Comment: Why Evangelicals can't support Israel's land grabs

Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya'alon, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.AP Photo/Dan Balilty, pool

When it comes to the Holy Land, religion has a lot to answer for. It is, as Aaron David Miller calls it, The Much Too Promised Land.

Israel is not the only country in which religion has a central role, but it is unique among Western-style democracies in the sharp and poisoned edge which the spiritual and historical identities of its citizens give to its confrontations. Non-native lovers of Israel and lovers of Palestine join in with enthusiasm. The poison spreads: for too many evangelical Christians, Israel can do no wrong. 2,000 Gazans dead in Operation Protective Edge? A price worth paying for Israel's security. For too many others, to be Palestinian is to be elevated to the status of sainthood. I spoke recently to a Christian minister who in all seriousness defended Hamas' rocket attacks on Israel because they were an oppressed people fighting their oppressors in the only way they could. Tell that to the parents of Daniel Tragerman, who was killed by one of those rockets at the age of four.

The trouble is that both have stopped thinking like Christians. They have allowed their natural sympathies and righteous indignation to subvert their calling to follow Christ. Well: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5.20, NIV).

The latest act in the long tragedy which is Israel-Palestine has just been announced. Israel has annexed nearly 1,000 acres of the occupied West Bank near Bethlehem. It will evict farmers, tear up olive trees and built houses for settlers. In spite of rebukes from Britain, France, Egypt, the UN and even the United States, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is forging ahead. It is the largest land grab in 30 years and the reason for it is transparent. Mr Netanyahu faced a near-revolt in his cabinet over the ceasefire in Gaza, with the hardliners calling for a continuation of the action until Hamas had been crushed. What better way to demonstrate his toughness than by throwing them a juicy morsel of Palestinian land? So he continues to act, in the immortal words of Avi Shlaim, "like a man who pretends to negotiate the division of a pizza while continuing to gobble it up".

The point is that right is right and wrong is wrong. If your religious beliefs have persuaded you otherwise – if what Israel does is right because Israel does it, though it would be wrong if someone else did it – you need to re-examine your religion. You cannot, for instance, condemn a land-grab in Ukraine by President Putin and defend one in the West Bank by President Netanyahu. And incidentally, you cannot condemn a rocket attack on Gaza and defend the one on Kibbutz Nahal Oz, either – not unless you are prepared to look the Tragermans in the eye while you do it.

Jesus told a story to which most Christians were innoculated in Sunday school. A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among thieves who beat him and left him for dead. A priest and a Levite passed by on the other side. An enemy Samaritan looked after him. So we should all be nice and help each other.

Only that's not the point. It was the priest's and the Levite's religion that stopped them doing the right thing. They were on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem. If they touched a dead body they would be ritually unclean. They let their religion skew their values, compromise their humanity and shame their faith.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil. Taking other people's land is wrong.

Interested parties have 45 days to appeal the judgment. Will the evangelicals who form such a powerful pro-Israel lobby, particularly in the US, start thinking like Christians and tell Prime Minister Netanyahu that he's wrong?

Mark Woods is a Baptist minister and freelance writer.