I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns
that you had not built, and you lived in them; you ate the fruit
of vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant (Joshua 24:13)
I want to continue my reflections on our recent pilgrimage to Israel. I’ve been musing about the contradiction we all faced there between the title “Holy Land” and the tragic lack of holiness we witnessed in the treatment of Palestinian Christians and Muslims in Israel and the West Bank. The guiding question for me has been, “What makes the Holy Land holy?” Last month I wrote about the “Non-Stop Zionism” that has taken hold of the Israeli (Zionist) imagination to occupy the land of Palestine. I believe that Zionism is a secular version of priestly holiness that I spoke of last month. As I noted, priestly holiness is based on the notion of separation. Priestly holiness separates itself from everything unclean–everything that tradition deemed was not sanctified for God’s use—certain foods, dead animals, menstruating women, foreign people and foreign land, etc. In doing so, one remains in God’s care. One also affirms that everything unclean is outside the scope of God’s care. Everything outside the scope of God’s care essentially doesn’t exist.
How does the Zionist juggernaut governing Palestine today replicate the priestly insistence on “separation”? I suggest that Zionism as it is manifest in the Holy Land today separates from all that is “unholy” by simply seeking to eliminate it. More starkly, the “separation” is working to render everything outside the interests of Zionism expendable. This egregious attitude was addressed by one of the people we met on our pilgrimage. Christopher Cook is a British journalist who has lived and worked in Palestine for 16 years. He also married a Palestinian, Sally Azzam, who owns the Liwan Cultural Café (the Palestine version of our own Zippy’s!). They work together to build bridges in Nazareth. We dined at Sally’s café on a Monday and then met Christopher the next day. He guided us to a place in Northern Israel that was once a thriving Palestinian town called Saffuriya. Tradition holds that Saffuriya is one of the possible sites of the birth of Mary. But there were no tourists there. Cook told us that those trained to be the official guides of Israel’s tourist industry don’t even know that the place exists. How can that be? Why would this certifiable “holy” site be completely ignored?
But no village exists; just an orphanage next to a non-descript forest. Cook told us that this forest is what is left of Saffuriya. The village was evacuated by the Palestinians in 1948 when the Zionists forced them to leave. Afterwards, the buildings of the village were bulldozed into oblivion. Furthermore, this area was once filled with fruit trees planted by the Palestinians who lived there. These trees, Cook told us, were removed and replaced by European pine trees that are not native to the land and don’t do well there. Therefore, Cook surmised, there is no evidence in this place that the Palestinians had ever existed on the land. The Zionists did not live in the houses they did not build, nor reap the fruit of trees they did not plant. They actually went further. They refused to recognize that Palestinians had ever lived in Saffuriya. The fruit of “Non-Stop Zionism,” at least as far as Saffuriya is concerned, was to enforce an egregious secular version of priestly holiness that completely eliminated the memory of the “unclean.” You can’t be any more “separated” from the “unclean” than that!
The truth of the matter is that one can’t be any more far removed from caring for others than eliminating their memory. But how can such uncaring exist in a place called the Holy Land? Next month I want to consider a different understanding of holiness that places caring for the other front and center and understanding that moves in the opposite direction of “Non-Stop Zionism” regarding the treatment of the other.