January 17, 2009 by The Mormon Worker
In 2003 I studied at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. It was shocking to experience life under Israeli Occupation and to see the difficulties under which Palestinians must live. I was quickly disturbed when thinking back to conversations I had had with so many people back in Utah who were supportive of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and of the wars the Israelis have so often fought to maintain the occupation and continue to steal Palestinian land. However, it is somewhat natural for many Latter-Day Saints (LDS), who have a limited understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to support the state of Israel. A superficial reading of the prophecies in the Bible, as mentioned in Ron Madsen’s recent post (Mormon Cheerleaders for Israeli Tanks), as well as learning about the horrors of the holocaust in school growing up, creates a natural affinity for Jews amongst LDS. Of course we should have sympathy for the Jewish people, but this should not translate into support for Israeli government policies, which are two different things. Additionally, anyone who reads the western press or watches the news (which of course all American LDS do)only learns about the conflict from the Israeli/US governments’ perspective. In fact I was passively supportive of Israel myself growing up. However, when LDS learn more details about the conflict, my experience is that they are quick to realize that in this case the Israelis are the oppressors, and the Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression, just as I revised my views after seeing the occupation for myself. Prophecies of the gathering cannot justify confiscating Palestinian land and driving Palestinians from their homes by force so that the land can be used for Jews only, let alone bombing defenseless people and starving them to death through an economic blockade, as is currently happening in Gaza. This behavior is antithetical to the foundational teachings of Christianity, which requires that we love our neighbors and treat everyone kindly. I think the BYU Jerusalem Center is helping many Latter-day Saints understand the conflict better and to realize that supporting political Zionism is not consistent with the Gospel. When students go there they see something of the reality and my sense is that most of them revise the views they held previously. Hopefully this process will continue and more and more LDS can become advocates for ending the occupation. On a side note, Elder Bruce R. McKonkie noted in Mormon Doctrine that the State of Israel was not the fulfillment of biblical prophecies of the gathering, and former Church President Howard W Hunter was a supporter of the Palestinians.