(Washington, D.C.) — How could a final, comprehensive peace treaty with Israel truly improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza?
What specific, innovative ideas have the Trump team been cooking up over the last two years to reduce rampant unemployment and poverty among the Palestinians, and build infrastructure to economic growth and prosperity, like water desalination plants, power plants, roads, ports, an airport, and so forth?
How much will these proposals cost, and what nations are ready to invest in helping the Palestinians build a healthy, fully functioning economy that will create good jobs, rising wages, clean water, 24/7 power, and sustained economic growth that depends on free market innovation, not foreign aid and government subsidies?
These are critically important questions, and the White House peace team — led by Jared Kushner — announced today that they will unveil their answers at a conference in Bahrain in late June that will focus on the economic benefits of peace.
They further noted that they will unveil their answers to the key political questions — what will the final borders of two states be? what will be done with Jerusalem? what will be done with Palestinian refugees living outside the land? — at a later date.
This is a shrewd move, for several reasons:
It will focus the Palestinian people first on what they would “get” from making peace with Israel, not first on what they might have to “give.”
It will create a conversation not just among Palestinian Arabs but among Arabs throughout the region on whether the Trump team is making specific, positive and useful proposals to make the lives of real people better.
No previous American administration has ever offered a detailed financial plan to improve the Palestinian economy and infrastructure.
We’ll get to see what countries are willing to invest the billions of dollars necessary to turn these ideas into reality.
It’s particularly noteworthy and encouraging that Bahrain is hosting the conference. While I have not been to Bahrain, I had lunch in March with the Bahraini Ambassador to the United States and was deeply impressed with him and his government’s desire to help Israelis and Palestinians truly make peace, and open the door for Arab states throughout the Gulf region to also make peace with Israel and openly engage in business with the Jewish state.
“The Trump administration will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited blueprint for Mideast peace next month at a conference in the region designed to highlight economic benefits that could be reaped if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved,” the Associated Press reported on Sunday.
“The plan, which has been two years in the making, envisions large-scale investment and infrastructure work in the Palestinian territories,” AP noted. “But the central political elements remain mostly unknown. And the economic workshop, June 25-26 in Bahrain, will not address the most contentious parts of the conflict: borders, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and Israel’s security.”
“We recognize that this needs to go hand in hand with the political plan, but this will be the first chance to roll out details of the economic plan,” a White House official told CNN, adding that this will be an opportunity to show Palestinians, Jordanians, Israelis and the Lebanese that “CEOs care about them and want to be investing in the area.”
“It’s tough to digest both the economic and political proposals at once, since they’re both very detailed proposals,” the official said.
“[The] ‘Peace to Prosperity’ [conference in Bahrain] will facilitate discussions on an ambitious, achievable vision and framework for a prosperous future for the Palestinian people and the region, including enhancements to economic governance, development of human capital, and facilitation of rapid private-sector growth,” a White House official told the Washington Free Beacon. “If implemented, this vision has the potential to radically transform lives and put the region on a path toward a brighter future.”
(Jerusalem, Israel) — The newly re-elected premier of Israel made an intriguing proposal on the occasion of the 71st anniversary of Israel’s prophetic rebirth as a sovereign nation in 1948.
As he attended the International Bible Quiz and made the case for the importance of studying and knowing the Bible, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called…for a printed Bible to be carried to the moon by the next Israeli spacecraft to make the journey, and credited Judaism’s foundational text for the ‘daring’ and ‘spirit’ Israelis demonstrate in the attempt,” reports the Times of Israel.
“Speaking at the International Bible Quiz for Youth, which is held every year on Independence Day, the prime minister vowed to send a second spacecraft after the first, dubbed ‘Beresheet’ (Genesis), crashed onto the lunar surface on April 11 due to complications resulting from a gyroscope failure,” noted the Times.
“Last month we felt tremendous excitement: the spacecraft Beresheet was a hand’s breadth from the moon,” Netanyahu said in his remarks at the Bible Quiz event in Jerusalem.
“Noting that the lander carried a digital copy of the Bible, he announced, ‘that’s not enough…. We’re going to send the spacecraft again, and it’s very likely it will be carrying a small [printed] Bible. I want the Bible to land on the moon, because it is written [in Psalms 8:4], ‘When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have established.’ The State of Israel will reach the moon.’”
How can Israel truly have a deep impact on the world? Netanyahu asked.
“How do we do it?” he asked rhetorically. “We do it through initiative, determination and daring — given to us by our spirit. And our spirit comes from the Bible. That’s not just words. That spirit comes from the Bible, because there’s no meaning to the enormous journey we have made to return to our land, to our birthplace, if we had not carried with us our faith, our tradition and our yearning for the homeland.”
The Jerusalem Post reports: “The competition is an annual event held on Independence Day which brings together dozens of Jewish youth between the ages of 14 and 18 from around the world to test their knowledge on the Bible. The youth spent two and a half weeks at a “Bible Camp” in which they travel Israel, learn about its history and meet with several government officials, including Netanyahu. The contestants were, as is traditional, asked about the smallest details of the many events which take place in the Hebrew Bible, and are quizzed on every book it contains.”
(Jerusalem, Israel) — A cease-fire — negotiated behind the scenes by Egypt, Qatar and the U.N. — went into effect at 4:30am local time (9:30pm in Washington), after the most intense two-day rocket war in Israel’s history. See details below.
Now, we face two big questions:
Will the cease-fire hold? As I post this column at 9:30am local time on Monday morning, five hours after it was agreed to, none of the terms of the deal have been released to the public. In my experience with past rocket wars going back a decade or more, we often see Hamas and Islamic Jihad break the deal several times in the first 48 hours or so, firing off a few salvos of additional rockets, and triggering more retaliations by the IDF. Please pray that this cease-fire holds firmly. Pray, too, that the Lord will comfort both Israelis and Palestinians who have been injured, have lost family or friends, and who have been traumatized by the wickedness and sheer intensity of the past few days.
UPDATED at 6:00pm local time: (Jerusalem, Israel) — Here is the latest:
UPDATE: “The Israeli military said it struck over 260 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza on Sunday in retaliation for 600 rockets launched from the Strip that have killed three Israelis,” reports Haaretz.
UPDATE: “Gaza health ministry says Israeli strikes killed 12, injured 105 since Saturday,” reports i24 News.
UPDATE:“Senior Israeli Air Force Officer says over 600 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip,” reports a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.
UPDATE: The Iron Dome is functioning at 86% accuracy, but Israelis officials caution that no defense is perfect and under such a heavy barrage some rockets are going to get through and do serious damage, even take lives.
UPDATE: “As of Sunday afternoon, 13 people in Israel were hit by rockets, missiles and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip, including two seriously injured, two moderately injured and six lightly wounded, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service,” reports the Times of Israel. “Twelve people were also lightly injured running to bomb shelters, while 66 people received medical treatment after suffering anxiety attacks from the strikes.”
UPDATE:Eleven Palestinians have been in Gaza, reports Haaretz.
UPDATE: “Hamed Khoudary, 34, was killed in an Israeli airstrike less than an hour ago, while he was driving his car. Was responsible for transferring money from Iran to military factions in Gaza. This is the first targeted assassination in a while,” the Washington Post reported in a Tweet, citing a statement by the IDF.
“The Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli strikes had killed six Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and her 14-month-old niece in their east Gaza City home Saturday,” reported the Associated Press. “However, Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Sunday that a detailed review found that a Palestinian rocket had misfired [thus landing inside Gaza rather than reaching Israel] and killed them. He said the Palestinians were ‘trying to sell a story that isn’t true.’ The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.”
More detailed information on Palestinian injuries is not currently available, but I’ll share more when I can.
“The Israeli military says it has targeted some 40 additional sites throughout the Gaza Strip in response to ongoing rocket and mortar attacks from the coastal enclave,” reports the Times of Israel. “In a statement, the IDF says the targets include tunnels and underground bunkers, military bases, weapons factories and rocket launching sites. In addition, the military targeted a number of weapons caches that it says were hidden inside the homes of Hamas operatives ‘deliberately near civilian populations.'”
CASUALTIES: “An Israeli man was killed when a rocket slammed into his home in southern Israel early Sunday morning, as Gazan terrorists pummeled Israeli towns with projectiles and Israel responded with hundreds of airstrikes,” reports the Times of Israel. “The man, identified as Moshe Agadi, 58, a father of four, was declared dead after being rushed to Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital with shrapnel wounds he sustained when the rocket hit his home in the city at around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Agadi appeared to be the first Israeli fatality from Gazan rocket attacks since 2014’s war with terrorists based in the Strip.” Please pray for the Lord to comfort this man’s family and friends.
THE PRIME MINISTER: “Israel will continue its ‘massive attacks’ against terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning in his first public comments,” reports the Jerusalem Post. “In addition, Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, he gave the directive to reinforce the IDF troops around Gaza with additional tank, artillery and infantry units.”
“Hamas bears responsibility not only for its attacks and actions, but also for the activities of the Islamic Jihad, and it is paying a very heavy price,” Netanyahu said.
CEASEFIRE EFFORTS: So far, there have been no reports of formal efforts underway to re-establish a ceasefire. That said, I’m sure that at least informal efforts are underway. I’m deeply grateful for the role Egyptian President el-Sisi and his intelligence chief have been playing over the past several years. The Egyptians are actively working to persuade Hamas and other terror groups operating in the Gaza Strip to de-escalate tensions with Israel and to re-unify with the government of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. This is no easy task, but the Egyptians have been steadfast in it. It represents how serious President Sisi is in maintaining — and improving — peace and close security and intelligence ties with Israel, and trying to help broker a real and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Please pray for the immediate restoration of calm.
Pray for mercy for all those living on both sides of the border.
Pray for wisdom for Israeli leaders to know how best to deal with the situation.
Pray for wisdom for Egyptian leaders to know how best to help.
Pray that the suffering Palestinians of Gaza are soon liberated from the Hellish Hamas tyranny that is ruining their lives.
Pray for Palestinian leaders in Ramallah to truly and clearly denounce these terror attacks, and play a serious and decisive role in liberating the people of Gaza.
Pray for Palestinians Evangelicals to be boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their suffering brothers and sisters in Gaza, that they may know the love and hope and forgiveness and “peace that passes all understanding” that is available to all who receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
No cease fire talks have been reported so far, but it is likely that Egyptian intelligence is working behind the scenes to de-escalate the situation, as this is the role they have played — and played very well — over the past several years.
Please continue to pray for calm to be restored and for the Lord to comfort all those on both sides of the Gaza border who have been physically or emotionally wounded during the last 18 hours.
That said, there have been two very positive developments in the region over the past 24 hours, and both involve Saudi Arabia.
Historically, Jews have not legally been allowed to set foot in the Kingdom. This has been changing bit by bit, with Jewish business leaders, executives, reporters and policy makers being able to receive visas to visit in recent years.
I was stunned last Fall to become the first Israeli citizen allowed not only to travel into the Kingdom but to meet publicly and openly with the Crown Prince and other members of the Royal Family and senior leadership.
To be sure, the politics and culture of Saudi Arabia remain highly complicated. The Crown Prince and his policies remain among the most controversial in the world. Many are deeply concerned by the human rights environment in the kingdom, myself included. None of those issues are going away any time soon.
That said, a number of Arab Gulf states — the Saudis included — are making important and positive moves towards the U.S., towards Israel, towards Evangelical Christians and towards the Jewish community. These should not be dismissed. Rather, we should welcome these moves, even while encouraging Arab leaders throughout the region, including in KSA, to improve the quality of life for all of their people, expand religious freedom, end human rights abuses, and work even more closely with the West to neutralize the Iran threat and combat all forms of radical Islamist terrorism.
(Jerusalem, Israel) — More than 150 rockets and mortar shells have been fired at southern Israel by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza since early Saturday morning. As I write this report at 5:45pm local time, another barrage is underway.
Thus far, there have been three Israelis wounded. No number of Palestinian injuries have been reported yet, but it is likely that there will be many.
The rockets are reaching deeper into Israeli territory than usual. One rocket hit Beit Shemesh, a religious community about 30 minutes south of Jerusalem.
The onslaught — the most intense we’ve seen after months of calm — comes just days after Holocaust Memorial, and days before Israeli mark Memorial Day and our 71st Independence Day this coming week.
(Jerusalem, Israel) — Yesterday, Israelis solemnly marked “Yom HaShoah,” the annual day in which we pause to remember the six million Jews exterminated during the Holocaust. At 10am, all over the country, air raid sirens wail for two straight minutes. All traffic stops. All commerce halts. Everyone stands at attention and remembers what was, and what could be again one day if we do not remain vigilant against the forces of evil.
This morning, I’ve decided to re-post a column I wrote several years ago, explaining how I came to write my only work of historical fiction as my way of helping inspire more people to learn about the Holocaust. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the column, and share it with your children, and with other family and friends.
One of the most important things for a writer to do is get out of the house and go to someplace you’ve never been before. You’ve got to get out of the office and go visit places where fascinating, important things have happened. Yes, spend some money. You can’t just sit around reading and researching, even though those things are important. You need to go and feel and touch and see and smell history. You need to meet people and ask questions, and, most importantly, listen carefully to their answers.
In November of 2011, I decided to go to visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. I’d never been there before. I didn’t really even want to go. But I knew I had to. So I invited several friends – a pastor from the U.S. and his wife, and a pastor from Germany and his wife. Unfortunately, my wife, Lynn, wasn’t able to join me. But the trip had a profound effect on me.
It was a surreal and sobering experience to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. It’s hard to describe the emotions of standing in an actual gas chamber where people were murdered, seeing the ovens where bodies were burned, walking through the cell blocks, seeing the guard towers and barbed wire and train tracks. It was haunting to realize that more than one million people were systematically murdered there, and most of them were Jews.
While I was there, I purchased a book that explained that there had been many escape attempts from Auschwitz, but only a handful of successful escapes. I was stunned. We had hired a special guide to take us through the camp. He was a bright, educated man. He had been an excellent guide, and we had learned so much. But he hadn’t mentioned anything about escapes. I had never heard about any escapes. But this book gave a brief description of several of them.
Intrigued, as soon as I got home, I started tracking down any resource I could about these men who had risked everything to get out. How had they succeeded? What was their plan? Who helped them? What did they do when they got out? Did they tell anyone in the Jewish community, or among the Allies, what they had seen, what the Nazis were doing at Auschwitz? The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. It turned out there were several non-fiction books written by several of the men who escaped, and several about them. There were even several novels on the subject. But they were old. Some were out of print. If they once had been discussed – I’m sure they were – they seemed long forgotten.
As I continued to do my research, I realized that April 7th, 2014 would be the 70th anniversary of the greatest escape in human history – the day Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler escaped from the worst of the Nazi death camps. That’s when I began thinking about writing a novel inspired by these true stories that might draw attention back to the greatest escape in human history by men determined to tell the world the truth about what Adolf Hitler was really doing to the Jews. If I could finish it and release it by the spring of 2014, I thought I might be able help people remember these incredible stories of courage and heroism and faith.
Without question, The Auschwitz Escape was by far the most emotionally exhausting book I’ve ever written. By that I mean I had to immerse myself in the history of the Holocaust – books, documentary films, web sites, museums, research centers, conversations with survivors, conversations with experts, and so forth. And the history is more horrific that you can possibly imagine. Even when you think you understand what happened back then, you uncover more darkness, more evil. My wife and kids could see the effect it was having on me. I could see it, as well.
I knew the story needed hope. Yes, the fact that men escape from this unimaginably cruel extermination camp provides hope. They live. They survive. They tell others. Absolutely. But it wasn’t enough. For me, as an Evangelical with Jewish roots on my father’s side, I wanted to find out if any Christians did the right thing to help the Jews. Intellectually, I knew the answer was yes, there were Christians who had done the right thing. But I also knew that far too many people who said they loved Jesus refused to obey Him, refused to love their neighbors during the darkest period in the history of the Jewish people. Some were too scared. Some lost their faith. Some never had any faith at all, they were just giving lip service to the Gospel. It breaks my heart, but tragically it is true. Far too many so-called “Christians” failed the Jewish people when they needed us most.
That’s when I stumbled upon the story of Le Chambon sur Lignon and the Evangelical pastors of this little Protestant village in France who risked their lives to save thousands of Jews fleeing from Hitler and the Nazis. The more I read, the more I knew this was the story of hope I needed to weave into the novel. And I think it’s the combination of the two stories – the story of a German Jewish teenage boy whose family is nearly wiped out and is sent to Auschwitz, and that a young Frenchman who is a husband and a father and an assistant pastor in Le Chambon, both fictional, but both inspired by true stories – it’s the fusion, the combination of these two story lines, that makes The Auschwitz Escape storyline work for me.
Soon, I got fascinated in who these young men were, how they get sent to Auschwitz, how they met, how different they are, and how they get involved in these escapes. This is what gave me hope, even excitement, if I can use that term, to write every day – trying to understand them and going on this hero’s journey with them both not entirely knowing when I began how the story would wind up exactly.
In addition to going to Auschwitz, and reading everything I could get my hands on, I also traveled to Israel and visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum and research center. The leaders there were very gracious and allowed me to come twice, meet with several of their scholars, ask them many questions, tour their facilities, and try to make sure my work of historical fiction was as accurate as I could possibly make it. Several of the scholars actually knew some of the men who had escaped, had interviewed them, had long discussions with them, and their insights were so helpful.
They also took me down into their vaults and showed me copies of “The Auschwitz Protocol,” the document that was compiled by eyewitness accounts from Rudolf Vrba, Alfred (Fred) Wetzler, Arnost Rosin, and Czeslaw Mordowicz, the four Jewish heroes who risked their lives to tell the world the truth about what the Nazis were really up to. Too few people know these four men’s names, but I hope that will change. The Yad Vashem scholars helped me better understand who they were, and what they wrote, and I hope you take time to understand them, too. It was absolutely fascinating, and I’m deeply grateful for their help.
Now that the book is out, I’ll be curious to see how people react and what kind of questions they ask.
The hardest thing for people to really understand, I think, when it comes to the Holocaust, is that it happened at all, and that it could happen again. How could human beings do such ghastly things to other human beings? How could it have happened in our parents’ and grandparents’ lifetimes? These are haunting questions, especially when you think of all the evil that is going on in the world today.
One of the central points I make in the book is this: “Evil, unchecked, is the prelude to genocide.” What I mean by that is when people don’t act decisively to stop evil, that evil grows and grows until it robs, kills and destroys everyone in its path.
The problem is that so many in our modern, Western, “sophisticated” world don’t believe in evil. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t believe evil is a real force in our world today. And this is dangerous. As I’ve said in the past, “to misunderstand the nature and threat of evil is to risk being blindsided by it.”
Americans didn’t understand the evil Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime represented for far too long. So we didn’t act decisively until six million Jews were killed, and millions of others were killed as well. We didn’t understand the evil Saddam Hussein represented until he gassed the Kurds and raped and pillaged Kuwait. We didn’t understand the evil Osama bin Laden represented until he killed some 3,000 of us, and had built a global network of Radical Islamic jihadists that we’re still fighting, more than a decade after 9/11.
The Scriptures tell us that evil is real.
The word “evil” is used 510 times in the New American Standard Bible.
The first time is in Genesis 2:9, speaking of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
The next to last time in 3 John 1:11 – “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.”
The last time is in the Book of Revelation, chapter two, verse two, in the Lord Jesus Christ’s message to the church in Ephesus – “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.”
But today, I don’t think many world leaders truly understand the evil that the leaders of Iran represent.
The mullahs in Tehran are telling us they want to “wipe Israel off the map.” They say they want to destroy the United States – whom they call the “Great Satan” — even as they move steadily towards nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. That is evil. The Iranian leadership wants to bring about a Second Holocaust. This is evil. A new poll we just conducted finds that 80% of Americans believe that Iran wants to bring about a “Second Holocaust.”
Americans overwhelmingly understand the danger.
Yet many Western leaderse do not. And I – like many Americans – are deeply concerned that they are not taking decisive action to stop this evil before it’s too late.
Another concern I have is that the longer time passes — it’s been seven decades since the Holocaust happened – and the further away we get from the events, the bigger the danger that people will forget what happened, and stop learning the lessons from the Holocaust.
The good news is that there is more Holocaust education being done today than perhaps at any other time. There are museums and books and novels and plays and movies. But just because more is available doesn’t mean we are really teaching our young people, for example, what happened and how to prevent such evil from triumphing again.
Take Schindler’s List, the Academy Award winning film by Steven Spielberg. That was a work of art, inspired by a true story from the Holocaust. It was so powerful. But that film was released in 1993. That’s more than a quarter of a century ago. Yes, many people have seen it. But the memory of the film fades, and a whole generation of kids are unfamiliar with it.
Perhaps in some small way, The Auschwitz Escape will help draw some attention back to these important stories, and the vital lessons we can and must learn from them.
Maybe the book will inspire people to take their kids to a Holocaust museum.
Maybe it will inspire them to start praying for Israel and the Jewish people, to start investing in organizations like The Joshua Fund that cares for Holocaust survivors, or even take their family to visit Israel.
I hope so. A novel has a way of capturing people’s imagination, of drawing people into a story, of helping them go into a world so foreign to them and feel it, experience it in a very powerful way. But in the end, a novel is just a story. We need to do more than read about history. We need to make history. We need to apply what we learn. We need to go show the love of Jesus to people who need His love, His mercy, His kindness.
Maybe The Auschwitz Escape will inspire people to rediscover the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to love Him more deeply, and to love others in His name.