JERUSALEM – The longer I live in Israel, the more complicated I find it to be.
Like the seeds of a pomegranate, the more you open it up, the more beliefs, narratives, emotions and divisions you discover.
For Evangelicals who have not been here, or have only visited a few times, the history and geopolitical contours of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are especially complex and confusing.
Even more so as we try to understand it all through the lens of Bible prophecy.
All too often, for example, Evangelicals who love Israel deeply are not sure how to view the Palestinians.
Among the questions I’m often asked:
If God truly granted the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the Holy Land, then do Palestinian Muslims and Christians even have a legitimate right to live in the Holy Land?
Isn’t the Kingdom of Jordan the true Palestinian state? Why should there be another?
If the Lord is fulfilling ancient prophecies by rebuilding the State of Israel and drawing the Jewish people back to the Land, then why has He allowed so many wars and revolutions and insurrections and acts of terrorism? When will there be peace and quiet in the Holy Land?
If Jesus really wants us to love our neighbors and our enemies, how are Christians supposed to view and interact with Israelis and Palestinians?
Never have such questions been so timely as now as a new wave of violence has erupted in Jerusalem and throughout Judea and Samaria, the Biblical territory that today is known as the West Bank and is largely controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
Enter a new documentary film on the conflict, Hope In The Holy Land, which releases on-demand and Blu-Ray on May 14.
I confess that I was skeptical about this film at first.
One of the producers sent me a copy and for months I did not make it a priority to watch it. I kept putting it off and working on other projects.
Why was I ignoring it?
Because so often I find that books and films on this topic are unreadable – unwatchable – unbearable.
Too often they glorify Israel and Israelis as the fulfillment of prophecy and God’s Chosen People who can do no wrong and never make mistakes, while demonizing the Palestinians as all terrorists and radicals and sinister and corrupt.
Or they glorify the Palestinians as righteous and oppressed underdogs who just want to live in peace and have all the justice of history on their side and demonize Israel as a wicked apartheid regime and all Israelis as evil colonialists and brutal occupiers with not a moral bone in our bodies.
The “either/or” portrayal of these two nations sickens me and I simply can’t bear to read or watch one more ignorant piece of propaganda.
Yet after the gentle, persistent, yet unyielding encouragement of one of the producers, I finally sat down with my wife to watch Hope In The Holy Land and came away deeply impressed.
For starters, Todd Morehead – the host, as an Evangelical Christian from Southern California who graduated from Talbot Seminary with a M.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies – acknowledges the complexity of the conflict right from the start of the film.
What’s more, while coming at the project as someone who loves Israel and the Jewish people and does believe the biblical prophecies, he also seems to genuinely approach the conflict with a heart of compassion and curiosity – and as a follower of Jesus – wants to understand how to love his neighbors and his enemies but is still trying to figure out how.
It became clear that Morehead and his team wanted to understand how a wide range of Israelis view the conflict while also wanting to hear from a wide range of Palestinians.
Thus, they did what most news organizations don’t – they listened to both sides respectfully and fairly and let them make their own case without constantly interrupting and belittling them.
“Things aren’t always what they seem at first,” Morehead observes, setting the tone for open discussions – which are raw, and sometimes even provocative – with both Palestinians and Israelis.
In fact, the film begins with a warning of graphic images which serve to underscore the pain and violence suffered on both sides.
“It’s such a complicated situation,” Morehead admits. “There’s so much pain and trauma, so many opposing viewpoints.”
With a sensitive, yet honest approach, the film allows people to tell their stories bringing the viewers past the politics and giving us a glimpse into their hearts and their struggles.
In short, this is not your typical Middle East documentary.
Growing up as a Christian supporter of Israel who has led tours to the country, Morehead admits that he viewed the Palestinians as his enemy and as “getting in the way of God‘s plan for Israel.”
Challenged by a professor to try to “understand the other side,” Morehead agreed.
“The challenge for me is, how do I love and support the Jewish people and yet love and support the Palestinians at the same time?” he asked. “If my theology doesn’t compel me to love my enemy, then I need a new theology.”
The film begins in California where Morehead resides and follows his journey geographically, spiritually, politically, intellectually and emotionally to the heart of the Holy Land where he meets Palestinians and Israelis.
And, to leave no doubt that he was going to deal with tough issues, the documentary starts on a controversial note: “The Occupation.”
“The reality that I grew up in was the reality of the Israeli military occupation. Our basic freedoms … are denied for us here,” Palestinian-American Christian, Sami Awad, tells Morehead.
Unlike many pro-Israel Christian documentaries, Hope In The Holy Land shows the pain and poverty of the Palestinian people.
For many Palestinians, the only Israelis they have ever met are soldiers and armed settlers.
But for those Palestinians who are also Christian, the friction between their reality and their theology goes deeper.
“Jesus was in an unjust situation when he came to earth,” one Christian says. “As a Palestinian, I was waiting for a strong response from Jesus telling them, ‘This is an injustice, this is an occupation we should fight it.’”
Morehead also allows for a discussion on Palestinian Liberation Theology, the controversial teaching that justifies Palestinian resistance to Israel and identifies Palestinians as the indigenous inhabitants of the land.
Many Christian Palestinians do not believe the Jews are the “chosen people” and maintain that all nations are equal in God’s eyes.
Morehead pushes back.
“I really want to love and support my Palestinian brothers, but I have this tension with them looking at Scriptures differently than I do,” he says.
Morehead says if Palestinians recognize the Jewish roots of their faith, he believes that this “would be the key to healing the rift between the two people.”
The film holds Palestinian leaders accountable for keeping their people oppressed and rejecting peace with Israel which has kept “generations of people stuck in a cycle of victimhood and conflict.”
But on the ground in Hebron, Morehead wonders – if he had grown up only ever knowing Israelis as soldiers with M16s pointed at him, how would he respond?
“I think it would be easy to hate them,” he concedes.
On the other side of the wall, Morehead visits the site of a terror attack in Tel Aviv that left 21 Israelis dead, most of them teens.
He interviews a woman who lost her friend in that 2001 attack.
Morehead also speaks with Israeli security and military officials and a civil rights lawyer and he goes to Jewish “settlements” in the West Bank where he meets the people who settled there for biblical and ideological reasons.
At the end, Morehead offers genuine hope – but I don’t want to ruin the film’s conclusion so you will need to watch the film to find out for yourselves what that is.
Hope In The Holy Land will be released on May 14, a date chosen for its significance as Israel’s Independence Day and the Palestinian Naqba (catastrophe).
The film will be released first on SalemNow and then three months later on the other platforms listed on the website.
Copies on Blu-Ray will also be available May 14, Kron told us.
Justin Kron, a Chicago based Evangelical from a Jewish background, and Morehead, created and produced the feature-length film, directed and edited by Jesse Schluntz.
It is presented by The Philos Project, a Christian organization that focuses on issues of Middle East peace and reconciliation.
The film is already receiving rave reviews and won “audience favorite” at the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival.
“Our goal from the outset was to make the most fair and balanced film on the conflict that had ever been made,” Morehead and Kron said in a statement. “While not everyone will agree that we did, we feel really good about where we landed.”
I do, too.
Hope In The Holy Land is a beautifully balanced, deeply moving, and highly thought-provoking film that I strongly recommend you watch with your family, your small group Bible study and as an entire church congregation.
To learn more or to find out where you can watch this riveting film, visit their website. https://hopeintheholyland.com
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.