“A text without a context is a pretext.” Bible college students are taught this proverb when they begin to tackle the fundamentals of exegesis. Reporters doing a stint on the Middle Eastern beat would surely benefit from similar advice. Often the main actors and leaders on the Middle Eastern stage are misunderstood by the media, their behaviors and beliefs ignored or glossed over. Apart from access to greater depth of analysis, it is hard for the average consumer of news to make sense of what is actually happening in the Middle East.
What follows is some context – light and background enabling the reader to better understand the behavior and strategies of five of the recent Gaza-Israel war’s main players: Egypt, Fatah, Hamas, the Arab world and the United States.
On Sunday January 25 Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak praised Egypt for preventing stockpiles of weapons in the Sinai desert from reaching Hamas in the Gaza Strip. President Obama also recently thanked Egypt for playing a constructive role in developments. On Friday President Sarkozy of France announced that a French helicopter-carrying frigate will now patrol the waters off Gaza, while on Saturday the US announced that it has diverted the Combined Task Force 151 to track Iranian seaborne weapons smuggling in the Red Sea. On Monday Germany sent six Foreign and Interior Ministry experts to assess how to beef up security on Egypt’s border with Gaza. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “Effectively fighting weapons smuggling is one of the key questions for a lasting truce and the opening of the borders.”
What goes unsaid here is something so simple that it seems to be in poor taste for anyone to call attention to it.
Gaza does not only border on Israel. It also touches the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt. The Israeli Navy effectively prevents arms smuggling by sea into Gaza. And of course, arms are not smuggled into Gaza overland from Israel, as the borders are protected by Israeli security fences. It is an open secret that all weapons are smuggled into Gaza through Egypt. Egypt physically observes all Hamas smuggling operations, and allows them to continue because it is in Egypt’s interest for such smuggling to occur. Were Egypt to turn off the faucet on the Hamas arms flow, it could achieve near-perfect results overnight. Why has this not happened?
Egypt allows weapons smuggling for its own good reasons. It has a large and restive Islamist population which is pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood. As long as weapons flow to Gaza, some of this potential revolutionary anger toward Mubarak’s regime is dissipated.
President Mubarak realizes that control of the arms spigot affords Egypt some influence over Hamas as well, specifically making sure that Hamas focuses its jihadi endeavors on the Gazan side of the Egyptian border. Egypt also recognizes that an active Hamas weakens Israel, and this is definitely part of Egyptian geopolitical strategy. When Israel is preoccupied, Egypt has more room to breathe and influence Arab-Islamic politics.
The US, Germany and France understand Egypt’s way of thinking. They know that Egypt will never willingly or effectively prevent arms smuggling. As a result, these nations smilingly describe their current activities as “helping Egypt” and (as long as these foreign navies don’t set foot on Egyptian soil) Egypt smiles in return. Even Israel lends faint praise to the “constructive” Egyptian role. The world smiles and forgets about the Middle East for a few days. Everyone is happy.
But, as Delaney and Bonnie once said, “Where there’s a will, sure enough honey there’s a way!” Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan declared on Sunday that nothing “will prevent us from using weapons or smuggling arms into the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. No one has the right to prevent the Palestinians from equipping themselves with weapons as long as the occupation continues. From the first day of the ceasefire we began to return what we’d lost and to improve what we have in our hands. No ships, planes, or technology and satellite imagery will prevent the weapons smuggling.”
➢ Pray that Egypt’s leaders and people will receive the biblical revelation that their blessing and safety will come from blessing Israel (Isaiah 19:16-25)
➢ Pray for Egypt’s leadership to have courage to know, speak and do the truth
Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has had major problems with corruption since its inception. Palestinian communities throughout the world have been very aware of PLO financial sleaze, yet have made sure that their disgust is carefully voiced in private settings alone. It was this disgust with PLO corruption that led to a landslide victory for Hamas in the Gazan elections in January 2006. Gaza’s electorate chose Hamas to lead them, an Islamist political party whose covenantal platform calls for eliminating Israel through jihad, and setting up an Islamist state (“raising the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”). Its organizational motto is, “Allah is our goal, the Prophet our model, the Qur’an our Constitution, Jihad our path and death for the cause of Allah our most sublime belief”.
Though the US and Western Europe accept Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (the new name for the PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian people (in Gaza, at least) are not quite as sure. Gazans actually chose jihadi terror representation (Hamas) over more secular and corrupt terrorists (PA and Fatah).
But it is not only Hamas that engages in terrorism. The PA’s armed wings (Fatah and al-Aqsa Brigades) are up to their hip boots in terrorism, though Western politicians turns a blind eye and don’t let on that the PA’s “naked emperor” is actually sporting terrorist fatigues.
Israeli Colonel Moshe Elad served as the head of the security coordination mechanism with the Palestinian Authority during the Oslo Accord period. Today he is a lecturer at the Western Galilee Academic College. Elad remembers a statement made by a senior Palestinian (Fatah) figure at a fateful moment during the Oslo negotiations: “No Arab leader has the right to renounce the right of return, because the return is beyond anything.”
This Fatah politician was stating that, even if a future peace deal would divide the land of Israel into two states (one Israeli, one Palestinian), all Palestinians will still insist on the right to settle in any spot within the Jewish state and claim it as their own. If the Jewish state refuses to allow this, then Fatah will once again wage war against Israel until “every inch of Palestine” is conquered by Arab Palestinians. This is the Palestinian Authority’s not-so-secret strategy. And this Palestinian Authority is what the West calls its “Palestinian peace partner.”
➢ Pray that the God of Israel will grant revelation to Palestinians about His heart for Israel the people and the land (Zechariah 2:8-13)
➢ Pray for salvation in Yeshua to come to many Palestinians through evangelism, dreams and visions
Hamas has the unique challenge of being a jihadi group trying to get its message across to a secular Western world. It has hit on a successful media strategy which has evoked world sympathy – its spokesmen champion freedom from occupation; they call for open borders; they stir up the world to hate Israel for civilian casualties in the Gaza war. Hamas has been rather effective in its strategy. But what Hamas does not communicate is even more important.
Though it calls Israel an occupier, Hamas does not explain that Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip. Israel totally evacuated Gaza in August 2005, leaving not even one soldier behind. What Hamas wants Israel to evacuate now is Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva and Jerusalem – the whole State of Israel. That is what it means by the term “occupation”. It wants the Jews of Israel to fold up their tents and move en masse to Europe or America or to just disappear from the face of the earth. Israel’s existence is what Hamas wants to destroy – not any invisible occupation in Gaza.
Hamas’ call for open borders is also a euphemism. It is another way of saying that Hamas wants freedom to continue smuggling in weapons through Egyptian tunnels and unmonitored Egyptian borders. Open borders between Hamas and Egypt would lead to Israel’s destruction – by the same Gazan rockets, IEDs and gunmen who fired on Israel for the past 8 years.
Television footage of civilian casualties in Gaza have been used by Hamas to label Israel a criminal and evil state. Yet the context of those tragic pictures must be re-emphasized: civilian casualties occurred because civilian population centers were where Hamas stored its rockets, placed its rocket launchers and from where it fired its missiles into Israel. Hamas chose its battlefield carefully, knowing that Israel would have to respond, and knowing that civilian casualties could turn world opinion against Israel if the images of these casualties were marketed wisely.
Casualty figures were inflated by Hamas and the majority of the casualties were described by Hamas as innocent women and children. The IDF’s latest intelligence is that 1,100 to 1,200 Gazans were killed in Operation Cast Lead, out of which at least 700 were combatants, with another 200 fatalities of men in their 20’s whose identities are still being established. IDF’s Military Intelligence believes that most of these 200 will be proved to be Hamas operatives. That is an approximate ration of 3:1, or 75% of the fatalities being Hamas operatives. This is convincing proof that the IDF was targeting Hamas and not civilians. Indeed, significant precautions were taken not to harm civilians. It was Hamas’ strategy of using Gaza’s civilian population as human shields which made the carrying out of surgical strikes with no “collateral damage” an extremely difficult undertaking.
But it seems that for Hamas not all news is sad news. Even though Hamas’ locations of firing zones guaranteed that many of their own fellow Gazans would become cannon fodder, on January 22 Hamas spokesman Tahar al-Nunu announced that the families of Palestinians killed in the war will receive 1,000 Euros, and those whose homes were destroyed will receive 4,000 Euros.
The Arab world
In the Middle Ages, blood libels against European Jews were commonplace. False and vicious charges were often made that Jewish people had captured and then murdered Christian children, draining their blood to mix with unleavened flour for ritual Passover matzot. Even in the Middle East such charges became commonplace. In Damascus, Syria a blood libel was backed by the French Consul in February 1840, and it led to the murder of two Jewish leaders and the torture of seven Jewish citizens, as well as the hostage-taking of 63 Jewish children. Other notorious Middle Eastern blood libels include Damascus (1848, 1890), Aleppo (1810, 1850, 1875), Antioch (1826), Beirut (1862, 1874), Tripoli (1834), Jerusalem (1847, 1870, 1895), Jaffa (1876), Dayr al-Qamar (1847), Istanbul (1870, 1874), Izmir (1872, 1874) and Edirne (1872).
The blood libel has been resurrected by Syria’s Vice-President and Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas in his book The Matzah of Zion (1983). Egypt’s government-sponsored al-Ahram newspaper published an article on October 28, 2000 entitled “Jewish Matzah is Made from Arab Blood”. Other modern variations on an ancient theme involve Jews supposedly using Arab blood to make Purim pastries. The false equation of Zionism with Nazism has also been drilled into Arab minds for more than 40 years in succession.
In Israel’s counter-terror Operation Defensive Shield (April 2002), Palestinian sources claimed that Israel had massacred more than 500 civilians in Jenin. The numbers were later downsized to between 53 and 56, 6 or 7 of whom were civilians. Hamas’ recent attempts to paint Gazan fatalities as being all or mostly civilians is an up-to-date example of the same libelous strategy.
A few days ago I watched a British TV network interview a Gazan man who insisted that he watched an IDF soldier get out of his tank and shoot a number of small Palestinian children with his personal M-16 while two other IDF soldiers looked on, munching on chocolate bars and potato crisps. No evidence was shown, nor was it requested. No IDF reaction was asked for. No other eyewitnesses were interviewed. Yet this libelous “testimony” was broadcast around the world as “gospel truth.”
Other deliberately slanderous charges against Israel in the Gaza war involve accusations of using white phosphorus anti-personnel bombs and uranium shells. In each case attempts are made to portray Israeli behavior in battle as sub-human or even demonic. Unfortunately, some human rights groups with a strong anti-Israel bias have taken up these calumnies and used the media to spread these hateful charges against Israel. In this they are unwittingly used by Hamas as willing accomplices in their drive to weaken and destroy the Jewish state.
American political strategies
President Obama declared on his first day in office that he “will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one.” He “will make a sustained push … to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.” Obama stated that he would pursue peace in the Middle East “aggressively” and that he appointed Senator George Mitchell as his new Middle East envoy. Senator Mitchell is supposed to arrive in Israel on Wednesday to begin his mission.
Mitchell was the facilitator of the Belfast Agreement (1998) in Northern Ireland. He then “formed the conviction that there is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended”. His Mitchell Report, commissioned by President Clinton and handed in to President Bush, became the basis for President Bush’s Road Map concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mitchell’s plan then called for a total freeze on Jewish housing growth and settlement (including natural growth, which means normal population increase through births) between Beersheva and Jerusalem, and between Jerusalem and Afula (the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria).
His present perspective is summed up in this quote from May 21, 2001: “Two proud peoples share a land and a destiny. Competing claims, religious differences and many other factors have led to a grinding, demoralizing and destructive conflict here”. Mitchell sees the Biblical prophecies and Islamic claims over Israel as in conflict. He does not believe that the God of the Bible is restoring the Jewish people back to their own homeland. For Senator Mitchell, that train of thought is irrelevant and even potentially destructive. His solution is to sidestep all claims and to attempt to establish peace and stability through American influence and pressure. To Mitchell, “the alternative is unacceptable and should be unthinkable” (this last quote was also given word for word on December 18, 2008).
Though perhaps well intentioned, it is clear that President Obama’s aggressive priority to establish peace in the Middle East leads back to the same black hole that swallowed the Bush Administration – a commitment to divide the land of Israel and give part of it to Israel’s enemies. Without truly understanding what he is getting himself into, President Obama is running up against the promises and warnings of the God of Jacob in Zechariah 14:1-3 and Joel 3:1-3. When Yeshua returns, He will judge the nations based on their dividing up of the land of Israel and their re-division of Jerusalem. Dividing the land of Israel (even if one calls it “the peace process”) actually forms the basis for the judgment of the nations at the Second Coming of Messiah Yeshua. Concerted pressure on Israel by any nation will bring the concerted pressure of YHVH right back on that nation.
➢ Pray for President Barak Obama, his advisors and wise men – that the Lord God of Israel will grant him a revelation regarding the land of Israel and God’s strategy for it as the Jewish homeland and world capitol. Pray that the President will only push for the things that will bless America, things that will dovetail with God’s heart and strategies for the Promised Land.
In Messiah Yeshua,