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I opened my news feed this morning to horrific headlines, the latest in a string of horrific headlines: “Gaza’s Doctors Struggle to Save Hospital Blast Survivors as Middle East Rage Grows.” (AP News, 10/18/23)

As I said a prayer for the victims’ families and the many innocent people who are suffering much from this latest episode in an endemic conflict, I was also aware that the “rage” was due at least partly to our president’s response to the hospital blast, which was to accept the Israeli narrative with little hesitation or critical reflection. It wasn’t their fault (it never is). And once again the Arabs were confirmed in their assertion that Israel is America’s 51st state.

Many explanations have been given to explain this nearly unconditional American support for Israel, all touching on various aspects of a complex relationship. But one that is rarely explored, yet in my estimation more to the point than others, is the convergence of America and Israel’s founding myths.

The American version is well known. It’s called manifest destiny: a brave pioneering people, escaping from religious and political oppression in Europe meet great obstacles in realizing their dream of a free land for free people in an untamed wilderness. Among these obstacles are indigenous peoples who adopt terrorist tactics to thwart the settlers divinely driven destiny. By God’s grace they defeat the terrorists allowing for the cultivation and taming of a largely undeveloped land.

That’s a narrative myth that has more or less shaped at least older Americans’ perception of American history (mine included until I majored in history as an undergraduate). And even though it has long ago been discredited by revisionist scholarship, its psychological potency lingers in the American self-consciousness.

Compare this to the foundational Israeli creation myth: European settlers responding to religious and political oppression in their homelands pursue their dream of creating a democratic free state in what they perceive to be largely under-developed land in the Ottoman Empire. One of the impediments to realizing this dream is the resistance of indigenous peoples who respond to their well-meaning colonizing efforts with savage violence. By God’s grace they defeat the terrorists and establish their state. This allows them to make the land flourish in a way it hadn’t under the poor stewardship of its previous inhabitants. Could there be any doubt that God had created this state, as well?

The divine element in both creation myths is one that resonates especially with American evangelicals who have grown up in churches steeped in dispensationalist eschatology. Dispensationalists believe that the restoration of diaspora Jews to the pre-exilic land of Israel is a necessary prelude to the second coming of Christ. The fact that it happened with the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 clinches their support for all that Israel is and does.

But dispensationalists aren’t the only ones. In his masterful treatment of the religious basis for American support for Israel, Irvine H. Anderson convincingly concludes

So many people in Britain and the United States have been influenced by childhood stories from the Bible about Abraham, Joshua, and the Promised Land and by what has come to be known as “End Times” or “Armageddon” theology that much of the electorate in both countries has been predisposed (emphasis mine) to support the return of the Jews to Palestine.

Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America, and Israel, 1917-2002, p. 1.

I would suggest this same influence also impacts those not raised in the church, even without knowing the full extent to which this is true. The fact is the Israeli story is like our story, both in its foundational creation myth and its development into what we like calling the “only true democracy” in the Middle East. The Palestinian story, in contrast, is largely unknown to us, nor are we all that interested in hearing it because they aren’t like us. Simply put, we like the Israelis because they are like us.

Is it time, perhaps, for Christians to revisit this myth? Is it time for a more critical look at what Israel has done and is doing? We’ve done that with our own story, turning a more critical eye to manifest destiny given the devastating consequences for those who have been victimized by it. It may be time for us to do the same with Israel’s story. And now may be the best time to start.

John Hubers

John Hubers recently retired after serving as a Reformed Church in America missionary partner with the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He and his wife served as a missionary pastoral team with churches in Oman and Bahrain. John also taught missiology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He holds a PhD from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in World Christianity and Global Mission.


  • Nolan Palsma says:

    Thanks for this piece, John! This is not been stated enough!

  • Sharon Davis Payton says:

    Thank you John! So appreciate this article.

  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    Thanks for cracking open the door and letting a little light shine on history that often gets ignored or buried.

  • Bill VandenBosch says:

    There are three religious narratives converging in the violent heartache occurring in the Holy Land – the Christian and Jewish ones you mention in your article, John. And the Islamic one as personified by Hamas. I’d like to think that none represent the true heart of each faith but unfortunately the militant narratives are speaking the loudest. We are in danger of a major religious war and history has proven those are the most difficult for finding a “kind, just and righteous” peace, the kind the Lord delights in (Jeremiah 9:24)

    • Jan Heerspink says:

      Thank you for saying this, Bill. I have learned a lot about Israel and Palestine from you, for which I am grateful.

  • Rev. John Kleinheksel says:

    This is a fine contivurion to the discussions that need to take place, John.
    Thank you. The creation myths are parallel.
    The indigenous people were given the short end of the stick. To this day.
    There is more of a global outcry, protesting against the US/Israeli axis of control (evil?)
    So reprehensible it has devolved once again into the cycle of violence that obscures the roots of the conflict, which need to be addressed.
    So far, Biden and Blinken’s efforts to cool the fiery retribution have apparently fallen on deaf ears. We urge cessation of an “invasion” and turn a blind eye to the uptick in the increased bombardments of Gaza, killing families, men, women and children, in the fruitless effort to “root out” HAMAS.
    We are so far from the kind of leadership required to get out of this fiery quagmire.
    Thanks again John. Eager for you to get back to W. MI and help Kairos West Michigan carry on with the struggle.

  • Trena says:

    Thanks for those insights.

  • Nickolas M Miles says:

    thank you for your reference to Native History here in the US, as most people feel it is ancient history
    and it is still current history today as Indigenous people suffer from injustices imposed upon them.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Thank you for this insightful piece, John. The two myths have resulted in oppression for the indigenous peoples of the respective lands. It is painful to recognize how readily too many conservative Christians (and others!) have bought into those myths … and ignored the suffering brought in their wake.


    Thank you for writing this reflective historical piece, but I write to question the use of patriarchal imagery projected onto females – for playing leading roles in the origin stories of Israel and the United States. I want more attention to the voice of female Eleanor Roosevelt as well as those women currently trying to mother in the midst of conflict in Palestine/Israel. Alas, patriarchy is an old story, still in need of unpacking.

  • RW says:

    The Zionist slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land”, demonstrates the total disregard for indigenous people that we also see reflected in our Manifest Destiny myth.

  • DW says:

    I’d be interested to know what your source is for your claim that the “president’s response to the hospital blast, . . . was to accept the Israeli narrative with little hesitation or critical reflection.” The authority I’ve read seems to be to the contrary, and seems to indicate Biden ordered his team to perform an independent investigation.

    The AP, btw, seems to have concluded the blast was caused by a rocket originating in Gaza.

  • Tom says:

    A few of thoughts:

    First, it’s quite a stretch to identify Palestinians as ‘indigenous’ and parallel to America’s indigenous people. If anyone has a right to be considered ‘indigenous’ to Israel, it’s the Jews – unless you want to track down the descendants of Jericho and give the land to them (not likely there are many of them around).

    Second, the hospital explosion appears to be quite clearly not Israeli responsibility, unless you completely distrust the information coming from the US Gov’t (but be careful, that might make you sound a little Trumpy).

    Third, I know there are evangelicals who support Israel based on eschatology and all that – but, to this average Joe, american of the Reformed persuasion who, while I’m reasonably well-informed, is more than willing to admit that I’m not an expert on Israeli/Palestinian history, here’s what I see: Muslims live freely as citizens in Israel, even serve in the Knesset (I think they number about 20), this even though Jewish Israelis have pretty good reason to be a little leery of them.

    Hamas’ clearly stated goal is the elimination of the Jewish and of Israel – and they’ve proven that they mean it.

    It’s not hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys in this one, even while acknowledging that the good guys (as always) are far from perfect. That doesn’t have to mean supporting an all-out war and destruction of Gaza, but it’s hard to see a peaceful and just solution while Hamas continues to exist in any meaningful way.

    • B.P. says:

      With all due respect, the notion that Muslims have equal rights in Israel is questionable to say the least. For a more nuanced understanding, I’d recommend anything written by the eloquent human rights lawyer Raja Shehadeh, who lives in Ramallah. I must stress that he is against any form of violence and is equally vehement in his criticsm of the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority as he is of official Israeli policy. From what I’ve been able to understand, as in most cases the “bad guys” are the extremists on both sides of this seemingly interminable conflict. Peace simply does not serve their interests.

  • John Hubers says:

    Indigenous= living in the land before European Zionists came in the late 195th century, early 20th century. They were Europeans. The indigenous peoples were mostly Arab Chridtians and Muslims.

    There were at this time 25,000 Jews who were indigenous. But there were around 500,000 indigenous Arabs.

    There had not been a Jewish state for nearly 2,000 years. Zionists were not indigenous. They came as European coloniizers. Well established fact.

  • Tom says:

    So, just so I know the rules, how long does a people have to live in a place to considered indigenous? Obviously, by your logic, 2,000 years gets you there but 150 years doesn’t. Just want to know where the line gets drawn and why.

  • John M Hubers says:

    No rules. Just common sense. The assumption that people whose distant religious ancestors (2,000 years) were resident on a land – with no other ties to that land but these distant ancestors – are indigenous makes no sense, particularly as its not even certain that Eastern European Jews had any kind of ethnic ties to those who had lived previously on this land, makes no sense.

    What does make sense is what actually happened. People who were living in the province of the Ottoman Empire for generations with lands they had tilled, homes they had built, families they had raised there, were displaced by people whose homes were in Europe who then declared that this land belonged to them because their religious ancestors had lived there 2,000 years previously.

    Common sense.

  • Marilyn Paarlberg says:

    Thank you, John. In my limited experience, the best way to learn the history and present reality is to go and see. My first two life-changing trips were with Community Peacemaker Teams, and then a third interfaith trip led by the RCA’s Joshua Vis and his father, Marlin (who, along with Sally Vis have a long history of facilitating travel seminars in Israel/Palestine through the RCA). If a trip isn’t possible, I strongly recommend the widely acclaimed documentary that Joshua Vis did a year or so ago, “The Law and the Prophets.” It’s being shown free online this Saturday, Oct 28 at 3 PM Eastern, through the Witness Palestine Film Festival. You have to pre-register at

  • Peter Kapenga says:

    In the early ‘80s I was in a used bookstore in West Jerusalem (Jewish Jerusalem) when a man walked in carrying a gun. It was a unusual sight as at that time only Israeli soldiers were armed and when off duty left their weapons at the base. The proprietor (an Israeli) at the bookstore asked him why he was carrying a gun. The response in good American English was, “I live in Indian country.” He was one of the early settlers in what many hoped would be a Palestinian state. No doubt similar language was used in this country as settlers from Europe drove the Native Americans off their land. Thanks, John, for reminding us of Manifest Destiny.

  • Henry Hofstra says:

    In 1968, while a graduate student at the University of Michigan, I attended the Ann Arbor CRC. One Sunday morning after the service, Rev. Bastiaan Van Elderen spoke to the Adult Sunday School class. Rev. Van Elderen was a Calvin Seminary professor, but had done extensive archaeology work in the Middle East including Jordan and Turkey. In the course of his presentation, he used a phrase that I have not forgotten for 55 years. He said, “most Americans do not know, and cannot appreciate the plight of the Palestine people.” That has always tempered my thinking when considering the Israeli and Palestinian conflicts.

  • Lena says:

    I also see that the displacement of the Palastinian people from current day Israel was a “great catastophe” for them, much like the plight of Native Americans. However, the United Nations created. (by vote) the state of Israel and the Jewish people were not going to pass up this opportunity for their own state.
    In the past 75 years, Isreal has built up a powerful, well functioning, modern, wealthy nation. The Palastians can’t overtake the Israel nation like they want, but their Hamas leaders spend their time and the people’s money in a vain attempt to do so.
    So even though the Palastians might have rightfully blame Israel 75 years ago, the blame for their current situation belongs to Hamas for not wisely governing but seeking revenge using terror.
    Historians may be upset that people just accept the founding myth. To explain the Palastinian plight then is a worthy thing. But is the conclusion to side with Hamas ? Is that what the author of this article is suggesting?

  • Susan Dusek says:

    You didn’t bother to correct your story, and your outrage, even after the truth came out.
    You were too eager to believe the “horrible lie” that came from Hamas, even when there was already information to the contrary

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