100 days. For the first time since the turn of the Millennium 2000, we have seen even a few months of relative quiet, even a ray of hope, in the Middle East.
That quiet ended last night at 11:20 pm at the “Stage” disco on Jonah the Prophet Street. Two suicide terrorists from Tul Karem (seemingly directed by the Islamic Jihad office in Damascus) tried to enter the disco, where a large birthday party was planned for 12:00 midnight. The security guard spotted them on the street and tried to stop them. One ran away, and the other set off the bomb. Due to this brave action of the guard, dozens of lives were saved. Still, 4 were killed on the spot; another seems to be dying in the hospital, and another 35 hospitalized with injuries.
This represents a major test for Abu Mazen. It shows that simply reconciling language is not enough. Law must be enforced. Abu Mazen has promised to find and prosecute those responsible. Let us pray that he will, for if not, stability for Israeli and Palestinian society is in jeopardy.
Nonetheless, the attitude among Israelis and Palestinians is one of cautious optimism on both sides. There is no euphoria – just a sober sense of determination to try to make a horrible situation somewhat better.
This positive turn has been by the grace of God, and in some sense by the courage and integrity demonstrated by three leaders: George Bush, Ariel Sharon, and Abu Mazen. One is a Christian, one a Jew; and one a Muslim. It can also be attributed to the fall of three evil men: Yassir Arafat, Sadam Hussein, and Osama Bin Laden.
As we have had 4 1/2 years of terrorism and warfare, I believe it is God’s will for us to have a period of 4 1/2 years of quiet and stability, so that the gospel can be shared with both Israelis and Arabs. Let’s look again for some guideline in I Timothy 2:1-4 (our primary mandate for praying for the political situation).
First of all that … prayers be offered up … for all who are in governing authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life. For God … desires all men to be saved.
Our prayers follow this simple three-step procedure:
1. for government leaders
2. for social stability
3. for evangelism to all racial groups.
Please pray this way for the Middle East. We need to pray for the government leaders; sometimes I think some of our dear friends are praying against them instead of for them. There is a difference, a difference in attitude and faith.
Despite what you hear on the news, Bush’s destruction of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime in Iraq, and the beginnings of democracy in those countries, has shaken the paradigm of Islamic tyrant dictatorships in the Middle East.
Sharon described his decision to initiate the disengagement in Gaza as the most difficult one he has ever made. Although fraught with difficulties, it is a brave decision. Some have accused Sharon of caving in to political party pressure. The opposite is true – he has stood up against underhanded political maneuvering in his party. He has been accused of causing division in the nation. Again, that is not true. Israelis are almost 70% in favor of getting out of Gaza. It is the extremist groups attacking him that are causing division.
It has been said against Sharon that he is giving back to the Palestinians land that God promised to the Jewish people. There is a good point here, but it is taken out of proportion. In Gaza there are over a million Palestinians and about 7,600 Israelis. We don’t “have” that land now. We have a few settlements that require us to militarily patrol a huge area and population that we do not really “have” at all.
The absurdity of it is this: if we really wanted to conquer Gaza, we would have to pull out all the settlers and launch a massive attack to drive out a million Palestinians. Even in that bizarre scenario, the settlers would have to be removed. To think that we “own” an area by patrolling it is a religious spirit, not based on faith or reality.
Let’s make no mistake about it. All the land in Israel (including that called “Palestine”) was given by God to the Jewish people. To say that we should pull out of occupied territories is reverse logic. The Palestinians are occupying our territory. We need to change the rhetoric on the issue. However, we need to have discernment of how and when and if we should fight.
To try to defend scattered settlements is unwise strategy and self-destructive. It reminds me of Satan quoting the Bible to dare Yeshua (Jesus) to jump off the Temple Mount (Matthew 4:6) or rebels going against God’s timing and Moses’ leadership to attack their enemies (Numbers 14:40-45). The balance of how to use the military is determined by the civil government. Three of our four children are serving in the Israeli Army, and in general, we support its policies.
Ideologically, I agree with the most extreme right-wing religious fanatic settlers, as far as our right to occupy the land. It is outrageous and unjust that wherever Israel is in control, the Muslims have basic civil rights; whereas wherever the Muslims are in control, all Jews are murdered or deported. However government leaders have to act out of responsibility, considering the real effects their decisions will have on the people.
Israel needs to maintain a strong military to defend itself and defend its land. One day Armageddon will come, in which all the nations will attack Jerusalem. God will punish them for trying to deny God’s covenant with the Jewish people about ownership of the land of Israel. That day will come; but it is not today. We need time now for peace and quiet so that we can share the gospel more effectively.
When we pray for government leaders, we are to pray for quiet – for a peaceful, stable society with law and order. In many ways – concerning politics – no news is good news. We are called to “hasten the day” of the Second Coming (II Peter 3:12), but that is primarily through evangelism. We should pray faith commands of “Peace, be still” over the political situation, like Yeshua did over the winds and the waves (Mark 4:39).
We pray for a quiet stable society in the Middle East according to I Timothy 2:1-4. That is the equivalent in our generation of “Praying for the peace of Jerusalem” – Psalm 122:6. Part of praying for that peace is to thwart all terrorism.
For these brief few months, Abu Mazen has done a good job. Let’s not be in delusion about him. He has no love for Israel. He is a devout Muslim. He would like to take as much land away from Israel as possible. However, despite the wrong ideology, he is a man who acts with integrity.
He has consistently spoken against terrorism. He has started to reform and reestablish the government institutions among the Palestinians. Arafat was a criminal. It seems that Abu Mazen is an honest man. I believe it won’t be long before the majority of the Palestinians will understand how much damage Arafat did to them.
What may be dangerous for Israel is exactly Abu Mazen’s integrity. He is likely to gain much more for the Palestinians through conscientious negotiations than Arafat ever could have with his underhanded support of terrorism. Israel’s challenge in the Abu Mazen age will not be terrorism but diplomacy. That’s a different game with different rules.
While Abu Mazen has not taken action to dismantle the terrorist cells, he has deployed the Palestinian policemen to try to prevent terrorist attacks. That is more than talk. The greater danger to Israel and the Palestinians now is not the Hamas terror, but the gains Hamas made in the last elections. They have a majority of the local municipalities in Gaza. That’s another good point for prayer: that the Palestinians would vote against Hamas toward a more responsible government.
This is a time of breakthrough for indigenous evangelism for Israelis and Palestinians. We are already seeing growth in faith among native Israelis. We have been praying for a breakthrough for evangelism to Palestinian Muslims. We have now started supporting a small group of Palestinian evangelists in the West Bank, who have led over 100 Muslims to the Lord there. (If you would like to support them, we would be happy to transfer 100% of any designated donation directly into their hands.)
In the Bible there was a ladder of God’s punishment to the people of Israel. The first was financial difficulty; then military loss; then decreasing the borders; then dividing the land in two; then finally exile. We are in the process of restoration; going back up that ladder. But there is a balance to the process. The process includes spiritual issues and issues of social justice.
Our people are suffering. The statistics of child abuse, sexual abuse, drug use, violence in families and schools, unemployment, poverty, deterioration of the hospitals, and decline in the school system are heart breaking. That is just as much a part of the kingdom of God, if not more, than a few isolated settlements. We should also mention the spiritual problems of anti-evangelism and religious coercion on the one hand, and new age cults and mysticism on the other hand. Our people need the Good News. Now is the time.
Asher serves as president of Tikkun Global family of ministries and congregations, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. He is founder of the Revive Israel five-fold ministry team, and oversees both Ahavat Yeshua and Tiferet Yeshua congregations in Israel.
He and his wife Betty share a passion for personal prayer and devotion, local evangelism and discipleship in Hebrew, and unity of the Body of believers worldwide.
Asher was raised in a conservative Jewish home and holds degrees from Harvard University, Baltimore Hebrew College and Messiah Biblical Institute. He has authored numerous books, tracts and articles.