A Show of Force in Bethlehem?

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Seventh in a series on Israel and what we can learn from the Jewish people.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. — Matthew 11:12

Almost sixty years ago, a group of about twenty Palestinians met in Kuwait and secretly formed a group known as Fatah (meaning conquest), that became the principle component of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), under the leadership of the Yasser Arafat. It’s original mission was be the legitimate representative for the Palestinian people and to liberate Palestine through armed struggle against Israel. Later they acquiesced to UN resolutions and officially recognized Israel’s right to exist and rejected violence and terrorism (in name only).

Peace_CentreWhen we arrived in Bethlehem, in the area known as the West Bank for the last two nights of our trip, it was also the beginning day of the first conference in over 20 years of the Fatah organization. Israel had given permission for them to meet in Bethlehem. Over 2000 delegates from all over the Middle East were gathered at the Bethlehem Peace Center on Manger Square, located right across from the Church of the Nativity, which was built over the traditional site of the birthplace of Jesus. According to The Jerusalem Post, this group included several suspected terrorists who had been given permission to attend and who would be closely watched.

Security was extremely high and so was the tension. There was constant movement of troops and police in vans, pickup trucks, motorcycles, and other military vehicles from one point of the city to another. With the sudden blaring of sirens, flashing red and blue lights and the ever-present exposure of automatic weapons, snipers on the rooftops and ambulances at the ready, we were sure that we had come into a war zone—at the wrong time.

2007-08-05 13.43.39Later we learned that this was all orchestrated by Fatah to send a message to one of their chief rivals at the time, the terrorist organization, Hamas, who was in control of the Gaza strip. It was designed to tell them, “Keep your hands off Bethlehem and the West Bank.” It was their show of force.

The next day about noon, as we were leaving the Church of the Nativity toward Manager Square and the Peace Center, the delegates were breaking for lunch. Suddenly two Israeli military jets made several passes over the city, low enough to be clearly recognized and heard. There was no mistaking that this was a message to Fatah, “We’re in control of this land and don’t your forget it. You better behave.” It was an Israeli show of force.

That same day after lunch, our valiant warrior, Pastor Philip Saa’d, who we had grown to love and admire, decided that we should all return to the Peace Center and pray outside for God to bless their meeting, bring peace, show His presence and exercise His will to the delegates. It was a great idea and we did.

Now I don’t want to overdo this, but the back entrance to the Bethlehem Peace Center where we decided to pray was also where the high level delegates entered. It was like a Jack Bauer “24” TV program, or maybe a Jason Bourne movie. We watched black Mercedes limousines drive up to the security gate, guys in dark suits and sun glasses jump out, look around, and then a high level delegate would exit the car and pass through the checkpoint which was manned by well armed security forces, some in military dress, others in plain clothes. They all looked pretty serious.

Pastor Philip then decided he didn’t like our location because we weren’t close enough to the action. He wanted to be at floor level inside the building so we could pray where the delegates inside could see us.

First, he consulted with the press tent outside and they said the meetings were closed to outsiders, even them. That included CNN. That wasn’t good enough for Pastor Philip, so he set out to inquire at the security gate. “If it’s God’s will, they will let us in,” he shouted as he disappeared for a few minutes. When he returned he said, “We’re in. I told them a pastor had traveled all the way from America to pray for the conference. They gave us five minutes. Let’s go!” Gulp, why could I suddenly not swallow?

downloadSo Dorothy, myself, Pastor Philip and his wife, Violet walked down through the security gate to the lower level where all the delegates were gathered, and as speeches were being made we raised our hands, closed our eyes and prayed to our heavenly Father that He would bless that meeting, that His will would be done in the Middle East among all the factions and that many would come to the saving knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. I believed we delivered God’s clear message to all of the parties that day: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (Psalm 24:1). It was God’s show of force! Maranatha.

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