Lights on or lights out?

Mar 31, 2024

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.

This weekend we celebrate the Christian festival of Easter and proclaim once more that life is always on offer. What sets sentient human beings apart is choice, we can choose life in all our interactions, or we can choose to turn the lights out. Why in Gaza has Israel chosen utter darkness – for Palestinians and for itself?

Narratives hold power. The narrative of Israel’s extreme right insists their brutality against Palestinians is a righteous cause because they are (re)-claiming what is theirs – land bestowed on them by God. This claim must be called out for its obscene tribalism which should play no part in the concept of nationhood. This narrative should not be taken at all seriously by the world community, least of all by the Christian community.

The current Israeli government comprises people on the extreme right of Israeli society, many of whom have a history of involvement with unlawful activity ranging from tax evasion to association with extreme and illegal groups (even under Israeli law) while at the same time claiming to be ‘ultra-orthodox’. Mr Itamar Ben-Gvir, minister for national security recently applauded the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy who let off a fire work in Jerusalem in the direction of Israeli security personnel. He claims killing a Palestinian is doing Israel a service. This blog is addressed to him and Mr Bezalel Smotrich minister for finance, both of whom have recently been described as terrorists by Shin Bet’s internal security director Ami Ayalon. Ayalon uses the literal definition – one who incites terror – in contrast to the way it is commonly used to describe one who objects to having their rights and land denied or confiscated.

Gentlemen, you claim to know a great deal about Hebrew history as recorded in Hebrew scripture – the Old Testament. You would know the patriarchal period (c1700 BC) is where promise and claims about land have their genesis. It was a period in which tribal ambitions contested land ownership in the name of their god. Gods and their worship were associated with place. Inter-tribal warfare strengthened or diminished the influence of the tribal god. The land allotted to followers of Yahweh became the place where Yahweh was worshipped. You will know the rise and fall of kings of Israel and Judah (with some notable exceptions) was directly associated with involvement they had with gods of other places.

You have identified your Gazan enterprise with the Amalek narrative. The Amalekite threat was not simply about a military incursion, it was about the subversive influence of their god, the Canaanite god, Baal, with Hebrew people. Saul was in trouble because he brought ‘booty’ back from his victorious fight with Amalek, in doing so he was potentially bringing the influence of Baal back with him.

The Hebrew faith did not become genuinely monotheistic until the Babylonian exile when, forced out of Judah and Jerusalem, the prophets encouraged the people to understand that Yahweh could be faithfully worshipped in Babylon or beyond – for there is only one God, not confined to place. Monotheism is a denial of God being restricted to a particular place.

It is a reality that in the West a growing number, perhaps the majority, find it intellectually impossible to believe in God at all. However, if belief is to be contemplated, there can only be one God, in whose likeness all are to find commonality.

Your Zionist narrative, gentlemen, is belief in a tribal God, the god of your tribe, whom you apparently believe advantages you at the expense of others. In as much as this belief is clearly causing enormous pain and devastation on others, your narrative must be rejected by the world community. Because such belief conflicts with Christian belief, you should not receive comfort from the American Christian conservative base.

From creation narratives onward, Hebrew scriptures struggle with the competing, and yet appropriate, claims of universality and particularity. In the 21st century we continue to struggle with these competing claims. We remain impotent to deal with major issues such as climate change, global inequality, mass migration, refugees etc, because powerful particularities prevent outcomes for common good.

Zionism is a particularity that has no place in the 21st century. Worse, Zionism is a denial of the most important promise to Abraham and any who would claim descendancy from him, that chosen-ness has meaning only in as much we become a source of blessing to others.

It appears you are will fully ignorant of the writings of your prophets, particularly the 8th century prophets who understood moral and ethical obligations of belief took priority over religious claim and practice. Also, 6th century prophets who taught Hebrew faith was not tied to place but could be practiced in Babylon and beyond.

The true mark of monotheistic belief is not distinctive identity, but virtue inherent in that identity, which is a source of blessing to all with whom we share commonality despite our different identities.

Neither of you are strengthening Israel’s security but undermining it with such severity many now wonder if Israel has not written its own death warrant. How so?

First, any national or community identity must be based in a moral code, a set of values. It appears that those of you who currently lead Israel have no discernible moral code, other than the expansion of national identity at the expense of the identity, land, and culture of others.

A moral code is founded not on a diminished self, but on less attention paid to self. Individuals and nations grow and mature through relationships with others. The number of nations now prepared to unequivocally walk with Israel into the future has shrunk to very few.

Second, I cannot imagine what now defines the ‘soul’ of Israel. How the country’s young men and women live the rest of their lives with the scar of involvement in atrocities which have included the burial of children alive in the rubble of their homes and now includes the painful and ignominious death of thousands of others through starvation, I do not know.

Third, you are not defeating Hamas, you are creating Hamas (or its equivalent) in the hatred and loathing of young Palestinians and their supporters globally.

There can be no place for tribalism, least of all national tribalism in the 21st century. Judaism is not in and of itself tribal. It is a religious, cultural, even ethnic identity through which enormous individual contributions have been made to the global community.

The brand you are supporting, or endeavouring to create, is a pariah state.

The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was the guest speaker at the 2008 Lambeth conference of Anglican Bishops in Canterbury, guest of his friend Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury. In a Qand A following his main address he was asked what he made of Jesus? After some banter about the nature of the question his response was: “what I make of Jesus is determined by what I make of you who claim to be his followers. At your best you have brought love to the whole world which we, even at our best have failed to do”.

What are we to make of the Israel you have now created?

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