Beyond Dreams and Lies

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This article is part of the Jesus Now - Peace and Justice series.

The tired argument that the Palestinians already have a state of their own (on the eastern side of the Jordan River) is both a nonsense and irrelevant. People are what matter, not political entities such as nation states - and even more so when those states were created by Colonial Office staff drawing lines on maps to suit European political and economic objectives, rather than to reflect the hopes and histories of the people on the ground.

In my view there is no moral justification for dispossessing Palestinian Arabs to create a homeland for Jewish refugees from some other area of actual or anticipated conflict. The Zionist project (and I am using that adjective in its correct technical sense and not as a pejorative label) might be understandable, but it is erected on a tissue of historical falsehoods and simply compounds the injustices while claiming to be both a moral and a religious solution to the problems faced by (some) Jews.

In saying "(some) Jews" I do not mean to suggest "(only a few) Jews." Sadly, and to the shame of Christian Europe, a great many Jews in many different places and at various times over the past 1,500-2,000 years have suffered personal and collective abuse at the hands of Christian communities. The point of "(some) Jews" is simply to note that discrimination and violence have not been the experience of all Jews at all times and in all places. It is important to note that Islamic societies in the Arab world provided sanctuary to Jews fleeing European/Christian hatred, and that the "age-old conflict" sometimes said to be unfolding (again) in Palestine is actually a very modern conflict.

The idea that God promised the land to a certain group of people (who may or may not have some historical continuity with the people now identifying themselves as Jews) is a self-serving myth of ethnic and religious superiority over others, and has no basis in anything other than the religio-political aspirations of the ruling elite in Jerusalem during the first millennium BCE. Contemporary archaeological and literary studies have shown that the Bible stories of God promising the land to the descendants of Jacob (a.k.a. "Israel") have no basis in history, and that the ancient Israelites are better described as "Canaanites with a new zip code" than as an outsiders who took the land by force and exterminated the indigenous people in a program of divinely-sanctioned ethinic cleansing.

Of course, any group of people with sufficient military power can take what ever patch of land they wish to have - and enjoy it until such time as, inevitably, another group acquires sufficient power to expel or subdue them. But that capacity to impose their will on others in no way creates a moral basis for the power so overwhelmingly enjoyed by the victor - whoever that happens to be at any point in time.

In any case, the idea of an exclusive Jewish homeland probably owes as much to 19C European nationalism as to Jewish theology. Nationalistic ideology is no longer seen as a sustainable way for us to arrange our lives together, yet the dream lingers in some quarters.

In my view, "a more excellent way" - if I might invoke Paul of Tarsus - would be a truly pluralistic and democratic society in which Jews, Arabs (both Christian and Muslim) and Druze live together in a single state that gave no ethnic or religious community disproportionate privileges. While the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center[1] in Jerusalem supports the "two state solution" as a realpolitik in the present circumstances, its philosophical preference is for "one nation, two peoples, three religions."

I genuinely do fear that the invaluable Jewish moral and prophetic legacy within the human family is being squandered in a project that erodes their proud record in human rights while failing radically to deliver on its promise of ensuring their future collective safety. The bitter harvest of 50+ years of dispossession is already too apparent, and the events of the past two weeks seem to be sowing the seeds for a future harvest of truly apocalyptic proportions.

From discussion with Jewish community leaders here in Australia, I do have some appreciation of the importance to them of a Jewish state. While I cannot embrace the concept of a nation based on the claims of a religious/ethnic minority and involving the forced expulsion of the majority of the indigenous population, I can understand their desire to have a place of their own and also why they think that place has to be located in the biblical lands.

I yearn for the day when Palestinians and Israelis themselves opt for a unification of their divided homeland, and in the meantime I think we outsiders need to avoid reinforcing the cycle of anger, fear and suspicion.

In the meantime, thousands are falling victim to conflicts not of their making and hundreds are already dead - most of them non-combatants, and overwhelmingly women and children.

A solution does not lie in giving Israel even smarter bombs.

The path to a solution lies in addressing the occupation of Palestine and the dispossession of millions of indigenous people.

Israel cannot be undone, any more than Yankees can be shipped back to Ireland and Italy, or Aussies sail back to Britain. The challenge is how to provide justice for those who have clearly suffered so much for so long, so that immigrants and locals, settlers and returnees, can create a future together in peace.

Sadly, it seems the US administration has little interest in what is genuinely good for the peoples of Israel/Palestine and thinks only of its geopolitical advantages - and its domestic political agenda.

The irony of the USA sending blankets to Beirut and smart missiles to Tel Aviv can surely not be missed.

Where are the honest brokers so desperately needed by all the peoples of the land, whatever their ethnicity or religion?

And in the meantime - how do we get the boys with their toys (on both sides) - to stop the killing?

Some observations and reflections from the Antipodes.

© July 2006 Greg Jenks