Despite its complexity, there was something straightforward about the post-war world, of which the success of the Apollo Space Missions seemed typical. Then US President John F Kennedy set his government the task of achieving nothing less than the conquest of Space and that ultimate “small step for a man” heralded what seemed like a giant step into an age of endless possibilities. If they could put a man on the Moon, it seemed that nothing could be considered beyond human ingenuity. This world of heady optimism is not the world Christ envisaged at the time of the end.

Perplexity

In Luke 21:25 Christ foresaw a world characterised by perplexity, an age in which men’s hearts could not withstand the events that were playing out before them. Problems would lack any simplicity and, as perplexity of mind grew, fear would cripple man; not knowing what to do, not knowing which direction to turn and not knowing which way to go in order to escape present problems. Strong’s describes perplexity as a “state of quandary” and consequently the perplexed man will eventually stand still, paralysed by the raging fearful thing he sees before him. This is the world of the time of the end: man sees the impossible test before him and his fearful expectation of calamity paralyses him. It is in this state that he sees Christ return in power and great glory.

Ours is a world rapidly approaching the state of affairs described by the Son of man in Luke 21, when the powers of the heavenlies are being cast down from their secure and happy state to a state of agitation produced by the winds and storms of the age. The emerging image of the world at the start of the 2010s is that of perplexity that leads to paralysis. The paralysis of the representatives of national governments at the Copenhagen conference in the face of perplexing climate change, the impotency of governments to deal with the perplexing root causes of the global financial crisis, the emerging failure of the euro economic zone in the light of failure in countries such as Greece and the emergence of the first coalition government in Britain for 80 years. The likely weakness of this government is especially critical at a time when decisive measures are required to address the UK’s perplexing financial problems, which were summed up in the recent letter from former the Chief secretary of the Treasurer from his successor, which read,

“Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam.”

At a time when the USA, which once conquered space, couldn’t cap a leaking oil well, there is much to be perplexed about; yet there is, of course, no greater example of perplexity than the Middle East.

The ‘aid flotilla’

Israel was widely criticised and condemned throughout the world in early June after its army staged a deadly interdiction on the Mediterranean in an effort to halt the arrival at Gaza of an ‘aid flotilla’ of cargo ships. Carrying humanitarian goods from Cyprus in defiance of the ongoing siege of Gaza, the convoy of vessels sought to break the blockade by sea. In events that stunned the world, Israel appeared to fall into a carefully prepared trap, only to add an element of self inflicted injury through the violent death of nine of the activists. Yet if the aim of the flotilla was to expose the inhumanity of the Gaza siege, this was quickly overshadowed by the political fallout of the deaths. As expected, Israel’s enemies made significant mileage out of the tragedy, yet the events also stunned Israel’s friends and its own citizenry into criticism. A significant deterioration in Israel’s international standing appears to have resulted from this startling episode which seems to hold a far greater significance on the world stage than recent Israeli conflicts in Lebanon and the Gaza incursions. Why? The answer is found in a very perplexing history.

Gaza

The Gaza strip is a sliver of land set against the Mediterranean coast and Egypt in Israel’s south western corner. Although it is only about the size of metropolitan Adelaide, it contains a population of 1.5 million Palestinians, 1 million of whom are refugees. Separate from other occupied territories on the West Bank, Gaza has, over time, developed a distinctive character diverse enough from the other territories that in 2006 its electors voted the militant Hamas organisation into power. Hamas’ rise to political power represented the beginning of a new and perplexing phase in the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian struggle.

When Jewish cities bore the brunt of Hamas inspired suicide bombers, Israel clamped down, restricting the day to day movement of Palestinians and ultimately responding by building the notorious “Security Wall” between Jewish and non-Jewish areas. This structure snakes through the edge of West Bank territories, while the Israeli Gaza strip barrier fence separates Gaza, creating in effect what some describe as a ‘Palestinian ghetto’ (see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/ fence.html). The bombings stopped. Unable to project terror into the heart of Jewish territories, Hamas militants defied the wall using the open sky above and launched unsophisticated missiles over the structure, wreaking random havoc and haphazard death on Israelis. The Gaza strip under Hamas rule became a key staging ground for these attacks. Israel responded by imposing a land and sea blockade of the territory, attempting to prevent the importation of weapons and missile components, yet the embargo also denied the populace a number of the needs of daily life and almost all of the wants. At every stage the militants adapted, creating a situation of ongoing complexity for Israel. By digging a network of rudimentary tunnels under the security wall through to Egypt, Gazans gained access to everything from livestock to flat screen TVs despite Israel’s embargo.

Israel has allowed humanitarian goods into Gaza on an ongoing basis and at times has turned an apparent blind eye to the illegal tunnels, but in 2008 it staged incursions into Gaza when Hamas missile launches resumed. The IDF’s aim was to take out the tunnels, but the associated casualties and destruction only added to the Gazans’ woes. Today the Hamas government rules Gaza as a single party state. Unable to rebuild, escape or overthrow their government, Gazans live out an unpromising existence, much of it out of the eye of the world’s fickle media gaze. Israel faces the perplexing problem of maintaining a state of siege, while maintaining its duty of care for the community it has been compelled to incarcerate.

Having tried to break the Israeli siege by land with limited success, the recent aid flotilla was designed to challenge it by sea and from the outside in, but this time there was nothing crude about the means. Although there was no chance the flotilla would be allowed to arrive at Gaza, it was clear to all that it was never important that it did. More powerful than any success in running the blockade, the flotilla’s existence was deliberately designed to embarrass Israel by focusing world attention on the blockade, and it did so most effectively by harking back to events dear to the heart of every Israeli.

Echoes of SS Exodus

The 1947 voyage of the steam ship Exodus was a significant moment in the post-war fate of the Jewish people. War-torn Europe’s displaced Jews had known the horror of the Nazis, the ghettos, the death camps and the failure of the international community to effectively deal with the need for Jewish immigration before the war at the Evian Conference. Now they were abandoning Europe, they looked for a new homeland, and what better than Palestine, though under the British mandate? The SS Exodus departed France in July under the agency of the Jewish political group Haganah with 4,515 illegal immigrants crammed on board. Post war the Haganah were also carrying out anti- British operations in Palestine, including bombings, sabotage and illegal immigration. Heroes to the Jews, the British Mandate Government considered them a terrorist organisation. A Royal Navy taskforce was assembled for their arrival. Forty kilometres from the Palestinian coast the HMS Ajax and a convoy of destroyers intercepted SS Exodus. As with the aid flotilla, the boarding party was energetically resisted, being in international waters; as with the aid flotilla, the British use of force resulted in casualties: two passengers and one crew member. The British government’s actions shocked the world, especially when some of the illegal immigrants were returned to Germany.

A series of history changing events were set in motion by the Exodus interdiction. The British mandate of Palestine was already under question and British treatment of the Exodus polarised international opinion. In the light of the Holocaust and the crumbling Mandate, the scene was being set for the modern day return of the Jews to their ancient homeland. The events of early June co-opted this decisive moment and clearly attempted to claim the moral right from Israel as it painted the Gazans’ current situation in the terms of post war Jews.

The weapon of moral right

Israel moved against the aid flotilla as she had the right, in law, to take pre-emptive action in defence of her territorial boundaries, even on the high seas. She clearly feared the impact that a successful arrival might have in Gaza, but most evidently she feared that there were weapons on board brought by a terrorist related organisation. In a sense there were weapons on board, though not the sort of weapons Israel might have suspected; not guns and ammunition for the continuation of Hamas missile attacks, but these:

  • an assumed moral right, in that the flotilla was carrying humanitarian goods to a besieged people
  • the world media, who were embedded with the activists and crew of the convoy’s ships
  • the power of historical memory, in echoing the Exodus.
    Each of these was a far more powerful bludgeon against Israel than anything it had previously encountered over Gaza. That the IDF killed nine activists when they seized command of the flotilla only added to Israel’s loss of moral right. The reaction of the world community came swiftly.

Perplexing consequences

Condemnation of the IDF’s actions by Hamas was, as ever, expected, but criticism from so many of Israel’s friends was disquieting. Turkey, which was seen as Israel’s closest ally in the Middle East, pulled no punches. The Turkish Prime Minister said,

“The insolent, irresponsible and impudent attack by Israel, which went against law and trampled human honour underfoot, must definitely be punished” (http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1269417/Worldleaders- demand-Israeli-raid-probe).

It appears that these events will almost certainly signal the end of their previously cordial relationship (see the Watchman p189). The UN Security Council issued a stern rebuke of Israel’s actions that was only watered down by the intervention of the USA. Both the Australian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister issued their own rebuke over the poor handling of the interdiction; a rebuke that came barely a week after Australia had expelled an Israeli diplomat in response to the ‘Passport Affair’, where Australian passports were forged as part of a Mossad assassination. Mr Rudd said,

“The Australian Government condemns any use of violence under the sorts of circumstances we have seen” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/ stories/2010/06/01/2915244.htm).

What appeared most critical was the timing of the event: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Canada and was paralysed by the fallout. He was compelled to call off his visit to Washington and talks with Barack Obama, at which the US President had hoped to move ahead the languishing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Obama has much to lose in ongoing failure to address Middle East peace.

The events of early June appear to have galvanised worldwide public opposition, if only for a moment, against Israel, more so as individuals and nations previously unaffected by Middle East affairs, especially those in Asia, also spoke up in condemnation. Most critically the Jews themselves are realising this. Israel’s most popular newspapers described the interdiction operation as a “blunder” in banner headlines (http://www.abc.net.au/news/ stories/2010/06/01/2915479.htm), while in the words of Mossad Chief, Meir Dagan, speaking before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee,

“Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden” (http://www.haaretz. com/news/diplomacy-defense/mossad-chief-israelgradually- becoming-burden-on-u-s-1.293540)

These facts highlight how Israel’s hard dealings with intractable problems will lead to her ultimate status as a “burdensome stone for all nations” (Zech 12:3). The issue in that day will not be critical political words over Gaza, but earth-wide perplexity over Jerusalem. Our world is increasing in its perplexity, but we should not be surprised. Christ is at the door.