"There is no such thing as an autonomous Palestinian society," says John Hagee in the documentary "With God on Our Side," which examines Christian support for the state of Israel.
For that topic, Christian pastor and author John Hagee is ground zero, and he consented to an on-camera interview with Porter Speakman Jr., producer and director of the feature documentary.
Speakman and company were also granted access to a gathering of Hagee's Christians United for Israel and to the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, which supports Israel and its claim to the land.
"With God on Our Side" begins with a quote from Joshua 5, when Joshua, before the fall of Jericho, encounters a man with sword drawn and asks him whose side he is on.
"Neither," the man replies. "I'm the commander of God's army."
The documentary, which features good cinematography and graphics work, is framed by the perspective of Christopher Harrell, a preacher's kid who goes on a literal and figurative journey through Christian Zionism.
Hagee and his ilk do not dominate the journey, however. The film does include some of Hagee's comments (e.g., Hagee says a Palestinian claim to the land "is the greatest historical fraud in the history of humanity"), but Hagee's screen time is kept to a minimum in favor of other Christian viewpoints – perspectives that counter the dominant, almost unquestioned position of U.S. Christians' support for Israel and ignorance about the situation of Palestinians.
About 15 minutes into the documentary, viewers get a brief history of the land (Ottoman rule, the Zionist movement, World War I, the Balfour Declaration, World War II, the United Nations and so forth).
The bulk of the documentary, though, builds a case for how Christians can support not only Israel's security but also the human and God-given rights of Palestinians, be they Christian or Muslim.
Speakman profiles several Palestinian Christians. They're a minority, caught in the crossfire.
Salim Munayer, a Palestinian Christian and professor at Bethlehem Bible College, talks about how some Christians in the West treat him.
"Something is wrong with their theology," says Munayer. "Their theology causes them to reject and to object to a brother that doesn't fit their end-time theology, and that is a sin."
Speakman identifies and includes terrific interviewees: Stephen Sizer (who says Israel's tourism industry tries to minimize visitors' contact with Palestinians); Wheaton's Gary Burge (who asks why the Christian church defends a policy creating the largest refugee population in the world); Ron Dart (who says Judaism at its core is an ethical vision and not just about a land of blessing); and Ben White (a young Briton in the Middle East who covers Palestine).
Near documentary's end, a segment on dispensationalism, two covenants versus one covenant, "replacement theology" and so on requires close attention.
If the documentary causes frustration, though, it's through the simple observation that the sides in the conflict can seem so intractable. There's he said she said. There's finger-pointing. There's terror and a wall, for goodness' sake.
People cite Scripture. They cite the U.N. They cite their ancestors. But "With God on Our Side" leaves us with Palestinian Christians dying out. They're peacemakers, the documentary says, and they're dying out.
Dying peacemakers in the Holy Land. And where have U.S. Christians been?
"With God on Our Side" is well worth watching.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: Unrated. Reviewer's note: Nothing objectionable.
Director: Porter Speakman Jr.
Cast: Stephen Sizer; Ron Dart; Gary Burge; Norman Finkelstein; Salim Munayer; John Hagee.
The movie's website is here.
Watch Cliff Vaughn's interview with Porter Speakman Jr. below.