The Problems with Hamas, Gaza, Israel (and America?)

By David Jordan 

The Hamas Problem: Hamas is a terrorist organization. The tragedy of October 7th with 1200 murders of mostly women, children and innocent Israeli civilians, the atrocities committed, the ongoing terror of the remaining hostages along with continued rocket attacks make clear: Hamas is not a “resistance movement.” This is a terror group.

Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Though democratically elected as a ruling coalition with Fatah in 2006, Hamas systematically disregarded democratic norms, terrorized their opponents, increasingly took control of Gaza institutions, and now control Palestinian lives through the terrorizing of their own people in Gaza.

Yes, they have followers. But the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza have no choice, no say, no vote, and depressingly few options except to live with the reality of this entrenched, authoritarian terrorist network. Hamas does not represent the best interests of the Palestinian people. In fact, Hamas has terrorized, tortured and murdered more Palestinian people than they have Israelis.

The Gaza Problem: With a long, complex history, this once-lovely area stretches along a picturesque coastal road and borders the Mediterranean Sea. Gaza City and the larger area known as the Gaza Strip, have been controlled by various outside forces in its complicated backstory with these as most of their ruling chronology: Egyptian, Canaanite, Philistine, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Hasmonean, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Israeli, PNA, Hamas.

Twice the size of Washington, D.C., 25 miles long and seven miles wide, or 141 square miles, its population of 2.2 million people makes it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Water Sources: Water for this enormous influx of Palestinian refugees, has been a significant problem for years. In 1950, the population was just under 65,000. Now, with 2.2 million, the population remains captive to outside sources of fresh water. Prior to the current war, they were able to derive 10% of their water from desalination plants. However, such plants require excessive and now unavailable energy sources from Egypt and Israel.

They had also previously purchased some fresh water from the Israeli national water company, Mekorot. The remaining 70-90% came from groundwater wells tapped into the Coastal Aquifer. With untenable demands given the rapidly expanded population, this problematic water supply has consistently been over-extracted, salty, brackish and largely unfit for human consumption.

Now, with the tragic war in Gaza, Israel appears to be injecting sea water into the intricate web of Hamas tunnels running under the entire area. While clever as a military maneuver and much safer for Israeli soldiers, this tunnel flooding strategy will be an environmental disaster for the safety of the ground water. Experts worry that the already-exceedingly fragile aquifers will lose all future viability once forcibly exposed to millions of gallons of sea water.  Given the water issues alone, one can imagine the resentment, anger and ongoing stress this lack of fresh, drinkable water generates and will generate among regular people.

But water is only a small portion of the ongoing difficulties the people of Gaza have experienced prior to the current horrors of this war. Gaza is considered the most isolated population in the world. Due to Israel’s ongoing obstructions since Hamas took power in 2007, the people of Gaza have:

  • No airport
  • No seaport
  • No passport
  • No formal citizenship.
  • Seventy percent of Gaza’s people are refugees or the family of refugees since the 1948 Israeli war for Independence of the 1967 Six Day War.

The Realities for the People of Gaza: They can’t travel; they have limited sewage treatment capabilities; they have diminishing fresh water and no real power generation capabilities. For the densely packed population inhabiting this fragile ecosystem in limited space, it should be no surprise that resentments run deep. Particularly given this reality, the vast majority (70 %) of the current residents of Gaza are refugees forcibly displaced from Palestinian villages after Israeli independence in 1948 and the Six Day War in 1967.

What began as a new life for the Jewish people with the establishment of Israel in 1948, resulted in a catastrophe for the  Palestinian people. Split between the West Bank and Gaza, both geographic areas suddenly became overwhelmed with gathered outcasts from homes and villages across what had been Palestine of the British Mandate (from 1918-1947  and before that, part of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years). 

The Israel Problem

In May, 1939, Albert Einstein addressed a radio broadcast to the Jewish National Workers’ Alliance. He said the following: 

There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people. Despite the great wrong that has been done us, we must strive for a just and lasting compromise with the Arab people.  

In face of the common foe that confronts us both, this goal must be accessible. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these same Arabs.

– Albert Einstein to the National Worker’s Alliance, May 29, 1939

As a pacifist, Einstein expressed an intense desire for Jewish people to have a homeland where they could at last be safe. For too long, Jews in Europe had suffered enormous pain and indescribable indignities. The previous quote, it should be noted, was spoken before the horrors of the Holocaust. But Einstein remained a pacifist and continued to call for a Jewish homeland without an army that would be devoted to living in peace and prosperity with the residents of the land, the Palestinian Arabs of Palestine.

His quote further undercuts the popular myth that the current crisis and ongoing tension between Israel and the Palestinians is an ancient conflict. In fact, as Einstein pointed out, this is not true. While Europe and Russia, Poland and even America were discriminating and actively persecuting Jewish people, much of the Arab world was friendly, accommodating and welcoming. Therefore, something else had been emerging.

The Israel Problem: Israel itself poses significant complexities. Religious, political, ethical and geographical overtones play into every aspect of this intensely emotional issue of the land where Jesus lived. Arabs and Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israelis and Americans and the international community see this beautiful, deeply spiritual and badly-divided part of the world through starkly different lenses.

Here are a few reasons:

The founding of Israel in 1948 was declared without asking the people who lived there. Called Palestinians, these were Arab men, women and families whose homes, villages, towns and cities had been handed down generation to generation over the centuries. Just emerging from forced rule by the Ottoman Empire following World War I and the British following World War II, the area of Palestine was filled with people of Arab descent who had been promised democracy and self-rule by the British through Lawrence of Arabia, among others; the British also made similar promises to Jewish representatives in London in a document entitled “The Balfour Declaration.”

Many Jews lived among the Palestinians, but they nowhere close to a majority. So, the natural question quickly arose and echoes mightily still: How could a minority of Jewish immigrants suddenly force the majority Palestinians to obey new rules, to forfeit self-rule and to remain quiet while losing much of what should have remained theirs? But it happened.

Following the Holocaust and the horrors of World War II, the United Nations developed a partition plan to divide the land of Palestine into separate areas, one governed by a new state of Jewish people, the other to be run by Palestinians. The problem with this plan, though it appeared acceptable to many, was that no one had bothered to ask the Palestinians.  Three million people would lose ancestral homes and land generations had loved and nurtured.

I once asked for a show of hands in a class I was teaching: “Think of your home and family. Who of you would agree to move away from all that you knew – your house, your neighbors, your work, your church – to go to another state where you would have to start all over again?” In the class of 30, none would agree to such a plan.

So, who could blame the Palestinians who suddenly found themselves living in a land that was no longer theirs? They refused to comply with the demands of an outside group unconnected to and apparently unconcerned with what Palestinians would sacrifice. Yet resistance to this new normal placed them under immediate attack against a foe well-armed with the heavy guns and ammunition left over from the British occupation.

The founding of Israel displaced three million Palestinians. Many of the Arab inhabitants, both Christian and Muslim Palestinians, quickly fled, often with only what they could carry. They, like any of us, expected to be able to return to their homes once everything was safe and some kind of peace was negotiated. But there was no negotiation. Families, young and old, men, women and children ended up in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Forcibly pushed from what had been ancestral homes, they began a tenuous existence as second-class citizens, unable to have passports and with no access to citizenship. They remained refugees with no way of returning to the homes they or their ancestors had built with their own hands.

Today, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, some refer to these areas as the largest refugee camps in the world. Though in the West Bank some creative development emerged within the sadness, the difficulty of coping with an ongoing refugee crisis continues. For the most part, the world has paid little attention, except for the Americans who insist upon supporting Israel no matter what that country’s leaders do or say.

The Israelis who conquered the land continue to control the lives and destinies of over three million people in the West Bank, and 2.2 million people in Gaza. And though Gaza, before this current war, was not technically ruled by Israel, it was surrounded and periodically blockaded by Israel on three sides, and in the south, by Egypt. This little strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea is allowed no seaport, no airport and no free access to any other country in the world. The Palestinians who live there have been captive to Israeli policy and political whims. Gaza, therefore, is also considered as one of the most isolated societies anywhere on earth.

The West Bank, on the other hand, is occupied by Israel. That is why it is sometimes referred to as “occupied territory.” Not only surrounded by Israeli forces, the West Bank is a variegated matrix of military roads, checkpoints, walls and barbed wire. Palestinian families attempting to visit one another or initiating any effort at viable economic activity from town to town or village to village face a logistical nightmare. The Israelis also oversee all water sources in the West Bank. The Israeli national water carrier, Mekorot, has been given full control of all subterranean waters of the West Bank by the Israeli military. And as any military strategist knows, controlling water equals control of the population. Therefore, Israeli leverage over the three million Palestinians who live in the West Bank remains shockingly complete.

East Jerusalem has long been a vibrant Arab cultural center and historic home of Palestinian identity and community pride. Since the Six Day War of 1967, Israeli policies increasingly tightened control of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Jewish settlements, often subsidized by American monies pouring in yearly in the billions of dollars, continue to be established on confiscated Arab land. The resulting increase in Jewish population and displacement of Palestinian homes and residents multiplies resentment, anger, hopelessness and a sense of powerlessness. Some Israelis argue such policies are necessary to prevent Palestinian terror. However, others contend these strategies promote angry, sometimes violent and often tragic responses.

The same strategy of displacement and disempowerment, along with the strict control of water, roads and military checkpoints, continues to be used in the broader West Bank. 

And there are further problems.

Jewish settlements are illegal. The United States, the United Nations and international law each declare that land “won” in war cannot be colonized, ethnically cleansed or in any other way controlled by the conquering power. Refugees from the war are to be allowed to return to their homes, and the land is to be restored to the rightful owner once peace returns. However, such has never been the case with Israel.

Over the last 30 years, Israeli policy has increasingly relied upon “Jewish settlements,” land confiscated from Arab Palestinians and turned over to Israeli developers for the “in-fill” of Jewish settlers (or colonists) to inhabit this formerly Arab land. Every country but the United States understands this continued policy of Jewish settlements is against international law.

No Constitution: Governing national principles could also offer a guide. However: Israel has never ratified a constitution. Virtually every civilized country utilizes a nationally agreed upon constitution which should state clear requisites for just treatment of citizens and for the responsibilities of the governing power. For Israel, a constitution would force Israelis to either offer Palestinians within Israel equal rights, or to be on record for failing to do so. They would also be forced to resolve all the dangling inequities and tragic consequences of occupying the land of three million people in the West Bank.    In the Israeli Parliament, the ruling Likud party’s central committee unanimously endorsed a resolution that calls for the annexation of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

American Approval: U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel in 2017 further created a clear “pro-Israel” climate. Those in Israel who want Palestinians to give up and to go away perceived they had the support they believe they need. Ethnic cleansing of the troublesome people who have lived in the land for centuries has been the goal for many in the Likud party since this political party’s founding in 1973. (For helpful perspectives on this difficult topic, see Gary Burge’s Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians and Ron David’s Arabs and Israel for Beginners.)

Most of these tragic activities perpetrated by Israel toward Palestinians – although broadly condemned in the international community – have occurred with tacit American approval. In spite of rhetoric and some policies promoting human rights and democracy around the world, America’s voice largely goes silent in the face of Israeli abuses. Why?  

The American Problem:

Emotions run high around anything related to what many evangelical Christians would classify as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Whether about Israel, the Second Coming and the “End-Times” or what to do about the Palestinians in and around the modern country of Israel, these topics unleash a wave of highly charged opinions in certain Christian circles. Generally premised upon fascinating but often wildly unfair and inaccurate interpretations of scripture, they encourage an unabashedly pro-Israel stance and a passionate defense of land seizures.

American evangelicals (John Hagee in Texas is one popular example) also tend to use the terms “Judea and Samaria” in their sermons about end times and biblical prophecy. These former biblical designations also happen to roughly align geographically with the Palestinian “West Bank” that Israel continues to occupy (and colonize through Jewish settlements).

The logic seems to anticipate (and hope for) the re-establishment of the Solomonic boundaries that correspond to and even exceed these current Palestinian areas. Interestingly, what many of these evangelical preachers espouse relates to a real estate transaction Jesus never mentioned and appeared to have no interest in. This evangelical voting block holds increasing power in political circles.

American Help: Americans – and America’s religious leaders and faith communities – can and should condemn terrorism. We can and should call Hamas a terrorist organization. Together, we must continue to work against anything that smacks of anti-Semitism. But we need not be blindly pro-Israel any more than we should be anti-Palestinian.

We further must distinguish the clear difference between Hamas and the Palestinian people. We do them and the world a mighty disservice in our failure to fully appreciate the Palestinian plight, and the sad realities of current Israeli policies.

Gaza and the Occupied West Bank will remain tense and tragic if American policy continues to turn a blind eye to Israeli abuses. Our U.S. silence and often outright support of Jewish seizure of Palestinian land blatantly disregard international law.

We can hope for, pray for and continue to advocate for a land where Jesus walked to be truly a land of peace. Better biblical interpretation, along with better-informed and more accurate lessons in history and politics, will help.

But simultaneously, and beyond the Gaza crisis, are these immediate necessities for us:

  • Join the rest of the world and hold Israel accountable to international law
  • Call upon Israel to develop a legitimate, clear and just constitution

Yes, it’s complicated. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also vitally necessary.


— Dr. David Jordan, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Decatur, GA


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