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Israel: People, Land, and State – Suggestions for a Theological Evaluation

I. Introduction

Why are we talking about the State of Israel?

1. As Christians we are in a special way concerned with and tied to the biblical people of Israel. The Father of Jesus Christ, in whom we believe, is the God of Israel. Therefore Israel is connected with our faith in God. The church is called upon to proclaim its faith in God and its connection with the people of Israel is part of this proclamation.

2. That Israel of which the Bible of the Old and New Testaments speaks has not disappeared. The Jewish people, as it appears in our time, is its continuation. As a matter of history this cannot well be questioned. That does not mean that the people of today is identical with the people of old; 19 centuries lie between. But a direct historical line runs from the former Israel to the people of today. Therefore we use the names "Jewish people" and "people of Israel" indiscriminately in the following. Similarly, the church of our times is not identical with the church of the apostles, but it certainly is its continuation. That is to say, it is the same church.

3. If as Christians we feel ourselves connected with the biblical Israel, the implication is that there is also a special connection between us and the Jewish people of today. It is an essential part of the task of Christians to ponder upon this. Our Hervormde Kerk was one of the first to express its thoughts on the subject. Today the State of Israel is one of the forms in which the Jewish people appear. We would be talking in a void and closing our eyes to reality, if today we were to think about the Jewish people without taking the State of Israel explicitly into consideration.

4. In this report we are specifically concerned with the question whether the State of Israel has a particular relevance for Christian faith. What follows should be read with this restricted question in mind. It has not been our purpose to give a more or less complete exposition of the election of Israel or the relation between the church and Israel. Nor have we tried to give directions for a political solution. We speak as Christians who believe that reflection on the Jewish people and the State of Israel is a task laid upon us by our faith. Therefore we address ourselves primarily to our own church and to the other churches. We expect them to read this report as a thinking through of the problem from the point of view of faith. We understand that what we say necessarily has political consequences, and we do not want to avoid them. Faith has consequences in the political realm, and that is certainly the case when we speak about the Jewish people. We cannot impose our view on politicians of the West or the East, nor on Israel or the Arabs. Muslims and Jews may even wonder why we meddle in their affairs and may doubt whether what we say helps their cause. But we cannot keep silent about what we have understood on the basis of our Christian faith. More than once we shall come up against questions which we cannot answer. That is not surprising; Israel is put in a special place by God; therefore it is a mystery which can never be fully made transparent.

II. The Jewish people in the Old Testament

Israel is in its historical reality the chosen people

5. The Israel about which the Old Testament speaks was a fact in the world. It consisted of men of flesh and blood, who dwelt in a certain land and had a visible history with treaties, wars, victories and defeats.

6. However, according to this people's testimony of faith, upon which also, thanks to Christ, our faith as Christians is built, it was a people unlike all other peoples. That fact is exclusively based on God's election. He promised that it would be a people before it existed – and only afterwards did it become a people. He assigned it a land with which it was not connected by nature – and afterwards it came into this land. He made a covenant with it and made known to it his will, and this became the tie which bound it together as a people.

7. Therefore the Jewish people of the Old Testament are as a historical reality, the elected people. Here the elective acts of God, which are based on nothing but his sovereign love, obtained a visible form upon this earth amidst the nations. Here it has become clear that God's election is not a mere idea, but that it enters the world in all concreteness. Therefore this people has to be considered from two points of view: (1) Historically it is a people subject to human failure and all the vicissitudes of history. (2) Because it is the people to which God has bound himself in a special way, in the history of Israel we are somehow indirectly dealing with God. It is in it that he reveals himself to faith.

8. God had chosen this people for himself; he had formed it and set it apart. This was known by Israel and testified to in its faith. But there was always the danger that it might separate this act of election from the God who elected. Then it regarded the election as a possession on which it could count; and then it was necessary for the prophets to remind their people that their being chosen was based solely on the free grace of God. Israel should know that it could never lay claim to this grace of God as if it were a right. But Israel was also to know that its God was faithful and dependable. Therefore it could trust him, who had made it his chosen people. That is to say, we cannot set faith in the electing God in opposition to the grateful and wondering recognition of being-elected. Election as the free act of God and being-elected, as the being-determined by this act, belong together; the latter is the converse of the former.

9. In its testimonies of faith Israel understood its election as a gift of grace. In many passages of the Old Testament there is a note of grateful wonder about the great privilege of being the special treasure of God and knowing him and his will (cf. Exod 19:5,6). But the prophets in particular continuously reminded their people that this privilege carried with it a special responsibility: Israel should walk according to righteousness; its privilege should be a blessing to the nations. Its election was both gift and task. Israel was not to forget that its God is the God of the whole earth and of all nations, and that in his love God wants to disclose himself to all. In that light the people were to see their election.

The land

10. In its faith Israel regarded its tie with the land as a unique one. It had no natural right to the land, and was not allowed to deal with it as if the land were its possession to which it could lay claim. It was the land allotted by God to his people, the land which God had already promised to the patriarchs. Even in a time when Israel dwelt already in the land and had possession of it, it remained the "promised land," the gift of grace which was inseparably bound up with God's love. In other words, Israel was always convinced that the land was an essential element of the covenant.

11. According to the entire Old Testament in all its parts the chosen people and the promised land belong together, owing to God. The land was the place allotted to this people in order that they might realize their vocation as God's people to form a holy society. Again and again the prophets stress the point that the land is promised and given for the sake of this calling. When the people did not come up to their vocation as a chosen people, the prophets threatened them with expulsion. Exile was understood by them as a sign of divine judgement, and return was understood as God's renewed gracious turning towards his people and as a new possibility, granted by him, for them to live according to their calling. Being allowed to dwell in the land could be regarded as a visible sign of God's election and as a concrete form of salvation.

12. We have said above that for Israel its election was no goal in itself, but was directed towards the future: through the fulfillment of the destiny of the people of God and through what God does to this people, the nations also shall get to know God and shall turn to him. The dwelling of Israel in the land also partook of this directedness towards the future. This perspective in which the promised land is put comes clearly to the fore in the preaching of the prophets in the time of the exile. When they speak about the return to the land, they have in mind the historical situation; however, they speak in terms which go far beyond the historical, actual moment. It was the firm conviction of the people of the Old Testament that they could reach their real destiny as God's covenant-people only in the land of Palestine and that the realization of this destiny was closely linked to the salvation of the world.

13. Thus according to the Old Testament the land forms an essential part of the election by which God has bound himself to this particular people. Certainly the bond of God with his people is not severed when the people are outside the land, and certainly the people can live there also in quiet and peace, but the enforced separation of people and land is always something abnormal. There is no question of a separate election of the land; rather, it is a vital aspect of the election of Israel. This cannot, however, be said of the city of Jerusalem, or of the kingship, or of the independent state. Whatever value may have been attached to them in particular times, they were not inherent in Israel's election. Concerning Jerusalem, the special importance of the city is based on four elements according to the Old Testament. First, it is the place in which God has chosen to be present in his sanctuary amidst his people. The election of the city (e.g. 1 Kgs 8; 2 Kgs 21; 2 Chr 6:5f.) is determined by the fact that God wants his name to be in the temple of Zion. Second, Jerusalem derives its significance from the fact that it is the city of the Davidic kingship since the election of David. Furthermore, in certain Old Testament passages Jerusalem is a symbol for the whole land and the whole people. Finally, there are passages which ascribe to Jerusalem an eschatological significance.

14. Nor was the historical kingship an essential element of the election of Old Testament Israel. The very fact that it came into existence at a relatively late date and amidst strong prophetic criticism is proof of this. This kingship can truly express the sovereignty of God over his people, but it can also be an abandonment of God. Therefore since its beginning it always had a certain ambivalence. And the fact that the people had no state of their own played no decisive role as long as foreign rulers let them live in quiet and peace in their own land and did not prevent them from living according to the order willed by God.

Identity and alienation

15. According to their own Old Testament witness the Jewish people as a whole were called to be God's covenant people. Their vocation was to realize, as a national entity, in the land given to them for that purpose, a society in which only God's will was law, in order to mediate salvation to all nations. The true identity of Israel as God's people lay in its being determined by it selection; it is characterized by three inter-related elements: the reception of God's revelation, the dwelling in the "promised land" in order to form a holy society, and its universal significance.

16. The people in their totality were not faithful to their identity. The prophets vehemently accuse Israel for refusing to listen to God's word when they call it to repentance. Again and again the Old Testament speaks of Israel’s defection and disobedience. This mirrors our own alienation from God. Therefore it should be a matter of wonder and gratefulness for all men that the unfaithful people did not lose their vocation as covenant-people. That this did not happen is due to God's election, which cannot be nullified. Therefore Israel still shows signs of its vocation, even in its alienation. God in his election puts his mark upon Israel as his covenant-people, and this is a visible mark.

17. The Old Testament testifies to Israel's alienation; however, simultaneously the book itself is a sign of Israel's identity. For these writings are written in, and have been preserved and collected by, this people, which itself is constantly criticized in them. The very existence of the Old Testament – these books by which the church also lives – is a sign of Israel's vocation to be a blessing to all nations.

18. In respect of content, there is a manifest tension between the true and the false prophets, between those who understood the unique revelation of their unique God and those who confused it with and linked it to their own wishes or the religions of the nations. In the centuries after the Babylonian exile, groups of the pious were formed, who separated themselves from the great masses; in practice this meant that they withdrew from the masses and that they relinquished the idea that in Israel nation and congregation should be identical. And while some held fast to the universal vocation of their people, as particularly the great prophets of former times had expressed it, others wanted to preserve the nation as a holy and separate community, in such a way that they lost sight of this vocation.

III. Jesus, the Jewish people, and the nations

Continuity and discontinuity

19. In the foregoing we have tried to clarify wherein lies the identity of the chosen people, according to their Law and their Prophets. We have seen how their witness was a judgement against Israel and how it pointed to its alienation. But our questions are directed towards the Jewish people of today. Is there continuity with the Israel of the Old Testament? Are the things which were said there still valid for the Jewish people of today? At first sight we might be inclined to give a negative answer. The New Testament witnesses were so impressed by the immensity and newness of what they had received in Christ, that they seem to leave hardly any room for continuity. Christians in the past have mostly stressed the discontinuity which was the result of the coming of Christ. We, however, intend to bring to the fore particular aspects of the New Testament which have not played a great role in the church up till now. The difference between the Jewish people and the other peoples is pre-supposed in most parts of the New Testament, whether explicitly or tacitly. We intend to make this difference fruitful in our thinking about Israel. For we believe that it is imperative to keep in mind that the place which Christ has in the history of Israel is different from the place which he has in the history of the other peoples. For then it will become apparent that the discontinuity in the Jewish people, which is mentioned in the New Testament, takes place within the framework of the continuity of God's special acting with Israel.

Jesus and the Jewish people

20. The way in which God acts with the Jewish people in Jesus as their Messiah follows the same lines as the way in which he acted in the history of the Old Testament. That history shows how God came to his people again and again. To be God's people means that God is with the people. Always anew and always differently he comes in his law and in the words of the prophets. The entire Old Testament witnesses to this Immanuel, to this God-with-Israel. In Jesus God has come anew to his people in a fulness and immediacy formerly unknown; in him Immanuel is present as never before. And just as formerly God did plead with his people by means of the prophets, so now he pleads through Jesus, but yet more urgently and more directly, that they may turn toward him. So God's acting in Jesus Christ confirms his faithfulness to Israel.

21. This is immediately manifest from the speeches of Peter, Stephen and Paul, as they are recorded in the Book of Acts. The Jews are called upon to accept Jesus as Messiah, because he is the continuation and fulfillment of the history of their own people. If they accepted him, they would become what they have been all along in God's view, namely his covenant people. And somehow the coming of the Kingdom of God depends on this acceptance (Acts 3:19,20; Rom 11:25). However, this is such a new and unknown prospect that we cannot know it or describe it; we can only dream of it.

22. The Jewish people as a whole did not pay heed to this call. Just as the New Testament witnesses saw Jesus' coming in the line of the prophets, so also they saw his rejection by the people. One has only to think of the parable of the unjust tenants in the Gospels and of the speeches in Acts mentioned above. But Jesus is more than the prophets. Therefore the tension already existing in Old Testament times between identity and alienation has obtained its deepest confirmation and utmost accentuation in the rejection of Jesus. In his preaching and his behaviour Jesus radicalized the relation between God and man to such a degree that he confronted man directly with God himself. He addressed especially those Jews who because of their way of life had placed themselves outside the pale of the true people of God. Thus he came into diametrical opposition to the "pious" who tried to ensure and maintain the continued existence of the chosen people by faithful observance of the law. He also repudiated those who wanted to restore national independence and who in this way strove for the self-preservation of their people. The Jewish people as a whole did not accept this renewal of the ancient prophets’ criticism. Thereby they confirmed the judgement which these prophets had pronounced against them.

23. We have said that the rejection of Jesus was an extreme radicalization of the alienation of Israel from its true vocation. It may therefore be asked whether this has gone so far that Israel is not only alienated from its true identity but has in fact completely lost it. If this were so, the people would no longer be defined by their vocation to be God's special people after the rejection of Jesus. It was primarily Paul who explicitly posed this question and answered it in the negative. Because God's election is based solely on his own faithfulness, this people remains even now the chosen people, and their sonship and the given promises are still valid.

The land in the New Testament

24. If the election of the people and the promises connected with it remain valid, it follows that the tie between people and land also remains by the grace of God. For the chosen people and the land belong essentially together according to the Old Testament.

25. This is not actually expressed in the New Testament. On the other hand, nothing is to be found there which denies it. Jesus spoke about the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion from the land as judgements on the Jewish people, but this is entirely in line with the prophets' preaching of judgement. This judgement is not a final word; it pre-supposes as its setting the continuing association of the people and the land. Paul, the only one of the New Testament witnesses who reflected on the place of the Jewish people in the divine plan of salvation after their rejection of Christ, lived in a time when it was still self-evident that the Jews lived in their own land. Therefore there was no reason for him to consider the land as a special question. Even after the fall of Jerusalem the Jews still lived in the land. All New Testament writers knew the land as the centre of Jewry, even of those large groups which lived abroad. Therefore it is not surprising that - with the possible exception of a few references - the tie between the Jewish people and their land is not mentioned in the New Testament. The New Testament explicitly expresses only that which through and since Christ's coming has been changed. To this the messianic kingship and the place and function of the temple and the cult belonged, and therefore they are mentioned. But because Christ caused no breach in the relation between the people and the land, no reference was made to this. Now that we, many centuries later and in an entirely different situation, read the New Testament in view of questions which played no role at that time, we need to become aware of its hidden presuppositions.

26. At this point it is necessary to pose the question whether according to the New Testament Jerusalem still has a special theological function for the people of Israel after Christ. It is clear that the cult and the kingship, which in the Old Testament were both connected with Jerusalem, are fulfilled in Christ in such a way that the exceptional importance of the city can no longer be based upon them. As the symbol of the Jewish people and as the sum of the whole land, however, the city is mentioned also in the New Testament. Another question is whether Jerusalem has still a special significance for all people of the world in the eschatological fulfillment. Exploration of this question has hardly started yet.

Jesus and the nations

27. Jesus Christ has a fundamentally different function for the nations and for Israel. The Jews are called back by him to the God who bound himself to them from their beginning. But the Gentiles are not called back to their origin by Jesus Christ; rather, they are called to something which is radically new in their history. In the proclamation of him as the Messiah of Israel they are confronted with God himself, whom they had not known before. In Christ those who were once far off were given access to him who also was their God.

The church

28. The Jewish people as a whole did not accept the recall out of their alienation which their Messiah had urged. This already was clear to Paul and to all other New Testament writers. But there were individuals among this people who did accept Jesus Christ. In him they recognized the vocation of their people and they placed themselves under his judgement and his acquittal. Thus, vicariously on behalf of their whole people, they attained in him the true nature of God's people. And those of the Gentiles who came to know God in the Messiah of Israel were incorporated into the people of God. This is the church, a unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ, running through all peoples and nations. Her true identity lies in the following: called as a messianic communion, which represents all men, Jews and non-Jews, she is to depict, in anticipation of the future, the coming universal Kingdom of God, and imitating Jesus she is to stand prophetically and invitingly amidst the Jewish people and the nations, and also over against both of them. Thus for the church also her true nature lies in the vocation to which God has called her.

29. Was the church faithful to her true nature in New Testament times? In the New Testament, it is difficult to get an explicit answer; the communion of believers was still in its infancy and could look forward to an open future. Still, in the controversy of Peter and Paul, in the Pauline epistles and in the letters to the seven churches in Asia which form the beginning of the Book of Revelation, indications are to be found that the portrayal of the divine Kingdom in the visibility of the church has been an ambivalent matter from the beginning. Apparently the church has always shown, just as Israel did, signs of alienation beside signs of her identity.

IV. The Jewish people in our times

The not yet

30. In Jesus Christ God has come to Jews and non-Jews in a way which cannot be surpassed. In him the final decision is made. Still, we live in a world which has not yet reached its ultimate fulfillment. The Jews did not let themselves be called back by their Messiah to their true identity as God's people. They have continued on the course of alienation which they had already taken before him. And in regard to the nations, even if signs are to be seen in their history of the confrontation with the God of Israel in Jesus Christ, there is no question of a real acceptance of him. The New Testament writers could still expect that the Gentiles to whom God's salvation in Jesus Christ came after it had come to the Jewish people, would certainly listen (cf. Acts 28:28); but to us it has become clear that up till now it is only a small minority which has really listened. And even the church, which is called to live in strength of the salvation it has received in Christ, fulfills its calling only in great imperfection. It is apparent that neither the Jewish people nor the non-Jews have reached their destiny willed by God. History still goes on. That is divine judgement and at the same time the grace of God's preserving faithfulness and love. Man continues to exist.

31. In the final fulfillment the difference between Jews and Gentiles will no longer play any role, because God will be all in all; but as long as this fulfillment has not yet come, the Jewish people can continue to exist in their particularity. This is the eminent sign of God's preserving faithfulness and love. The situation of the people of Israel regarding salvation is the same as it was in New Testament times. They are still, even in their alienation, the special people to which God has bound himself. Their election remains valid; and through this election they are determined and marked.

Visible reality

32. The people about which we are talking are a historical datum. One can ask who exactly belongs to it, what ultimately is a Jew, and whether the name of "people", which is used for other peoples, can strictly speaking be applied here. In any case it is certain that the Jews themselves know that they belong together: a feeling of solidarity links them to each other, be they believers or non-believers, Zionists or anti-Zionists, Israeli or of another nationality. Through this belonging together, experienced by themselves through the ages and recognizable also to non-Jews, it appears that the Jewish people are still an existing and visible fact. And to this people God has decided to bind himself in such a way that all they do or suffer affects himself somehow. All they do or suffer can become to us a sign of him. That is true even when the Jews themselves deny it and want to be like other men and peoples. In the Jewish people we are always dealing with God himself. Could that perhaps be the reason that the more this people comes visibly to the fore in history, the more it gives offence?

Alienation and identity

33. In the past Christians used to pay the most attention to those aspects of the Jewish people which showed most clearly their alienation from God and their destiny. And indeed, judged by the three connected elements which, as said above, are characteristic for Israel's identity as God's people, its present-day alienation is manifest. The people as a whole feel themselves no longer bound to God and his revelation: there are believing and unbelieving Jews. The oneness of people and congregation exists no longer. The vocation to be a separate, special people for the sake of the other peoples is denied by many. And the tie based merely upon the divine promise which binds people and land together is in our time often misunderstood as a purely historical or nationalistic claim. If we compare the existing reality with the true character of the Jewish people as professed in the Old Testament, and as confirmed by Jesus Christ, we understand the image used by Paul, namely that they are like branches broken off.

34. We should however not stress this alienation so emphatically and onesidedly, that we forget that the Jews are still the chosen people. As such they are a sign of God's faithfulness. This sign is primarily seen in the fact that they still exist; the Jewish people cannot be done away with. Even in their alienation their true nature can still be recognized. To keep to the image of Paul, it is true that the branches are broken off, but they remain branches which show that they properly belong to the cultivated olive tree. That is to say, there are still signs to be seen of the true identity of the Jewish people. But because it is identity in alienation, these signs are extremely ambivalent.

35. In the first place we must point to the observance of the law by orthodox Jews. They want to regulate their whole life in all its details by the revealed will of God. This observance more than anything else has preserved the Jewish people in their special character throughout the ages. Nevertheless this faithfulness to the law is ambivalent. It easily becomes a means of moral self-assertion. It is but a small step from loyalty towards God's commandments to legalism. Because of their zeal for the law the Jews have rejected Jesus. To such a degree the maintenance and the loss of identity are apparently intertwined.

36. We see a sign of the true nature of the people also in their relation to the land. This too has played a preserving role through the ages. The feeling of relatedness has never been lost entirely, although in the last century many Jews have denied it. But those who believed in the special vocation of the people have always stressed that dispersion among the nations, without a centre of their own in the promised land, was not in accordance with the final destiny of their people. In our time the longing for the land has shown itself as a power which shapes history. This longing has received visible form in the return of many Jews. This return partakes of the ambivalence of identity and alienation. One part of the Zionists wanted merely a home, anywhere in the world. But this could be realized only in the land of Palestine, and this can be a sign to us that the special tie with the land, made by God's election, remains valid even when the Jews do not recognize it.

37. Among the factors which have kept the Jews together throughout the centuries we have mentioned their observance of the law and their relatedness to the land of Palestine. In addition, as a third factor, antisemitism has also served to keep them together. It is of such a totally different order from the first-mentioned factors that it seems nearly nonsensical to compare them in any way. Nevertheless, in spite of our utter abhorrence of it, we dare to see even here a pointer to the identity of Israel. The Jews who live amidst the nations are a summons to the conscience of these nations to safeguard the rights of all men. Where a nation is in danger of sinking into racism or into national self-glorification, one of the first warning-signs is that the Jews are felt to be offensive. For however much they may have tried to adapt themselves, and however many attempts may have been made to assimilate them to their surroundings, they remain a distinctive element in the national body. In the very fact that they are time and again an annoyance and a stumbling block, they fulfill – we have to say, in spite of themselves – their universal vocation: they are a touchstone for the humaneness and righteousness of other men. This is not all that could be said about the complex phenomenon of antisemitism, but we are convinced that it certainly is one of its aspects.

38. However, this universal vocation which belongs to the nature of the Jewish people, does not only show in the offence they give. It is often pointed out that in the struggle for justice and humaneness a remarkably large number of Jews is found. In this fact also we see, in secularized form, evidence of the destiny of the Jewish people to be a blessing to the other peoples.

The church as reflection of lsrael

39. Whenever the church forgets that the Jews are preserved in their particularity as chosen people – by the grace of God – she jeopardizes her own existence. For up till now the church has not made good her destiny any more than has the Jewish people. Though she is essentially the messianic oneness of Jews and Gentiles, she appears mostly as a church of the non-Jews. She has forgotten her origin to such a degree that she considers the few Jewish Christians in her midst strange exceptions with whom she does not know what to do. Again and again the nationalistic self-assertion, to which the Jewish people now, as in the time of Jesus, are in danger of falling victim, has become equally the sin of Christians. And the same thing can be said of the moralism and legalism into which the observance of the law has often degenerated among the Jews.

40. Nevertheless, the church does not cease to be the church of Jesus Christ. Of this fact too we see the visible signs: she proclaims God's coming to man in judgement and acquittal, administers baptism and celebrates the Lord's Supper, and many of her members fight for peace and justice. But it is only thanks to God's electing faithfulness that the church is maintained in her identity notwithstanding her alienation - the same faithfulness of which the Jewish people in their own way are a visible sign to us.

V. The State of Israel

The significance of the return

41. We have spoken about the unique destiny of the Jews to be God’s covenant people and about the unique tie which binds them and the land of Palestine together. Even the rejection of Jesus Christ did not bring any change in this regard. Thereby the people have indeed affirmed their alienation which they had shown already, but they are still the chosen people, destined to fulfil a lasting and separate role. In our time many Jews have again gone to the land of Palestine. In this way the people, who were threatened with disappearance, partly through assimilation, partly through awful pogroms and acts of extermination, have again obtained a new, clearly visible form. Precisely in its concrete visibility, this return points to the special significance of this people in the midst of the nations, and to the saving faithfulness of God; it is a sign for us that it is God's will to be on earth together with man. Therefore we rejoice in this reunion of people and land.

42. However, we do not intend to imply that the return is the final stage of history, nor that the people can never again be expelled from the land. Indeed, in the return the grace of God's lasting election has become manifest, but this return carries with it a special threat. For it could be that the other peoples deny a place to the Jews who are in their midst. It could also be that Israel does not use the new chance which it has received to fulfill its destiny in the land. But both these perils cannot prevent us from understanding the return positively as a confirmation of God's lasting purpose with his people.

The relative necessity of the State

43. However, the issue is not merely the return but also the State. God's promise applies to the lasting tie of people and land, but not in the same way to the tie of people and state. In biblical times the Jewish people have lived for centuries in Palestine without having an independent state of their own. It is also possible that in the future circumstances will be such that the Jews as an entity can live unhindered in their land without forming a specifically Jewish state, or even that they can fulfill their vocation better if they are part of a larger whole. But as matters are at the moment, we see a free state as the only possibility which safeguards the existence of the people and which offers them the chance to be truly themselves. The former hope of some for a bi-national state in the full sense of the word, seems in the present situation not possible to realize. For right after the Second World War a great influx of Jewish refugees disrupted the precarious equilibrium of Jews and Arabs. It is still necessary for the land to offer refuge to all Jews all over the world. That seems to preclude the possibility of a bi-national state, at least for the moment, to say nothing of the existing hostility between Arabs and Jews. Another possibility, which is sometimes mentioned, that of a federation in Palestine, presupposes at least that peace should first be made. Finally there is the possibility which the Arab countries offer the Jews, namely to accept a minority position in a Muslim state. But this would imply that in the promised land the Jewish ghetto with its attendant mentality and dangers would be continued. Therefore we are convinced that everyone who accepts the reunion of the Jewish people and the land for reasons of faith, has also to accept that in the given circumstances the people should have a state of their own.

The State and the special place of the Jewish people

44. Because of the special place of the Jewish people we endorse in the present situation the right of existence of the State of Israel. On the other hand we wonder whether this same special place does not also make this right questionable. First of all, we remember the way in which the State came into existence in 1948. This took place in a human, all too human way, as is the case with practically every other state; all kinds of political means and often means of violence have been used. But the Jewish people have never been better than other peoples. The entry in the land under Joshua and the return under Nehemiah were, morally speaking, dubious affairs too. The special place of Israel was never based on its moral qualities, but solely on what in the Old Testament is called God's righteousness, that is his unmerited, steadfast covenant-love. This love can never be a license to sin. But it is not annulled by sin either. Therefore we ought not to dispute on moral grounds the right of the State of Israel to exist. Otherwise we would have to ask ourselves how we ourselves can stand before God.

45. In the second place we must ask whether the universal purpose of Israel's election does not exclude the possibility of a state of their own. Indeed, the State carries with it the temptation for this people to become a nation like the other nations. The existence of a state can easily lead to an attitude of isolation, rivalry and defensiveness; and if this took place, then Israel could not fulfil its calling to be a bridge between separate peoples (Isa 19:23-25). But this far from imaginary danger is not necessarily inherent in the existence of a state. A state means concentration and structuralization of national life, but not necessarily isolation. In the present situation at least, a state gives greater opportunity to the Jews to fulfil their vocation than any alternative can offer.

46. Therefore we maintain that whoever accepts for the Jewish people a role of their own among the nations must also in view of the political problems in and around Palestine accept for this people the right to a state of their own. Because this acceptance is based on the lasting tie with the land in virtue of the promise, i.e. because it is ultimately based on reasons of faith, it cannot be a matter of uncommitted discussion in the Christian community. Otherwise one takes the risk of divorcing the New Testament from the Old Testament, God from history, and his commandment from his promise; that would mean a spiritualization and de-moralization of the Christian faith.

The vocation and the ambiguity of the State

47. Because of the special place in which by divine decree the Jews stand, the State of Israel also has a dimension of its own. The election of the people implies the vocation to realize their peoplehood in an exemplary way. Therefore, the State also has to be exemplary. Israel is called to live in its State in such a manner that a new understanding of what a state is, is enacted before the eyes of the other peoples. But those who among Israel plead for this exemplary existence find little response at the present time. In the State also there is manifest the brokenness and ambiguity to which the entire history of the Jewish people witnesses.

48. The land is given to Israel as dwelling place; there it can have its state. But the boundaries of this state cannot be read from the Bible. The territory in which the Jewish people lived in Old Testament times has had very different boundaries, and these never coincided with those of which the prophetic promises spoke. The only thing of which we are sure is that these boundaries must be such that they offer the Jewish people a dwelling place where they can be themselves. But it is a matter of a dwelling place, not a sphere of power and control. The necessity of protecting their dwelling place should not induce the Jews to make it into a nationalistic state in which the only thing that counts is military power. It is true that the so-called Christian states also have frequently succumbed to this temptation. But this is exactly the point, namely that in this way Israel is in danger of becoming a people like all other peoples, not worse and not better. Such a collective assimilation would be a denial of its true nature.

49. The Jewish people are called to exercise justice in an exemplary way. This too is an essential aspect of their true identity. In this respect the problems caused by the founding of the State of Israel and its later military victories are a particular challenge for the people. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live miserably, without rights, around the borders of Israel. It belongs to Israel's vocation that it should know itself to be responsible for them and that it should do all it can to put right the injustice done to them. This is possible only if it were to search for a political solution which would not be based on violence, as is mostly the case among the other peoples, but which would be based on justice and true humanity.

50. According to the biblical witness God promised the land to his people at a time when other peoples lived there. Israel could never lay claim to the land by right. It was not allowed to consider it as its own possession. It had to learn, and to show others, what it means to live in a land by the grace of God. Hence comes the Old Testament commandment to treat the foreigner in its midst as if he were a fellow Jew. Now, in our own time, Israel is offered the chance to establish a form of government which guarantees its own Jewish existence, and which at the same time respects the full freedom and dignity of its non-Jewish fellow citizens. But in spite of rights which are officially granted, these non-Jewish people are actually treated as second class citizens. It may be true that at the moment weighty reasons of political expediency can be given for this discrimination. But it is not in accordance with Israel's calling.


51. Through its specific development Jerusalem offers Israel an outstanding opportunity to practice a new, non-nationalistic and non-exclusive way of thinking. This city, which because of its history has great meaning for many Christians and Muslims, ought to be a kind of experimental garden where various nations may live together in peace. But as soon as we state this, questions arise which we cannot answer unanimously. Has the city become the concentrated expression of the union of land and people to such a degree that, if by reason of faith one supports the right of Israel to live in its land, one also has to include an affirmation of the lasting tie between this people and its city? Or can the exemplary function of Jerusalem as a city of peace, to which all nations can go up, be realized fully only if the city were internationalized and made independent of all other states? Or should one plead for a status of its own for Jerusalem within Israel, in order that around this city the State may develop into a state which is really a blessing for all nations and states? We have no clear and unanimous answer to these questions. But we believe that the problems concerning the city of Jerusalem call for a solution by Israel in a new framework of political thinking.

Election as calling and as offence

52. In speaking of Israel's unfaithfulness to its special calling, we did not suppose that we are better than the Jews. We are only too conscious of the fact that we too as Christians, as churches, as so-called Christian states shave repeatedly been guilty of discrimination, inhumanity and impermissible forms of nationalism. If Israel were a state like other states, we would not judge it by standards which no other state meets. But we believe that Israel is unique: its nature is based on God's election, for the Jews are still that special people which by God's promises is tied to this particular land. Therefore we expect from this people more than we expect from any other people. He who is placed in a special position has to act in a special manner.

53. Many Jews are not at all eager to be placed in an exceptional position and to have to solve the problems which the State of Israel poses, in a way to which the other peoples do not yet live up. And indeed, their special position has often seemed offensive to the Jews themselves. In view of what has been said above about identity and alienation this can hardly be surprising. But even when the Jewish people in their public life do not yet really meet the demands of their destiny, we are not justified in rejecting the right of existence of their State. For that right is based on God's preserving the identity of his people even in their alienation, and on his dealing with them in a special way.

VI. Epilogue

Church and Israel

54. Israel's way through history is interconnected with the expectation of the church and, therefore, as Christians we cannot be silent about Israel. The full realization of the identity of Israel would mean that the Jewish people would truly accept God's coming in their midst. But this would be the same thing as to accept Jesus Christ as the one in whom God has affirmed and fulfilled the covenant with his people. The actual acceptance of Christ would open the way to the complete fulfillment of God's purpose with the world, to the Kingdom of God, in which the difference between Jews and Gentiles would be no longer of any account. But as long as we still live in a transitional state, this side of the fulfillment, God will preserve, side by side with the church, the Jewish people as a visible sign of his electing faithfulness.

55. In this time before the ultimate fulfillment, we as the church are called together with the people of Israel to be true to our vocation. The difference between us is that our starting point is the way of Jesus Christ, who is not yet recognized by Israel as the fulfillment of its destiny. But we ourselves also do not live truly and entirely on the basis of the salvation which we have received. Indeed, if we were to live in that way, the Jews would be made jealous. The fact that does not happen, shows how imperfectly the church fulfills her calling; the criticism which we make against the Jewish people comes back upon our own heads. The Christian church too has not yet reached her destiny, she too lives still in a transitional state. The Jewish people and the church are both travelers and both are preserved, each in its own way, in God's faithfulness.