The land that in recent centuries has been called Palestine and Israel was promised in ancient times to the descendants of Abraham. Though the covenant was reconfirmed with a certain line of Abraham’s descendants—the descendants of Isaac and Jacob (or Israel; see Gen. 17:19–22)—the blessings of the covenant, including land inheritance, were promised to all who would come unto God and keep his commandments, thereby becoming “covenant people” (2 Ne. 30:2; see also Deut. 11:9, 16–17, 21; Abr. 2:6–11).
The Jews, one part of the family of Abraham, were removed from the land many centuries ago by war and expulsion; some are now returning to reclaim that ancient land. This return fulfills many prophecies that a remnant of Israel would be gathered back to their ancestral homeland in the last days. (See Zech. 2:12; Zech. 8:7–8; Ezek. 11:17; Ezek. 28:25; Ezek. 36:24; Ezek. 37:21; Deut. 30:3; Isa. 11:12; Jer. 16:14–15; Jer. 30:3.)
The land to which millions of Jews are returning in our day, after an absence of 2,000 years, has been inhabited by many nations, tribes, and peoples. The current political conflict arises because other descendants of Abraham, the Arab Palestinians, have had a long and continuous physical presence in this same land and claim it as their own. Current international law would seem to support their claim. As far as the Arabs are concerned, the Jewish presence in their land is based on neither “divine right” nor “historical title” but on occupation by military force. Thus, both Israeli Jews (descendants of Abraham through his grandson Jacob, or Israel) and Arab Palestinians (descendants of Abraham, primarily through his son Ishmael) claim sovereignty over the same real estate.
At the root of the political conflicts in the Holy Land are religious feelings that bind Jews, Christians, and Muslims to the Holy Land and particularly to Jerusalem. Mixing religion and politics often leads to the deepest human emotions and to intense attachments and tenacious devotion to places and symbols.
Three of the world’s major religions hold sacred the 14-hectare site known as the Temple Mount or Haram esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Jews and Christians recall Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac on the site where later two great temples of the Lord stood for 1,000 years. Muslims, on the other hand, respect the same site as the place of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Ishmael and the tradition of Muhammad’s ascension into heaven in a night vision. So sacred is the site to them that 13 centuries ago adherents of Islam constructed a shrine there (the Dome of the Rock), which stands to this day. Each group insists this holy land is theirs.
When considering these contending claims on the Holy Land, many people forget that biblical prophecy foreshadows more than one people rightfully residing in the land. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel to those living in the last days, the Lord counseled:
“And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide [the land] by lot for an inheritance unto you, and to the strangers that sojourn among you, which shall beget children among you: and they shall be unto you as born in the country among the children of Israel; they shall have inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel” (Ezek. 47:22; emphasis added; see also Isa. 14:1).
It appears, therefore, that both the tribes of Israel and the Palestinians have a divine commission to come to terms acceptable to each other. In fact, the biblical term strangers means sojourners, and they have obligations, rights, and privileges similar to those held by the children of Israel (see Francis Brown and others, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament , 158). In other words, both groups must realize that living in Israel is not an “either/or” proposition and that the peoples, present or future, in that part of the Lord’s vineyard must be prepared to accommodate others. Eventually, all peoples will have to learn that righteousness before the Lord is far more important for obtaining God’s blessings than lineage alone (see Gal. 3:26–29; Abr. 2:10).
The scriptures clarify that the ultimate source of peace in the Middle East and in all the world is the Messiah himself. John foresaw the time when the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord (see JST, Rev. 11:15). And Isaiah revealed that “the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Meanwhile, from the present time until the coming of the Lord, how should we as Latter-day Saints view events in the Middle East? Should we passively wait for an inevitable Armageddon? Or is there something we can do to actively and affirmatively promote peace?
There is a natural human tendency to take sides. We seem to believe that there is a right and a wrong to every situation. But partiality can breed divisiveness and closed-mindedness. It can also create distrust and inhibit the atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding that is needed for peace. If we take sides in a political context, we compromise our ability to reach out to both sides. We would do well to remember the words of a statement issued to the world on behalf of the Church:
“We reaffirm the long-standing concern of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the well-being and intrinsic worth of all people. Latter-day Saints believe that ‘God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him’ (Acts 10:34–35). All men and women are children of God” (press release, 18 October 1992).
In 1979, Elder Howard W. Hunter admonished Church members to remember that “both the Jews and the Arabs are children of our Father. They are both children of promise, and as a church we do not take sides. We have love for and an interest in each. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to bring about love, unity, and brotherhood of the highest order. Like Nephi of old, may we be able to say, ‘I have charity for the Jew. … I also have charity for the Gentiles.’ (2 Ne. 33:8–9.)” (“All Are Alike unto God,” in 1979 Devotional Speeches of the Year , 36).
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the source of peace and reconciliation in the face of sometimes harsh political contention between peoples and states. As Latter-day Saints, we can help prepare the world for the Lord’s coming and a millennium of peace by teaching and living gospel principles. We can also help lay the foundations for peace by learning about and respecting various nations—their peoples, histories, cultures, religious beliefs, and languages (see D&C 88:78–80; D&C 93:53).
By identifying the roots of the conflicts in the Holy Land and recognizing how those conflicts can be resolved, Latter-day Saints can help provide a bridge of understanding between Arabs and Jews in that troubled region. To the extent that we look with sympathy and understanding at both sides, we can be an influence to help bring about a just and lasting peace.