Battle of the gods

Nov 7, 2023
Flags of Palestine and Israel painted on cracked wall. Palestinian conflict

An older man, grey-haired but quite firm in his manner as he spoke to the ABC TV reporter on Palestine’s West Bank. He was an Israeli, he said, and he was claiming the building site because, ‘God gave us this land.’

He fingered what seemed to be a real estate contract tucked under his left arm as the reporter stumbled over his next question. I can’t remember the question. I was preoccupied by the insight the older man had provided to the horror now taking place in Gaza.

It revealed that beneath the reams of journalistic analysis and the political posturing on both sides of the conflict, the real cause of the death and destruction is simple: it is a throwback to the absurd biblical contest between the gods of yesteryear.

The Israelis favour their ‘Yahweh’ while the Moslems plump for ‘Allah’. And each claims that their champion performed ‘miracles’ in Jerusalem (the so-called holy city) that give them preference over the other.

These include claimed events like prophets rising to heaven.

The problem for the participants is that the issue by its very nature is insoluble. Both are spiritual concepts – ‘beliefs’ if you will – that defy rational discussion and compromise. The only means left to decide the winner is force. And once that starts, it quickly descends to the level of vile inhumanity.

That’s the process we’re watching now.

It doesn’t help that the Israelis count the evangelical Christians of the United States – whose religion owes much to its Israeli background – so they have the big guns of Washington on their side.

The Muslims have some pretty fearsome weapons too. Not only do they have the fanatical Mullahs of Iran feeding weapons into the hands of the front line troops, they have the princes of Saudi Arabia with the power to wreak chaos in the world’s economy with the manipulation of international oil prices.

These guys play for keeps. The Israelis have ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu who is prepared to turn his country from democracy to autocracy to save him from a jail sentence for corruption. On the other side, who could forget the reaction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who dealt with his academic critic by having him chopped up in a friendly embassy.

Not that physical ‘death’ matters all that much on both sides. Each belief contains the escape clause much beloved of military commanders everywhere. They promise ‘eternal life’ on some other plane of existence. Oddly though, there seems to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when they do make that transition in a blast of bomb-fire.

None of this is to suggest that the Israelis and the Muslims are any different from the rest of humanity. Britain under the Tudors and the Stuarts, for example, was a moveable feast of bloody violence between Protestants and Catholics…and the Irish ‘troubles’ of the 20th century took a terrible toll.

However, this is a time when climate heating demands that we work together to solve a truly existential problem for our species. The clash between ancient notions of the relative merits of gods – with the evangelicals and the Mullahs feeding the ammunition to both sides – is a complication we don’t need. Yet such is the power and influence of these exotic beliefs that no one is prepared to confront the opponents with their seemingly insoluble dilemma.

I was still pondering the problem when the grey-haired Israeli on the West Bank turned slightly revealing that ‘contract’ tucked under his arm.

It looked a lot like the Old Testament we used to have at home when I was growing up in Brisbane. ‘An eye for an eye,’ I thought.’ A tooth for a tooth.’

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