Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zionists & the Promised Land

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has given up trying to negotiate with Israel, which, in violation of signed accords, continues to confiscate Palestinian land and violate Palestinian rights. Now the PLO is asking the UN Security Council for full recognition of Palestine, which would call more attention to Israel’s violations of international law.
For fear of losing the Jewish vote, the Obama administration opposes the PLO’s bid at the U.N. and will veto it. Despite this, Republicans accuse the administration of not being pro-Israel enough, and the Christian right preaches that Palestine belongs to Israel by biblical command.

This faith response (adapted) comes from Florence Steichen, CSJ, Coordinator of Pax Christi MN, 1998-2006.
The Promised Land
It does not make sense to work for a just peace if God has promised all the land to one people, the chosen people.
The first consideration is, How do we understand scripture? And intertwined, How do we image—not understand, but image—God?

To begin, scripture is not history; it is not a record of what happened. The Bible is like a library, a collection of writings of many different kinds. Biblical accounts of the conquest of Canaan and entry into the Promised Land tell the experience of a people who succeeded against all odds. They believed they succeeded because their God had chosen them, guided their leaders and fought for them.
It is a national epic, told, re-told and embellished for centuries before it was written. The basic truth of the story is this: The Israelites did settle in Canaan. But we need to be cautious about assuming we know God’s will and role in this.

Those who choose to interpret scripture regarding the Promised Land literally need to deal with several related texts. There were conditions to the promise:
Be careful to act in accordance with all the laws that my servant Moses commanded you (Joshua 1:7).
The Old Testament is a history of the Israelites’ faithlessness and forgiveness. Rabbi Michael Lerner, writing in Tikkun magazine in September of 2007 comments on crucial requirements for ownership of the land:
From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, “vomit you out,” as the Torah tells us, if people did not live according to its highest moral vision.
Over and over again, in one form or another, the Torah repeats its most frequently stated mitzvah (command):
When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger [the Other, the one who is the outsider of your society, the powerless one].
Not only “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but, “You shall love the Other.”
Joshua 6 tells of the conquest of Jericho. You know the story about marching around the city for 6 days, carrying the ark and blowing trumpets. On the 7th day they marched around the city 7 times and the walls fell. However, archeologists have determined that the city was already in ruins—there were no walls left to fall!
Leviticus 25 states:
Hallow the 50th year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and to your family. The land shall not be sold [and I add “taken”] in perpetuity, for the land is mine. With me you are but aliens and tenants.
The Israelites are not perpetual owners, but “aliens and tenants"!
But most problematic for both pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, from Numbers 31:
They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male.
They killed the kings, and took the women and their little ones captive. A few verses later, Moses is angry at his officers.
Have you allowed all the women to live? . . . Kill every male among the little ones, and every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not slept with a man.
Does this sound like the word of God, the will of God?
This picture of God is hard to square with the One whom Jesus revealed, who makes the sun rise on the just and unjust alike. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says,
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.
God has not changed; we have grown in our awareness of who God is, what God is like. We have moved, I trust, from God as portrayed in the book of Job—God who gives Satan the power to do anything he wants to test Job, including persecuting his family!—to God as unfathomable abyss. In the new universe story, as theologian Elizabeth Johnson and others write, God even suffers with suffering people.

Speaking of suffering, Michel Sabbah, the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem whose diocese includes Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus, wrote a Pastoral Letter in 1993, on “Reading the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
Sabbah is a Palestinian from Nazareth, the first local person to be named patriarch, the highest Catholic position in the area. An Israeli citizen, Sabbah even with VIP status has been blocked on occasion from entering the West Bank to celebrate Mass with the local congregation.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah wrote the pastoral letter “to answer questions that Palestinian Christians have regarding the meaning of the Bible because it appears to be directly linked to the difficult situation which we have experienced.” It is very painful for Palestinian Christians to hear biblical texts such as Psalm 135:
God struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan—and gave their land as a heritage to his people Israel.
Sabbah reminds his readers that the Word of God is living and active. Salvation history is history, there is progression. God promised to make Abraham the father of many nations and a blessing for all nations. Jews, Christians and Muslims all venerate Abraham as their common father of faith in one God who blesses all people. Christian and Muslim Palestinians are equally and deeply conscious that they have always lived in this land. Palestine is their country, their political and cultural patrimony.

I interject that even the man Jesus needed to learn that God is God of all. And I, Jeanette, interject this from my post "Canaanite woman & General Lee":
In Matthew 15: 21-28, Jesus rebuffs a Canaanite woman asking him for help, saying his mission is exclusively to the “house of Israel,” that is, to fellow Jews. “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”
To this insult from Jesus the woman sends a clever rejoinder, “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” It brings a compliment from Jesus and having her wish granted. The woman has successfully converted Jesus from an exclusive, closed-circle stance to a new, open and broader view of things—including non-Jews.
The Apostle Paul, too, was surprised to see that the Spirit came to the Gentiles, and Peter needed a vision and the visit to Cornelius to get the point.
Continuing from Sabbah’s letter:
The Word of God can be used only in the struggle for truth. In such a case, this word can only unite us. If, on the contrary, it fosters division or hatred among us, this would mean that we have deformed the divine Word, making it a weapon of death, not of truth. And it would mean accepting the principle that we should read the Bible only from a political perspective, thus forgetting its religious essence.
This brings us to the political dimension of Christian Zionists, those who believe that the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed by you”) has abiding relevance, that support for Israel is biblically mandated. They support even the political and expansionist aims of the State of Israel, all its policies and its military incursions on Palestinians.

Zionism is a late 19th century Jewish movement that sought a homeland for Jews, not necessarily in Palestine. There was even consideration of land in Africa for a Jewish state. The modern state of Israel established in 1948 cannot be identified with the Israel of biblical times. Joel Kovel, an anti-Zionist Jew, states,
Zionism asserts that the Jewish claim on that land, which is over 2000 years old, overrides anybody else’s claim, all legal considerations, and any respect for human rights. . . . Zionism is a betrayal of everything worthwhile in the Jewish tradition.
While I am sadly convinced that many distort scripture for political purposes, I also think some really believe the promise literally, such as Rev. L. Nelson Bell, Billy Graham’s father-in-law. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, he wrote,
That for the first time in more than 2000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives the student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.
Christian Zionism is a powerful political force in the U.S, an important constituency of the Republican Party. Christian evangelicals lobby Congress to not pressure Israel in any way to give land for peace.
But it is important to note that not all evangelicals are Zionists, and many make that clear in public statements. From a letter of over 40 evangelical Christian leaders to President Bush:
We reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice. (July 2002).
In July of 2007, more than 30 evangelical leaders wrote to President Bush,
Being a friend to Israel does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted.
Jimmy Carter, an evangelical, is a good example of a critical friend of Israel. He has been vilified and accused of anti-Semitism for his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.

There is no reason to assert that the ancient Israelites had or that the modern state of Israel has a right to perpetual control of the Promised Land, Palestine. I conclude with Sabbah’s question: Is it possible for a just and merciful God to impose injustice or oppression on another people to favor a chosen people?