace that enabled South Africa to overcome the hopelessness of its situation is also available to Israelis and Palestinians.
God's Father-Mother love is embracing each Israeli and Palestinian, impelling and governing their thoughts and actions throughout the entire withdrawal. That divine government results in true security in feeling at peace and protected; in having a home and belonging to a nation; in knowing one is loved and approved of, worthy of respect, and deserving of a happy, prosperous, and fulfilling life.
By affirming these truths, citizens around the world can help buoy Israelis and Palestinians, even as the turbulent currents of human nature try to pull them off course.
Where human nature tries to assert selfishness, God's supreme love is already making known its presence in humanity's hearts. Where human nature threatens to engulf an individual in anger, God's "Peace, be still" is already steadying His blessed child. And where human nature argues that violence in the face of oppression is justified, God is already making known His justice, which, when seen, delivers us from every predicament, just as Daniel was delivered from a den of lions and Peter from a prison's chains.
God's law, as elucidated in the Bible, shows that the only inevitable force is divine Love, which brings freedom from even the most dire situations.