Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly working on plans to annex about one-third of the Palestinian West Bank into Israel, but Baptists in the region are speaking out against such a move. While many U.S. evangelicals support the modern secular nation of Israel, Baptists who live and minister in that nation or the territory it occupies see the situation much differently.
Netanyahu, who in May started his fifth term as prime minister as part of a unity government with his main rival, promised during the election he would start the process of annexing some of the Palestinian land that Israel has occupied since 1967. Although he is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history — leading the nation since 2009, in addition to a three-year stint a decade earlier — he was indicted in November for breach of trust, bribery, and fraud.
Netanyahu said on June 30 he would release plans “in the coming days” as he discusses his proposal with the U.S. in hopes of gaining support for annexation. The Trump administration’s “peace to prosperity” proposal issued in January offered support to the principle of Israel annexing parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. International law, however, prohibits such a move.
Recent polling shows white U.S. evangelicals are more likely than most other groups of Americans to support Israeli annexation. But Baptists and other Christians in the Middle East oppose such moves.
“Annexation is not in the interest of the Israeli people. To continue fighting and controlling millions of Palestinians will never bring peace. It will only increase animosity,” Munir Kakish, president of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, told Word&Way. “Annexation will create anti-Israeli sentiment in the Middle East and will stop the developing relationships of Israel with other Arab countries. It will put the peace agreement with Jordan into question.”
“Evangelicals in U.S.A. are not aware what the annexation is all about here,” added Kakish, whose Council is a member body of the European Baptist Federation that brings together Baptists in Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. “People want to live in peace, especially the Palestinians. Also, economically Palestinians are struggling to make ends meet. They are seeking their daily bread. Our Lord’s prayer is give us our daily bread.”
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University, also told Word&Way that annexation is not only illegal under international law but also opposed by Palestinians—including Palestinian Christians. Kuttab, a Baptist who serves as secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council, added that annexation “should not be justified by any peace-loving person.”
“Aside from the natural, normal tendency of people to stand with their own nation, Palestinians are also believers that peace without justice will not stand. Palestinian Christians don’t support expansionism and subjugation no matter what the justification is,” he explained. “Attempts to connect the secular Israeli government’s expansionist attempts and land acquisition based on some divine right or even a crocked interpretation of biblical prophecies just doesn’t resonate with any person who believes in the simple concept of self-determination championed after the First World War by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson.”
“Peace must be based on justice and equal rights, and God has demanded of us to seek it with all our might,” Kuttab added. “Any peace that is unjust can’t and shouldn’t be endorsed by Christians who cherish and value life, whether it be Israeli or Palestinian, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian.”
Alex Awad, pastor at East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College, similarly warns against annexation. He told Word&Way that annexation would be illegal, immoral, and reckless. And he said U.S. evangelicals supporting the move would be a move against “legality, morality, and justice” and would hurt efforts “for genuine peace for all the people who call the Holy Land home.”
Criticizing the “the unholy alliance of evangelicals with the State of Israel,” Awad sees U.S. evangelical support for annexation as a symptom of a larger problem of one-sided support for Israel no matter what that nation does.
“The average evangelical in the U.S. does not realize the volume of hurt and harm that the political might of evangelical leaders has wrought on the people of the Middle East and especially on Palestinians,” he explained. “Most white U.S. evangelicals are either compliant or extremely silent on issues of justice.”
Awad said that today we look back at the Crusades, slavery, South African Apartheid, and other injustices and wonder, “How could good, Bible-believing Christians have supported such inhumane and bloody injustices in the name of Christ?” Similarly, he thinks future generations will ask, “How could evangelicals, who never stop preaching sermons on God’s love for all people, have been so callous towards the dispossession, death, and suffering of millions of Palestinians and Arabs throughout the Middle East?”
“Such attitudes contradict not only the ethical teachings of Christ and his apostles, but they also go against basic evangelical theology and tradition,” he added. “In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we continue to play the role of aides and cheerleaders to the robbers and assailants on the Jericho Road.”
NOTE: Read more from Kuttab and Awad in columns they wrote for Word&Way about annexation:
Daoud Kuttab: How Should Christians React to Israel’s Annexation Plans?
Alex Awad: Should Evangelicals Terminate Their Affair with the State of Israel?