Placing your hope in the wrong thing can be deadly.
Israel’s national anthem is “Hatikvah”—“The Hope.” Its people possess the gritty combination of determination, courage and guts required of a people living on a small island of Jewry in an ocean of Islam. Outnumbered 60 to 1 by neighbors who largely want them eliminated, they hold their land and cling to life.
Still, that determination is under assault. For Israelis acquainted with reality, genuine hope—hope for leaving a better world to their children—is flickering out. Why? Not only because dangers loom. They always have. What truly ravages the Jews’ hope in the shadow of these dangers is unsteady government.
Look, for example, at the town of Sderot, whose population of 24,000 has lived under a rain of Kassam rockets for going on seven years. Launched from covert bases in the Gaza Strip, the attacks are calculated to drive Jews out. “We have decided to make Sderot a ghost town,” a Hamas spokesman explained—a goal this Palestinian terrorist organization is achieving. Labor flight has decimated the local economy. Realtors can’t move property at any price, much less a profit. Nearly one in five residents has checked into the town’s mental health facility.
What is most exasperating for the people of Sderot, however, is the timid response from Israeli leaders. Last November, Israel’s government and Gaza militants negotiated a cease-fire—and still the rockets kept coming at an average of two per day. “We cease—they fire,” locals complained. The government limited its response for fear of escalating the situation, leaving residents feeling betrayed and abandoned. “If the rockets were falling in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, the army would have found a solution a long time ago,” said one citizen (Agence France Presse, January 7). Some angry locals are suing the government for not defending them. To this day, Israel still officially abides by the cease-fire—hoping, despite all evidence, that restraint will ultimately convince the Palestinians to embrace peace.
This embattled town is a powerful symbol of the state it calls home.
War is clearly afoot. Israeli army statistics show that Palestinians dropped well over a thousand rockets on southern Israeli communities last year. Gaza, which Israel relinquished to Arab control two summers ago, is now a breeding ground for terrorists. The Hamas-controlled Palestinian government refuses to recognize the Jewish state’s existence. Agents of the supposedly moderate, mainstream Palestinian Fatah party, helped by Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad, are building short-range missiles in the West Bank. The Israeli-Lebanese border once again hums with combat preparations: Hezbollah, the militant group that last July launched and survived a war against Israel, is conducting reconnaissance and rapidly rearming for the next round. Syria has obtained Scud-D missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel. Jewish officials claim Iran has gained Chinese anti-satellite technology, perhaps through North Korea. Add to this the ongoing possibility of Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons capability that would give teeth to its pledge to annihilate Israel.
But in the face of all these threats, the Israeli government hopes that somehow, miraculously, they simply won’t materialize.
“The State of Israel is open to any murmur of peace from our neighbors and across our borders,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a December speech. “If our enemies genuinely want peace, they will find us a fair partner, determined to establish relations of peace, friendship and reciprocity.”
But those enemies don’t genuinely want peace. Decades of history have proven that. This misplaced, false hope—the sand upon which Israel builds its feeble security policy—has left real hope for most Israelis in tatters.
A “Dangerous” Prime Minister?
“[O]ver the past few weeks most of us have been aghast and enraged at the failure of the government to fulfill its primary responsibility—ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population,” Isi Leibler wrote in a January 2 Jerusalem Post piece. Polls show that over three in four Israelis give Olmert a failing grade. One Knesset member calls the prime minister “dangerous for Israel.”
In many Jews’ minds, the most fitting symbol of Olmert’s leadership was his government’s mismanagement of last year’s war with Hezbollah—the first-ever defeat for Israel’s military. Many view this monumental blow to the nation’s status in the region as an irreversible error—Israel’s enemies, long seeking its end, are now flush with dangerous confidence that this goal is actually attainable. Making the issue even worse for the government is a report the Israeli military issued in February declaring that 4 in 10 Israeli casualties stemmed not from Hezbollah’s savvy, but from Israeli operational failures: mostly ill-prepared commanders and officers leading their men into danger unnecessarily.
If that war made Israel look temptingly weak, the prime minister hasn’t done much since to undo the damage. Consider a few of his government’s more recent actions.
Under pressure from the U.S. and Europe, Olmert broke two years of no contact with the Palestinian Authority in December and exchanged kisses and handshakes with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. At a two-hour meeting at his Jerusalem residence, Olmert made the first of a series of Israeli concessions intended to improve life for Palestinians.
First, he agreed to remove 27 Israeli security roadblocks in the West Bank (out of a few hundred) and released $100 million in frozen tax revenue to pay PA government employees who hadn’t received their full paychecks since March last year. Israel had been withholding the tax money it collects for the PA ever since Hamas took over; this was a means not only of ensuring the funds wouldn’t be used for terrorism, but also to try to pressure Hamas to formally recognize Israel’s existence. (In truth, Israel still cannot guarantee the money won’t reach Hamas.)
But the Olmert government’s aid wasn’t limited to funding. Within days of the meeting, Egypt delivered a large arms shipment to Fatah forces, including several thousand automatic rifles. Some Israeli officials acknowledged having approved the shipment as a means of strengthening Abbas, whose security personnel have reportedly complained of being outgunned in clashes with Hamas. Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said, “The weapons are supposed to give Abu Mazen [Abbas] the ability to cope with organizations like Hamas, which are trying to destroy everything that is good. If this helps bolster Abu Mazen, then I support it.”
The problem is, the idea that Mahmoud Abbas is a “moderate” and a legitimate peace partner is a false hope—a deadly lie.
It is true that, next to Hamas, he looks pretty mild. This past year witnessed a battle for control of Palestinian politics between the religious “Islam will rule the Middle East” forces of Hamas and the nationalistic “Palestinians deserve a home” ranks of Abbas’s Fatah party. In reality, however, while these two sides may disagree on the methods and the fundamental reasons for pursuing their goals, they align on the idea, supported by the vast majority of Palestinians, that life would be a lot easier with Jews out of the way.
Even Ben-Eliezer, in the same interview in which he favored bolstering Abbas, expressed this note of concern: “I only pray these weapons will not enter into the arsenal that is used against us.” His concern is well-founded.
After the arms transfer, Abdel Al, spokesman for the Palestinian militant collective Popular Resistance Committees, vowed that the rifles would be used against Israel. He contended that security personnel—including some of Abbas’s Presidential Guard—have sold weapons to Palestinian armed groups in the past and that many of them are actually affiliated with resistance movements. These claims are not difficult to believe in light of what Abbas himself said during a January 11 speech in Ramallah, calling on Palestinian factions to end their fighting. “Shooting at your brother is forbidden,” he stated. “We should put our internal fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation.”
As the Philadelphia Daily News once put it, Abbas “has consistently held the hardline anti-Israel agenda since his years as a student. His doctoral dissertation was a full-blown foray into Holocaust denial and aimed to prove that Zionism and Nazism are branches of the same tree. … [Abbas] may wear a suit while [his predecessor Yasser] Arafat wore fatigues, but much of their world view is still the same—the destruction of Israel remains on the ‘to do’ list” (Jan. 8, 2005). Throughout his two years in office, Abbas has repeatedly mocked his “moderate” reputation with provocative words and radical actions. He pledged to fulfill Arafat’s goals of securing Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” (a move that would destroy Israel as a demographically Jewish entity) and seizing control over eastern Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. He publicly called Israel the “Zionist enemy.” Rather than cracking down on terrorist activity, he approved government financial aid for the families of multiple thousands of suicide terrorists, and for terrorists who have been wounded or who sit in Israeli prisons—a blood-stained expense that has consumed more than 10 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s billion-dollar budget. He bolstered his public image by calling terrorists his “brethren,” rubbing shoulders with them, and promising not to forcefully disarm their organizations. Since Abbas’s election, terrorist groups have only grown more powerful, now flush with political clout, guaranteeing a future of violence with Israel!
This is the man of whom Prime Minister Olmert said, after inviting him into his home in December, that he was “not an easy rival but he is a rival that we can talk with to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.”
Olmert certainly is eager to reach agreements with his rivals. In February, his government reportedly reached one with Hamas itself, in an effort to retrieve an Israel Defense Forces soldier whom Hamas terrorists abducted last June. The ransom Israel agreed to pay in exchange for Gilad Shalit? Freedom for 450 Palestinian criminals and terrorists from Israeli jails, with more to come later. This deal follows in the footsteps of similarly lopsided swaps in the past—going as far back as 1985—that have put terrorists back on the streets to fight another day.
Little wonder that Israelis’ hope is fading, and that they are defecting from their prime minister in droves. Describing him as “dangerous for Israel” is no exaggeration.
Whom Can Israelis Trust?
If Israelis boot Olmert out, the man they select to succeed him would be the country’s seventh prime minister in 12 years. (Imagine if the American president had a two-year term; it is excruciating enough having to survive a divisive, blood-boiling presidential election every four years.) The political chaos that number represents becomes more apparent when one looks at the spectrum of political thinking it embodies—the leftish rule of Rabin and (briefly, after Rabin’s assassination) Peres supplanted by the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu; the catastrophic rule of Barak cut short by resignation; the war general Ariel Sharon, facing the pressure of an intifada throughout his reign, swinging over a five-year span from assassinating terrorist leaders to gifting territory to terrorist leaders; and finally the disastrous Olmert administration. Quite a wild political ride to unfold over little more than a decade.
Olmert’s main political rival, Netanyahu, now has over four times as much public support as Olmert, according to a December Geocartographia poll. Over one in four Israelis, aching for leadership with a backbone, want Netanyahu to return as prime minister.
This is a dangerous moment for the Jewish state. Treading in the valley of the shadow of death, its people have ample cause to fear evil, given current policies. But should they now invest their hope in a conservative prime minister? Could a different man reverse current trends and provide the security Israelis yearn for?
Consider these profound words of the Prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5, New King James Version).
Note that. Surely it is a tragic curse to trust in your enemies—especially those with a self-declared and oft-proclaimed mission to crush you from existence. But the truth is, curses will descend upon us for trusting any man rather than trusting God! The great and intensifying problems from which Israel suffers today represent the degree to which its people have looked to men—to themselves—for solutions.
Honestly, any man who leads the Israelis faces an impossible task: to unite his emotionally charged, divided countrymen, to repulse the enemies within Israel’s borders and on all sides, to strengthen his nation’s hobbled reputation, and to win back the support of the rest of the world. Accomplishing those goals would require statecraft beyond human ability. No military strategy, no diplomatic offensive, and certainly no negotiation or peace contract, can offer Israel the security, protection and blessing it desperately needs!
And yet—there is a way for Israel to gain the peace it craves!
The Unknown Way of Peace
Why does peace perpetually elude the Middle East? Why cannot the Jews and Arabs get along?
The real issue isn’t land, or settlements, or statehood. The fundamental disagreements are not caused by material matters—but spiritual!
“What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?” the Apostle James once asked. “Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. …” (James 4:1-2, Revised Standard Version). There is a fundamental flaw in the human nature present within members on both sides of this conflict! Neither the Jews nor the Arabs know the way of peace!—though they both presume to know. There is something vital missing from their understanding.
It is simply impossible to resolve this conflict by addressing material concerns. No agreement, no contract, no peace plan will prove acceptable to all factions on each side and bring peaceful agreement and security for all. Any peace agreement must include, in essence, a promise—a guarantee—that Arabs will stop attacking Jews. The problem is, among the majority of Palestinians who want Israel gone, there would always be some willing to sacrifice their lives for that goal. Even if the Palestinian government makes a peace agreement in good faith, it does not possess the determination and will to prevent Arab extremists—and their powerful Persian benefactors—from staging attacks against Jews. Neither do the Jews have the will to completely stamp out the terrorist problem. Humanly speaking, it is an impossible conundrum.
But there is a sure solution—a source in which the Israelis can place their hope! They will remain cursed for trusting in man—but they can trust in God!
The only solution to this nightmare is for Israel to turn to God in heartfelt national repentance—looking for His solution.
The Bible shows that the Jews’ window of opportunity to take this solution is fast closing. If they do not do so quickly, their hopes will soon be violently snuffed out!
But even then, in the longer term, there remains yet a sure hope for Israel.
What Is Israel’s Hope?
Biblical prophecy portrays a bleak picture of Israel in our day. You need to request and read our booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy to understand the gravity of the situation facing Israel today. The Prophet Zechariah foretold the capture—most likely by Arabs, aided by Persia—of half of the Holy City, as a trigger event preceding even worse disasters (Zechariah 14:2). A combination of scriptures (explained in Jerusalem in Prophecy) shows that the Jews, barring repentance, will foolishly place their hope in a European power to serve as peacemaker to secure their protection against Islamist aggressors. Even today, we can track the increasing attractiveness to Israeli politicians of Europe serving in this kind of role (see page 20). In the end, this decision to once again trust in man will precipitate their destruction.
Jeremiah described desolation in the cities of modern Israel (he used the term Judah, which was the biblical tribe of Israel from whom the Jews descended)—buildings turned to rubble, streets emptied of people (e.g. Jeremiah 7:34; 9:11). Like Judah anciently, the modern Jews will be “carried away captive” (Jeremiah 13:19).
This is the immediate future to which Israel’s current path is leading! This is the truth of the Bible, whether or not the Jews choose to believe it. God included these prophecies in His Word—and publishes this warning based on these prophecies today—as a means of trying to secure their repentance before such corrective catastrophes befall them.
And yet, even still, the ultimate message of biblical prophecy for the Jews is filled with hope!
The appropriate translation of Isaiah 40:9 is as the margin of the King James Version indicates: “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that bringest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” This is a commission God has given to His people today—we are in the time when the Jews are about to be introduced to Jesus Christ!
God does not correct without purpose. As with the Jews anciently, this destruction and captivity is intended finally to set the Israelis back on a course of serving their Creator, and reaping the abundant blessings—national, material and spiritual—that He promises to bestow as a reward for that service.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel,” Jeremiah records. “They shall again use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I bring back their captivity: ‘The Lord bless you, O home of justice, and mountain of holiness!’ And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks. For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul” (Jeremiah 31:23-25, nkjv). This is just one of many beautiful depictions of the bounty the Jews will enjoy during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ after His return to this Earth. Read also Jeremiah 33:10-11, which depict Israel’s once-desolate streets being graced once again with the voice of joy and gladness.
The passage in Jeremiah 31 continues, showing the rootcause for which God is able to turn their present curses into spectacular blessings: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: … After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people … for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (verses 31, 33-34). No longer will mankind, enslaved by human nature, wage wars of lust. Instead, they will become spiritually converted, taught to implement the way of peace—the way of living in harmony with and obedience to God’s eternal law of love.
At that point, the poignant lyrics of “Hatikvah” will be able to be sung without reservation or irony, having sprung into the full blossom of reality: Our hope is not yet lost, / The hope of two thousand years, / To be a free nation in our own land, / The land of Zion and Jerusalem.