The Sin of Annexation: A Palestinian Christian Perspective of the Israeli Annexation Plan
By Yousef AlKhouri Lecturer at Bethlehem Bible College
The Israeli government and its allies continue their plan to erase the Palestinian historical presence in the land of Palestine. The recently proposed plan to annex the remnant of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank is just another episode in the series of Palestinian land thefts and expulsion of its indigenous people. As we read the history of the Zionist movement, their unequivocal vision has been to occupy the entire land of Palestine leaving the indigenous people of Palestine with no option but to establish their own state elsewhere one day. In the last few months, the Israeli plan of annexation has made that vision even clearer, with Israel aiming to annex 30% of the already occupied West Bank. In doing so, the Israeli government and its allies are nullifying the peace treaties signed with the PLO, and the international laws that guarantee the right of Palestinians to self-determination and statehood in the occupied territories of 1967. What has been happening is the systematic institutionalization of oppression and occupation committed against the Palestinian people and their land. The Israeli annexation plan, which is blindly supported by the radical right in the American government and Zionist Christians, is a continuation of the historical sin against the Palestinian people. The Christian biblical way to describe the plan is SIN. So, what is a Palestinian Christian and biblical view of the sin of Israeli annexation?
Firstly, the Kairos Palestine Document “Moment of Truth” states clearly that the occupation is a sin against God and humanity. It is a sin against humans created in the image of God, and the land that was given as a gift from God. Land is God’s gift on which humans can live and exist. With no land, there are no human beings, and vice versa. Land is the sphere of human existence. Humans define the existence of the land. Otherwise, the land is only an abstract concept and humans are merely spiritual beings. Humans and land have an unbreakable destiny. Denying any human being the right to their land denies their God-given right to existence. Land was given as a gift that humans could enjoy, share, and upon which they could coexist justly. However, the Israeli annexation plan, and the Israeli occupation in general, aims to rob the Palestinians of their land, robbing them of their right to life and existence. It is a violation of the God-given right to the Palestinian people to live on their land.
Secondly, the stealing of the Palestinian land from its indigenous people is an explicit breaking of God’s commands to his people and the Church. The eighth commandment states, “You shall not steal,” (Ex. 20: 17), and the tenth states that “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor,” (Ex. 20: 17). The Israeli occupation did not only commit the sin of coveting the Palestinian land and its resources, but also stealing it. In his book, Justice and Only Justice (1989), the Palestinian theologian, Naim Ateek, explains that Israeli sin of occupation in the light of the sin of Ahab and Jezebel against Naboth (1 Kings 21). Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and, with the support of his wife, they were able to steal it, but only after killing Naboth. The similarities between the texts of the Bible in 1 Kings 21 in the context of the Israeli annexation are obvious and relevant, at least for Palestinians. Israel has taken the position of Ahab in coveting and desiring to steal the Palestinian vineyard, with far-right American government and Zionist Christians akin to Jezebel in paving the way for this to happen. The Palestinian people are, on the other hand, like Naboth, victims of human greed and injustice. God, however, is displeased with sin and oppression, and he stands for the rights of marginalized and oppressed. He sent his prophet Elijah to denounce Ahab-Jezebel’s sin and bring judgment on them. We ought to remember that God will stand for truth and justice, and that there is a need for prophetic voices to speak God’s truth. Here I come to my third point.
Our responsibility as the Church, and Palestinian Christians in particular, is to be a prophetic voice that speaks truth against oppressors. We should be like Elijah and Nathan who confronted King David about his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12). These examples of prophets confronting wrongdoing illustrate the significance of prophetic voices calling each one to do justice and to live in peace, according to God’s law. These voices disturb oppressors, confront them with their oppression, and call them to repent and put right what was made wrong. Furthermore, the essence of the mission of Jesus and the Church is to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom that is based on justice, peace, love, and coexistence. The Kingdom stands as an alternative to those empires and political systems that have been built on oppression and subjugation. The proclamation of the Kingdom is a prophetic voice in a fallen world; it calls for repentance and renewal. The Church in general, and the Palestinian Church in particular, have the responsibility to be the prophetic voice of the Kingdom that speaks against the sin of occupation and annexation of the Palestinian land. A prophetic voice that invites Israel to repent from its occupation and the historical injustices committed against Palestinians, and to seek peace based on justice and coexistence.
Lastly, as the Church and Palestinian Christians, we ought to be peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation. Peace and reconciliation require justice and truthfulness. Here, I value the WCC and WEA statements, and Kairos Palestine’s ‘Cry for Hope’, which come as prophetic voices to oppose the Israeli annexation plans and are a call for a just peace. The Palestinian reality nowadays is sadly one of hopelessness and despair. Many Palestinian Christians are emigrating from their homeland due to occupation and economic hardship. Approximately 36% of the already decreasing Palestinian Christian population is seriously considering leaving the country. The Palestinian land is in danger of losing its salt and light, and the prophetic voices of the peacemakers and ambassadors of reconciliation. The birthplace of Christianity might lose its indigenous Christians, turning their churches into museums reminiscent of a past where Christian Palestinians once lived. As Christians we cannot continue isolating ourselves from the realities of people and their sufferings, and choosing a position of impartiality. We have to be actively involved in pursuing justice and peace, advocating for truth, to be salt in our land, and light to our world. Otherwise, what good will our existence and Christian witness do for Palestinians, and indeed, for the world?