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Engaging Israel's disengagement

"Engaging Israel's disengagement" Continued...

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

This act is one part of a wave of declarations that has spread through many left-leaning denominations in recent months, including the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church U.S.A., two regions of the United Methodist Church, and several international groups. But why are these measures necessary when Israel is actively engaging in withdrawal initiatives? Mr. Dearman says the withdrawal lacks sincerity: "I have not seen the evidence that Israel's government is for a two-state solution."

More "progressive elements of the PCUSA" support the Palestinians because "it fits with their understanding of liberation theology," Mr. Dearman said. "I think the Palestinians need liberation theology. I would be disagreeable if someone took my property."

Liberation theology emphasizes the poor as channels of God's grace and focuses on social justice and human rights in politics. Often criticized as Christian socialism, liberation theology centers on the needs of the economically poor and oppressed.

Many leaders in left-leaning denominations believe the Palestinians are far more oppressed in this conflict than the Jewish people. "Israel is the Goliath militarily," Mr. Dearman said. Although he acknowledges that he is more conservative than his colleagues in the PCUSA and labels its divestment proposal as one-sided, Mr. Dearman believes the Palestinians are receiving the short end of the stick.

The conservative, evangelical Reformed mindset offers the third perspective on the withdrawal. While dispensationalism holds to a clear distinction between the old and new covenants, Reformed theology emphasizes continuity between the two. Rather than God having two separate plans (one for Israel and one for the church), Reformed theology says all covenants in the Old Testament were preparing for and pointing to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, a covenant that includes all believers.

Christians falling under the Reformed umbrella believe Jesus Christ is the Seed of Abraham, bringing ultimate fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12 and 17. They base their conclusion upon Galatians 3:16: "Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'and to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ."

This belief has a profound effect on how the Reformed Christian approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "The boundaries that Orthodox Jews and dispensational Christians still regard as intact were abolished," says Michael Horton, professor of apologetics and theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, Calif. "In the new covenant, He is the Holy Land-Christ and His church."

Mr. Horton believes unyielding Christian support of Israel denies the Palestinians a chance at their own democratic state: "Unqualified support for whatever policy Israel creates only helps fuel the conflict and the sense many Muslims already have that there's a holy war going on here." Most Reformed Christians support the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and view it as a potential avenue for peace. But underlying their understanding of the conflict is also a belief that the Palestinians and many Arab factions have instigated the majority of the conflicts historically.

Reformed Christians such as Mr. Horton do not hesitate to express their concern for the Palestinians and Christian Arabs, but acknowledge an affinity with the Jewish people both in their effort to sustain a democratic state in a hostile region and in their common heritage: "I believe there is a special celebration when a Jew becomes a Christian, because it is the re-grafting of a branch that has broken off."

As the withdrawal unfolds, the vivid display of orange and blue ribbons along the streets of Israel confirms the complexity of the conflict. The orange ribbons worn by the settlers and their supporters symbolize the citrus groves they leave behind. The blue ribbons resemble the Israeli flag and tell of its survival against the odds and its democratic principles-principles its wearers want extended to Palestinians in an attempt for peace in the region.

-with reporting by Priya Abraham

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