History was made Monday when Israel observed its seventieth anniversary as a nation and the United States officially moved its embassy to Jerusalem. However, the day was historic from a very different perspective as well.
Palestinians mark May 15 each year as "Nakba Day" ("Nakba" means "catastrophe"). This designation refers to the fact that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced in the 1948 War of Independence.
In the weeks leading to yesterday's anniversary, Hamas called for massive demonstrations against Israel and the US. According to Israeli officials, some forty thousand Palestinians took part in "violent riots" yesterday at thirteen locations along the Gaza Strip security fence.
As protesters approached the border fence hurling stones and incendiary devices, Israeli soldiers responded with live ammunition and tear gas dispersed from drones.
The resulting death toll has risen this morning to sixty-one. More than 2,700 were injured in the deadliest violence since the 2014 Gaza war. A senior Hamas official said last night that protests would continue: "This blood will keep boiling until the occupation leaves forever."
What my Palestinian tour guide experienced
Since I wrote yesterday from Israel's point of view, today I will overview the conflict from a Palestinian perspective. (For a larger introduction to the region, its history, and its significance, I invite you to read my Israel and the Two-State Solution on our website.)
On one of my travels to Israel, I became friends with our Palestinian Christian tour guide. He and his family lost their home in Jerusalem when Israelis took the city in 1967. He still had shrapnel in his neck from that conflict and sometimes drove past his family's home with a mixture of bitterness and nostalgia.
In his view, the Palestinians owned the land for twenty centuries, after the Romans expelled the Jews following the Bar Kochba revolt of AD 135. He was largely right.
According to Daniel Gordis's Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, there were roughly seven hundred thousand Arabs living in Palestine when Jews began their migrations back to their Holy Land in the latter part of the nineteenth century, a movement known as the "First Aliyah" ("Aliyah" means "ascent"). By contrast, there were twenty-seven thousand Jews living in Palestine, concentrated primarily in Jerusalem, where they constituted a majority.
In the following decades, Jews migrated back to Palestine by purchasing land from the Arabs and/or the Ottoman Empire. By 1946, the Jewish population had grown to more than five hundred thousand, while the Arab population exceeded 1.2 million.
The plight of the refugees
However, during the War of Independence, some seven hundred thousand Arabs fled their homes. They sought refuge in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Gaza. In 1948, the Jewish population grew to exceed seven hundred thousand, while the Arab population fell to just 156,000.
The Israelis refused to discuss the refugees' status until the Arab nations recognized Israel's right to exist. The Arab nations refused to discuss Israel's status until the refugee crisis was addressed. As Gordis notes, "This meant that the refugee problem would forever remain unaddressed."
In 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Peace Accords, granting Gaza and the West Bank limited autonomy in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel. However, in 2006, Hamas won control of Gaza.
They have been designated a terrorist organization by the European Court of Justice and are pledged to the destruction of Israel. Fatah (a more moderate Palestinian political organization) retains control over the West Bank. Hamas used yesterday's anniversary and the US embassy move to inflame passions in Gaza, leading to the revolts we are now seeing.
We should remember that the United Nations proposed a "Partition Plan" in 1947 that would have created an independent Palestinian nation–a proposal Israeli leaders accepted but Arab nations rejected. And we should remember that Israel supplies water and electricity to the Palestinian territories.
Nonetheless, it is a fact of history that most of the Palestinian people lost their homeland in 1948. Many live in very difficult circumstances today.
"Live peaceably with all"
I have led study tours to Israel more than twenty times over the last three decades. Each time, I am amazed by the miracle that is the modern State of Israel. But I also grieve for the suffering of the Palestinian people and pray for resolution to this conflict and peace in this holy land.
I believe that both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve a homeland. And I believe that both deserve to hear the gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ.
Sincere Christians disagree on the role of Israel and the Palestinians in prophecy. However, we can agree that the Bible clearly teaches these principles, each of which applies to the Palestinian people:
• God loves all people of all races and nations (John 3:16).
• He calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).
• We are to "seek peace and pursue it" (Psalm 34:14), choosing to "live peaceably with all" (Romans 12:18).
• We are to "defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9).
Max Lucado: "I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me."
If you have experienced the kindness of God, with whom will you share it today?