The drive south from Tel Aviv to Sderot takes only a little more than an hour. Sderot is, of course, the Israeli town lying closest to the border with Gaza, known to us primarily as the town that has been the target of so many Qassam rockets. In the past the residents of Sderot have been regularly terrorized by incoming rockets but, as a waitress told me this morning, there have not been any rockets for more than five months. "It is quiet, thank God." Reinforced concrete shelters stand along most roads and I saw new shelters being constructed behind a row of two flats.
My goal in these visits is to learn how people live and what they hope for. Most want what we want ... to live normal lives, to feel safe in their homes, to educate their children, to support their families. The waitress I talked with this morning lives with her husband and children in his parent's home. She likes Tel Aviv better, but economic necessity brought her and her family back to Sderot.
Much of what I saw in Sderot was what I expected to see - ordinary people trying to live normal lives in abnormal times. What I did not expect to see was a gaggle of Christian cowboys from Texas, easily identified by their Stetson hats, fancy buckles and cowboy boots. They were from the Cowboy Church, a self-described community of Evangelical Texans who love horses, think alike and love Jesus. They were both friendly and eager to tell me why they were here ... to support the Jews in restoring Israel to the people God gave it to, to prepare for the rapture when the Messiah returns to bring all this messy history to a close. "We'll all be one then." Except for those who don't accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. "How about the Muslims, will they be saved too." No, they've had their chance and they've rejected Jesus. "It's what the Good Book says."
Well, it went along like that for awhile and then got worse. Learning that I was from Illinois, the inevitable question came: "What do you think about Obama." Well, sir, do you know he has disobeyed every one of the ten commandments? And do you know that "mercy killing" - just like the Nazis carried out on disabled Jews - that could happen in our USA? "When they come to the door to get my disabled daughter, I've got a plan how to hide her." And you watch, "if ever the United States does anything negative toward Israel, there will be negative consequences for us. You just watch and see if that's not true."
These are not the first Christian Zionists I've met in Israel. John Hagee was here recently and was honored as a great friend of Israel by Bibi Netanyahu. Many members of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) must have come along with him.
It's frankly a little bizarre encountering these folk. I try to approach them openly, listen respectfully, ask questions gently. I think what disturbs me most is the abandon with which these Christians give their support to an Israel I cannot believe in and the extreme caution with which progressive Christians, especially my own Episcopal Church, advocate for our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters and their Muslim neighbors. If we wanted justice and peace as strongly as CUFI wants whatever the hell they want, we might see a little less violence in this troubled land.