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|Paynesville Press - August 16, 2006|
Missionaries discuss Arab-Israeli conflict
Holy Land missionaries Alex and Brenda Awad shared insights about the Middle East last Wednesday evening at Grace United Methodist Church in Paynesville.|
Their 90-minute visit included an introduction by Brenda, a summary of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict by Alex, and a question-and-answer session with the audience of 50 people.
Alex and Brenda traveled from their home in Bethlehem, Israel, where they moved from Georgia in 1979. The move came in response to a request by Alex's brother in Israel, who asked the couple to move to Bethlehem and help him start a Bible college.
At the time, Alex and Brenda had just finished their master's degrees in education and were planning to continue teaching and living in the United States. Because of the political and economic situation, many Palestinian Christians were leaving Israel to study the Bible in other countries and were not returning to help their churches and communities. They prayed and began feeling that they were meant to go.
Alex agreed with his brother that their outreaches were needed there. His brother, the founder and president of Bethlehem Bible College, initially gathered a group of pastors, sharing his vision with them. He was encouraged with one donation of $20. "Bishara took that $20, and he literally started Bethlehem Bible College in 1979," Alex said of his brother. "You know what God has done with that $20? Amazing miracles."
The college, according to its promotional pamphlet, has a public library, a mass media facility, new classrooms, and a modern guesthouse. Students come from a variety of denominational backgrounds and serve as teachers, pastors, counselors, and youth directors.
Missionary Alex Awad, along with his wife Brenda, spoke about the Arab-Israeli conflict at Grace United Methodist Church in Paynesville last week to an audience of 50 people.
Alex thanked Grace attendees, sharing with them, "We are working among Christians. We are working among Muslims. We are gaining the respect of the community. And we are trying to be a light for Jesus Christ in that troubled land."
He continued, "We hear a lot of bad news about the Middle East, and there is a lot of bad news. But I'm here also to say there is good news. Bethlehem Bible College and other ministries like that in the area are beacons of light in the midst of darkness, and we thank you for helping us to shine with that light."
Alex is currently the college's dean of students, and Brenda teaches at the college. Alex also pastors at a church in Jerusalem, and the couple works with an international, interdenominational congregation in East Jerusalem. The church building was once a home for missionaries and has now been expanded and renovated to serve a congregation.
The basement level of the church is used for ministries and serves the needs of some of the homeless and destitute in the community.
Grace United Methodist Church contributed funding for the renovations of the church in Jerusalem, which has a sister relationship with a congregation of Jewish believers.
On occasions like Easter and Passover, Brenda said, "we do meet together. And in this way, we cross the divide that might separate us by our different political aspirations and political feelings. That's quite a challenge for us, and we thank God that we have this opportunity so that we can see the humanness in each of us."
Alex requested prayers from the attendees on Wednesday. "I urge you, as people here in Minnesota, pray for peace in the Middle East. Pray for justice for the people. Regardless of their nationality, regardless of their race, regardless of their title or what they call themselves."
"We need, in our prayers, and in our attitude," Alex continued, "to embrace both Jewish people and Palestinians, Lebanese, Christians, Muslims. Whatever they are, we need to pray for all of them, and we need to pray for peace and justice throughout the Holy Land."
"I am an Arab. I am a Palestinian. I am a Christian. Can you define me?" he added.
Alex gave brief definitions of today's Arabs, Palestinians, Christians, Muslims, Islamists, Jews, Israelis, Zionists, Anti-Semitics, Hamas, Sunnis, Shiites, and Hezbollah.
"How long have Arabs and Jews been fighting?" Alex asked. "If you thought they have been fighting forever, you are wrong. If you thought they have been fighting for the last 5,000 or 6,000 years, you are wrong. If you thought they have been fighting since Ishmael and Isaac, you are wrong. If you thought they have been fighting for the last, say, 100 or 120 years, you are right."
He explained that Arabs and Jews lived in North Africa and the Middle East for about 1,400 years in relative harmony. "Why do I emphasize this? Because history can give us hope." As European Zionists thought of Palestine as their future home, this became a "conflict of aspirations," as the Palestinians aspired to make that homeland an independent state, he said.
Alex summarized what has taken place to contribute to current unrest between Arabs and Israelis. The summary included: the 1880 Zionist movement; the Belford Declaration made by the British in 1917; Palestinian revolts beginning in 1936 (followed by a British partition of Palestine); the Jewish Holocaust in Europe; the U.N. partition proposal for Palestine in 1947; the acceptance of the U.N. proposal, which caused the expelling of Palestinians; the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948; Israel's occupation of 78 percent of Palestine following that war; the Camp David Peace Accord; the White House signing of the first Palestinian-Israeli Peace Accord; Palestinian disappointment in the Oslo Agreement, which resulted in violence; President Bill Clinton's work with Oslo during his second term of administration, and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agreement to give 40 percent of the West Bank back to the Palestinians; Palestinian disappointment in a scattering of enclaves that were referred to as "the swiss cheese peace agreement;" and today's Palestinian refugees as a result of the war in 1948.
"When you have close to a million refugees in refugee camps, who cannot go back to their homeland, what kind of situation have we created? A happy one? Not a happy one at all. This explains the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not an ancient history. There is no history of conflict between Arabs and Jews," Alex said.
He explained that if it is up to the current Israeli government, the Palestinians will end up with 12 percent of their country with the rest annexed by the state of Israel. However, Alex continued, "Any Palestinian who looks at this map will say, 'Wow. This is not fair, what they have done to us. In 1948, they took 78 percent of our land and now, they are leaving us with only 12 percent of our country.' So, this is why there is a conflict in the Middle East."
In 2004, in a unilateral move, Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled his troops out of the Gaza Strip. Seemingly good, but done without prior approval, this left bitterness among the Palestinians, explained Alex. As a result, the Palestinians continued their resistance from the Gaza Strip.
That resistance caused the anger of Hezbollah, and the "current mess in the Middle East," Alex said.
He summarized that Hezbollah's recent attacks and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers led to the Israelis' attack on Lebanon and the current destruction of the country. "Of course, we are saddened by the destruction of Lebanon," he said.
Alex said that less than 10 percent of the Palestinian population is Hamas - adding that Palestinians may vote for Hamas, even though he or she is not Hamas. In the last election, this happened not because Palestinians wanted to destroy the state of Israel or create an Islamic government. "The purpose," Alex said, "was to get rid of the corrupt government that was left over after the death of Yassir Arafat."
After the election of Hamas, the Palestinians were polled. Results of that poll, according to Alex, showed that over 65 percent of all Palestinians wanted a two-state solution. Alex said that while most Palestinians and Israelis desire peace, there are radicals on both sides who do not.
"With every passing day," Alex continued, "Hezbollah is becoming stronger, and the Lebanese government is becoming weaker. It's very unfortunate. Pray for your president. That he will have a policy that will bring peace to both Israelis and Palestinians, so that Israeli blood, Jewish blood, and Palestinian and Lebanese blood will not be spilled in a land we call holy."
Alex explained that many Christians and some Messianic Jews in the United States believe that God has given the Holy Land to the Jewish people and because it is part of Biblical prophecy, "Instead of looking at this issue from the vision of equity and justice and what is right and what is wrong, they looked at it from prophecies that were written about 6,000 years ago, and they tried to fulfill it in our modern day. It's very unfortunate," he said.
He went on to say that, in the United States, the influence of Christian Zionism and the idea of the Jewish lobby have resulted in an "atmosphere where America wanted to help Israel rather than being an even-handed broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict."
"Jesus taught us that holiness is in the heart, not on a piece of land, " said Alex. "The Holy Land is important as far as we go to study in the footsteps of our Lord. We learn a lot of things, but it's no more holy than Paynesville."
He explained that Israel, Syria, and Egypt are currently secular states and Palestine is currently a secular entity. "Where God is, where God wills, where the kingdom of God is, is in our hearts...And so, I urge you not to think of any country in the world as Holy Christian or Holy Muslim or Holy Jewish. There is no Godly state anywhere on earth. Anywhere on earth, there are Godly people scattered all over the world."
"Our ultimate desire is peace," he said. "Peace for both Israelis and Palestinians."
Alex concluded, "Right now, men, women, and children in Israel, Jews, and in Lebanon, Lebanese, and in the Gaza strip, Palestinians, they are dying and they are hurting. I want us to be peacemakers."
"To be a peacemaker, write a note to your congressman or congresswoman tonight. And tell them to ask the president to end the violence in Lebanon as soon as he can, not to wait another day. Not to wait another 48 hours, to do it as soon as he can. Because the sooner we have a cease-fire, the sooner men and women and children will stop dying in Israel, in Lebanon, and in Palestine. Jesus did not say, 'Blessed are the peace contemplators.' He said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' I urge you to take an action to make peace in the Middle East. God bless you."
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