Suppose,” an old Arab said to me when I was visiting Jerusalem, “Just suppose you have eight little chickens. You have watched them hatch, you feed and care for them, they are your pets. One night a neighbor comes and cleans you out. He takes all eight of your baby chicks. Next morning he reaches his hand toward you across the fence. Will you shake hands? No, you cannot. Even if I have lost only little chickens, it will be hard to give my neighbor my hand. But what if I have lost my lands, my olive groves, my orchards, my vineyards, my house, my job, my money? What if I have lost even my children and my wife? Yet the world says ‘Why are the Arabs so stubborn? Israel offers them the hand of peace, but they will not reach across the table.’ ”
Jerusalem, according to an Arab proverb, is “a bowl of gold full of scorpions.” But popular opinion notwithstanding Jews and Arabs have lived together for centuries in relative harmony. The present enmity is only as old as Zionism, a movement started in 1896 for the purpose of gathering Jews from all over the world and recreating their national life in a “homeland” of their own. The British expressed sympathy for the movement in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for “the establishment in Palestine of (not of Palestine as) a national home for the Jewish people” clearly stating that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” That the Arabs, who formed the majority, should be mentioned only as “non-Jewish” was to them an exceedingly sore point. Churchill assured them, however, that the Balfour Declaration did not mean a Jewish government to dominate Arabs. The United States liked the idea as well as the British had—after all, it would cost us nothing. It was never suggested that Connecticut, for example, be donated as the Jewish homeland.
Seeing their country populated by an ever-growing number of Jews made the Palestinians uneasy and tension built up until the partition of Palestine, a high-handed act committed by powerful nations who did not so much as consult the residents of the country. This led to war in 1948, and the war of 1967 finally got for the Jews what they wanted above all else, all of Jerusalem. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether that victory was what Isaiah meant by the “redemption” of Jerusalem. Neither is it unreasonable to those who read Bible prophecy to expect that Israel will continue to expand from the Euphrates to the Nile. Those to whom the Bible is nothing will shrug and say, “That’s over. The Jews won it, didn’t they?” or perhaps, “The Jews deserve it. They’ve got to live somewhere, haven’t they?”
I saw the joy of the Israelis in their victory in 1967. It was hysterical. Many, from rabbis to military men, spoke of it as a miracle. Others resented any suggestion that the miracle might have been divine. Israel had done it—why say it was God? (Moses once thundered against the people of Israel for a similar refusal to recognize the source of their power.)
“We are gods!” a Jewish girl said to me. “We will work things out. We will fulfill prophecy.”
American Christians wrote to the Jerusalem Post, “The victorious events in Israel accelerate the coming of the Messiah”; a minister in Ontario quoted Isaiah 52:9, “Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem, for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.”
An Arab woman, sitting in a chilly living room from which most of the rugs and furniture had been removed lest it be confiscated, said to me, “Of course there are some who see in this victory the hand of God, and there are many Christians who are sure he is responsible for it, but what am I, an Arab and a Christian, to make of it?”
This is a question not sufficiently considered by many Christians whose views on the Arab-Israeli situation are a farrago of superficially interpreted Old Testament prophecy, glibly accepted propaganda, and uncritically indulged sentimentality. Before we can conclude that the nation of Israel is a literal fulfillment of prophecy, that present-day tensions between Arabs and Jews are just another episode in an ancient history of unmitigated hostility to each other, before we conclude that there is no question about the morality of providing a homeland for a persecuted people by persecuting another people who are already there, we need to probe a little deeper.
I sat in St. George’s Cathedral as the congregation sang “Jerusalem the Golden, with milk and honey blest.” I heard the canticle from the first chapter of Luke, “Blessed be the Lord God for he hath visited and redeemed his people … that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us … to remember the oath which he swore to our father Abraham.” The bishop who read these words was an Arab. Most of the congregation was made up of Arabs. Who, I wondered, are “his people,” spoken of in that passage? Who are the “enemies”? How would the bishop answer those questions?
“This is a time for us Christians to ask, What is this Israel?” the abovementioned Arab lady said. “I saw this nice neighborhood being looted, bombed, and shelled for three days and nights without respite. My Lebanese neighbor lay on the floor of the corridor with me and my children while our cars were smashed by the tanks like beetles. She lifted her head from the floor and said to me, ‘There is no God. If there is, he is a Jew.’ ”
This touches perhaps the knottiest question of all, and the one that must be answered before any prophetic equations can be formed. Who is a Jew? I asked it of many Israelis. One of them, a Ph.D., shrugged and lifted his hands and his eyebrows: “Ask three Jews, get five opinions.”
It is not, Israel officially proclaims, a racial question. There are Jews in every anthropologically-defined “race”—from the black Ethiopian to the Chinese orthodox Jew. It was Hitler who denied Jews any rights as Germans or Poles or Hungarians. He determined to “purify” the Aryans, make them the “master race,” and this required the segregation of Jews, labeling, and finally extermination.
It is not a religious question. Probably fewer than 10 per cent of Israelis are orthodox Jews, and many are not only not religious, but are militantly anti-God. “Not many of us observe,” an Israeli girl said to me when I told her of the purification ceremonies I had witnessed at the Pool of Siloam on Yom Kippur.
“Not many?” I said, “But I saw thousands in Jerusalem alone, going to springs and brooks.”
She waved a hand. “You saw thousands—so you saw them all. We are two and a half million. We have much to do. Who has time to keep the past alive? Tourists want us to be quaint or pious or something. Even Jewish tourists.” Her tone changed to a sneer. “Why should we be pious when they aren’t?”
To be Jewish is not a linguistic question. Over seventy languages are spoken in Israel, even though Hebrew is the official language and strong efforts are made to encourage everybody to learn it.
It is not a cultural question. Some Jews, desperately casting about for a definition that would satisfy me, said that Jewishness is a “cultural consciousness.” I found this inadequate when I watched Oriental Jewesses in Arab dress at the Simhat Torah celebration, keening shrilly and lifting their arms in ecstasy, alongside a Jew from New York’s East Side, and a Sabra (an Israeli native) born in a kibbutz.
“Any attempt,” wrote I.A. Abaddy in the Jewish Quarterly, “to seek the common denominator in terms of either ritual or speech or outlook is bound to prove hopeless.”
Is Jewishness then a political category? Israel is a political state, but there are millions of Jews who are not Israelis. There are thousands of “Israelis” who are not Jews—every Arab now “assimilated” into the nation of Israel by conquest is officially an Israeli, and Arab school children are given a textbook, I am an Israeli.
It is a very confused line of thought that construes Zionism as theologically based, failing to recognize it as a political and economic movement, or that equates the modern state of Israel with the Israel of God.
The Israeli government has had to define a Jew in order to implement the “Law of Return,” which allows any Jew to immigrate to Israel at any time and automatically become a citizen. The best definition they have offered is a genetic one (which seems a strange contradiction when they so vehemently deny that Jewishness has anything to do with race). They ask, Who is your mother? Anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. The question as to what makes her Jewish has no answer. If your father is Jewish, if he is even a rabbi, it will not help you at all. Nor will a man’s profession of faith in Judaism be of any use to him in seeking citizenship, for Judaism does not court converts and Israel does not want citizens who are not Jews. Even if a man commits himself to Jewish faith against all discouragements he is seen in Israel as a non-Jew.
The apostle Paul, a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” offers little help toward a working definition of Jewishness. “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly,” he wrote, “He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.”
Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner writes, “The haunting words of the prophet ring in our ears: ‘You are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and I am God.’ Is this not what we are being told by all the terrors of history, and all the follies of man? Does this proclamation not sweep aside all our fumbling attempts to define the Jew—nation, race, or religion—and hold before us that divine demand which alone determines our being?”
When God chose the Hebrews as a people to bear his name, he charged them with the responsibilities of privilege—to look out for the welfare of the stranger within their gates, to do justice to the foreigner—and warned them that his promises were contingent upon their obedience. Disobedience would reduce them to destruction, to slavery, and even to cannibalism (Deut. 28).
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, Amend your ways and your doings and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words, ‘This is the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place. From prophet to priest everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 7 and 8).
American Christians in the hundreds of thousands pour into the Holy Land on tours that, although often sponsored by Christian organizations in this country, are arranged largely by Israeli tourist agencies. They are shown the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept, the Hadassah Hospital with the Chagall windows, the Hebrew University, and the Herzl Museum. The Christian holy places, of course, are included in the itinerary, and tourists gaze with wonder at the plains of Sharon and the Galilee where the desert, they are given to understand, has blossomed under Israeli cultivation. They look then with dismay at the barren hills of Moab that the Arabs have failed to bring to life. The evidence seems conclusive. Israel “deserves” the land. But what these tourists do not remember is that the plain of Sharon and the Galilee have always been the choice land, fruitful for thousands of years. Jaffa oranges were cultivated by Arabs who never had the millions of dollars in foreign aid that Israel now enjoys. But these fruitful sections were portioned out to Israel back in 1948. Thousands of acres of olive groves and vineyards, on the other hand, have dried up for lack of Israeli knowledge or inclination to preserve what had been cultivated and terraced by Arabs with wooden plows and donkeys since before Christ. Israel has yet to realize her hope of becoming an economically sound industrial nation.
The free world demands justice. It deplores totalitarianism. It champions the cause of the oppressed and the exile—up to a point. But those who most vociferously called for withdrawal from Viet Nam are often the same who now most vociferously call for support of Israel and seem oblivious to the plight of the Arab. The problem is not new. Isaiah wrote, “The fire of the LORD is in Zion, and his furnace is in Jerusalem.” Whether or not all the fires there have been of his kindling only he knows, but there have been Egyptians, Jebusites, Hebrews, Babylonians, Romans, Arabs, Turks, and Britons who claimed the city as their own, before present-day Israelis got there. Prophecy seems to have been fulfilled not once, but again and again and again. It is common among American Christians (I am told that it is uncommon among European or English ones) to insist upon a chauvinistic and fanatical interpretation of the state of Israel as a literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. We need to step back and consider other data. We are blinded by sentiment, disabled in our judgment by the stories of the concentration camps, the torn Torahs and the cakes of soap made of the fat of Jewish bodies, which are on display in Israel’s museums. Hannah Arendt, in her report on the Eichmann trial, wrote, “Among the constructs that ‘explain’ everything by obscuring all details we find such notions as … the collective guilt of the German people, derived from an ad hoc interpretation of their history; of the equally absurd assertion of a kind of collective innocence of the Jewish people. All these cliches have in common that they make judgment superfluous and that to utter them is devoid of all risk.”
Sentimentality is an idol. It has eyes, but sees not. It stands in the place of truth. To raise any question at all nowadays about the ethics of Zionism or the nature of Israel (Is it, for example, a racist state? Is there religious freedom there? Is their treatment of the Arab just?), to ask, Who is a Jew? is to arouse cries of anti-Semitism, or accusations of utter lack of sympathy or sensibility. To ask for sympathy or for even a moment’s cool consideration of the Arab is to be branded at once as an opponent of Israel. When Harper & Row Publishers asked me to go to Jerusalem and write a book about what I saw and heard there they accepted my manuscript (Furnace of the Lord, published finally by Doubleday) at first. They paid for it, advertised it, included it in their catalogue, and six weeks later informed me that it was not publishable. My inquiries produced only one answer: You have treated a sensitive subject insensitively. My observations, it turned out, were “controversial,” not because I had taken sides but because I had not taken sides.
I remember looking across the Valley of Kidron and up to the temple mount where the golden dome rose beyond the sealed Golden Gate. Solomon’s question came to me: “Will God dwell indeed with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built! Hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each whose heart thou knowest, according to all his ways (for thou, thou only, knowest the hearts of the children of men).”
He who walked in the furnace with Daniel’s friends walks yet in his furnace of Jerusalem, in the devastated streets of Lebanon. He sees the truth of every man, he knows the contrite heart, whether of Jew or gentile, and he will not fail or be discouraged but will ultimately fulfill his purposes for us all—for he was wounded for our transgressions. It is for us to watch with him, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to ask that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.
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