Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you …” (Ps. 122:6)
Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land came to an end on May 10th as we landed at SeaTac airport. About two dozen of us from several Presbyterian churches in North Puget Sound bussed, walked, trudged, watched, viewed, learned, questioned, took pictures of, laughed, cried, and ate our way through major areas of the West Bank and Israel. We visited many holy sites. But more importantly for most of us, we heard from many saintly people who are struggling to maintain hope and to work for peace under conditions of economic, political, and ideological oppression. Thus, we experienced a major contradiction in our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In the land of Moses, David, the Prophets, and Jesus, there is a great deal of unholiness going on. How do we account for the contradiction that the power that governs and preserves the Holy Land today sponsors so much injustice and oppression—i.e., unholiness—in the Holy Land? Over the next few Carillons I want to reflect on this contradiction as I try to process what I experienced in the Holy Land and why it matters to Christians everywhere. My pilgrimage continues.
On the one hand, the contradiction arises, as far as I can tell, from the Zionist absolute commitment to an understanding of holiness that currently holds sway in the Netanyahu government. In this extremist form, holiness means absolute “separation” from all that is not pure. There is firm ground for this understanding of holiness in the Hebrew Scriptures. The priests of Israel constantly called Israel to “come out” from the heathen and “separate yourselves unto Yahweh.” Throughout Torah there is legislation concerning what keeps one clean and what makes one unclean. One could say, then, that holiness means the “walling off” and eventual eradication of everything unclean from the land of God’s people. Even the very memory of unclean persons or communities and their claims of ownership of the land was to be washed away, purged. We find this priestly understanding of holiness solidly in Scripture, seemingly even advocating the justification of the genocide of pagan peoples! (Read Joshua!).
Today, the “conquest” of the land takes place as a relentless and strategic purification process called “the Judaification of Palestine.” This policy is not hidden from view but is extolled in public. As we strolled through the airport at Tel Aviv we passed an enormous World Zionist Organization display entitled “120 Years of Zionism.” It contained these words:
The Zionist revolution is a remarkable phenomenon in the history of humankind … the people’s return to the land … the renewal of ancient Hebrew and its transformation into a modern spoken language … [the] settlement of the land … advanced agricultural development … All these demonstrate the great miracle of Zionism. The World Zionist Organization continues to act in keeping with the vision of [Theodore] Herzl … “Zionism is an infinite ideal.” In today’s words, we call it, “Nonstop Zionism.”
As I read this statement, I heard Zionism’s divine affirmation of what makes the Holy Land holy: a purified Jewish state. Zionists believe this state came into existence on May 14, 1948 and that its existence and perfection continue today wherever “nonstop Zionism” stakes its absolute claim to the land. When the “infinite ideal” of Zionism takes hold, “it will not cease to be an ideal even after we attain our land, the Land of Israel. For Zionism … encompasses not only the hope of a legally secured homeland for our people … but also the aspiration to reach moral and spiritual perfection” (Herzl, 1904). In other words, “nonstop Zionism” is the perfection of holiness taking root and evolving in a specific time and place in modern history! It is blessed and sanctioned by God and by many nations of the world (to be continued).