Commentary: Why is there so much antipathy toward Israel from its Arab neighbors?


Shocking surprises that strike our hearts and minds also arouse such questions as the one above. May I attempt to answer this question concisely and clearly with an ever so brief review of the history between Arabs and Israelites?

We begin with a man called Abraham who had two sons: Isaac born to his wife Sarah from whom Israelites/Jews are descended through his grandson Isaac who was renamed Israel; the other son Ishmael born to his wife’s maid/slave Hagar from whom Arabs trace their ancestry. While we read in Genesis 21:21 that Ishmael settled in the Wilderness of Paran, Islamic and Arabic tradition teaches he located to the birthplace of Islam: Mecca in Arabia near these mountains. 

An Arab named Mohammed, born in Mecca in 570 A.D., felt inspired to call his polytheistic neighbors with their belief in many gods to embrace a monotheistic faith in one God called Allah with himself as God’s prophet. Mohammed was influenced by his exposure to monotheistic Jews and Christians who lived in that region. After the Romans crushed the two Jewish Wars for Independence that destroyed the nation of Israel, Jews were scattered throughout much of the world – even to the Wilderness of Paran. Mohammed expected the Jewish tribes living in his area to rally to him and his new religion of Islam; however, the Jews rejected Mohammed as a false prophet. Although, he referred to both Jews and Christians as “People of the Book (Bible)” they were viewed as Dhimmis or second class citizens who had refused to accept Islam. They were no longer allowed to live in Arabia.

During Mohammed’s lifetime his followers began to conquer Arab lands far and wide, and even toppled the Persian Empire and finally the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. Lands like Israel, Egypt, Syria and what we now call Turkey that had become predominantly Christian were conquered, and slowly but surely converted to majority Islam. Muslims of one kind or another controlled Israel for about 1500 years except during a slightly less than one hundred year rule by European Crusaders.

During World War I, Britain persuaded the Arabs to fight with them against the Ottoman Turkish Empire that was ruling the Middle East by promising them that if Britain and France won the war, they would be free to govern themselves – which they understood included the ancient land of Israel then called Palestine; but, the British government also issued a Balfour Declaration promising Jews a homeland in part of Israel/Palestine. This promise would ostensibly fulfill the hopes of Jewish nationalists or Zionists that since the 19th century had been promoting the return of Jews from the Diaspora to their ancient homeland – joining those Jews who were living in what had been Israel.  

Although Britain and France won the war – with America’s decisive help – Britain was never able to fulfill its promises to “both” Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine. While the Jews were willing to partition the land between the two groups, Arabs were adamantly opposed to a Jewish nation within Palestine. The Arabs felt they had been the majority people in Palestine for almost 1500 years, and bitterly resented and rejected any effort to grant Jews the right to rebirth even a portion of their ancient homeland.

After World War II, Britain gave up any hope of establishing two peaceful and co-existing nations within Palestine; therefore, the British government handed off the seemingly insoluble problem to the United Nations that voted to rebirth Israel in 1948 in spite of the hostile environment. This immediately precipitated a war between Israel and its Arab neighbors who were determined to abort the new nation. Although Israel enjoyed an extraordinary if not miraculous victory, being outnumbered 200 to 1, followed by other victories in successive invasions/wars, each Israeli success and further acquisition of land (particularly Jerusalem) only intensified the anger and hatred for Israel. This has been most evident among those Arabs who left Israel and ended up in refugee camps or jammed into over-crowded “ghettoes” like Gaza City – a breeding ground for hate-filled propaganda and terrorist groups.

The Hamas attack on Israel seems to have been launched in part by a desire to derail the recent progress toward peace in and around Israel/Palestine. There were reasons for cautious hope, considering the progress being made between Israel and Saudi Arabia to go with the somewhat “reasonable” relations between Egypt and Jordan. What is heartbreaking to see is how a history of arrogance and ignorance, anger and violence, resentment and hatred has inflicted so much mayhem and misery on millions of people.

We as Christians are reminded that the Way to Peace (Shalom/Salaam) in the Middle East and everywhere else is through what we know as Amazing Grace – the desire and power to love and forgive not just our family and friends, neighbors and strangers, but even our enemies. We pray in the words of Christ: “Deliver us from evil” – through Your kind of Incarnational love and forgiveness! 


Paul R. Baxter is the mission strategist for Georgia's Pine Mountain Baptist Association.