FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – The withdrawal and, in some cases, forcible removal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip is an effort at peace on the part of Israelis, but one that may lead only to further bloodshed, according to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson.
“A gesture of good faith on the part of the Israelis is altogether appropriate, and I commend Prime Minister Sharon for his intentions,” Patterson said. “My problem with the decision rests in its probability for success.”
Patterson, who has been to Israel more than 40 times, said he feared “that the Palestinian temperament will treat the gesture as weakness and that terrorism will continue against Israel. If that is the case, the gesture is emptied of its sacrificial content and the only legitimate, current Middle-Eastern attempt at democracy is further jeopardized.”
C. Greg Kingry, vice president for business administration at Southwestern and the former administrator of Baptist Convention in Israel (1998-2003), said he is not surprised at the level of “emotion and resistance” to giving up the land in Gaza.
“Over there, land is not just a commodity to be bought and sold; land is tied up in their idea of heritage. For the Palestinians, getting the land back says something to them about their destiny. For the Israeli settlers, when the Gaza Strip first opened up they saw it as a way to ensure security for the nation of Israel, and they saw the land as something God had promised to them,” Kingry said.
Kingry said that an argument could be made for returning the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians “because it is clearly identifiable as a Palestinian area, both historically and because the population is overwhelmingly Palestinian.” Still, Kingry said, giving the land back the Palestinians “is more than just political.” He added that any similar situation in the West Bank could become much more violent.
“The West Bank was only barren mountaintops and desert valleys before the Jews settled there. Now it is an oasis and arable land,” Kingry said.
Emir Caner, dean of The College of Southwestern and a former Muslim, also said that he was not surprised at the situation in Gaza today. “The Jews who are being asked to pull out of their homes feel like they have been sold a false bill of goods,” Caner said. “They were promised settlement, they built homes, and they began to raise their families. Now for the sake of political correctness or political expediency, they have been asked to leave.”
“It is in this situation, ironically one on which the hopes of peace are supposed to be built, that peace seems to be waning. In the place of the ousted Jewish settlers, there will be other settlers who build there, many of whom not only sympathize with terrorists. Some are perhaps terrorists themselves. So their anger is not only personal; it is political.”
Samuel Shahid, a professor of missions and Islamic studies at Southwestern who was born in Palestine, said the pullout would give some hope to the Palestinians. “But some of them will not be satisfied until they repossess the entirety of Palestine,” he said.
“I am concerned that there will be a division in Israel between those who support the pullout and the orthodox Jews along with the settlers. Another concern is that there will be a conflict among the Palestinians themselves. There are the fundamentalists and there are those who are willing to work with Israel. This whole situation is going to create chaos in that part of the world. We have to pray and hope for the best.”