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Former Jerusalem Center Director Draws Parallels Between Arab-Israeli and Book of Mormon Conflicts

David B. Galbraith, a BYU in Provo professor emeritus of Middle East studies and conflict management, and a former director of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, recently helped BYU-Hawaii students and community members gain insights into the present Arab-Israeli conflict by drawing parallels to the tense relations between Lamanites and Nephites in the Book of Mormon.

Galbraith, who most recently was president of the Sofia, Bulgaria mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, previously helped set up and served for 17 years as director of the BYU Jerusalem Center. Prior to directing the center, Galbraith earned his doctorate in conflict management from Hebrew University in Israel.

Galbraith was vacationing with his wife in Hawaii when he agreed to speak at the Jan. 4 fireside in the BYU-Hawaii Stake Center.

In his fireside address, he explained the contemporary conflict in Israel originated when Jewish people from throughout the world began returning there in significant numbers, starting soon after Orson Hyde dedicated Palestine for the gathering in 1841 under the direction of Joseph Smith.

"The Jews are returning after almost 2000 years to a land that is occupied by a proud people, the Arabs," he said, pointing out for Latter-day Saints who believe in the literal gathering of Israel, "this poses no problem...but how would you feel if you were an Arab?"

"Can you think of a spot on this earth where a people numbering in the millions could move and move peacefully without any conflict?" he said.

Galbraith pointed out that modern Israel has a growing population that currently numbers about five million, with another 10-12 million Jews still spread around the world. "In this gathering process, we have the seeds of conflict."

"How are we to look upon Muslims and Jews?" Galbraith asked. "We might find ourselves more sympathetic with the Jews...but officially the Church doesn't take a stand," he replied, noting "sometimes our interests blind us to the needs of the Arab Palestinians. They're beautiful family people. The doctrines of Islam are so close to the teachings of our church."

Galbraith outlined that the gathering started to gain worldwide momentum or what they call an "awakening" in the 1840s, soon after Orson Hyde dedicated the Holy Land to that purpose, under Joseph Smith's direction. He noted, for example, that "more Jews returned just a few years ago out of former Russian countries than ever returned after the Babylonian captivity."

He also added if you asked 10 Jews on the street what brought them to Israel, "you'd get 10 different answers, and probably not a one would give you a religious reason."

But as Latter-day Saints, he continued, we understand that it is "the Lord's will that this gathering should take place, and we should not feel apologetic to our Arab-Palestinian friends or to anyone who fails to see the divine purposes of the Lord in gathering the Jews."

"This latter-day gathering is a doctrinal imperative. These last days have been called a dispensation of the gathering," Galbraith added, citing Joseph Smith, who said, "Judah must return, and Jerusalem must be rebuilt. All this must be done before the Son of Man can return."

Galbraith said Latter-day Saints can both see the hand of the Lord and feel the frustrations of the Palestinians. "We can feel their desire to have a Palestinian state of their own. It seems so obvious, and yet no one can agree on the parameters of such a solution because of the seething hatred they have for one another."

"A consuming hatred seems to be the hallmark of our days," Galbraith said. "We're told by prophecy that the love of man shall wax cold in these days. This hatred seems to be driven by powerful religious and national feelings. The world doesn't know how to deal with hatred."

He compared the situation in modern Israel with that experienced by the sons of Mosiah who desired to preach the gospel to the Lamanites, "that perhaps they might cure them of their hatred towards the Nephites" [Mosiah 28:2]. The Book of Mormon also makes it clear the Lamanites "were united in their hatred" and "taught their children to hate," Galbraith said.

"That's happening in the Middle East, isn't it?" he continued, noting the horrific cycle of suicide bombs and retaliation. "It's just a horrible, vicious, continuing round of hatred. But the sons of Mosiah eventually brought thousands of Lamanites to a knowledge of the Lord, and they became a righteous people," he said.

"Do we have that kind of faith?" Galbraith asked. "We can heal the nations of the world of their poison through our missionary labors, and only through Christ — not through great armies and sophisticated weapons."

He concluded by sharing part of a letter from Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolek, who was instrumental in allowing the Church to establish the Jerusalem Center, after "four years of bitter opposition":

"I feel that the Mormon Church's presence in Jerusalem can do a great deal of work in providing the bridge of understanding between the Arab and Jews...because its members look with sympathy and understanding at both sides."

"We will be that power, we will be that bridge, that will bring an end to this hatred, this animosity," Galbraith said. "It will be through the gospel of Jesus Christ."