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The West Bank

What is the most controversial area in the Middle East?

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And what of the West Bank or the ‘occupied West Bank’, as it is more often known? It is true that Israel “occupy” the land, since gaining it as a result of the victory in the Six Day War in 1967, but who did they occupy it from? Well, actually, the West Bank itself was illegally seized by Jordan after 1948. After doing so, they made it an area forbidden to Jews! Who did Jordan take the West Bank from? Before 1948 the West Bank was part of the area administered by the British as part of the British Mandate. It didn’t belong to them, they were just caretakers. Before that, the West Bank – called Judea and Samaria by the Jews - was just the eastern part of Palestine, occupied by whoever happened to live there, Jew or Arab. It was not land owned by any state, as Palestine was just a neglected province of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. So, in reality, the West Bank has not legally ever belonged to any State in modern history. When Jewish settlers make their home there, they are doing so on land that has been legally bought, not seized from anyone else, whether a State or individuals.

In a sense the political muddle is at centre stage because this is the time when God is taking a direct hand in the process, as foretold in His word.

His declaration is in Ezekiel, chapter 36. It’s a long chapter, so I will just list the pertinent verses, though I urge you to read the full chapter yourself. I have also highlighted key parts.

Firstly, verses 1 to 12.

Son of man, prophesy to the mountains of Israel and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: The enemy said of you, ‘Aha! The ancient heights have become our possession.’‘ Therefore prophesy and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because they ravaged and hounded you from every side so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations and the object of people’s malicious talk and slander, therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD: This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, to the desolate ruins and the deserted towns that have been plundered and ridiculed by the rest of the nations around you—  this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In My burning zeal I have spoken against the rest of the nations, and against Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pasture-land.’  Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I speak in My jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn. ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for My people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favour; you will be ploughed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of men and animals upon you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the LORD. I will cause people, my people Israel, to walk upon you. They will possess you, and you will be their inheritance; you will never again deprive them of their children.”

So, where exactly are these mountains of Israel, where God’s people, Israel, shall return to and settle and rebuild? Look at any relief map of Israel and you’ll see where the mountains are. They are not in the great centres of Jewish population – Tel Aviv, Haifa or even Jerusalem. They are in the central and eastern regions. Ironically it is the very region offered to (and refused by) the Arabs by the United Nations in 1947. The land known as Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank.

The most controversial area in the Middle East also happens to be the very place earmarked by God as an area of Jewish immigration. No co-incidence.

The Jewish villages in this area are known as yishuvim. Israel calls them ‘communities’. Outside Israel they are known as ‘settlements in occupied territories’, words tinged with the whiff of illegality. The World sees them as the chief obstacles to peace in the region. The settlers themselves, by and large observant Jews, would give just a single justification for their actions. They are just obeying God’s word, from their reading of Ezekiel 36. Israel is a dangerous enough place to live in at the best of times, but the West Bank doubly so. Yet these Jewish settlers choose to live there, at whatever danger to themselves and their families. Most, including many in Israel proper, would call them deluded and provocative and wish they weren’t there, but perhaps we should consider them in the same way as Christian missionaries in the jungles of Borneo. They are simply following the Word of God in their own way.

It is worth continuing to read from Ezekiel, chapter 36, to remind ourselves about God’s purposes in all of this. We read verses 22 and 23.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show Myself holy through you before their eyes.

Yes, it is all in God’s plan. The West Bank is not the focus of the World’s attention by accident or because the perceived injustices there deserve more newspaper coverage than the scores of other conflicts and age-old hatreds elsewhere in the World. God is intending this as a wake-up call. The settlers are not reading their Scriptures selectively. They can see that their return to the mountains of Israel is not for their own well-being; they are doing this for the sake of the Lord’s name. They should be commended for this, particularly as these verses are not exactly full of praise for the Jewish people. The World doesn’t yet know our Lord, but the verses here tell us that, in a mysterious way that is yet to be unfolded, God is going to use this situation to reveal Himself.

He gives a hint of this in the very next verses, verses 24 to 28.

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God.”

 

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