Annabelle’s story: Developing a passion for justice in Israel/Palestine
I am a Russian Christian who came to the UK to study in Leeds in 2018.
The two churches I attended before in Russia were both charismatic churches (Evangelical family of churches). Both of them had many things in common. They both believed in the idea of success and compulsory prosperity of a modern Christian. Moreover, they promoted ideas of only spiritual healing (all sicknesses come from the Devil) and non-negotiable obedience to leaders, as well, as “worshipping” of them.
One of their distinctive features was following the idea of the exceptional role of modern state of Israel in the history of Christianity. They believed that Trump was sent by heaven because he was doing everything for Israel’s prosperity. They also believed that according to the Bible, Israel and people who live there are so special to God – extremely special – more special than other people. These churches believed that “the resurrection” of Israel was the true sign of the second coming of Jesus and another confirmation of the “Bible’s prophecies”. Palestine was also perceived as the enemy of Christianity, they said “the crowds of people who follow Islam, a religion which comes exceptionally from Devil”.
My major at university was the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict. I learnt a lot about Islam and the nature of various conflicts going on there. I lived in a Middle Eastern country for a while and was always interested in the history of religion. Therefore, I was always thinking about many issues and trying to critically analyse all of my questions. However, the main thing that made me rethink their teachings is my doubts regarding the idea of a God who loves only particular groups of people. God, who accepts violence and the torture of other people in his name. I thought that if the Bible was really about these things, then I was not ready to follow such a Bible and such a God.
In addition to this, different things happened in my church which made me question the sanity of its ideas even more. For example, I remember once I was attending a small group where during a prayer one man who was leading a prayer asked to pray about Israel (which they do quite frequently). During the prayer, he called Arabs as “dogs” claiming the idea that they were supposed to leave “the holy land”. He repeated at least three times that God will continue to fight for his people and his land.
I had to leave my last church. I could not accept these ideas while knowing the truth. Every time I tried to clarify my questions, I was yelled at. I was called a person who supported Islam. I found it extremely stupid. First, I do not consider the Israel-Palestine conflict as a conflict of religions. Second, if any of the members of this church had read more about Palestine or even googled about it, they could see that Palestinian people are a mix of different religions.
My education helped me to understand things differently as well as my experience of living abroad. Due to my studies and work, I knew many Palestinian people who could tell their story and share their experience. I also attended a one-year course with “Transformations Leeds” where I could peacefully discuss this issue with pastors. I was advised to read some books and articles which only supported my way of understanding, including Revd Dr Munther Isaac’s book ‘The other side of the wall.’
I am trying to talk more with people (Christians, especially) about this issue. I want people to think and read more. Thank God for social networks where I can be a part of a movement that shows the sorrows people of Palestine have to go through (for example, settlements) and shares the ideas of peaceful resolution of the conflict.