Saturday, January 10, 2009
So Whose Land Is It?
Dave Schechter, CNN Senior National Editor wrote a commentary on the Israel/Gaza conflict titled Crisis in Gaza: Why is this happening?. One thing the article does (more or less) nicely is to give a good time line of the conflict and the reason why two different people groups would believe that Israel (or "Palestine" if you will) belongs to them and are willing to die and to kill to keep it. Schechter proposes different points in history as the "starting point" of the conflict and, to his credit, he does start out with the Genesis narrative where God promises the Land of Israel to Abraham and his descendants. He further states that God commanded Abraham that Issac (and the Jewish people) and not his older son Ishmael (and the Arab people) would be the permanent inheritor. From a Biblical point of view such as the one I hold, that's pretty much "end game". What God has established isn't overruled by other historical events or modern public opinion. The one thing that Schechter doesn't mention is that Muslims believe that Ishmael is the "son of promise" rather than Issac according to the Koran, and they claim Abraham (Ibraham) as their own (which is why Jews and Muslims butt heads over the Tomb of Abraham in Hebron). The other thing Schechter doesn't specifically mention is that after Sarah died, Abraham went through a very formal purchasing of the Cave of Machpelah (Genesis 23:7-20) in Hebron which, according to the Bible, is not only the first permanent purchase of a piece of property in the Land of Israel by a Jew, but one of the three "indisputable" (despite the fact that they are all disputed today) pieces of property in Israel that have been purchased by Jews (the other two are the Temple Mount, purchased by King David and the piece of property in Shechem purchased by Jacob where his son Joseph is later buried). Another rather telling Biblical reference is in the Book of Joshua. After the death of Moses, God commands Joshua, as the leader of the Children of Israel, to completely conquer the Land, destroying the people who were then occupying it. Joshua 10:41-43 specifically records Joshua's conquering Gaza and that "Hashem, God of Israel, was waging war for Israel". Another portion in this book raises the issue of the modern conflict with the Palestinians. In the 9th chapter of Joshua, it describes how Joshua and the Jewish people were tricked into making a treaty with the indigenous Gibeonite people. God has commanded Joshua to destroy all of the people living in the land. The Gibeonites, realizing they had no way to win a war against the Children of Israel, sent messengers to Joshua, dressed as if they had traveled a long distance (and thus not living locally) to make a treaty. The Bible says Joshua made the mistake of relying on his own judgment rather than consulting God on the matter. He makes the treaty and, even after realizing his mistake, keeps his end of the bargain, even defending the Gibeonites when they are attacked by other local city-states. The consequence for the Gibeonites is that they were relegated to a servant-class relative to the Israelites. Fast forward to 1948 and the War for Independence in Israel. The Arab peoples (children of Ishmael if you will) who were living in the Land at the time had the option of getting out during the war, but were told by the attacking Arab states that the war wouldn't last very long and the Jews would all be killed or forced to leave. What would be the purpose of the "Palestinians" having to leave their homes when the "problem" would be over almost before it began. In human terms, the Arab states should have won this war, since they were fighting a foe that was undermanned and under gunned but perhaps "Hashem, God of Israel, was waging war for Israel". In any event, the Jews won and claimed Israel (a much smaller portion than Joshua eventually claimed) for their own. Here's the "treaty" part that was the lynch pin of the current conflict. At this point, the Arab peoples who suddenly found themselves inside the borders of the re-established Land of Israel were given a choice to either leave, and find homes in the surrounding Arab states, or to stay and become Israeli citizens. Those who stayed became what we think of as modern Palestinians. From a Biblical point of view, Joshua wasn't deceived this time. He deliberately made a treaty with "the Gibeonites" and made them equal citizens and participators, rather than a servant class. If they had obeyed God (or at least had re-read Joshua 9), they would have told the Arabs in their borders to leave and find shelter elsewhere. Of course, if you maintain a point of view on the conflict other than what I'm citing, then you are bound to immediately disagree with me, call me a few unkind names, and determine that I'm either a religious zealot or an outright bigot (or both). One point that Schechter left out is the origin of the name "Palestine". After the conflicts between the Roman occupiers of Israel in the First Century of the common era and the subjugated Jewish people, the Jews were once again sent into exile away from their native land. One method of crushing any desire some Jews may have had to reoccupy their land was to rename Israel "Palestine". If Israel, as such, didn't exist, then there would be no home land to return to. Schechter does accurately state that, while 19th Century European Jews did begin to return to "Palestine" in an attempt to re-establish Israel, there has always been a small Jewish remnant in The Land, during the entire period of time between 70 C.E. and the 20th Century, so there has never been a time when the Land was completely without a Jewish presence. The modern conflict between Israel and the "Palestinian" people is built on what storyteller Noa Baum calls a "spiraling vortex of violence" in her creative work, “A Land Twice Promised". It's characterized as an auto accident between two people where each person has a radically different story about how the collision happened and who was at fault. The "police" (the world, public opinion, the UN, whatever...) has a heck of a time trying to figure out the facts of the case, let alone rendering any sort of "judgment". The mainstream media and most of the world (as far as I can tell, based on the mainstream media) tends to side with the "underdog" of the tale, the Palestinians in Gaza (or the Palestinians elsewhere, depending on where the conflict seems to be happening at the time). Tales of raw sewage running down the gutters and people in Gaza living essentially in "Ghettos" does pull at the heart strings. Of course, when the Jews pulled out of Gaza, conditions were anything but dilapidated and they only became such after the Palestinians entered and began to tear Gaza apart (apparently to destroy any "Jewishness" that had been left behind). As I recall, time and time again, the Israeli government (which includes Arab members on the Knesset) have attempted to improve the quality of life for the Arab citizens of Israel in general and a lot of the "ordinary people" have, or would have accepted the assistance. Hamas (the latest incarnation of Palestinians who think "peaceful co-existence" means the total extermination of the Jewish people in "Palestine") has rejected such improvements out of hand. It would hardly mobilize the sympathy of the world, if Palestinians enjoyed the same standard of living as the Jewish citizens, which would include indoor plumbing. From a modern secular perspective, I'm being incredibly unreasonable at the very least and, suggesting that even in ancient times, that God commanded the Jews to take over Israel by killing every man, woman, and child who were currently occupying the Land, I must be some sort of monster. From a Muslim point of view, the whole situation is upside down. The Land of "Palestine" was promised by Allah to Ishmael and his descendants forever which are the Arab peoples and the Jews took it away from them by force and with the support of the United States of America (no wonder the Muslims are so angry at Jews and Americans). If you're Muslim, it must make perfect sense to hate Jews, to kill Jews, and to have the goal of taking all of Palentine back from the Jews, wiping Israel from the face of the earth. Going back to the secular world view, both sides must be crazy and both sides must be made to come to some sort of reasonable compromise so that they can "peacefully co-exist". It's like watching a couple of boys fight on the schoolyard. The teacher comes over, tries to break up the fight, and then attempts to convince the lads to become friends. Seems simple, right? I encourage you to read the source article at CNN. While I'm no fan of their political point of view, Dave Schechter presented about as even handed a perspective of the current and ancient conflict as any media organization is ever likely to publish. I've already stated what I believe in the body of this article. It's up to you to decide what you believe and who you believe in.