Evert’s comment: Why does Israel still dominate the news and not Nagorno-Karabakh?
The Israeli representative at the UN in New York put on a yellow star last Monday. His photo was used all over the world, confirming the observation that the conflict between Israel and Hamas still dominates all the news. Why is that?
Early October, just before the terrorist attack on Israel, we shifted our focus to Nagorno-Karabakh. Something historic was going on there: the “ethnic cleansing” of Armenians from the region.
The conflict there has a spiritual element as well. You can view these events as Christians (Armenians) against Muslims (Azerbaijan). But why does it not come back as a central topic in the news? Why is it still Israel and Gaza?
These questions are not easy to answer.
Of course, the Armenians are of no less value than Israelis or Palestinians. And it is still difficult to understand that such events that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh recently can take place in our days.
Still, there is a difference between Nagorno-Karabakh and Israel. Israel is not a country like all others; it is unique. And therefore, it is called the Holy Land. What does that mean? You can give three perspectives on that:
1. The horizontal perspective
The Middle East has been a challenging region, at least since the end of the Second World War. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there has been unrest continuously. Of course, this has to do with the territorial issue: not only the Jews but also the Arabs want their state to be on the same soil.
Together with this, the West has many interests there. The UN’s partition plan from 1947 was one of the significant decisions of this new international body. The United Nations still feel committed to the Israel-Palestine problem (although the relationship between Israel and the UN has never been so bad as it is now).
Many leaders in Israel have strong relations with the Western world. Prime Minister Netanyahu, for instance, even lived in the USA. And the same applies to thousands of other Israelis. Western journalists always have somebody to talk to. The country is quite easily accessible to the media compared with Nagorno-Karabakh.
Another aspect of this horizontal perspective is this short word: oil. The Middle East is a region that is essential for the economic development of the rest of the world because of energy. From this standpoint, it is understandable that the media focus on the region’s stability. Take only the nuclear ambitions of Iran.
2. The religious perspective
There is more between Israel and Palestine than the issue of land. It is religion. Most Arabs are Muslim, and many Jews are Judaistic. They have different visions, even colliding values. In most Muslim countries, anti-Semitism is extreme. It seems that Islam and Judaism cannot live along each other easily.
Especially in Jerusalem, this is a problem. The Jews are proud that they are back in the Old City, in which even King David lived. But for the Muslim nations in and around Israel, this is an offence. A Muslim is not allowed to give up land that was occupied by Islam once. It doesn’t surprise that they use power and even violence to get this land back again.
The West has been trained in a secular outlook. Especially Protestantism has taught there is no difference between the sacred and the profane; God creates both, and they are equally holy. This sometimes resulted in an indifference towards the Israel-Palestine issue. If all land is sacred –even the Sahara desert– why would I be concerned about the Temple Mountain? Of course, this has not helped to solve the problem.
3. The vertical dimension
For many, Israel is not only called the Holy Land but is Holy Land. And within the country, Jerusalem is the very location where heaven meets earth.
As an outsider, I have witnessed how European Jews visited the Western Wall. The nearer they came to the Wall, the more they were captured by emotions. For them, this place is very, very special.
Also, for Muslims, Jerusalem is a holy city. This is where the prophet Mohammed prayed and was taken to heaven. For them, it is difficult to share the holy place with the Jews.
But also, for Christians, Israel is a beloved country. For centuries and centuries, God only revealed Himself to the twelve Israelite tribes. Only after the resurrection of Christ and Pentecost (around the year AD 35) the Gospel went abroad “till the end of the earth”. But still, no land was as blessed with God’s interference as this soil. It is self-evident that people with an interest in the Bible also have an interest in the land of the Bible. This is the place where it all happened. Many places in the world are historic, but this place is central in salvation history!
But after 1948, many Protestants –especially Evangelicals– have taken on a position that sometimes is similar to the Jewish and Muslim one, in that sense that Jerusalem has a vertical dimension that London, Paris and Moscow do not have.
In the past, Roman Catholics had this idea about the Vatican. We read that Martin Luther had strong expectations when he went to Rome in 1510; he would see a holiness that he had never seen before – and he returned very disappointed.
The same vertical dimension we see in Mecca, where the Muslims think the Black Stone from the Kaaba has fallen out of heaven. This stone gives a material connection between the earth and the spiritual world.
Does Jerusalem indeed have that vertical element? Well, as a staunch Calvinist, it would be difficult for me to say that. I don’t believe the Bible teaches that there is less sin in Jerusalem than in my hometown. Neither is there more holiness.
On the other hand, I believe that God still has a plan with the Jews, the chosen people. Few ancient nations have survived the centuries until the present day, but the Jews did. Why? I think that God has a unique goal with that, to glorify Himself and to bring the Israelites to Christ (see Romans 11,26).
Some have said recently that anti-Semitism is not just hatred against men but hatred against God. I believe this is true. Satan does not want this spiritual change among the Israelites.
Of course, this has nothing to do with politics and the Middle East. But it might be so that God brought (half of) His people back to their old house for a particular purpose.
I use the word “house” deliberately. The State of Israel is an earthly house for a special people. It is not helpful to put this state on a unique level, different from other states. But for the Jewish nation, yes, I think the Bible teaches that we can expect something of God for them.
Back to the first question: why so much publicity for Israel? I have given some considerations that could help.
It seems wise to me first to consider horizontal aspects. I believe that God works in horizontal things as well. If we don’t think of Him, He thinks about us. And there are plenty of reasons why the Middle East gets more continuous attention from the media than other regions.
And at the end, there remains a riddle. Or a secret. Only God knows that.
In my church tradition, they sometimes make the comparison with an embroidery: we only see the back of the stitching, a bit rough and full of loose ends. But God guides the history according to His plan – don’t be afraid.
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