The question of Israel and Palestine looms large in contemporary politics, but it also looms large theologically for many people around the globe. Munther Isaac’s The Other Side of the Wall gives a firsthand account of the land, along with a theological exploration of Israel, Palestine, and lament and hope.
Isaac starts the book with “An Invitation” in which he calls on readers to realize that the situation is probably far more complex than they’ve heard or been taught. So many factors–cultural, political, theological–are competing for attention in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it makes it difficult to sort them all out. Additionally, a simplistic portrayal of the conflict in the United States, particularly among certain theological traditions, effectively erases Palestinian Christian voices from the narrative.
Next, Isaac leads readers on a journey of, as the subtitle says, lament and hope. There’s much to lose heart about when it comes to relationships in Israel and Palestine. But there’s also reason to hope. Too many global Christians ignore the plight of Palestinian Christians, whose rights are often trampled. Additionally, the voices of Palestinian Christians are ignored or even specifically excluded (see, for example, the story Isaac shares on 29ff about his letter to the editor). When people don’t fit neatly into the boxes that Christians have set up related to the conflict, it is easier to ignore them than to engage with them.
Christian Zionism is then analyzed by Isaac, and he notes that it has essentially become a kind of imperialism imposing the will of (largely American) Christians outside the land onto the people of the land. Simplistic readings of the biblical text yield results that exclude Palestinian Christians from the conversation and turn people into instruments. Isaac explores the promises of the land made in the Bible and notes the conditions given related to them in multiple places. He also highlights the problematic language and interpretations of the Bible put forward by many Christians related to Israel and the people living there. The notion that Jews need to rebuild the temple, only to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, is particularly nefarious. Yet this view is extremely common in American Evangelicalism, as people argue that prophecies demand the Temple return to Israel, while simultaneously arguing that Jews will be condemned for not believing in Christ. This turns people into instruments of theological systems in an alarming fashion.
Isaac argues this last point especially forcefully on 125ff, where he notes the teaching of a “prophecy expert” who argued that those Jews who did not believe in Jesus would be massacred, according to the Bible, and the remaining third would embrace Jesus as Messiah during a millennial reign. Isaac also noted that this has created tension in Jewish-Christian relations, as so many “prophecy experts” and evangelical Christians support the state of Israel abstractly while also holding views that treat Jews as objects in their eschatological narratives (126-127).
Isaac constantly challenges assumptions made about Israel and Palestine, noting how easy it is to move from “Arab” to “Muslim” and “not one of us” or an excluded voice (108). This also highlights the knee-jerk reaction of many American Christians to Muslims in general, which is far from reflecting the love of Christ for all our neighbors. He writes, “If You Hate Muslims, You Hate Jesus, Too. If We Love Jesus, We Will Love Hindus” (120, emphasis his).
Isaac wraps up the book with reasons for hope and ways to find love of neighbor and share in that hope going forward.
The Other Side of the Wall is an enlightening read. Isaac provides personal accounts while incisively critiquing (primarily American) Christianity for ignoring the plight of Palestinian Christians and mischaracterizing events in Israel in order to play games with Scripture. It’s a powerful critique, while also providing reasons for hope and a call to follow Christ by truly loving our neighbor. Highly recommended.
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Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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