50 Years Is Enough

Today, June 5, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Six Day War which resulted in victory for Israel over the military forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–and, importantly for subsequent events, the expansion of Israeli rule over all of Jerusalem, the West Bank (often called Judea and Samaria by many Israelis) and Gaza.

Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in New York City in the 53rd annual Celebrate Israel parade, officially deemed a celebration of the creation of the State of Israel, but given its date it seems a clear declaration of support for an Israel that includes territory from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Palestinians and their allies refer to Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza as The Occupation. There is little doubt that it is marked by oppressive military presence, that Palestinians are under military rule in the land of their birth. Such rule is never, by definition, kind and gentle nor does it evidence much respect for the elemental human rights of those under control. With the requirement of border passes for work inside Israel, checkpoints, random searches of individuals and homes, evictions, murder and mayhem by settlers not to mention the growing presence of Israeli settlers, Palestinians feel deep bitterness. Fifty years is enough, they say.

Robin with keffiyehI spent Sunday afternoon outside the White House, not to celebrate Greater Israel but to bear witness to the strength and endurance of the Palestinian people. No matter how many times their leaders have failed in negotiations with Israel (whose leaders failed just as much), no matter how much they have failed to build a vibrant society within the hated control of Israel (and how much Israel, from its position of economic and military dominance has made sure to cripple Palestinian institutions), I admire them for their fortitude and patience, for their attachment to the land of their fathers.

They deserve my respect and honor. They deserve that from all of us.

Sadly, it was a very small group at the White House, with little or not visible organization and leadership. According to the email invitation I received, it was to be a silent vigil, but mostly people just talked to each other. At one point, one of those present got some of us to sing a few protest songs, with lyrics he devised to focus on the Occupation and the need for liberation and peace. I left about 30 minutes before its scheduled conclusion, not sure it had ever begun.

I have wondered if this was an organizational fluke–the listed sponsors were four groups, Arab American Institute (AAI), Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) and American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA)–or if it reflects deeper disorganization within the Palestinian and Palestinian-American community. I hope it was a fluke. We need a strong Palestinian voice in the Middle East and here.

There was one presence at the White House that was clearly organized and in charge: The Secret Service. When I arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue–it is blocked for through traffic between 15th and 17th Streets and has become essentially a pedestrian mall adjacent to Lafayette Park (except for official vehicles going in and out of the White House)–just before 3 pm, there were hundreds of tourists taking pictures of themselves and their companions with the White House in the background. It was a good-humored gaggle of humanity speaking several languages, doing tourist-y things. I noted uniformed Secret Service agents moving through the crowd.

I found the one lone man with a pro-Palestinian sign and we chatted. Several others joined us. Eventually, our small group moved across the street, closer to the park and in the shade (it was a hot sun), waiting for some others we were told were on their way.

Here’s what it gets informative. When we all–no more than 25, maybe 30 including quite a few teenagers/college students, regrouped on the street directly in front of the White House, many of us with signs protesting the Occupation and other Israeli policies and practices, we were approached by two Secret Service agents. One asked what our purpose was. One of the men in the group who seemed to know more than others said, “We have a permit.” The agent nodded and repeated his question. I did not hear the answer but assume it was to say we were doing what our signs said, protesting the Occupation.

Secret Service agents in front of White HouseThe agents moved away and I, naive and trusting soul that I am, thought that was done . I was disturbed, however, by the question. The right of Americans to gather, the right of public assembly guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is not dependent on the content raised by those gathering.

Fifteen or so minutes later, the agents moved in more authoritatively and begin telling everyone–tourists, our group and the few individual purveyors of amusement (including the man putting on a Donald Trump mask and getting his picture taken while in some sort of Trumpian pose, and a Christian evangelist–to move across the street. It was done quietly, but it was done efficiently.  Pretty soon we were all across the street behind yellow police line tape. The street was empty but for some Secret Service agents, several of whom held automatic weapons in their hands. Earlier, I had noticed holstered hand guns but not these more lethal weapons.

A few minutes later, one white SUV emerged from the driveway from the White House and drove down the street. I’d like to think that was why agents cleared the street, but there probably were easier ways than closing three blocks containing hundreds, probably more than one thousand, people. For one thing, a few honks and orders from an agent would easily have cleared a path.

We small band of Palestine supporters were the only organized group, the only group with signs who had been in the street. I realized after about 30 minutes of being held behind the yellow tape, and the the agents’ eyes mostly aimed in our direction, that we were the focus, the cause of the herding. I felt for the tourists who just wanted their picture taken as close as possible to the White House.

Then, just as quietly as before, an agent released the tape. It seems logical to me that after the agents watched our rather ragged attempt at singing protest songs–if someone said 10 of us sang I would be surprised (even with a portable speaker we made very little noise)–and seeing that our number did not grow, they decided the President was safe from marauding Palestinian freedom fighters (or terrorists as many would say).

Occupation demo at WH June 4 2017After re-grouping, several of us took a few pictures (I took picture on left of three of our group), and then I began the journey home. I had donned a black and white keffiyeh at the vigil and I wore it home on the Metro to Greenbelt. No one asked me why, on a hot day, I had a large scarf over my shirt, but if they had, I would have told them I was showing solidarity with, and honor to, strong, patient Palestinians who still seek the respect of the world, and most especially of Israel and my own country, the United States of America.

I’ll be back, at the White House or not, and I am sure our numbers will grow. It does not take a multitude to remind me of what is important, even as I know that many will not join until there is a multitude. So we have work to do.

And as Christian theologian, I know that dignity for all, abundant life for all, is God’s charge to us. And it does not matter whose God that is. God says it in every tradition, in every religion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 5

[Part 5 of this series was preceded by the original post on February 4, 2016; Part 2 on February 8, 2016; Part 3 on March 3, 2016; and Part 4 on March 30, 2016.]

It’s been a long time since I visited this topic. The delay stems in part from too much else going on in my life, and from continuing to worry about the topic. Can I say what it seems I must say?

Based on what I have written in prior installments in this series, as well as ongoing research and reading, here is what I believe:

  • Palestinians deserve a true and secure homeland, and Israel must be safe
  • Israel can be safe and Palestine, too, if Israel, the United States and others will work with the Palestinian Authority (and even Hamas) to end the occupation of the West Bank and the isolation of Gaza
  • Rigid, rightist Zionists and their allies in the Netanyahu government must be stopped from their plan to obtain all the land they claim they have from God, often called Greater Israel (meaning in contemporary terms the current State of Israel plus the Palestinian territories), and at other times more expansively historical Israel (relying on biblical texts which extend the claim into other sovereign nations)
  • The United States should spend as much on helping the Palestinians develop their economy, government and social institutions as it does sustaining the Israeli military (Israel will be far safer with this nation-building than with more arms)

In other words, the land in the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories belongs to both people, and a way must be found for both to live there.

It seems clear to me that two forces are making this impossible. One is the ineffective leadership of the Palestinian Authority, called corrupt by many. This is not the focus of this series, but is an important element in the ongoing failure to bring peace and justice to the land. Of course, it is not simply corruption or ineptitude that bogs down the PA, it is also that in reality it exists at the sufferance of the Israeli government and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite declarations by some bodies, one can hardly call Palestine a state because its government does not have typical governmental authority over its own territory.

Indeed, the question of land management reveals how the PA lacks what would be ordinary authority for any government–to issue building permits and enforce land management regulations duly adopted by the civil authority.

jewish-settlement-of-maale-adumin-east-of-jerusalem-sputniknews-com
Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin, east of Jerusalem sputniknews.com

Instead, what is happening in the West Bank–about 60% of which is under full Israeli control (Area C), 28% which is under joint PA/Israeli military control and PA civil control (Area B), and 11% of which is under PA control but subject to Israeli military incursions–seems to be the gradual settlement by Jewish persons in settlements designed to bring about a de facto control the land by Israel.

It is impossible for me to look at these facts and conclude that Israel is not an occupying power. Most of the rest of the world, including the United States and the United Nations, say it is so. Israel denies this. And many Jewish settlers and organizations that support existing and future settlements argue that Israel is not an occupying power but is instead the legitimate government by virtue of God’s grant of all the land of Judea and Samaria to Israel. It is, in the view of settlers, the Palestinians who are out of place, who are interlopers and invaders.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Yochi Damari, who heads a regional council representing Jewish settlements in the Hebron hills, claimed that those resisting demolition of the village of Susiya represent an insidious Palestinian encroachment onto lands the Jewish homesteaders believe were given to them by God.He called the residents of Susiya “invaders” and a “criminal tribe.”

save-susiya
jpost.com

This is in spite of the reality of generation upon generation of Palestinian families who have resided in that village, farmed and otherwise made their living on the land surrounding it. The effort by the government to push the inhabitants out of their village, and other villages, too, is one part of the process by which it appears that Israel seeks to displace as many Palestinians as possible–to create a modern-day, quiet but effective nakba (the Arabic term for the events of 1948, when many Palestinians were displaced from their homeland by the creation of the new state of Israel–either through military action by Israel and/or the Arab nations who invaded to stop the creation of Israel, or through flight brought about by fear after the massacre at Deir Yassin (see “Deir Yassin, Where Are you?”).

But forced removal–by governmental action or by settler intimidation and violence–is not the only way the local Palestinian population is seeing the land vanish before their eyes.

The other method, one that seems far more effective in the long run, is the establishment of Jewish settlements in various parts of the occupied West Bank territories. Another factor, not for discussion now, is the low, almost non-existent, rate of approval by Israeli authorities for Palestinian homes to be built.

I have noticed a common theme in conversations with many U.S. people who oppose BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (which supports BDS as a non-violent citizens movement centered in Palestine) and others who are critical of Israel. Most say, as they make judgments about the motives and intelligence and ethics of those who they see as anti-Israel (and some who claim anti-Semitic views as the cause), “Israel makes mistakes, of course; for example the settlements are wrong.”

But no one seems to have figured out a way to stop more of them, let alone what to do with existing ones–no one, except the settlers themselves, with the helping hand of the Netanyahu government.

If you doubt this, I invite you to read the New York Times article, “Israel Quietly Legalizes Pirate Outposts in the West Bank.  The Times is generally very uncritical of Israel, both in its reporting and on the editorial pages, so this report is important. The Israeli daily, Haaretz, also reports formal approval of more new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank (see “Israel Approves Hundreds of Homes in West Bank Settlements”). .

The Times article traces what happens when settlers move into an area without authorization and establish homes: eventually, the government recognizes realities and gives the settlers legal permission to be in their homes. What I learned during my visit to Israel and the West Bank in October, 2014 is that once a settler or settlers have a home set up, the IDF generally provide them protection, a de facto recognition of the legitimacy of unauthorized, or illegal, settlements.

israeli-flag-and-idf-soldiers
chinadaily.com.cn

Haaretz outlines how the Netanyahu government is trying to move forward with settlement construction without incurring the wrath of the U.S. government. So far, that government is doing quite well. U. S. protests seem to carry not penalty, the language feeling more like a plea to stop doing something rather than an action to stop it.

So, whose land is it, anyway? If possession is nine-tenths of the law, as I was taught in childhood, then increasingly it appears the land belongs to Israel. The Palestinians are losing ground, day by day.

Will this bring peace? No! Of course not–it will only bring more unrest.

Many say, with some accuracy in a legal way, that there never was a nation called Palestine. They say this means that Israel’s claim is paramount (not to mention the view of biblical literalists) and must carry the day.

However, these people, whom we have come to call Palestinians, are a people of the land. This land. They did not emigrate from Eastern or Western Europe or the United States or Latin America or Africa in order to create a homeland. They had a home, they had homes here for generations. Now their homeland is occupied.

palestinian-flag-with-lone-man-in-demo
news.yahoo.com

Their claim to this land is as legitimate as Israel. Some would say more. I might agree, except that we must work within the legal decisions by the League of Nations and the United Nations.

And Israel, as the occupying power, had best learn the lesson every occupying power in history (including the British whose mandate from the League of Nations to govern this land was a violent episode that drove them out)–namely that the local people will use whatever means is at hand to drive out the occupier.

It is time for settlers and others, including the government, to give up the dream of a  Jewish state within the borders of the current legal territory of Israel and the occupied West Bank–to give up the idea of Greater Israel without Palestinians–and to make peace with the reality on the ground.

God’s ground, the ground belonging to several groupings of God’s people.

 

 

 

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

In October, 2014, I visited Jerusalem with my husband Jonathan.While he spent his days participating in the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, I visited sites in Israel and Palestine. I went first to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It was appropriate to do so; it is like making confession before praying. To say it was a moving experience is to engage in gross understatement. Two elements were particularly moving to me (and I was touched everywhere I turned). First was the memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust. I could not stop weeping. Second, I went to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, I had a hard time seeing it. I was standing in the middle of very large space that looked like a town square. But there was nothing there. Then I realized that was the memorial . . . there was no one left. The people were wiped out. Only the town square remains. More tears.

A few days later, I traveled to Kfar Shaul, a mental hospital a little ways further out from Jerusalem than Yad Vashem. A participant in Jonathan’s conference told me he had walked from Yad Vashem to Kfar Shaul in well less than an hour.

Why did I go to the site of a mental hospital? I went, as I went to Yad Vashem, to honor the dead and missing, this time those killed on April 9, 1948 and those who fled the killing from what was then a small Palestinian village, Deir Yassin. The attack on the village by Zionist paramilitary groups, the Irgun and Lehi, was part of the fierce fighting that was going on between local Arabs and Jews for control of land that was to become the State of Israel.

Reports of the killing of villagers in Deir Yassin spread quickly among many villages and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began.

Kfar Shaul entrance
The entry gate to Kfar Shaul, with the buildings of Deir Yassin behind. Author’s picture

Today, instead of a marker for the lost village, or any other sign of what happened here 68 years ago today, now the village buildings comprise an Israeli mental hospital called Kfar Shaul. Of course, that facility is behind locked gates, and there is no public entry. There is here an echo of the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto–nobody remains.

I have written the poem below–and I continue to work on it, because it feels incomplete yet–to commemorate my visit in 2014, and to keep erasure of Deir Yassin before us. I will not forget. I ask that you not forget either.

Deir Yassin, Where Are You?

The distance between
Yad Vashem
and
Kfar Shaul
more than a stone can throw
less than a good morning walk
but the canyon
between
each
gapes wide and deep like yes and no
a wound buried in enough denial to be ignored

Deir Yassin, where are you?

I.
Yad Vashem
records the horrors of
Holocaust
the truth of inhumanity
shining the deepness of honesty on brutality
recounting the names and faces of victims
recalling the perpetrators of butchery
recording the names of the righteous among the nations who refused to lie in bed with evil

Tears flow
hearts ache
minds recoil
as we repeat
Never Again
Never Again
knowing
in the lurking memory of time
it is a promise
we may not keep

Yad Vashem.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

II.
Kfar Shaul
tells a different story
speaking in code known to those who want to forget
a moment of silence lasting lifetimes
a center for mental health
mental
health
resting on
the remains of a village
living in denial recording nothing of the souls buried beneath its glassy façade locking patients and remembrances of things past lives gone
behind security cameras and guard posts

Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

III.
It was a day in what should have been another lifetime
but feels like only yesterday
the wounds buried
just deep enough in denial to be ignored
continuing the mournful fugue of historical futility
A
day
April
9
1948
righteous men believing in a vision to reclaim their ancient home
struck out at villagers in homes
these in the wrong place at the wrong time
on the wrong side
at least the losing side

Deir Yassin, where are you?

100 or 250 gone of 600 or 750 inhabitants
depending on the history we read,
one-sixth to one-third gone
whatever your source
reports of rape
men paraded through Jerusalem
to the cheers of other men
and then shot
others dispute all the horror
blaming it on Arab soldiers
whose single-fire guns sought to stave off
automatic weapons and mortars

Still

Deir Yassin,where are you?

IV.
The exodus
of villagers not just Deir Yassin
250,000 refugees in camps
symbol of the new order
creating fear among people without an army even a government
some said they did not even exist
living in a land without a people

Deir Yassin, where are you?

The conquerors
terrorized in other lands
hated and feared and maligned
survivors of the slaughtered
came
a people without a land
to call home
filling the homes of those who fled
becoming a people and a land as one
prosperous and strong
proud and feared
hated too

Deir Yassin, where are you?

V.
Are you under the wound
scabbed over now
by a place for
mental health
a place of screams and dreams
of loves and lives lost
remembered
repeating in flashing fits of confession and accusation
rambling humbled haunted tales of fear and illusion
even bouts of sometimes reality?
Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No word
about what lies buried
under

Deir Yassin, where are you?

No names on homes still standing as offices and cottages for the new village inmates
even as their walls and doors and windows and roofs hold the secrets of yesterday’s disappeared

VI.
A visitor
stands on the sidewalk
tearfully remembering the histories he has read and Holocaust stories he can almost recite word for word from memory
and the endless arguments about who killed how many in ‘48 and ‘67 and ‘73 and ‘14 and all the other years too
and why it had to be so
persist like a bad dream growing more weird
frightening
ugly

Yad Vashem.
Kfar Shaul.

Deir Yassin, where are you?

His mind reciting
repeating
mumbling
stumbling
Never Again
Never.
Again.
Knowing
knowing
knowing
it is a promise
we have yet to keep

Deir Yassin.
©Robin Gorsline 2016

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 4

Today, March 30, is Palestinian Land Day, a day set aside to mark a horrific moment on this date in 1976 in relations between Israeli citizens (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.

I had not intended to write today in this series (see previous entries on March 3, February 8,  and February 4), but when I learned of the significance of this date, I felt it right to acknowledge history. I make no claim to expertise on this event or its celebration, but given the fact that few news outlets in the United States report much news about nonviolent events among Palestinians, and because I did see some shocking disparities in land and water allocation (with Palestinians at considerable disadvantage) during my visit in 2014, I decided to share this information.

Here is an excerpt from a post of two years ago in the +972 blog…..

On that dreadful day 38 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations.

Palestinians from the Galilee town of Sakhnin commemorating Land Day, March 30, 2013. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.

You can read the rest of the blog here. And here is a link to Wikipedia on the subject of Land Day, and here is a link to the report in today’s Haaretz daily newspaper in Israel about the strike being carried out by Israeli Arabs.

As I continue to learn more about the land, its history, and the current situation, I will offer other information.

What remains clear is that contest between these two portions of humanity is far from over. And my prayer remains, on this day and every day, that there be no more martyrs of any type for any reason. There is already enough blood to go around.

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 3

Baalbek,_Holy_Land,_ca._1895.jpg  wikimedia org
wikimedia.org

[A continuing exploration of the painful situation in Israel/Palestine; see two earlier posts, “Whose Land Is It Anyway? and “Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 2]

Land, for many, if not for most, people can be a loaded term. In one sense, it is ground beneath our feet, the ground on which our home stands or the ground on which we raise a garden, or the ground on which our town or city stands, or the ground of our state or nation–a physical “thing” of soil and rocks and sand and muck.

In another sense, however, it is something less tangible and more emotional–and thus very powerful. Land is for many not only about where we stand or sit, but where our heart, our soul, feels at rest and even at peace (while guns may be firing all around us). Land is home, that is, a particular piece of land, a particular patch of ground, is home, is where we belong.

Private_Road_Dead_End_Landowners_Only_Sign_large.jpg  salagraphics com
salagraphics.com

And because we belong there, it is easy to begin to believe, to know, that that ground, that land, belongs to us, belongs to me and the people with whom I identify and among and by whom my identity is forged and maintained. Of course, land in the tangible sense is finite, there is only so much land on the globe, and it cannot expand. Thus, it often comes to pass that we, or some others, say, out of what seems like necessity (because there is not enough room for everyone), “if this is our land, then it cannot also be their land.”

As I wrote in Part 2 of this series (see link above), this became the situation in the United States as regards the conflict between European settlers and their offspring on the one side and the native peoples already here on the other.

There is another story about land and conflict that is well-known, and powerfully formative, for many of us, namely the mission of the ancient Hebrews to take possession of the land they were promised by their God. It is a story that begins with Abram who becomes Abraham as he follows God’s direction and whose son and his sons and beyond them get the people to Egypt where, alas, they become slaves. And then their God, the God whose true name is not to be said by humans, called Y H W H (Hebrew has no vowels, but often pronounced YahWay, more or less, and often written today as Yahweh), best translated from the ancient Hebrew as “I AM WHO I AM” (see Exodus 3:14-15), seeing their oppression and distress, told them to leave Egypt and go to a new land, a land of milk and honey. This is the Exodus, as inspiring a story as any people could want, the story on which other oppressed peoples have grounded their own struggles and journeys for liberation ever since.

Exodus route a possible way lds org
One idea of the route of the Exodus lds.org

The Hebrews wander for 40 years and many die. Many also are born. It is this people, those who were slaves in Egypt and their offspring, who, without the leader who brought them out of Egypt, enter the new land, their land, the land promised by their God.

There was a problem however. People were already living there. So, according to biblical texts, the Hebrews were told, by God, to drive them out, to make room for the keeping of the divine promise. These peoples, maybe native to the land or maybe they too came from somewhere else and claimed the land, were often called Canaanites (and there were other peoples as well).

According to the Book of Joshua, the Hebrews under his leadership bested the Canaanites, killing many of them and driving out the rest to settle in other locales. This is the same Joshua who led the destruction of the walls of Jericho and the slaughter of all its people.

archaeological dig alluae ae
alluae.ae

However, much of this story is now in doubt. Archaeologists have dug extensively throughout the region and there is good reason to doubt the historicity of much of the conquest. It is even possible that those we call Hebrews who came into the land were people already living in Canaan. And it seems clear that many of these Canaanites were incorporated into Israel (seemingly totally “melted” into that pot without retaining any part of their previous identity).

Of course, facts discovered by later scholars do not eliminate the power of the narrative to shape history. Most of us read biblical stories without intellectual and historical companions at hand. And we have to remember that land is more than ground, that it also is the emotional, filial and familial, and national, bonds buried deep in the ground–and that history is more than facts.

Robert Allen Warrior pbs org
Dr. Robert Allen Warrior pbs.org

In view of the persistent power of the narrative, some Native American liberation theologians, most notably Robert Allen Warrior, have raised issue with using the Exodus story as a master narrative, or template, for the liberation of oppressed peoples. He writes,

…the narrative tells us that the Canaanites have status only as the people Yahweh removes from the land in order to bring the chosen people in. They are not to be trusted, nor are they to be allowed to enter into social relationships with the people of Israel. They are wicked, and their religion is to be avoided at all costs. –from Warrior’s essay, “A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians”

canaanite_tribes soniclight com
soniclight.com

Why is this so important to Warrior and other native writers? As people descended from those living on, thriving in, this land when Europeans arrived and began their push to own all that land, they see themselves as Canaanites. Thus they see not only liberation but also conquest, with themselves as the conquered.

As we go forward on this journey of wrestling with the contemporary question of Israel/Palestine, “whose land is it, anyway?” all the layers of that ancient story (and the subsequent historical archaeology discoveries)–and the interplay of liberation and conquest–must echo in, and touch, our thoughts.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Whose Land Is It, Anyway? Part 2

My focus in this series, Whose Land Is It, Anyway, is Israel and Palestine. However, I do not come to this concern as a blank slate. I have history, we all have history, some of which does not directly involve this holy and sacred land in the Middle East.

For me, there is other holy land, too–as a citizen of the United States, there is the land comprising the 50 states.  For people in other nations, they may well consider the land of their nation holy.

In fact, all land is holy, part of the divine Creation of which each of us is a part. Without the land of the earth to stand on we would not be.

Massasoit commons wikipedia org
Massasoit commons.wikipedia.org

The native people European explorers and settlers encountered in the Americas knew this truth in a deep and powerful way; it was a core belief on which they all lived. In fact, they rejected the idea than anyone could own land to the exclusion of others. The land belongs to all.

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” -Massasoit (leader of the Wampanoag in what is now Rhode Island; despite this quotation, he did sell land to the settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony to keep the peace)

Against this vision of common wealth, resources shared for the good of all, immigrants from other places arrived, many of them wanting to create a new life very different from their former ones, including the real possibility that they could finally own land on which to live and even work. No longer would only a few rich, often titled, persons own land, but everyone, or at least many, could own land, too.

westward expansions of US solpass org
solpass.org

There were inevitable clashes, the newcomers wanting what the natives already had, namely land, and the natives sensing a threat to their ability to continue to live in traditional ways. And as the numbers of immigrants swelled, so did the demand for the land.

What began on the east seaboard became inevitably a push all the way to the west coast, from Atlantic to Pacific. In between were many battles, even real wars, between the increasingly dominant power of the U.S. Government and a land-voracious society on the one side and increasingly desperate native tribes and leaders on the other.

American Exceptionalism 1872 painting by John Gust (after Thomas Hart Benton) cnn com
“Manifest Destiny” painting by in 1872 by John Gust (after Thomas Hart Benton) cnn.com

Manifest Destiny, the belief that not only could the United States conquer the entirety of land between the coasts but also was called to do so by divine Providence, became the rallying cry. This nation was understood to be ordained to take possession of all it could see between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Land became the commodity and the native people who sat on it became the victims of an overwhelming power, forced to retreat on to reservations where they were told they could keep their native customs (of course, it is not easy to be a hunting and gathering people without large expanses of land).  Most of the time, the promises made to the natives were not kept, certainly when those promises got in the way of settlers claiming the land they wanted.

Today, Native Americans struggle to retain their identity, some still living on reservations and others integrating more into the wider society.

American Indian and Alaska Native Lands in the US one of many feathers com
oneofmanyfeathers.com

And the land? It is still here, more polluted in many cases, and much of it far more densely populated (as well as much still open space) and all of it is “owned” by someone–according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Report in 2007, about 60 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned. The Federal Government owns 29 percent of the land base, mostly in the West. State and local governments own nearly 9 percent, and Indian trust land accounts for about 2 percent.

The natives never claimed to own it, but they did claim to live on it and from it. Many no longer live on reservations and are part of the majority society (even as many of them retain identities as native peoples). But the part on which they can live in community more as their ancient teachings guide them is very small.

Whose land is it, then?

The answer seems simple: those who control access to the land own the land.

And yet rarely, if ever, was a full and fair price paid to the natives. They may not have wanted to sell, but perhaps we could claim some moral high ground if we finally paid what we said it was worth.

I leave this very simple version of the story at this point, inviting the reader to reflect on the value of land and people, and how we are called to live in peace with all.

How can we find peace standing on holy, yet so often bloodied, ground?

 

 

 

 

 

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

Jerusalem City wall en.wikipedia.org
Jerusalem City wall
en.wikipedia.org

As readers of this space may know from prior postings, I am deeply concerned about the plight of Israel/Palestine, a territory divided by politics, history, and violence. Coupled with that is my fear that voices in this country, like voices there, are shouting across a cavernous divide rather than finding ways to speak more carefully and softly in hopes of shrinking the chasm between two injured, and injuring, people.

Sadly, it is difficult to speak softly, gently for very long, even if your intentions to do so are clear and well grounded–largely because someone will take issue with you and point to a fact that they believe utterly disproves, or undercuts morally, what you are saying. It is easy to point with alarm and view with fear in every moment, because there is enough history of pain and suffering and violence on all sides to sustain endless argumentation.

Yes, on all sides.

Old City, Western Wall trekearth.com
Old City, Western Wall
trekearth.com

I want to be clear about one key point. I love Israel; I have felt that way for a long, long time. I am just two years older than that nation and I do not remember a time when in my home we did not support the right, the need, of Jews for a recognized safe homeland in that ancient land.

My love for Palestine is no less, although it has a shorter history. For a long time, I never thought about Palestine or Palestinians. There were just the people, a small group I thought, who seemed to get in the way of Israel. More recently, as the result of considerable reading as well as a visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014 and long discussions with people whose wisdom I trust, I have come to see the Palestinians as a people who deserve, who need, a home, a safe home for themselves.

For some time, I more or less thought that somehow these two peoples would, with the help of my country, work things out.

But that is not happening. The chasm grows instead of shrinking.

Palestine countryside palestine-family.net
Palestine countryside
palestine-family.net

I am quite sure that whatever I say will make very little difference in the effort to change direction away from confrontation and violence and repression toward real conversation, deep truth telling and confession, and reconciliation. But I must break through my own fears and speak as authentically as I know how. If I do not, who will speak for me?

I am going to have to write many posts about this, because there is much to say. Today, I start with some perspective about me.

I consider myself a liberation theologian within Christianity, meaning that I view the world from the underside of history, that I see through the eyes of faith a God who stands, and calls us to stand, with “the least of these,” that I read the Bible as a record of how, in many different contexts and eras, God calls people to care for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the power-less.

In that worldview, I am formed by a tradition that first goes way back to Hebrew prophets (my parish priest for 20 years was a lover of the Hebrew Bible and all things Jewish and he showed me the power and beauty of Judaism), as well as Jesus (himself a Hebrew prophet in many ways). and more recently with people and theologians and religious leaders in Latin America, Asia and Africa who have done and are doing theological exploration in what are sometimes called “base communities” (created by the poor themselves as well as those policed and kept in check by the privileged authorities) as well as groups in more affluent places, including Black and Latino people in our own nation, feminists, LGBT and Queer, Native American, and differently-abled communities of interest and struggle.

Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem ronnaliyah.blogspot.com
Israeli countryside, road to Jerusalem
ronnaliyah.blogspot.com

The reader may begin to understand that, given this orientation which developed long before I had any awareness of the depth of the pain in Israel/Palestine, I have some real sympathy toward the Palestinians–definitely the less powerful of the two peoples. In a liberative world view, power and power analysis is central to understanding where we discern God calls us to stand.

But of course, it is not so simple. I have real sympathy for the Israelis, too, for Jews generally, because anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviors–what is often called anti-Semitism (a misleading term in this context because Palestinians are Semitic peoples, too)–is still a major force of intolerance and violence in the world. Jews have been underdogs for far too long, and much of it due to people in my religion (I admit to being utterly baffled by why people who profess to love and follow Jesus hate his people so much).

The Wall walkerart.org
The Wall
walkerart.org

I started out today to write about some current events–Jewish efforts to get state legislatures to adopt bills against the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, as well as new information about tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and others, and illegitimate by our own government).

But I realized along the way I need to address a deeper theological issue first: whose land is it? Or to put it another way, what can we learn about this dysfunctional situation by looking at history, both in that part of the world, and even in our own, when people contest with each other over territory?

I am not going to start that today, but I will be exploring that question in future blogs.

In the meantime, I invite you to sit quietly if you can, and contemplate peace, think peaceful thoughts, send out peaceful feelings any way you can–especially peace among Palestinians and Israelis. Perhaps you can even use one of the pictures on this blog post as a point of meditation for peace.