Yesterday I took my family for a day out in London, enjoying the wildfowl in Regent's Park and an afternoon at the Science Museum. A care-free bank holiday unexpectedly turned into a lesson in Middle East politics when hundreds of protestors approached from the direction of Hyde Park Corner, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting 'Free Palestine' and 'Allahu Akbar'.
'What are they doing?' asked the children. Well, they were objecting to the killing of at least ten people by Israeli soldiers on board a Turkish humanitarian ship, the Mavi Marmara.
'Why did they kill them?' Well, they were attacked with knives, clubs and other weapons and it appears they were acting in self-defence.
'Why did they board the ship?' Well, Israel doesn't want weapons to reach its enemy, so they were enforcing a three-year blockade against Gaza.
'So why did the ship do it if they knew they'd be stopped? And why are they enemies?' Ah, now things begin to get complicated. According to at least one Gaza-based Yemeni Professor, as much as the people on the ships wanted to reach Gaza, they also wanted to spread ‘the Islamic message worldwide’ and wanted to be martyred for the sake of their religious beliefs.
As for why they are enemies, Israel has been at war with its neighbours for as long as it has occupied the land that God promised to give to Abraham's descendants.
Of course, for a more nuanced understanding of the wider conflict, we would need to look elsewhere. Our Cambridge Paper on Islam, Islamism and 'Islamic terrorism' for instance:
'Most Islamists not only condemn the actions of the state of Israel since its creation in 1948, but question its right to exist as a Jewish state ... One-sided Western (and especially American) support for Israel is at the top of the list of grievances of all Islamists and most Muslims, and they are frequently baffled and appalled by the unquestioning support that is often given to Israel by Christians. Christian Zionism, therefore, needs to be challenged publicly by Christians who can both point out the negative effects of one-sided support for Israel and present an alternative and more convincing way of interpreting the Bible in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'
Or our earlier paper on Jerusalem:
'The specific call of Abraham (Genesis 12:2) must be seen as God's remedy for the sin of all humankind (Genesis 3-1 l): 'election involves use of particular means, but for a universal goal'. It is not therefore illegitimate to see a fulfilment in Christ of something which in the Old Testament was cast in a more physical and particular form: for the OT writers necessarily used physical terms which were familiar to their audiences, while at the same time investing those terms with a wider, more spiritual reference. Thus 'Jerusalem' in the later chapters of Isaiah signifies something more than the physical city, becoming a term for God's people in their eschatological fullness. There was an 'awareness that although the future had to be described in concepts drawn from Israel's historic nationhood, it would in fact ultimately transcend them'.'
Some of the questions raised in this latter paper remain as relevant and challenging today: Why are we left undisturbed by the fact that some Jewish Christians are prevented from becoming Israeli citizens and that the Palestinian Christian community is haemorrhaging into non-existence through emigration? Who do we really think are God's people in the Middle East?