March 11, 2011. Shabbat night. What should have been a night of quiet and peace was shattered forever when 12-year-old Tamar Fogel returned home to a scene of horrifying carnage: her house had been trashed and her parents, two brothers, and infant sister had been ruthlessly, brutally murdered. Extremist Arab terrorism had lunged at the Fogel family, and life in Israel – for everyone – would never be the same.
It was on the heels of this unspeakable tragedy, amid the international eruption that followed, that Keith Buxton found himself in Israel with CFOIC Heartland, standing on a hilltop deep in Samaria just outside the community of Itamar. This was not his first time in Israel, but it was the first time he’d come to the Biblical Heartland of Judea and Samaria. He and his group stood at the Three Seas Outlook, and looked out over the green, rock-studded hills of Samaria. Keith saw the budding green of the Oak of Moreh, the twin mountains of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and the city of Shechem cradled in the valley between, and listened as Sondra Oster Baras read from Genesis 12: And Abram passed through the land, to the place of Shechem until the plains of Moreh… and God appeared to Abram and said, “To your children I will give this land.”
Keith felt a shiver go through him. “It was a profoundly significant occasion for me,” Keith recalls. “I remember thinking, if there is anywhere where I feel I stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, it’s here on this hill. Here, it is all about the promise of the land, where Abraham looked and saw the land that God had promised to his offspring. This is truth.”
Keith’s connection to the Land of Israel was cultivated later in his life. Keith and his wife Trixie had taught Bible in the Pacific Islands and then pastored in Australia for over twenty years, but “Like many other pastors, I didn’t have any understanding of – or recognition for – God’s love for Israel; it just wasn’t taught in theological college.” It wasn’t until Keith was in his early fifties, as a pastor in Queensland, Australia, that he “really came to understand the depth and passion of God’s heart for the Jewish People and for Israel.” Through a series of guest speakers that came to lecture at his church, Keith’s knowledge grew, and his worldview rapidly shifted. Keith’s first visit to Israel was in 1999, and it changed everything for him.
This new discovery filled Keith with excitement. “Israel was an area that was new to me,” he says. “It wasn’t that I had an anti-Israel attitude before, but I never recognized just how important Israel was to us as Christians.” He began to study, and over time became far more aware of the modern issues facing Biblical Israel, and the important role that Christians play in supporting the state. One of the many guest speakers who were hosted at Keith’s church told Keith about the organization Bridges for Peace, and Keith gradually gravitated towards the organization. Before he even joined them, though, he had been hanging the Israeli flag beside the Australian flag in his church. In 2004, five years after his first trip to Israel, Keith officially joined the Bridges for Peace board in Australia, and by 2006 he had left his church and become the National Director.
When he first began to learn about the Christian movement of supporting Israel, Keith was floored to discover that it had been written in his Bible all along. References to Israel abounded in the text, and “It was just a question of God opening my eyes.” Keith says that it changed his life, and that discovering the truth was akin to “a supernatural revelation.” It took him a few years, but the more he discovered, the more he saw how true it all was. He feels very strongly that his mission now is to “help Christians all over the country recognize the truth, and to understand what the Bible actually says.” People say to Keith, “Why haven’t we heard this before?” And he says to them, “Because no one is telling you.”
One of the most difficult parts was learning just how untrustworthy and untruthful the world media’s representation was of Israel. Says Keith, “It is not only the people who seek to destroy the Jewish People, but also the international community itself that wants to deprive the Jews of their homeland. I think it’s something that is critical for Christians to understand.” According to Keith, many people simply need to visit Israel in order to recognize the legal, historical, and Biblical foundation of Israel.
Keith first met Sondra through Bridges in 2003, and now every time he visits Israel he spends at least one or two days with CFOIC Heartland, touring around Judea and Samaria and visiting various Israeli communities. “I think the Israelis in Judea and Samaria are lovely people with incredible resilience,” says Keith. “They are there because they know that God has called them there, and even though terrible things have happened, they are not about to move anytime soon. It’s a joy for them to be in the land that God has promised them.”
Keith is now retired from his position at Bridges for Peace, but his work is far from over. “It’s a passion for me,” he says. “It’s why I continued to be in touch with CFOIC Heartland, which does amazing work, and why I continue to teach, to bring tour groups into Judea and Samaria, and to get involved politically.” Keith also uses his political pull and knowledge to garner Australian support for Israel in the government, because he “can’t just stand by and let the UN do what it does.”
On top of his political and advocacy work, Keith keeps returning to Israel, to that fateful spot at the Three Seas Outlook that changed everything for him. Every visit, he stands there and looks out over the Samarian hills, to Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, to Shechem and the Oak of Moreh, and the place where God promised the land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants. He remembers the Fogel family, and thinks about the English meaning of Shechem – shoulder – and he renews his own covenant with himself: that he will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish people of the Biblical Heartland, and continue to spread God’s truth about Israel.