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Sydney streets shut down as Israeli PM moves in

Benjamin Netanyahu’s first Australian visit gives cause to reflect on the Bible in the Holy Lands

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, has moved in next door to the Bible Society Australia’s head office – the home of Eternity – for a few days. The street has been closed. There are police officers swarming the nearby blocks.

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This is the first Australian visit by a serving Israeli Prime Minister and his brief stay has sparked controversy, particularly from those calling for a Palestinian state to be recognised.

Netanyahu comes from a complicated country, and he heads a coalition that reflects his country’s lively and complicated politics.

He is the head of Likud, which, for a long time, was the main right wing party. He has said he supports a two state (Israel and Palestine) solution for the ongoing civil issues happening in his nation. But he also suggests tough conditions unlikely to be met for some time.

Some of his party favour annexing the West Bank, the territories once held by Jordan and taken over by Israel in 1967. He has been outflanked on the right by the Jewish Home Party, which is headed by a leader of the “Settler Movement” that sees the West bank of the Jordan/Judea and Samaria as the Jewish homeland.

One clear thing coming out of the debates about Netanyahu’s country is that you don’t have to go far into it, before Bible language emerges.

I do not feel pressured to choose sides. How could I?

As you might expect, there is a Bible Society in Israel. In fact there are three Bible Societies “between the river and the sea” – between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Based in Jerusalem, the Bible Society in Israel publishes the Bible in Hebrew, “proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah.” The Palestinian Bible Society serves Palestinians from a base in East Jerusalem.

The Arab-Israel Bible Society, based in Nazareth, provides the Bible to Arab-speaking people who live in Israel.

It sounds complicated, and it is – just like Netanyahu’s coalition, or the social situation of the people between the river and the sea.

Because Dina Katanacho, the director of the Arab-Israel Bible society, visits her Australian relatives regularly, we see more of her than the others. But Eternity’s friends at Bible Society raise funds for all three Bible Societies, who all do the same work of distributing and promoting the use of the Scriptures.

I don’t know of any other part of the world where anything like that has happened.

Some Christians will be attracted to the “Messianic Jews”, supported by the Bible Society in Israel. Others will want to support the Arab-speaking communities in the Holy Lands, now the largest Christian community settled in the Middle East, and the only growing one.

Despite the presence of heavily armed security only a few metres away over the next few days, I do not feel pressured to choose sides. How could I? Despite being an avid reader of Middle-Eastern media, a weakness I am happy to confess to, I simply don’t know enough about the lives on the ground and certainly not enough to suggest a solution.

In 2008, the United Bible Societies split the work between the river and the sea in three to better reach the local communities. I don’t know of any other part of the world where anything like that has happened.

Three may or may not be better than one, but the work of making the Bible available, and promoting it’s use, rolls on across the social and physical boundaries in the Holy Lands.

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