Roots of Turmoil in Jerusalem

Roots of Turmoil in Jerusalem

Attacks by Israeli police and mobs on Muslim worshippers at Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock hurt me. I have been there, I have been moved by the Dome's sacred aura. I have even been welcomed to descend the spiral staircase to the great and awesome Rock that stands at its foundation and surely stood at the inner base of the Holy Temple long ago.  

That Dome and the Western Wall make up the heart of my tallit -- within them, if you look closely, that Rock of Ages, Tzur HaOlamim, which became a metaphor for God’s Own Self.

Events of the last few days in Jerusalem are both symbolically and actually threatening to a transformative Judaism as well as to a free and peaceful world. So I do not feel able to be silent.

Islam at its best and as most of its adherents understand it, is a religion of peace and justice, like Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism at their best. Yet within each --our own and each of the others -- can arise a bloody streak of certainty that it alone bespeaks the truth, and others can – and sometimes must – be subjugated, rather than honored as one ribbon in the great Rainbow.

For the last ten years or so, The Shalom Center has rarely addressed issues involving Israel. We spoke out only when an extreme right-wing Israeli government intervened inside US political life to move the US toward war instead of diplomatic sucess in preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. 

We have instead focused on the climate crisis for two reasons: (1) It is the greatest threat to human civilization and to the whole web of life on Planet Earth -- not only a biological, economic, and political threat but also a spiritual one. (2) The Hebrew Bible is a treasure-house of wisdom from Earth-based shepherds and farmers -- wisdom that could bring not only Jewish but also Christian and perhaps Muslim energy to healing the wound between adamah and adam, Earth and Human Earthlings.

We still feel that the most crucial responsibility of the American Jewish community is to lift up the best of Judaism when the world  needs it, rather than combat the worst of Jewish behavior.


 The State of Israel, within the boundary called the Green Line that was the armistice line established in 1949, is as legitimate a state in international law as the United States (despite its long history of genocide against Indigenous peoples, its continuous practice of racism, and its illegal and immoral wars against Vietnam and Iraq) and China (despite its subjugation of Buddhists in Tibet and of Muslim Uighurs).

But Israel’s intrusion of half a million Israelis into the West Bank and a large number in occupied East Jerusalem, plus home demolition or displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, violates international law and deliberately tries to prevent the  emergence of a peaceful Palestinian state alongside a peaceful Israel.

This week's march of flag-waving Israelis into those neighborhoods is intended to terrorize Palestinians. The Israeli police collude. 

These illegitimate practices have been going forward, harsher and harsher, for 50 years.

A legitimate state can behave in illegitimate ways. Opposition to illegitimate acts should focus on them – in this case, on the subjugtion of Palestinians through occupation and siege, not on the existence of Israel. 

There are three distinct and overlapping threats from the present behavior of the Israeli government to the health and even the survival of the Jewish people as a vital spiritual and religious element in the world:

1.The effort to “pursue injustice, injustice” – domination, subjugation – over the Palestinians reduces them to suffering. And it violates the Prophetic vision of a God, YHWH, the Breath of all life, Who said, “Are not the Children of the Ethiopians to Me like the Children of Israel? Did I not lift up Yisrael, the Godwrestlers, from Tight-and-Narrow Land, and also the Philistines from Caphtor and Aram from Kir?” (Amos 9: 7-8) Both these peoples were often enemies of ancient Israel.  

For the Jewish people through our Prophet to proclaim this high standard of ethics and morality -- that each other people was also freed and lifted up by God, not the Jews alone -- drew many people to honor and admiration for the Jews. Many from the other peoples, and Jews ourselves, are disheartened by what seems Israel's abandonment of this high standard.. 

2. The effort to control an empire of “foreigners” almost inevitably leads a government into tyrannizing over its own citizenry. Thus the government of Israel, which began with the proclamation of a state where all citizens would be equal, has devolved into a “Nation-State Law” proclaiming the superior value of its Jewish citizens, rejecting Arabic as a co-equal official language, and in practice subjecting its Palestinian communities to far poorer treatment in simple life-necessities like decent roads, schools, etc. And recent months have seen a multiplication of street attacks on “leftist” Jews as enemies of the State.

 3. The insistence that the State of Israel and the behavior of its government represents all Jews is false and destructive. It tries to turn criticism of the State and its government into antisemitism, it poisons the bloodstream of a just and compassionate Torah, and it traps Jews into what Torah considers the worst of all sins – turning the State itself into an idol, the embodiment of God, not to be criticized on pain of heresy and a secular version of “excommunication.”

Indeed, the Talmud teaches that the impulse toward idolatry was found hiding in the Holy of Holies – a way of teaching that the danger of idol worship is greatest when it is focused on an institution of great real holiness.  The Israel of refuge, the Israel of a vibrant Hebrew culture, the Israel of life-giving holiness – has for many Jews become an idol.

These events of the last few days are not an accidental mistake. They are rooted in the efforts of the Israeli government, Israeli police and security forces, and ultra-right-wing  elements of Israeli “Jewish” society, especially some among Israeli settlers who have taken Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to “ethnic cleansing” of crucial Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, climaxing the efforts to implant Israeli cities – not mere clusters of a few houses --  on Palestinian land.

 In 1969, shortly after my first visit to Israel and the occupied territories, I began urging and organizing for a two-state peace. 

I know that Israeli policy and implantation of settlements has made this goal harder and harder to achieve, but bigger changes have happened in less time in recent years of world history.   

Already, small groups of Israelis and Palestinians have banded together precisely because their beloved family and friends have been killed by “the other side”  -- and they have decided to stop the killing instead of revenging it with more death.

They are creating the future in the present, and have won tens of thousands of overseas supporters.

Already, movements of mostly young American Jews have challenged the automatic assumption that they should give uncritical support to any Israeli government.  

When might those energies help create an alliance of some major Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious groupings in the US to focus not on what feels to many Israelis like  attacking Israel itself with "total BDS," but aim instead at ending the Occupation and campaigning for agreement on two states, or a confederation, or some even more creative and just solution?

When might that kind of growing energy persuade the various Jewish Federations of North America to put half the donations assigned for Israel into an escrow fund, to be released only upon the conclusion of a peace treaty? When might the Federations set aside some money to work for peaceful Palestinian self-determination that frees Israel and American Jewry from a role as subjugator or idolator? 

When might the US government respond to growing demands that it wrap military aid to Israel and various Arab governments in a blanket of confidence-building steps toward peace?

These questions cannot be answered by predictive analysis. They can only be answered by prophetic action. 

 Shalom, salaam, paz, peace, namaste! --  Arthur

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