“Israel now is one of the most dangerous places for Jewish people to live. During the five years of the second intifada attack, only 1,000 Jews were killed. On, October 7, 2023, 1,400 people were killed in one day,” said Rev. Dr. Joel Allen, professor of Religion and Director of the McGovern Center at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota. “It is hard for Americans to understand the psychological impact on Jewish people. Israel was their safe place, and that was taken away. This will change Israel forever.”
A month after Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented surprise attack on Israel and infiltrated the country by air, sea, and land, the region stands on high alert amid fears of a broader conflict and thousands dead on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border.
Israel and Palestine
Allen has been to Israel and Palestine four times. His travel groups include students, clergy, and lay people. Professor Allen’s areas of expertise include Biblical Interpretation and Theology, Hebrew and Greek Languages, Faith and Reason, Theology of World Religions, Rabbinic and Patristic Biblical Interpretation, and Christian Ministry.
“We visit both sides of the wall. We always visit Bethlehem Bible College, a Palestinian Christian school on the West Bank. Bishara Awad, the founder of the Bethlehem Bible College, is a graduate of Dakota Wesleyan,” shares Allen.
The visits also include time with Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, an Orthodox Israeli rabbi. It is a chance to explore the Orthodox Israeli and Palestinian Christian views on religion and perspectives of what is happening in that region.
“We stay on both sides of the wall. Bethlehem was once a Christian town. You gain a sense of both perspectives, especially Arab Christians,” said Allen.
The Israeli army failed the people of Israel the day of the Hasmas attack states Allen. "They did not respond with urgency to defend the people. It was an intelligence failure. The Jewish Intelligence Service is one of the best in the world, and they failed," he said.
Allen describes the current situation, “It was like the United States on 9/ 11. We have never conceived of a plane going into a building. Every year, Hamas will shoot off a few missiles, and Israel responds by attacking a few of the Hamas leaders. It is happening regularly; they call it ‘mowing the grass.’ The Israelis were used to this—a few rockets from Hasmas, Israel responds. This was the status quo. Hamas broke the status quo on October 7.”
People are trapped between corrupt governments in both Israel and Gaza. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for the past 16 years, in its 1988 charter specifies that the “Zionist state [Israel]” must be destroyed and all the Jews there killed. It states bluntly that an Islamist state must be established over what it calls all historic Palestinian lands. In other words, from the river to the sea.
Polling shows public support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies collapsing in the wake of Hamas’s deadly assault. Netanyah has coveted Palestinian property throughout his leadership.
Possibility of peace
Allen hopes peace will return to the region and that he can travel to the region in June 2024. “I have hope. We are not canceling our trip yet. It is on ice for now.”
There is precedence for peace. In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, a peace agreement was struck between Israel and Egypt, after a month of armed conflict. “The agreement is still in place today. There is a possibility for peace today. It is always darkest before the sun comes out,” said Professor Allen.
People assume that Jews and Arabs cannot get along. Allen points out that is just not true. “Right now, almost two million Palestinians are living in Israel. These are people who never left their homes when Israel became a nation. They live peacefully, side by side with the Jews. They are not all Israeli citizens.”
Palestinians must surrender to the idea that Jewish people have ancestry from the land. “To Christians, it is so clear. It is the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They are related to Benjamin Netanyahu. They are Jewish people. They are Israelites. Palestinians don’t believe that. They believe they are imposters on the land that have pushed this myth,” explains Allen.
Allen states that Palestinians need to accept the fact that Israel exits as a state, and they cannot be pushed into the sea. The words “from the river to the sea” have historically been used to mean an Arab Palestinian state over all the West Bank, Gaza, and the territory of the state of Israel. The phrase was used to reject the 1947 United Nations decision to partition the British-controlled mandate Palestine into two states, one Palestinian and one Israeli.
“There have been many challenges to Israel as a country of people who are indigenous to the land,” said Allen. “The Hamas government has been working to establish an Islamist state in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to gain more territory in Palestine. Both movements are against international law.”
Israel needs to respect the territory and land of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as outlined in the Oslo Accords.
“There really is potential for peace. Israel has been willing to negotiate in the past. Peace will not happen easily,” said Allen. “Right now, 700,000 Jews live in the West Bank. That is something that is going to need to change for peace. There can be another agreement like the Oslo Accords.”
How you can help
Lean into your faith. It may be tempting for people to categorize the conflict as a war of religion. Although there are systemic conflicts about the ancestry of the Jews, the current conflicts center around land and government. People sometimes want to walk away from their faith during conflict and tension.
“Faith is good for people. There is research that religion is good for people. There is good evidence that you live longer, have better health, and engage in less destructive behaviors,” said Allen. “I was exposed to this body of literature by Rabbi Wolpe, who cites meta-research, or studies of studies, from the Oxford Handbook on Religion and Health. Faith builds community and relationships.”
Give financial assistance through UMCOR. It remains difficult to get humanitarian aid into the region. UMCOR has awarded an emergency grant to a local partner who used the funds to procure and distribute hygiene kits for internally displaced people in Gaza. UMCOR is also currently working with other partners in Israel to provide aid and humanitarian relief there. You can give to UMCOR’s international disaster response and recovery.
Learn more and seek to understand the people of Israel and Palestine. Open-mindedness can slip away in times of conflict. Seek to understand the people of Israel and Palestine. The United Methodist Church has committed itself to peacemaking, as well as to affirming “the right and duty of people of all nations to determine their own destiny” (Social Principles, ¶ 165B)
Offer prayers for peace and safety for all those in harm’s way. On Friday, November 11, The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church issued a call for peace. Read the statement. In a pastoral letter, Bishop Lanette Plambeck urged United Methodists to pray this prayer for peace.
“It is sad to think that the most dangerous place for Jewish people to be right now is Israel and the places where Jesus walked. Everyone knows someone who is grieving. The trauma is real,” said Allen.