Sunday, July 27, 2014

Our Jews, our problem

Little did anyone think they were setting the stage for the next world war when the British issued the Balfour Declaration, opening up the territory of Palestine (part of the defeated Ottoman Empire) to Jewish settlement. The second world war with the Jewish holocaust was still in the future, when the European powers carved up other people’s lands to create a host of petty kingdoms and states that would owe their existence to them. The Jews of Europe had been everyone’s problem (everyone being European Christians) for millennia, and this seemed like a cheap way to siphon off some of them. The idea came from some of the Jews themselves. Zionism. The ultimate goal of this movement was, from the European viewpoint, irrelevant. They had nothing to lose. It wasn’t their land that would be expropriated for Jewish settlement. Though it was their Jews, it wouldn’t be their problem. The Jews were never happy with what they got in Europe. Maybe they’d be happy somewhere else.

The original idea behind the Balfour declaration seemed harmless. ‘His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

Clearly, the Europeans weren’t doing anything wrong. The Jews who immigrated to Palestine would simply buy property and settle down. Their remarkable intelligence, ingenuity and thrift would no doubt benefit the indigenous inhabitants. Everyone should be happy in the end. Well, if they weren’t, it would be their own fault. The British government of Palestine would try to make everyone happy, but in the end were driven out by the unhappy Jews, the unhappy Arabs, and left a mess to be cleaned up by others, since it wasn’t their fault. As the British mandate was drawing to a close, people were found to testify that it had always been the intention behind Balfour, to allow a Jewish ‘state’ and not just a ‘homeland’ to be erected on this land which wasn’t theirs to begin with. Theirs, being the British.

“The phrase ‘the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people’ was intended and understood by all concerned to mean at the time of the Balfour Declaration that Palestine would ultimately become a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’ or a ‘Jewish State’, if only Jews came and settled there in sufficient numbers.”

It seems obvious that from the very start, the whole matter of a Jewish return to Palestine was purposely left poorly defined, giving everyone a different vision of what was to be. The indigenous people could feel assured that they would not be molested or displaced. The incoming Jews could feel, after centuries of persecution by Christians, they finally had a land where they would be safe. For both the Arabs and the Jews, nothing could have been further from the truth.

We in the Western world have looked on the state of Israel with wonder. It is our ‘wunderkind,’ our miracle child. We forget that Israel is the child we were stuck with, the child we never wanted, the child we abused to console ourselves with having to put up with him. He turned out to be smarter than us, richer than us, even more magnanimous and fairer than us. He actually had the nerve to lecture us on the meaning of the Gospel, which he himself never accepted. So we were happy to see him go, to take over lands that we never owned but gave to him anyway, lands which he claimed were his by divine right. As long as Israel didn’t want to pile up in some corner of our land and carve out a state, we were happy to support him. We gave him carte blanche to do whatever he saw fit in his new digs.

Yet we are confused and hurt by the abuse, mostly verbal, that we suffer from the people Israel has displaced. Don’t they understand what we have done for them? We gave the Jews a homeland where they could rule the roost. Israel produces prosperity in a depressed and neglected region. They’ve made ‘the desert bloom.’ The people who lived there before Israel repossessed their land had little. Israel’s arrival should have meant prosperity for everyone. It’s not our fault the Arabs wouldn’t cooperate and just want to make trouble. We don’t see, we cannot see, the point of all this violence and ‘intifada’. We’ve never been dispossessed of our land. We’ve never even been invaded. Israel is doing no more than taking over what it deserves, just as we in America took the lands of primitive people who were wasting it, so that we could be prosperous. It’s not our fault that most of the people we displaced died off somehow. It wasn’t genocide. It was just our ‘manifest destiny,’ just as the return to Palestine was Israel’s. Anyway, it’s not our problem.

Yes, I understand. But it is our problem. What’s going on in Israel/Palestine today, and what has been happening there since at least 1948, is our problem. Why? Because the majority of the Jews who run the state of Israel and determine its policies are our Jews. Yes, they’re our Jews, and so what’s happening there is our problem. It isn’t as if the indigenous Jews had conquered the land from the indigenous non-Jews and set up a state. No, it’s foreign Jews, and most of them at the outset coming from Europe and North America, bringing with them into the ‘third world’ the advantages of the ‘first world’ and using these to subject and ultimately displace the original inhabitants. Is it any wonder that Arabs in general see the state of Israel as just another form of Western imperialism, and Israel’s ‘management’ of the Arab residents of the Holy Land another form of silently sanctioned apartheid?

We would never put up with this, if it happened to us. Perhaps we innocently displaced the aboriginal peoples of the Americas, and some of them survived our accidental genocide. What if they took back their land? The greenway in front of my house affords me a lovely, unobstructed view of the Columbia Gorge. One day, the descendants of a tribe of Indians that used to live ‘on my block’ roll up in their Hummers and begin to set up camp on that greenway. Their vehicles block my view and my driveway. Their loud cries and chanting and drumming, and the smoke of their fires, keeps me awake nights and drifts into my house when I forget to close the windows. I am afraid to go to work and leave my house, because they might break in and steal my stuff. Wait a minute! They’re digging up my lawn and planting maize! What gives?

I am sorry, very sorry, for all the suffering that has fallen upon the Jews through history and until today. I am sorry too for all the suffering that the Arabs and other original inhabitants of the Holy Land (for now I no longer know what to call it, but my Lord once walked there) have endured until now. I cannot take sides. I love the Jews, and I love the Arabs. But I also love honesty, integrity, and justice. I do not love those whom the prophets have castigated for their crimes, ‘Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until everywhere belongs to them and they are the sole inhabitants of the land’ (Isaiah 5:8 JB).

The prophetic word is not to be abused by our speculations or to legitimatize injustice, but to drive us forward into judgment, not of others, but of ourselves. Christians have heretofore abused the utterances of Yahweh to justify hateful treatment of those who are different from them, but the Jews are no stranger to this behavior either. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I have no answer, no solution, to the birth pangs of the present age. I can only wait, hope and pray for deliverance. Yes, I can work for it too, but all that you or I can do is nothing compared with what God, the Almighty, is already doing. Our Jews, our problem, yes. That’s all I can see right now. Waiting with mercy to others, faith in God, and hope for salvation, that’s what I try do.

Oh, and one more thing. Try to speak the truth.

There is a postscript.

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