On Sunday, 20 February 2005, Israel’s cabinet set the date for a total Jewish evacuation from the Gaza Strip and four small communities in Northern Israel (near the Jezreel Valley). The exodus is slated to begin on a date dripping with prophetic significance – on the evening of July 24, the day after the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz. The Fast of Tammuz kicks off the period traditionally known as ‘bein hameitzarim’ or the ‘time of the dire straits’ (evening of July 23 through evening of August 14). Many significant tragedies have befallen the Jewish people during this season, which climaxes on the 9th of Av (the Fast of Tisha B’Av),
There are historical reasons why traditional Orthodox Jews consider this season to be a time of foreboding and doom. Here is a partial list of disasters which occurred during the ‘time of the dire straits’. On the 17th of Tammuz 70 A.D. the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem. Solomon’s and Herod’s Temples were both destroyed at the conclusion of the dire straits period, both on the Ninth of Av, 650 years apart. The Crusades were inaugurated during this season. Over a period of 200 years the Jewish populations of England, France and Spain were exiled during the ‘dire straits’. The Ukrainian Khmelnitski massacres and various Holocaust decrees were also initiated during this period. The government of Israel could not have picked a day with worse symbolic meaning on which to initiate the forced removal of Jews from parts of the land of Israel promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A few weeks ago the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chose an operational codeword for this evacuation process, calling it “Shevet Ahim“. The Hebrew phrase comes from Psalm 133:1, describing the goodness and pleasantness of the Jewish people dwelling together in unity. Since the forced removal of the Jewish Gazans also involves settling them in another place (‘settling’ in Hebrew is grammatically connected to the word shevet), some obtuse army officer concluded that this codeword might put a positive and quasi-biblical spin on the whole process. Perhaps he thought that exiling Jews can end up being a pleasant task, and that forced evacuation will simply encourage them to live together in closer unity with other Jewish brothers!
In the land of Israel biblical phrases and concepts are never far away from daily life, streaming across the computer screens of our consciousness. It seems that what goes on with this people always has echoes of eternity, always has biblical proportions. As Paul said, the gifts and calling of God upon the Jewish people are irrevocable.
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What is the heart of the matter here? What is going on in the hearts of world leaders? What motivates Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to unilaterally withdraw from areas that he ‘pacified’ with an iron hand? Why is Sharon’s Likud ruling party a house divided on this matter? Have the various Palestinian leaderships really reformed and chosen the path of peace? How can a born-again US President advocate and encourage the dividing up of the land of Israel? What can be uncovered about the secrets of men’s hearts (see 1 Cor.14:25; Prov.25:2)?
Sharon ‘s heart
Ariel Sharon is known in Israel as ‘the bulldozer’. Like Joab in King David’s day, he has been a brave and bloody general who delivers victory on the battlefield. Often considered a maverick by his commanding officers, he frequently disobeyed orders in order to carry out what he felt were better strategies – and usually won the day. Sharon’s past military reputation is that of ignoring clearly mandated orders while trying to score a battlefield knockout punch.
On January 28 2003 Sharon was elected in a landslide victory with a clear mandate including no withdrawal from Gaza, the West Bank or any part of Jerusalem; no negotiations with the Palestinians as long as terror continued; and a strong counter-terrorist military and intelligence response to Islamic jihad operations against Israelis. Within 12 months he did a total about face, advocating unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank. In a Western democracy such a flip flop would have required Sharon to seek re-election. But due to the tightrope-like nature of Israeli parliamentary politics, Sharon has managed to cobble together a coalition of his own opponents while overriding his own party members. By threatening and outmaneuvering his cabinet, he has rammed through his disengagement strategy in spite of his electorate and party platforms.
What caused Sharon’s drastic change? What caused him to abandon loyalty to his own party? Certainly no politician is immune to the temptations of making a name for himself in history, or staying in power for another term. Upon assuming office every world leader also discovers new facets, perspectives and pressures – factors which may cause him to reconsider and even change previously held convictions.
Yet Sunday’s recent events point to a simpler reason. First, Sharon announced the unilateral disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria. Three hours later his cabinet approved a revised route for the defensive security fence, holding on to regions close to Jerusalem (the Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion districts). It seems that Sharon is hoping that the US will be satisfied by the disengagement and put less pressure on Israel as a result, asking it to give up less land elsewhere. As one nameless diplomatic official said, “This is a very strong statement regarding limits Israel believes the US is willing to accept” (Jerusalem Post [JP] p.1, Feb 21 2005).
Natan Sharansky explains his similar decoding of Sharon’s strategies (JP Weekend, Feb 18 2005):
My theory is that he is desperate because of the fact that, for so many years, Israel has tried again and again to make peace, only to find again and again that we don’t have a partner. . . And that the world is against us. No matter what we do, no matter that the Palestinians keep trying to destroy us, more and more is always demanded. I think Sharon is trying to stop this cycle by saying ‘We’ll make one dramatic step that will be very difficult for us, and we won’t link it to any demands [on the Palestinians] because we don’t believe that they would fulfill any demands. And then we will get some relief from the rest of the world’. However, I believe not only that we will not gain 10 years [of peace], but that we will not even gain one day.
Sharon may well believe that his risk is worth taking, and that he can pull off another great victory on the diplomatic battlefield. He hopes that he will be able to temporarily hold off the international wolves, those leaders of unfriendly nations who snarlingly demand that Israel divide up its own God given land (see Joel 3:1-2).
But we are seeing history repeat itself rather quickly. In May 2000 former PM Ehud Barak stated that a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon would not set a precedent. On May 14, 2004 the Jerusalem Post spoke about the “Lebanonization of Gaza” and quoted IDF Chief of Staff General Moshe Ya’alon stating that “the Gaza Strip is not Lebanon.” Sadly, the opposite has turned out to be true. Today it is Sharon who is applying Barak’s bankrupt strategies, gambling recklessly with Israel’s future and inheritance.
The Likud party
Whereas in 2003 the Likud rode to a stunning victory opposing disengagement, today barely one handful of top Likud leaders espouse the same position. The reason is not hard to uncover: PM Sharon has threatened his own cabinet members with dismissal and has bullied party hacks until they stood with him. The majority of top party members have fallen into sullen line. Those Likudniks who have remained steadfast to 70 years of party ideology and have opposed Sharon’s about-face are labeled “the Likud rebels” by the media and by Sharon’s PR men. They have discovered that it can be dangerous to hold fast to one’s own party’s platform, and that a politician’s enemies can even be those from his own party!
Peres and the Labor Party
Shimon Peres, catalyst of the Oslo Peace Process, still guides the Labor ship of state. Now deputy PM in Sharon’s coalition government, Peres and his followers believe that Gaza must be evacuated first, and then comes most of the West Bank. His arguments, briefly stated? “We must make an accounting of what has happened to us over nearly 40 years, and how much it has cost us in human life, how much it has cost us in resources, and how much it has cost us in our international standing.” Peres says that the constant terrorist attacks, resulting in Israeli civilian and military casualties, have taken their toll. The Islamic jihad terrorists have forced the hand of a sovereign Israeli government and changed its policies. Incidentally, this goal of “dividing, confusing and conquering” the enemy has always been one of the terrorists’ stated strategies.
Peres believes that Israel’s international standing in the world will rise as a result of the disengagement, though Natan Sharansky has described this hope as totally unrealistic. Peres and his disciple Yossi Beilin believe that Israel must shrink its borders if it is to be fully accepted into the New Middle East. A new era of peace, prosperity and understanding will soon be upon Israel if she only lets go of unnecessary land, according to this view. Needless to say, Peres feels that those who advocate the Biblical perspective of God-given borders will only bring the entire region to the point of conflagration.
Israelis have a high pain tolerance. We have suffered repeated wars, skyrocketing inflation, painful terror attacks, deadly motorists and rude shoppers. We follow our leaders, often blindly (see Ezek.34). This ‘leader complex’ works for good and for bad. On the good side, when Israel’s leaders repent en masse for rejecting Yeshua’s Messiahship, many Israelis will follow them in returning to the Lord (see Zech.12:12-14; 13:9).
Back in January 2003 the majority of the electorate strongly opposed disengagement. But since Sharon has pushed strongly for it, overturning all obstacles and the media have strongly supported Sharon’s path. Slowly the majority of Israelis has warmed to the idea. Though Sharon has betrayed his electorate, he has now managed to win a significant percentage of them over to his side. Only the collapse of his coalition, the outbreak of new terrorism, or a traumatic evacuation of Gazan Jews would cause Israelis to abandon support for Sharon at this point.
Messianic Israeli Jews
Messianic Jews in Israel deal with a lot of social, religious and spiritual pressures in Israel. We tend to be divided on political issues, as are many other Israelis. Since the majority of Israelis have now swung over to support Sharon, this swing towards disengagement is also reflected among Israeli believers. Some, it is true, have are strongly opposed to disengagement, and others can be found reviling and speaking ill of our elected leaders in violation of Ex.22:28 and Acts 23:5.
Perhaps one of the best ways to consider this matter is by asking three simple questions:
1. Is it God who has restored Gaza and the West Bank to the Jewish people?
2. If so, are we thankful to Him for this?
3. If we give these lands to our sworn enemies, will God be happy or angry with us, pleased or displeased?
Most Israelis would probably not volunteer a bold answer on any of these points. Romans 1:21 says that lack of thankfulness to God can have severe spiritual consequences. Rejecting God’s good gifts is an expression of a lack of thankfulness, and this also has severe consequences. To be found disengaging from God’s good gifts is not to be found in a good place.
President Bush and contiguity
President Bush is a fellow believer in Yeshua the Messiah. He is the leader of the most powerful, generous and wealthy nation on earth. He is committed to reading and obeying the Holy Scriptures. Yet his national policies seem to have been formulated without awareness of the biblical teaching regarding God’s last days judgment on any nation who helps to divide the land of Israel (eg., Zech.14:1-3; Joel 3:1-2). It seems that State Department logic and human compassion unenlightened by God’s Word has shaped the President’s strategies. This is a matter for deep regret, for earnest intercession and for great hope of repentance.
President Bush spoke only a few hours ago in Belgium. AP quotes him as saying, “So Israel must freeze settlement activity, help Palestinians build a thriving economy, and ensure that a new Palestinian state is truly viable, with contiguous territory on the West Bank. A state of scattered territories will not work . . .I’ve asked Secretary Rice . . . to convey America’s strong support for the Palestinian people as they build a democratic state”.
In plain language President Bush is calling on Jews to abandon significant portions of their God given land (see Jer. 31); to help establish on that land an Arab state which unfortunately will seek Israel’s destruction (see Ezek. 36); and pledges American support to this future Arab entity which will soon seek to displace Jews from their inheritance (see Psalm 83).
The word “contiguous” means touching or in physical contact with something. So President Bush has called for a new Palestinian state whose two parts (Gaza and the West Bank) need to be physically connected. The down side of this is that the State of Israel would be cut in two. When the West Bank and Gaza touch, then Beersheva, Eilat and Kiryat Gath are cut off from Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Contiguous borders mean the partitioning or dividing up of the State of Israel! This means that even more border changes are waiting in the wings. It also means that the USA is applying pressure on Israel to shrink itself and divide itself. And so we come to understand the present pressures on Sharon, why he is trying to downsize Israel before our American big brother gets into the act!
Abu Mazen and realpolitik
The new leader of the Palestinian Authority is Mahmoud Abbas, also known by his PLO fighting name Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen was involved in graduate studies at the Moscow’s Oriental College, and authored a doctoral dissertation in history denying the Holocaust and accusing Jews and Nazis of being comrades (“The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism“). He was the paymaster for the 1972 PLO Munich Olympic massacre, and has funneled at least $100,000 USD to wanted terrorists during the recent Palestinian election. He has until recently referred to Israel as “the Zionist enemy”, and has called for a return of Palestinians to Galilee and Jerusalem. This ‘return’ would flood Jewish Israel with Palestinian Arabs and is another buzz word for a destruction of the Jewish state.
Abu Mazen has declared that violence is not an acceptable strategy at present during the peace negotiations, but has left future possibilities open. His foreign minister Nabil Sha’ath has declared that “there are no differences over the objectives” between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP and Abu Mazen (Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Jan 10 2005). Abu Mazen’s decision not to dismantle the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza and the West Bank will keep the terror option alive and well, ready for the time when the peace process eventually fails to yield more territory.
Pray that God may grant health, safety and wisdom to Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush. Pray that God will raise up leadership in Israel that hears God’s voice and has the courage to obey. Pray that believers will shine like lights during these times of shaking, and that Yeshua would be manifested throughout Israel to Jew and Arab alike. Pray that God would raise up a mighty army of prophetic musicians and artists and intercessors throughout this nation.
Even though much of the above seems bleak, God is using these pressures to bring His beloved Jewish people closer to Him. As King David once said, “For His anger is only for a brief moment, but His good pleasure is life itself! Weeping may endure for an evening, but in the morning? Joy!” (Psalm 30:5)
Once again, we want to tell you again how much you mean to us. We thank you for standing with us in prayer and financially. We are your partners in the harvest field of Israel.
In Messiah Yeshua’s love,
Avner Boskey (for Rachel, Daniel, David, Asaph and Elisha)
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