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Letters from Jerusalem

In January 2002 I was staying in Jerusalem. The Palestinian Intifada was raging, and Israeli troops were fighting their way into cities on the West Bank and in Gaza. In the midst of this warfare, I wrote letters to friends reflecting on the history of the land, its peoples, and its religious traditions. 

1 January 2002     City of Peace 

4 January 2002       Conquest and Ethnic Cleansing

7 January 2002       Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

9 January 2002       Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock

12 January 2002     Galileans

15 January 2002     Samaritans

18 January 2002     Essenes, Sadducees, Herodians, and Pharisees

20 January 2002     Islamic Rule in Jerusalem

22 January 2002     Lessons of Yad Vashem

24 January 2002     Christian Responsibility Now

1 January 2002

The "city of peace" is at peace this morning, if only for a few hours. This has nothing to do with celebrating the New Year, for in the Jewish and Muslim calendars January 1st is without that meaning. In this old city in this old part of the world, time is marked by enduring conflicts rather than by a superficial celebration of an annual new beginning.

The earliest remnants of occupation in this city without peace date to about 3500 BCE, but the city of "Shalem" or "Salem" first entered history in Egyptian records in the 19th century BCE. In the middle of the 14th century the ruler of the then Canaanite city-state corresponded with the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton, and sometime later a tribe known as the Jebusites took control of the city. About 1000 BCE David ousted the Jebusites and moved the capital of the united Israelite tribes from Hebron, which is south of Bethlehem, to the city on Mount Zion known then and now as Jerusalem.

King David moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, but his son, Solomon, built the first temple on what the Jews today call Temple Mount. After the death of Solomon, when the kingdom of Israel was divided into Israel in the North and Judah in the South, Jerusalem was the capital of Judah. The end of the first temple period came when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE, sacked the temple, and exiled most of the inhabitants of the city.

In 538 BCE Persian armies defeated the Babylonian forces, and the descendants of the exiles were allowed to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Thus began what is known as the Second Temple period, which lasted until the Romans destroyed the city and its temple in 70 CE after the Jews in the Roman province of Palestine revolted in 66 CE. During this period of almost 600 years, control over the city passed from the Persians to the Greeks, with the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Under the Ptolemies of Egypt Jerusalem was generally left on its own. However, under the Seleucids of Syria attempts to introduce Hellenistic worship in Jerusalem led to the Hasmonean revolt of 165 BCE and the restoration of Jewish worship in the temple in 164 under the reign of Judah Maccabee.

Independence under Hasmonean rule lasted about a century before Roman armies took control over the Greek-speaking world circling the Mediterranean. Under the Romans King Herod reigned over all of Israel from 37-4 BCE, and he redesigned the Temple Mount and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. After his death, Roman officials ruled Jerusalem until the revolt in 66 CE in Galilee and then Judah led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman legions four years later. Jews following Simon bar Kochba interrupted Roman rule briefly from 132-135 CE, but after their defeat Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city of Jerusalem as a Roman colony. Hadrian constructed pagan temples over the Jewish and Christian holy sites and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina.

The conversion of Emperor Constantine led to the establishment of Christianity as the state religion in 322 CE throughout the Roman Empire. Constantine's mother, Helena, came to Jerusalem and oversaw the building of three imperial basilicas — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Mount Zion, and Eleona Church on the Mount of Olives. However, Jerusalem's first Christian period ended in 614 CE, when the Persians invaded and destroyed most of the city's churches.

In 638 CE Muslims conquered Palestine. They constructed the Dome of the Rock and El Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and ruled until 1099, when Crusaders conquered Jerusalem. The Christians rebuilt most of the churches of the city, but in 1187 they were defeated in the battle of the Horns of Hittin. The Muslim ruler, Saladin, renewed Islamic rule in Jerusalem, and under Ayyubid, Mameluke and Ottoman Turkish rulers Muslims controlled Jerusalem for almost 750 years.

In the second half of the 19th century, imperial European powers took an interest in Jerusalem, and in 1917 British forces led by General Allenby captured the city. The end of World War II saw the establishment of the present state of Israel, and the war between Israelis and Arabs in 1948 left Jerusalem divided. The city was reunited after the war in 1967, and today the Israeli government administers Jerusalem.

The history of Jerusalem is marked by warfare and religious fervor, yet there have times of peace in the "city of peace." It is important today for Christians to realize that during the centuries of Islamic rule, Jews and Christians were generally allowed to care for and worship in their synagogues and churches, as "people of the Book." The time of Crusader rule, however, was less tolerant. Let us pray that Jews, Christians, and Muslims will soon achieve a just peace in Palestine and Israel, so that all people of faith may enjoy Jerusalem as their city of peace.

Robert Traer

4 January 2002

Archeological and historical exhibits at the Israel museum in Jerusalem tell the story of Israel and its land. Led by Joshua the tribes of Israel fought their way into Canaan, where pagan peoples had settled before them. The Israelites conquered the cities of the Canaanites and the Philistines, and King David captured Jerusalem and made it the new nation's capital. After Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, Israel declined for four centuries and then was subjected to foreign rule for two and a half millennia. In 1948 the people of Israel again conquered the land that God had long ago given them.

This a powerful and compelling story, which many Christians accept. Yet, the tale has a dark side that is generally not acknowledged. Listen to the teaching attributed to Moses in Deuteronomy 20:16-18. "But as for the towns of these peoples that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them — the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites — just as Yahweh your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against Yahweh your God."

The God of the Israelites, the God of their descendants, the Jews, and the God of the Christians, who read Deuteronomy as scripture — this God, our God, the God of the Bible, here demands "ethnic cleansing" in what we today often call "the holy land."

This passage, and other texts in the books of Deuteronomy (2:33-34; 7:1-11; 9:1-5; 11:8-9, 23, 31-32), Exodus (23:23-24), Joshua (chapters 2-12), and the Psalms (78:54-55; 80:8; 105:44), ought to shock us. By modern standards of international law, these biblical passages call for "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity."

Many Christians dismiss these passages as legends that obviously do not represent the will or commandments of God. And archeological evidence, suggesting that the Israelites tribes settled the land without exterminating the indigenous population, gives credence to the interpretation that the conquest story is just that — a story told to show that God is on the side of his chosen people. But few Christians question the right of the Israelites to the land, which the Bible says they took from the indigenous population some three millennia ago. Moreover, most Christians accept the claim of contemporary Jews that this same land now rightfully belongs to the nation of Israel.

Whether Jews read these passages from their scripture literally, or as story, they see here a divine right to the land that Israel now occupies. Only the extent of this claim is at issue among Israelis, not the right to the land — which was decided by God long ago.

For the Jews, the Palestinians are the Canaanites and the Jebusites of the past. The Palestinians are the people, who have resisted displacement and the creation of a new nation on the land they have occupied for centuries. For the Jewish Israelis, the Muslim and Christian Palestinians "do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods," such as promoting a jihad and proselytizing. Therefore, when the Palestinians resist the occupation of their land, the state of Israel uses whatever means are deemed necessary to ensure the security of the chosen people on their land.

By saying this I am not engaging in anti-Semitism. I am challenging our understanding of a story that is central to the scripture shared by Jews and Christians. The terrible and tragic truth is that our Bible sanctions ethnic cleansing for God's purposes. Jews are not the only people to have used this argument to justify displacing peoples in order to fulfill God's will through conquest. This is also the American story, for early settlers in the "New World" referred to these same biblical texts to justify killing native Americans, who resisted the occupation of their land.

It is not surprising that the government of the United States supports Israeli land claims. This is not because the Jewish lobby is so strong, but because the (his)stories of Israel and America are based on the same biblical texts. Christians in America share responsibility with Jews for failing to resist the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from land now claimed by Israelis. We are all captives of a self-serving but horrific Bible story that justifies the slaughter and displacement of peoples living on land we believe God has destined for us and for our descendants.

Only a new chapter in this story will end the present tragedy, and Americans as well as Israelis and Palestinians must write this story. The conquerors and their descendants, who have reaped the greatest benefits, must take the initiative. Christian Americans and Jewish Israelis have to dispossess themselves of the divine justification given for the injustice committed in their names. Obviously, neither in America nor in Israel can the land simply be given back to those who once occupied it, but in both countries much more can be done to address the just grievances of the dispossessed. This is especially true in the land the Israelis call Israel and the Palestinians call Palestine.

Now, religious humility is needed even more than political courage. American Christians and Jews must reject the reading of our scriptures that justifies conquest and the denial of human rights to those who threaten our security. Palestinian Christians and Muslims must repudiate atrocities committed in the name of God, which cannot be justified by the injustice they have suffered. Jews, Christians, and Muslims — all children of Abraham — must now put their trust in the God of justice and mercy, the God of all the nations, the God who condemns rather than commands ethnic cleansing, the God who calls us to be reconciled, the God who inspires us all to be peacemakers.

Robert Traer

7 January 2002

Yesterday we celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem. January 6th may be Epiphany in Western churches, but the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on that day. We walked out the back gate of Tantur Ecumenical Institute where we are staying, past the checkpoint where Israeli soldiers are stationed, past Rachel's tomb (Jacob's second and favorite wife, and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin), past the Israeli machine gun nests on the fourth floor of an abandoned building overlooking Rachel's tomb, and finally along Star Street in Bethlehem to Manger Square.

We had arrived too late to watch the Coptic and Syrian Orthodox processions to the Church of the Nativity, but in time to enjoy processions of Greek Orthodox Palestinian Scout troops, playing bagpipes and drums, as well as the arrival of "Santa Claus" in full dress. Inside the Church of the Nativity preparations were being made for the arrival of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. Later in the afternoon a procession of Ethiopian Christians would also make its way to the place where Christian tradition remembers the birth of Jesus.

The Church of the Nativity is entered through a low door, which has since around 1500 CE prevented the riding of horses into the sanctuary. You have to stoop to enter, so the entrance is known as the Door of Humility. The main sanctuary is empty except for stone columns on either side bearing the faint remains of paintings. In the middle of the floor is an excavated area revealing a Byzantine mosaic at a lower level, which was the floor of the church when it was built in 326 CE under the rule of Emperor Constantine.

Beyond the open sanctuary is the main altar, which is maintained by the Greek Orthodox Church. To the left is a side altar where Armenian Christians worship (they celebrate Christmas on January 19th!) and an exit to the Franciscan Church of St. Catherine, which was built in 1882 over the remains of a 12th century Crusader Church. It is said that in a cave below St. Catherine's Jerome translated the Greek Bible into the Latin Vulgate at the end of the fourth century. Other caves under St. Catherine's recall the dream of Joseph that enabled him to avoid Herod's slaughter of the innocents.

This first church on this site was destroyed during the Samaritan revolt against the Romans in 529, but Emperor Justinian soon had it rebuilt (with a higher floor). The present church survived the Persian conquest in 614 because, as the story goes, the Persians saw a mosaic on the wall with Magi wearing Persian clothes. Feeling recognized and respected, the Persians let the church stand. The Muslim invaders in 637 also left the church unscathed, for they recognized the importance of Jesus as a prophet. Their leader, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, prayed in the church facing toward Mecca and ensured that both Christians and Muslims were able to worship in the church.

Here in 1100 on Christmas day (December 25th, presumably) the conquering Crusaders crowned a Norman noble, Tancred, the first king of the Latin Kingdom. The Crusaders restored and embellished the Church of the Nativity, but under Mamluke and Ottoman rule the Church suffered from neglect. In 1852 Napoleon declared that the entire complex belonged to France. The Russians and the Turks disputed this claim, and the argument was settled by the Crimean War against the French and British. Throughout these centuries pilgrims made their way to the Church of the Nativity, which was maintained by the Franciscans and Greek Orthodox priests living in Bethlehem.

Beneath the Greek Orthodox altar is a cave containing on one side the manger, where it is said that Mary laid Jesus, and on the other an altar dedicated to the Wise Men from the East. A fourteen-pointed star marks the spot where church tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus. The simplicity of the manager scene in the cave is much in contrast to the golden icons and floral decorations that cover the Greek Orthodox "iconostatis" built over it, which separates the altar (where only the priest goes) from the main sanctuary (where people stand during worship).

Other Christian churches not represented in Bethlehem may be found in Jerusalem. There are Russian and Romanian Orthodox Churches that, like the Greek Orthodox Church, accept the decision of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, which ascribed both divine and human natures to Jesus. Churches that reject the Council of Chalcedon and hold that Jesus has one (divine) nature include the Armenian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox, and the Syrian Orthodox Churches. These are often called the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Roman Catholic sites in the Holy Land include many maintained by the religious orders familiar to Protestants, but also by the Latin Church of Jerusalem, the Maronite Church, the Greek Melkite Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Are there Protestants here? Not before the 19th century. Scottish Presbyterians arrived in the Holy Land in 1840, Anglicans in 1841, Lutherans in 1886, Baptists in 1911, and more recently a few others. Protestant churches dating from the mid 19th and early 20th centuries are now primarily Palestinian in membership. Walking into Bethlehem, one is reminded everywhere of the Intifada. Posters of martyrs are pasted on the walls, and graffiti in Arabic convey the anger and protest of Muslim and Christian Palestinians.

The Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Churches in the Holy Land may be united only by their support for an end to Israeli occupation, a Palestinian state with viable borders, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, Palestinian control over Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, and recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

Robert Traer

9 January 2002

In the New Testament gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the temple after he arrives in Jerusalem at the end of his ministry. This attack on the religious and political status of the temple leads to his arrest, trial and crucifixion. In the gospel of John, Jesus throws the moneychangers out of the temple at the beginning of his ministry, but not at the end. In the gospel of John the whole ministry of Jesus, which involves several trips to Jerusalem rather than only one as in the other three New Testament gospels, is an attack on the religious and political authorities, because they are using the temple for their own gain.

The temple where Jesus challenged the ruling elite was built by King Herod (37-4 BCE). It was destroyed in 70 CE when the Roman armies entered Jerusalem to put down the Jewish revolt begun four years earlier. Herod had rebuilt and greatly expanded the Temple Mount and the temple that was constructed at the beginning of the fifth century BCE, after the Persians defeated the Babylonians and allowed Ezra and Nehemiah to lead exiled Judeans in Babylon back to Jerusalem. This fifth century temple was the second temple; the first temple, built by Solomon in the middle of the tenth century BCE, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE.

The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament reports that Christians in Jerusalem were worshipping in the second temple until its destruction in 70 CE, which reminds us that Christianity and Judaism as we know these religious traditions evolved over several generations. When Paul visits Jerusalem in the late 50s, he also goes to the temple to demonstrate that, as a follower of Christ, he is nonetheless a devout Jew.

After destroying the Jewish temple in 70, the Romans put statutes of pagan idols on the Temple Mount. These were removed during the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in 132-135. Emperor Hadrian put down the revolt, banished Jews from Jerusalem, rebuilt it as a Roman city with the name Aelia Capitolina, and filled the city with statutes of Roman gods. Over the place that Jewish Christians remembered the death of Jesus, which is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Hadrian built a temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

In the fourth century, newly converted Emperor Constantine rebuilt Jerusalem as a Christian city by removing the pagan statutes and temples and replacing them with churches. Temple Mount was used for the city's garbage as a reminder, Constantine's church historian wrote, that "by the murder of the Lord, Jerusalem experienced the last extremity of desolation, and paid the penalty for the crime of its impious inhabitants."

In 361 Julian, as the new Emperor, set out to return the Roman Empire to paganism, and so he invited Jewish leaders to raise funds to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Two years later, however, Julian was killed in a battle with the Persians and Jovian, a devout Christian, took control of the Empire. In 614 Persians captured Jerusalem and destroyed most of its churches, but in 629 the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius drove out the Persians. Then in 638 the Umayyad Muslim ruler, Caliph Omar, took control of Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount in 691 on the place that Muslims believe Adam is buried, and early in the eighth century the Al-Aqsa mosque was constructed on the southern side of the Temple Mount. The rock in the center of the Dome of the Rock bears a mark that Muslims say was left by Muhammad's horse on the night the prophet rode to Jerusalem from Mecca and ascended into heaven. This same place, Jews believe, is where the high priest of Israel entered the inner sanctum of the temple, a place where no other Jew was permitted to go. This same spot in Jewish legend is where God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son. Muslims say the boy was not Isaac, Abraham's son by Sarah, who Jews recognize as their ancestor, but was Ishmael, Abraham's son by Hagar, who Muslims recognize as the ancestor of the Arab peoples.

Jews and Christians were permitted to live and worship in Jerusalem under the Umayyads and their Islamic successors, the Abbasids, until 1009 when Caliph Hakim persecuted Christians and destroyed many of the city's churches. Disruption of the pilgrimages to the Jerusalem prompted a call by Pope Urban II in 1095 for a Crusade to liberate the Holy Land. Muslim Fatamids took control of Jerusalem in 1099 and restored access to the city for Jews and Christians, but the return to a tolerant Muslim policy came too late to stop the Crusade. Later that year the Crusaders fought their way into Jerusalem and massacred all the Jews and Muslims they could find.

The Crusaders put a cross on top of the Dome of the Rock, used the Al-Aqsa mosque for their quarters, prohibited Jews and Muslims from entering Jerusalem, and rebuilt churches throughout the city. In 1187 Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, defeated Crusader forces and took control of Jerusalem. Once again, Jews as well as Muslims and Christians were able to live and worship in Jerusalem.

The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount are holy for Muslims. All that remains of the second Jewish temple is a portion of the western wall that holds up the Temple Mount. This wall (sometimes called "the wailing wall") is where Jews now come to pray. Christians continue to think of the Temple Mount as a place for Jews and Muslims, not for Christians. In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the central Christian site, and the city is full of churches commemorating the Christian story.

If there is to be peace in Jerusalem, Jews and Christians and Muslims must have free access to their holy sites. At present, Muslims are frequently prevented by the Israeli Defense Forces from worshipping at the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. These same IDF restrictions often prevent Christian Palestinians from going to churches in Jerusalem. Generally, Christian tourists from America or Europe are not affected, unless they are of Arabic descent.

Israelis argue that these restrictions are required to ensure the safety of Christians and Muslims, as well as Jews. This justification is defensible only as an interim measure. If there is to be peace in Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims must soon all have free access to their religious sites.

Robert Traer

12 January 2002

In the New Testament gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus grows up in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. In these gospels and in the gospel of Mark the entire ministry of Jesus, before his journey to Jerusalem and crucifixion, is in Galilee. Today, Galilee has the largest concentration of Christians in Israel and the occupied territories. All of Galilee is in Israel, so these Christians are Arab Israeli citizens. Nazareth is now largely an Arab Israeli city of Christians and Muslims, who trace their history back to the ancient Galileans.

When the twelve tribes of Israel settled the land known then as Canaan, the tribes of Asher, Dan, Zebulon, Issachar, and Naphtali moved into the area that later would be called Galilee. Saul united the Israelite tribes just before 1000 BCE to fight the Philistines, but after the reign of David and Solomon the kingdom of Israel was divided. In the biblical story ten tribes in the northern part of the country are known as Israel, and two tribes in the south are identified as Judah.

From the middle of the tenth century to the latter part of the eighth century the northern tribes fought with Judah, their neighbors, and each other. In 733 BCE troops from the Assyrian Empire fought their way through Galilee and imposed a tax on the people. The Assyrians continued south and in 722 conquered Samaria, the capital of Israel.

In 586 Babylonian armies overran the Assyrian Empire and conquered all the tribes of Israel, but in 538 Persian armies defeated the Babylonians. The Persians maintained control over Galilee, Samaria and Judah until the armies of Alexander the Great swept through the region in 322. Under Hellenistic Greek rule, the Egyptian Ptolemies administered the area until the Persian Seleucids took control in 201.

When the Seulicids built a pagan shrine to Zeus in Jerusalem, the Jewish Hasmonean family led the Judeans in a long struggle for independence. By 141 Jerusalem was free of Seulicid control, and around 100 Galilee was incorporated into the Hasmonian kingdom. Quarrels among the Hasmonians and resistance by the people against the harsh regime made it easy for the Roman general Pompey to take control in 63. By 37 Herod had persuaded the Romans to make him king of Israel, and Herod ruled over a kingdom including Judah (now called Judea), Samaria and Galilee until his death in 4 BCE.

From the eighth to the first century BCE the people of Galilee were under foreign control, whether by conquering empires or by Jewish regimes headquartered in the south. At the time of the birth of Jesus Herod was governing on behalf of the Romans, and he, too, ruled Galilee from Jerusalem in the south.

All these rulers taxed their people to support their ambitions. King Herod's lavish building program in Jerusalem and elsewhere was a terrible burden on the peasants and artisans of the kingdom of Israel. There was a popular uprising in Galilee and elsewhere after Herod's death and another protest in 6 CE, when the Persian governor Quirinius, imposed a new Roman tax on Judea, Samaria and Galilee (Luke 2:2).

In the middle of the first century BCE the Romans made Sepphoris the capital city of Galilee. Sepphoris resisted Herod's authority, but the King captured the city in 38. After Herod's death Sepphoris revolted against Roman rule and was destroyed by Roman legions. When Herod Antipas, the son of Herod, took control of Galilee he quickly rebuilt Sepphoris as his capital. But within twenty years he had constructed a new city, named Tiberias after the Roman Emperor, and had moved the capital of Galilee there.

Sepphoris and Tiberias were Greek-speaking, Roman cities with both Jewish and Gentile populations. Sepphoris was less than 4 miles from Nazareth and Tiberias not much further. So, the people of Nazareth shared the burden of taxation to support the culture and luxuries enjoyed in these two imperial cities. The New Testament gospels do not mention these Roman cities in Galilee, and surely that omission is intentional. The gospel of Matthew says that Jesus came to proclaim God's salvation for Jews, and the gospel of Luke teaches that Jesus brought good news for the poor.

The language of the villages of Galilee, including Nazareth, was Aramaic, which was introduced into the region by the Assyrian conquerors in the eighth century. Although the New Testament gospels are written in Greek, they say nothing about Jesus teaching in Greek-speaking cities. Jesus may have been able to read the Hebrew scriptures, and he might have known some Greek. But certainly he spoke Aramaic.

Today, in Nazareth and throughout Galilee, Christians speak Arabic and Hebrew. Arab Israelis, whether Christian or Muslim, learn Hebrew, because this is the language of the state of Israel, which has ruled Galilee since 1948. Arab Israelis also learn Arabic, because this is the language the people of Palestine have spoken since Muslims took control in the twelfth century.

During the centuries of Muslim control in Galilee there were times when Christian worship was restricted, but throughout most of the twentieth century Christian and Muslim Arabs have lived peacefully together in Galilee. In 1999, however, Christians opposed the building of a mosque next to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where Christians believe the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). The Israeli government has halted construction, and the dispute is presently under review. Christians, who are now a minority in Nazareth, do not oppose the building of more mosques in Nazareth, but only the location of this particular mosque.

At the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, several Arab Israelis demonstrating in Nazareth against the Israeli occupation were killed by Israeli forces. These mostly young people were Christians as well as Muslims, and their death was a shock to Jewish as well as Arab Israelis. The Jewish Israelis were dismayed by the anger of the Arab Israelis and by their sympathy for the Palestinian uprising. The Arab Israelis were outraged by the lethal violence directed against them for expressing strong opposition to the shooting of Palestinian protesters.

Two millennia ago a Galilean Jew journeyed to Jerusalem to protest the unjust rule of King Herod and the temple priests. Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and proclaimed God's reign of justice and peace. Obviously, that day has yet to come.

Robert Traer

15 January 2002

The gospel of Luke tells the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan, who helps an injured Jew (Lk. 10:25-37). The gospel of John relates the story of Jesus teaching a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well near the town of Sychar in Samaria (Jn. 4:1-42). The area known as Samaria is south of Galilee and north of Judah. This region was part of the northern kingdom of Israel after the division of the united kingdom in the mid tenth century BCE into Israel and Judah.

The original capital of the northern tribes of Israel was Shechem. In 876 King Omri built the city of Samaria about 7 miles west of Shechem as a new capital for Israel. Omri's son Ahab married a princess of Tyre named Jezebel, and Israel's trade with the nearby Phoenician city led to a mingling of religious traditions. This syncretism was denounced by the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 16:29-34), and the reign of Jeroboam II in Samaria (784-748) was condemned for its moral and spiritual decadence by the prophets Hosea and Amos.

When the Assyrians conquered all the northern tribes in 722, the leaders of Samaria were deported and other Assyrian captives from elsewhere were resettled in the city. The mixing of peoples in Samaria led to a further mingling of religious traditions. In 538 the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed Jews, who had been taken into exile by the Babylonian Empire in 587, to return to Jerusalem. Samaritans offered to help in rebuilding the temple destroyed by the Babylonians. When the Jews refused their help, the Samaritans tried to prevent the construction of the temple. After the Jews fought them off, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim.

Under Persian rule Samaria was the capital of a province. When Alexander the Great conquered the area in 322, he stationed some of his Macedonian soldiers in Samaria. During the second century BCE Jewish Hasmonean rulers destroyed the Samaritan temple and the city of Shechem, which was never rebuilt. But when Pompey imposed Roman rule on the region in 64 BCE, the Samaritans were freed from the oppressive rule of the Judeans. In 30 BCE Caesar Augustus granted Samaria to Herod, who built up the city and renamed it Sebaste (Greek for Augustus). Herod sponsored Greek cultural activities in Sebaste and stationed some of his foreign mercenaries there.

The gospel of Matthew reports that Jesus instructed his disciples not to enter any Samaritan town (Mt. 10:5), but to minister only among Jews. In the gospel of John, however, Jesus accepts water at Jacob's well from a Samaritan woman, and he and his disciples stay with the Samaritan residents of Sychar (near the ruins of Shechem) for two days (Jn. 4:40). In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Acts of the Apostles reports that Philip's mission to Samaria is successful, and that the apostles Peter and John also make converts among the Samaritans.

In 36 CE the Samaritans succeeded in having Pontius Pilate removed as Prefect of Judea, after Roman soldiers massacred a gathering of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim. In 72 the Romans built a colony called Flavia Neapolis (not far from the ruins of Shechem) to house veterans of the campaign that crushed the Jewish revolt (66-70), and the present city of Nablus takes its name from this colony. Early in the second century a temple to Jupiter (Zeus) was erected in the city as well as a Roman theater seating 6,000. In 200 the nearby Samaritan city of Sebaste was made a Roman colony with full privileges.

Good relations with the Romans enabled the Samaritans to build synagogues in many of the major cities of the Roman Empire, but the conversion of Constantine and the growing power of the church had dire consequences for Samaritans as well as for Jews. Imperial laws in 426 prevented Jews and Samaritans, who became Christians, from being disinherited by their families. In 436 laws were promulgated that prohibited the construction of Jewish or Samaritan synagogues. Samaritans in Nablus revolted in 484, but the Byzantine Emperor Zeno quickly put down the uprising, removed Mount Gerizim from Samaritan control, and built a church on it. An imperial law in 527 ordering the destruction of all Samaritan synagogues led to another Samaritan revolt in 529, which destroyed a number of churches and monasteries before it was crushed.

Under Muslim rule from 638 to 1099 most of the people of Samaria were forcibly converted to Islam. Thus, they suffered once more when the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land and killed as many Jews and Muslims as they could. Under Muslim rule again from 1517 to 1917 the surviving people of Samaria enjoyed a time of relative peace. The British ruled Palestine after 1917 until the war of 1947-49 left the area of Samaria under Jordanian control.

In the Six Day War of 1967 the Israelis seized Samaria and much of Judea that had been controlled by Jordan. These areas and Gaza are today as "the Occupied Territories." Samaria and the occupied portion of Judea comprise what is often called the "West Bank" to distinguish it from the East Bank of the Jordan River, which continues to be part of Jordan.

Today, the descendants of those who endured centuries of foreign rule over Samaria are Palestinians. Nablus (beneath Mount Gerizim at what was Shechem) and Sebastiya (Arabic for Sebaste, the Greek name given the city of Samaria by King Herod) are largely Muslim cities. Where Samaritans and their descendants have resisted foreign rule by Persians, Greeks, Judeans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Islamic Caliphs and Sultans, now Palestinians resist Israeli occupation.

Robert Traer

18 January 2002

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found at Qumran in 1947. A complete copy of the scroll of Isaiah dating to the first century CE is prominently displayed, and a visitor to the museum learns that portions of numerous other scrolls in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were also discovered in caves nearby. In 68 CE Qumran was destroyed by Romans legions, as they put down the Jewish revolt begun two years earlier.

The New Testament does not mention this community by the Dead Sea, but Jewish historians in the first century CE referred to those living at Qumran as Essenes. This community of Jews differed from Sadducees and Pharisees, who are mentioned in the New Testament. Essenes believed Hasmonean leaders of Israel (led by the Maccabee family) had corrupted temple worship during their reign (about 160-40 BCE) by appointing high priests who were not from families that had traditionally held office. Essenes also blamed these Judean rulers and high priests in Jerusalem for mingling Greek traditions with Jewish practices commanded by Jewish scripture.

The reign of members of the Herodian family over Jerusalem, Samaria and Galilee from 37-4 BCE did not address the concerns of these Essenes, who continued to live apart from Jerusalem. Sadducees were Jewish families, who supported the Hasmonean and Herodian rulers and held most of the seats on the Jewish council in Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin).

Pharisees were reformers who used Jewish oral tradition to demand a more strict interpretation of the Torah. Like Essenes, Pharisees were critical of Sadducees and Herodians. But Pharisees chose not to live in the wilderness. They separated themselves ("pharisee" means "separate") to purify their lives by observing strict dietary and cleansing rituals. The New Testament gospels suggest that Pharisees were sufficiently numerous among the people of Jerusalem in the first century to be included in the Council of Jewish leaders that condemned Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles relates that Gamaliel, an influential Pharisee, was a member of the Sanhedrin that judged the apostles when they were arrested by the high priest (Acts 5:34-39), and also that Paul, who claimed to be a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), was a student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

When Roman legions crushed the Jewish revolt in 70 CE, the Sadducees, Herodians, priestly families, and Essenes at Qumran were all devastated, and none of these Jewish factions or sects played any further role in the history of Israel. However, the Pharisees survived, as did the Samaritans, and also Christians in Samaria, Galilee and elsewhere in the Roman Empire. The Pharisees relocated their schools to Galilee, and in the next few centuries became the leaders of Jewish thought and practice in the Roman Empire.

There is no archeological evidence for synagogue buildings earlier than the second century. The "synagogues" that Jesus, Paul and Pharisees taught in were "assemblies" of Jewish communities that probably met in homes or outside. So, the church begins in assemblies of Jews in Galilee and assemblies of Samaritans in Samaria, and then in Jewish assemblies in Roman cities. By the fourth century, however, Jews and Samaritans had built synagogues in major Roman cities, and after the conversion of Emperor Constantine church buildings were also constructed.

In the first through the fourth centuries CE Samaritans read their version of the Torah as scripture. In the same period Jews read as scripture the Prophets and the Writings, in addition to the Torah. These Jewish scriptures were available on scrolls in three languages — Hebrew, Aramaic (the Targums, which include commentary) and Greek (the Septuagint).

Christians in the first century CE read as scripture the same writings as Jews. As the church grew among Jews and Gentiles in Roman cities, Greek became the dominant Christian language and the language of choice for the New Testament gospels, which were probably written between 70 and 110 CE. At first Christians worshipped using one or more of the gospels along with the Jewish scriptures. The Christian Bible (in Greek) with its Old and New Testaments was not authorized by the church until after Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the fourth century.

New Testament gospels identify Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee as a center for the ministry of Jesus in Galilee (Mt. 9:1 and Mk. 2:1). Recent archeological evidence at Capernaum suggests that Jews and (Jewish) Christians lived peacefully together in Galilee through the fourth century. Pottery fragments found in the ruins of a first century house reveal a shift in use from normal family life to activities involving only lamps and storage jars. Christian graffiti on the walls also imply that the house began to be used as a church in the middle of the first century. Today the site is thought to have been the house of Peter, the Capernaum fisherman who became a disciple of Jesus.

In the fourth century this "house church" in Capernaum was rebuilt as a church, and about the same time a synagogue was constructed nearby. Both of these buildings were destroyed in the seventh century. When the Persians conquered the area in 614 they destroyed most churches, and when Byzantine troops liberated Palestine in 629 Jewish synagogues were targeted for destruction. By the time Muslims moved into the area in 638, Capernaum had neither a church nor a synagogue.

Archeological discoveries at Qumran and Capernaum reveal that at the time of Jesus Jews differed as to how Jewish law should be lived. The variety of scrolls unearthed at Qumran, including a long and short version of Jeremiah, verify that Jewish scripture had not yet been limited to the books the church would include in the Old Testament in the fourth century. Evidence from Capernaum also suggests that Jews and Christians lived peacefully together, at least in Galilee, until Constantine converted and the Byzantine Empire began to use its soldiers to enforce allegiance to both church and state.

Robert Traer

20 January 2002

The Tower of David Museum is located in the Citadel beside the Jaffe Gate that allows entry from the West into the old city of Jerusalem. The use of the Citadel dates back to the Hasmonean kings of the mid second century BCE, and this is where Pontius Pilate resided in Jerusalem when Jesus came to the city. After Titus put down the Jewish revolt in 66-70 CE, the Roman Tenth Legion was stationed in the Citadel for over two hundred years.

The Byzantines referred to the tower of the Citadel as David's Tower, and Muslims rebuilt the fortress before the Crusaders took it in 1099. After Saladin defeated the Crusaders in 1187 Islamic rulers resided in the Citadel, and by the 19th century the minaret in the southwest corner was known as the Tower of David. Archeological excavations in the Citadel have uncovered Jewish, Christian and Muslim artifacts.

In the Tower of David Museum I was surprised to learn that in the past 3000 years (from King David to the present) Muslims ruled Jerusalem for almost 1200 years. Christians ruled during the Byzantine Empire (324-638), the time of the Crusaders (1099-1187), and the British Mandate (1917-1948), but their rule accounts for only four and a third centuries. Roman pagan rule (63 BCE-324 CE, excluding seven years of Jewish rebellion) lasted less than four centuries. Persians and Greeks controlled Jerusalem for another three and three quarter centuries (538-167 BCE), and Babylonians destroyed the first temple but ruled the city for less than fifty years (586-538 BCE).

David and Solomon ruled a united Israel from 1004-928 BCE, then the tribe of Judah ruled Jerusalem from 928-586 BCE, and Hasmonean Judeans reigned from 167-63. Jews wrested control of Jerusalem from the Romans in 66-70 CE and again in 132-135 CE. If Israeli rule over all or part of Jerusalem to date (1948-2002) is included, Jews and their ancestors have controlled Jerusalem for almost six centuries. In addition, Hasmonean kings continued to govern Jerusalem under Roman rule between 63 and 37 BCE, and King Herod (an Idumean, who was half Jewish and half Edomite) ruled for the Romans from 37-4 BCE. Including these periods of subordinate control, Jews and their ancestors have ruled Jerusalem for about six and a half centuries in the past three millennia.

Christians know from reading the Bible that Israelites and Jews governed Jerusalem, but most of us know very little about the Muslims who controlled the city for twelve centuries. The first Muslims in Jerusalem were Arabs from the Quraysh tribe of Muhammad, the Prophet who founded Islam. These Umayyad caliphs ruled from Damascus for over a century (634-750). The Abbasid caliphs, who claimed descent from Muhammad's uncle, ousted the Umayyads with the help of Persian converts, and then ruled Jerusalem from Baghdad for two hundred years (750-968).

Shi'i Muslims, who believe that Muhammad's son-in-law Ali is the Prophet's rightful heir, took control of Jerusalem from the Abbasids in 968. These Fatimids were led by Turks, who had been trained as soldiers by the Abbasids. The Fatamids built Cairo as their capital and ruled Jerusalem from Egypt. Another Turkish Muslim dynasty, the Seljuks, invaded from the North and briefly took Jerusalem from the Fatamids in 1071. The Seljuk barring of Christians from Jerusalem prompted the first Crusade, and in 1099 Crusaders ended the first period of Muslim rule over Jerusalem.

When the Fatamid caliph died in 1171, he was succeeded by Salah al-Din (Saladin), a Turkish Kurd who led the Egyptians in rejecting Shi'i Islam. At the head of a united Sunni empire, Saladin drove the Crusaders out of Jerusalem in 1187. This Ayyubid Islamic dynasty used Turkic ex-slave soldiers to fight the Crusaders, and in 1250 these "Mamluks" (literally "owned men") took control of the Sunni Empire and Jerusalem. In 1517 Turks (from what is Turkey today) conquered the Mamluks, and the Ottoman Empire ruled Jerusalem from Constantinople (Istanbul) for 400 years (1517-1917).

From 691 until today the Dome of the Rock has towered over the city of Jerusalem, which Muslims call Al-Quds, and during these thirteen centuries Muslims have been praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount except for the 88 years of Crusader control (1099-1187). Knowing this history is crucial, if we are to understand and appreciate the feeling that Muslims have for the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and also the attachment of Palestinians to Al-Quds.

Who are the Palestinians? The word "Palestine" was used by Romans to refer to the area today known as Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Under the Ottoman Empire, Palestine was the southern third of the region called "Syria." Palestine only became a distinctive political term under the British Mandate (1917-1948) when, in 1922, the League of Nations adopted the "Mandate for Palestine" for roughly the area controlled by Israelis today.

In this sense there was no such thing as a "Palestinian" prior to the British Mandate. However, the people who found themselves after World War I living under British rule in a political jurisdiction called Palestine, have a long history in Jerusalem and claim ancestry on the land that dates back to the time of the Canaanites (2000-1000 BCE). Similarly, "Israelis" did not exist until the state of Israel was established in 1948. Jewish Israelis trace their descent to Israelites (who entered Canaan about 1250 BCE) and Jews (what Israelites are called after the leaders of Jerusalem are exiled to Babylon in 586 BCE), and some of these Jews and their ancestors have lived in or near Jerusalem since the time of King David. Arab Israelis, who presently are twenty percent of the Israeli population, have the same ancestry as Palestinians.

A British census of Palestine in 1922 found a total population of 757,182, which was 78% Muslim, 9.6% Christian, 11% Jewish and 1% other. Muslims were distributed in urban and rural areas throughout Palestine. Christians were largely in Galilee and in West Bank cities of Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the areas around these cities. In 1922 Jews were residing largely in urban areas, in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Jaffa, in the Jerusalem-Jaffa corridor, along the coast of the Mediterranean, and in the north. The West Bank was less than 1% Jewish and this did not change during the British Mandate, although during that thirty-year period the Jewish population in Palestine increased from about 10% to more than 30%.

The Tower of David Museum concludes its historical presentation with information about the founding of Israel, emigration into the new nation, the unification of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, and the renewal of a Jewish state where King David once ruled over the Israelites and Jewish rebels briefly ended Roman occupation in the first and second centuries CE. Although there is no recognition that Palestinians have any right to the land of their ancestors, the Tower of David Museum is to be commended for clearly presenting in its history of Jerusalem the twelve centuries of Islamic rule.

Robert Traer

22 January 2002

Yad Vashem defies words, yet Christians from the West must try to understand what this museum in Jerusalem means for Jews. The exhibits of Yad Vashem tell the story of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II that took the lives of six million Jews. Most of us know this to be a fact, yet we rarely appreciate how the Holocaust both shapes Jewish Israeli identity and also Jewish attitudes toward Western culture.

The exhibits of Yad Vashem reveal not merely the suffering and death of Jews, but also how their extermination was justified within the cradle of Western civilization. Jews in Germany had fought for their country and filled many important positions in government and professional fields. Nonetheless, Nazi propaganda depicting Jews as racially inferior and less than human was accepted by Christian lawyers, doctors and political leaders who supported Nazi policies.

Yad Vashem confronts us with the horrific story of the Holocaust, but also celebrates the "righteous Gentiles" who risked their lives to save the lives of Jews. A tree has been planted for each righteous Gentile with a plaque that gives the person's name, and there is a lovely garden with stone walls where all the names of the righteous Gentiles are listed by their countries.

More arresting, however, is the Valley of Communities, where we walked through canyons of cut stones stacked twenty feet high on which are chiseled the names of the communities in Europe where Jews were killed or deported. We were also deeply moved by the Children's Memorial, where the darkness is dispelled only by candlelight reflected in the mirrors on the walls. As you feel your way through the gloom, surrounded by seemingly endless points of light, a voice slowly reads out names of the one and a half million children killed during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem reminds us that Germans were not alone in killing six million Jews. As German troops entered other countries in Europe, they were assisted by those who quickly moved into what had been Jewish homes and took possession of what the Jews were forced to leave behind. Countries not occupied by German forces, such as Great Britain and the United States, also contributed to the Holocaust by refusing to accept more than a small number of the Jewish refugees who had a chance to escape before their countries were overrun by the German army.

In Germany, Jews were identified as a race, not as members of a religion. Therefore, Jews, who had converted to Christianity or who professed no religious convictions were nonetheless rounded up. In Europe as a whole, however, it is less clear that race rather than religion was the primary justification. Not all of the countries that persecuted Jews had established churches, yet the Holocaust was carried out within Western Christian culture. For many in the West, it seemed as if Jews were finally receiving God's judgment for the killing of Christ two millennia earlier.

For Jews the Holocaust explains why the state of Israel was created and must continue to exist. History has demonstrated to Jews that they cannot expect to live in safety in any Gentile nation. Today Israeli soldiers are brought to Yad Vashem to reinforce the understanding that Jews can only depend on Jews for their survival.

Therefore, visiting Yad Vashem is a sad experience not only because of what happened during World War II, but also because of what this history means today. Our twentieth century Christian and Jewish ancestors have left us a legacy of death and mistrust that was moved from Europe to the Middle East. Jews not killed in the largely Christian countries of Europe and not welcomed among the mostly Christian peoples of North and South America were relocated to "Palestine" — a Christian controlled land occupied largely by Arab Muslims.

Germany took the lead in exterminating Jews, but British and American governments took the lead in relocating Jews to the Middle East. British support between 1917 and 1947 for Zionist immigration from Europe to Palestine made it possible for the Jewish community to grow strong enough to win the first war against the Palestinians and the Arab countries supporting them. American lobbying in the United Nations secured international recognition of the state of Israel, and American funds over the past half century have enabled the nation of Israel to prevail in armed conflict with its enemies and to expand its control over the land that from 1922-1948 was called Palestine.

Yad Vashem tells the story of Jewish settlement in Palestine and the struggle to create a state. Jewish freedom fighters are recognized for clearing the land of those who resisted Jewish occupation and for putting pressure on the British government to support Zionist objectives. For instance, Yad Vashem tells of Menachem Begin, later elected Prime Minister of Israel, who led the Jewish terrorists that blew up the King David Hotel where the British government had its offices, killing more than ninety people. Yad Vashem also reports that the Mufti of Jerusalem, the Muslim Arab leader of the fight against creating the state of Israel in Palestine, called for killing or removing all Jews from the land of his people.

This last image in the Yad Vashem museum links the victimization of Jews in Europe during World War II with their victory over Arabs and the creation of the state of Israel in Palestine. After Britain and America sided with the Zionists, who were committed to a state of Israel in Palestine, the Mufti sought support from Germany. The suffering of the Palestinian people in no way justifies the Mufti's alliance with Nazi Germany, but the Mufti and the Arab peoples of the Middle East are not responsible for the Holocaust that took place in Europe. Moreover, the Holocaust inflicted on Jews in Europe by Christian countries does not justify the killing and displacement of Arabs in Palestine.

All of us need to learn the lessons of the history presented at Yad Vashem. Western Christians, who blame the Nazis or the Germans, must accept responsibility for the role of their countries and cultures in the Holocaust. Jewish Israelis must acknowledge that Arabs cannot be blamed for the Holocaust, nor should Jews expect Arabs in Palestine to abandon their land so Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe may have a Jewish state in Palestine. Arabs must understand that although they bear no responsibility for the Holocaust, they are responsible for Arab violence against Jews who settled in Palestine and now live in Israel.

In remembering the Holocaust, Yad Vashem celebrates the righteous Gentiles who risked their lives for Jews. Let us hope that soon we all will celebrate the righteous Arabs and the righteous Jews, who have risked their lives for a just peace in Israel and in Palestine.

Robert Traer

24 January 2002

As we traveled to an ecumenical prayer service in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon, not far away a Palestinian terrorist shot forty people before he was killed. To the wail of sirens, we prayed in Arabic, English, and other languages of the churches in Jerusalem for justice and peace in this land.

As well as praying for justice and peace among Israelis and Palestinians, we need to understand how our Christian faith is part of the problem here. First, guilt among Western Christians for the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust has blinded us to the unjust occupation of Arab Palestine by European Jews. Christians in the West, who restricted Jewish immigration to their countries during World War II, supported a Jewish state in Palestine, so the survivors of the Holocaust would have some place to go (other than the West!). Christian citizens of countries that supported Israel's war in 1948 against the Palestinians bear some responsibility for the slaughter and forced removal from their homes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Also Christians in the West must repent for not speaking out, once these atrocities were known, for fear of being accused of anti-Semitism. We must reject the self-serving rationalization that because Arabs have killed innocent Jews and continue to engage in terrorism, the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians from their land is justifiable.

Second, Christians also must bear responsibility for an interpretation of the Bible that sees the renewal of Israel as preparing the way for the Messiah's return. Protestants in England in the middle of the nineteenth century exported this belief to the United States, and American Protestant evangelicals now promote this "Christian Zionist" teaching.

It is ironic that the Zionist movement from 1887 to the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 was led by non-observant Jews and was opposed by religious Jews, who believed that only God could decide when to return Jews to Israel and send the Messiah. After the 1967 war, however, religious Jews joined Protestant evangelicals in proclaiming that Israeli rule over ancient Galilee, Samaria and Judea is God's will, regardless of what this means for the Palestinian people. Thus, we must now counter arguments voiced by "fundamentalist" Jews and Christians, who are united in their support of Israeli actions denying Palestinians their fundamental human rights.

Third, American Christians must accept some responsibility for the political, economic and military support that the United States has provided the state of Israel for over fifty years. When the British government promised the Jews a land in Palestine in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, President Wilson gave his consent. When there was insufficient support in the United Nations to approve the state of Israel in Palestine, President Truman led the intense lobbying effort that changed the outcome of the vote. Without American financial and military support Israel would not have defeated the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies in 1967 in a Six Day War that extended Israeli occupation. And now American dollars enable the Israeli government to do "whatever it takes" (from the Israeli point of view) to crush Palestinian "terrorism."

Christians should oppose terrorist acts, whether committed by Palestinians or anyone else. But Western Christians should not endorse an Israeli war against the Palestinian people, because of terrorist acts committed by Palestinian resistance groups. American Christians especially should see that there are strong parallels between what happened to Native Americans in America and what has happened in Palestine. Violence by those defending their land is condemned as "terrorism," whereas violence by those occupying the land is claimed to be necessary for the security of those coming from outside to settle on the land.

We must realize that Palestinians were living on the land when the United Nations authorized a Jewish state in Palestine. The UN partition plan gave Jews 55% of Palestine, although they controlled less than 6% of the land in 1947. In the ensuing war Jews seized 77% of Palestine. Today, the Israelis have built settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza (captured in the 1967 Six Day War) as well as roads to these settlements, and "for security reasons" have taken control of vast tracks of land around these settlements and roads. More than 300,000 Jews live in "occupied territories," and this encroachment into the West Bank and Gaza accelerated during the Oslo Peace Process. These facts can easily be verified in reports written by Jewish Israelis.

How might justice and peace be realized? In an editorial entitled "Israel's War Against the Palestinians" in the Jewish periodical "Tikkun" (Sep/Oct 2001), Michael Lerner proposes that we:

1. "Demand immediate military intervention from the United Nations to separate the two sides. We must protect the Palestinian people from further assault and the Israeli people from terrorist attacks. Do not settle for 'international observers' who will have no power and will merely allow the slaughter to continue as they did in Bosnia for many years."

2. "Make all aid to Israel conditional on its ending the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."

3. "Insist that Israel develop a plan for reparations for Palestinian refugees, including some level of 'return' that would be large enough to make a difference, but small enough to allow Israel to continue as a Jewish state."

4. "Insist that Palestinians come forward with a detailed plan for the conditions under which they would settle the conflict—not vague pronouncements about UN resolutions."

Lerner also calls on Jews to boycott Jewish institutions supporting Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and he urges Jews in their synagogues "to insist that the Jewish people acknowledge our collective responsibility for Israel's behavior." In addition, Lerner challenges Jews to reject the notion "that Israel's actions are only 'a Jewish issue,' or that non-Jews (or even Jews) are legitimately suspect of anti-Semitism if they get involved in working on these issues publicly."

Christians in the West, as well as Jews, bear responsibility for "Israel's war against the Palestinians." We must do more than condemn terrorist acts. We must also struggle for a just peace.

Robert Traer

 

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