Just as President Bush is trying to push the American-backed “road map” peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians, Christian Zionists are voicing their strong opposition to any peaceful settlement involving Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Earlier this year, when Bush sought to press Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to accept the “road map” and relax Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians, Christian Zionist leaders in the US protested, warning the President against pressuring Israel to do anything against its will.
One of the main American evangelical lobbyists for Israel is Rev Jerry Falwell, a popular televangelist who in the late 1970s founded the Christian fundamentalist group, known as the Moral Majority, which played a key role in getting Ronald Reagan elected for two terms.
In his book, the Fundamentalist Phenomenon, published in 1981, Falwell spelled out the evangelical attitudes towards Israel:
“To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel.”
Falwell’s unconditional embrace of Israel, which is characteristic of all Christian Zionists, stems from the so-called dispensational theology which teaches that the creation of Israel in Palestine in 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy and, therefore, precedence to the second advent of Christ.
“To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel”
This theology, popularised by the 19th century American Cyrus Scofield, espouses the doctrine that Christ can not return to earth until certain events occur: The Jews must gain control of Palestine and Jerusalem, destroy Islamic holy places in the city and “rebuild” a temple.
Then the great battle of Armageddon will follow during which millions of people would be killed. Afterwards, the conversion of the Jews to Christ would take place.
According to Hal Lindsey, a prominent American Christian Zionist, the valley from Galilee to Eilat (a town in southern Israel) will flow with blood and 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved.
The rest of Jewry, millions of them, and presumably all non-Christians, would perish in “the mother of all holocausts”.
Occasionally, fundamentalist support for Israel takes on an ugly tone.
In 1970, Dr Roy Eckhardt, an American Methodist minister and professor of Religion, told a group of clergy gathering in Houston, Texas, that “the proper place to give Christian witness today is in an Israeli munitions factory.”
“Never mind what Israel does,” say the Christian Zionists. “God wants this to happen.”
Thousands of Palestinians were
This includes, inter alia, the invasion of Lebanon of 1982, which killed and injured more than 100,000, mostly Lebanese and Palestinian civilians and Israel’s methodical brutalizing of the Palestinian people, including shooting children and demolishing homes.
But why would some “Christians” fervently support actions such as, for example, the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Beirut in 1982 that are decidedly incompatible with the teachings of Christ?
The answer lies in the belief system of Christian Zionists: that what Israel wants is what God wants. Therefore, it is perfectly acceptable to support whatever Israel wants.
While Jews are not great fans of the evangelical theology, successive Israeli governments, none the less, sought aggressively to translate evangelical obsession with Israel into concrete political gains.
In 1980, Israel government, then headed by Menachem Begin, helped the evangelicals establish the so-called “International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.”
The main function of the embassy is to enlist worldwide Christian support for Israel and defend Israeli actions and policies, including Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians.
In recent years, the embassy raised millions of dollars to help in the financing of the airlifting of close to a million Jewish and (ostensibly Jewish) immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
More recently, the embassy in coordination with Christian Zionist groups in Europe and North America have been planning with militant Jewish groups in the West Bank to take over Arab homes and property, especially in the vicinity of the Aqsa Mosque.
Now, Christian Zionists are devoting more time and resources in support of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
“We don’t support the road map. The Bible is our road map”
An American evangelical organization, known as the Jerusalem Prayer Team, launched a campaign in July aimed at financially helping Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The goal is to raise enough to give a gift of $55 apiece to 14,000 settlers,” said the campaigns’ chairman, Michael Evans, a pastor and author of the recent book Beyond Iraq: The Next Move.
“We don’t support the road map. The Bible is our road map.”
Earlier this year, the Israeli Minister of Tourism, Beny Elon, met with the group’s leaders in Texas, urging them to form a united front against Islam.
Among the statements Elon made, which was not widely reported by the American media, was his call for the creation of a “world-wide Jewish-Christian Coalition against Islam for the purpose of eliminating it from the face of earth.”
Christian Zionism, though powerful and influential, represents only a small numerical minority within Christendom.
Indeed, not all evangelical Christians advocate uncritical support of Israel.
In July of 2002, nearly 60 prominent evangelical theologians and heads of organisations wrote to President Bush, voicing an even-handed policy towards Israelis and Palestinians that affirms two states.
Ata Allah Hannah is among many
They asked that the President “vigorously oppose injustice, including the continued unlawful and degrading Israeli settlement movement,” which they characterized as “the theft of Palestinian land.”
Some of the most uncompromising Christian critics of Christian Zionism come from the Palestinian Christian community.
Indeed, some Palestinian Christian leaders, such as Archimandrite Ata Allah Hanna, Spokesman of the Orthodox Patriarchy of Jerusalem, believe that Christian Zionists are actually pseudo Christians.
“They have nothing to do with Christianity; they have a Christian face, but a Zionist heart. What they say and do is completely incompatible with the ideals of Christ,” said Hanna, during a recent Television interview.
“We, the Christians of the East, condemn and reject this heretic theology of those Zionists who defile the good name of Christ and Christianity.”