Does Yahweh’s Liberation of the Jews from Egypt Justify Israel’s Oppression and Occupation of Palestine?
The question posed by the title of this piece arose in a theological discussion. But the answers are complex, engaging as they must the historical role of God in human affairs, the implications of that in defining God and His people, and all subsequent interactions by that God with His people from the liberation to now and beyond. Furthermore, the discussion must of necessity involve other religions, the engagement of God by them in day to day actions, and the determination of secular decisions, political and international, by theological beliefs or by international law.
Let me open this issue with a personal reflection on the unfortunate yoking of Evangelical end time preachers with Bush’s war against the Iraqi people. Nothing is as graphic as this theological destruction of the nature of the Almighty and the political control of the Christian faith by our contemporary moneychangers as this alliance blessed in the White House.
More than 2600 years separates the destruction of the Canaanites from the destruction of the citizens of Baghdad, both devastations prompted by religious beliefs, both illustrate the need in the 21st century to replace superstition with international law or allow zealots to rule the world. I will begin today.
A watercolor painting of the ancient tower that stands guard before the old city of Prague on the Charles bridge adorns the entrance outside my study, aged by the artist with a dull magenta dye to capture the medieval flavor of the city, offering to my aged mind the ineluctable passing of time as thousands passed beneath to cross the Vltava through the Powder tower into the Lesser city beneath the Prague Castle and the Cathedral of St. Vitus. I purchased the painting for my wife when we attended a conference on Human Evil and Wickedness where I presented a paper. The date was March 20, 2003.
We stayed that night in the Lesser city arriving near dark in the narrow streets and hence to a small hotel not far from the river. I can’t remember if we had dinner before settling in the room, I know we turned on the old TV out of curiosity, it seemed so out of place. A green glow appeared on the screen, a frightening image of lightening blasts shattering the skyline of Baghdad as America declared its overwhelming power to the world through Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Shock and Awe; the very essence of the conference glowed on the screen. Here we stood transfixed in the 21st century in a city that had survived human barbarity from medieval times. We turned to another channel.
Shock and awe remained! From Trinity Broadcasting, direct from the United States, appeared a prayer service gathered around an enormous American flag held horizontally aloft by raptured singers, eyes shut, an arm held heavenward, swaying back and forth as they sang their war prayer to the Almighty with the red, white and blue relic fluttering above the floor. Before us stood the loyal celebrants of our beloved crusader, the American President, who had declared his God determined mission to bring liberation to the Iraqi people by invading their land knowing he was appointed for that purpose regardless of international law or truth or justice, the crowned servant of God’s Ministers of War crying from their pulpits in the cathedral of TV that the Day of Wrath, End Time, God’s prophesied Armageddon to usher in the Rapture, could be fulfilled.
It was difficult to adjust the reality presented on the screen from the reality presented by the images on these contrasting channels. Here the shock of witnessing Mark Twain’s “War Prayer” in its full horror, bathed in the choral song of devotion that God Almighty relieve them of the fear that attends the unknown agony of men at war, glows on a green screen in Prague only 43 hours from Canaan on route 80. “Then came the (minister’s) "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever – merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.”
Twain’s horror, delivered by God’s Messenger standing next to the minister in his pulpit, garbed in a brown cowl of mourning, addresses the assembled congregants with the “other” prayer, and silences the worshippers--"God the all-terrible!” he thunders, “Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!" flows in choral cadence from the robed carolers beseeching God Almighty to bless and protect the forces of the United States as they drop tons of bombs on the people of Baghdad.
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.” (1)
That is the prayer we never hear, that is the destruction we hide, that is the price of victory as the vanquished lie strewn in the rubble of Baghdad, unseen, unknown, forgotten—lives lived, lost, erased, victims of zealots’ superstitions offered to a word, an empty, meaningless word they claim to hear in dreams, through voices, moments of inspiration when God visits them in the fantasy world that is their imagination. Thus does belief ride the phantom horses of the apocalypse directing God’s wrath against His enemies.
Recalling this event brings me back to the purpose of this essay: Yahweh’s liberation of the Jews. Who is Yahweh: a creation of a people comprehending Him as a God that intercedes in historical events and indeed commands them to do His bidding or is He a historical figure like Jesus Christ that existed in time and performed acts during that time? Or, and this raises yet another issue, is He a metaphorical figure offering interference for His people? If Yahweh is understood as engaged, proclaiming of His people historical events, like the conquest of Canaan, tied to the liberation of the Jews from Egypt, then the destruction of Canaan is an historical event that fulfills His promise to His people. God gave these instructions:
“In the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded” (Deut. 20:16-17). These are the words as Moses allegedly wrote them. None of these people had attacked or done any uncivilized actions against the ‘liberated” Hebrews. They had offended God because they did not obey Him and God used the Israelites to destroy them, to inflict genocide on them.
Understood in this context, Yahweh gave land to His people even though that land was lived upon for years by others, and indeed, if Yahweh is understood as God, His gift legitimizes Israel’s claim to the land. Unfortunately this understanding turns the nature of this God into a God of one people only, not a God of all creation. This is the God of Moses and of Joshua giving them license to take the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites et al. in the name of the God they created and literally forced on the Jewish people if they did not obey, as witness the destruction they imposed on those who worshipped other images of God.
Why does this change the nature of God? Because it negates the full biblical description of the God of the Old Testament as a God of “universal justice, righteousness, peace, and salvation.” We need only stress the words of Yahweh in Isa. 49:6b: “I will give you [Israel] as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This is not a God of destruction and genocide. Psalm 33 states, “Yahweh loves righteousness and justice” and Psalm 82, He is the defender of the weak and the afflicted…universally. This understanding aligns well with the Christian belief in the universality of God as propounded in the New Testament. (2)
How then do we explain the destruction of the original peoples of Canaan? If Yahweh is the creation of Moses and Joshua, a construct designed by compilers during the reign of King Josiah (3) to solidify the sundry tribes into one and to image their greatness in strength by massive power, the slaughter of many peoples might be a means to that end. In part then, the eradication of the Canaanites might have been more a fictional narrative than a fact. “The idea that YHWH would ultimately fulfill the promises given to the patriarchs, to Moses, and to King David—of a vast and unified people of Israel living securely in their land—was a politically and spiritually powerful one for Josiah’s subjects” (Unearthed 69).
Unifying the people in the belief of this interventionist God as fulfillment for the liberation following the Exodus from the Pharaoh’s enslavement, solidifies his devotion to them and their devotion to Him. Unfortunately, it would appear to be a fabrication as told both from the archeological evidence and the demographic and political realities of the alleged “flight from Egypt” period which, it turns out, never happened (Unearthed 70). However, belief in YHWH as involved in historical processes can be understood as a theological construct thus legitimizing the Israeli claim to the historical land of Israel. But, as noted above, that contention alters the nature of YHWH destroying His universal revelation as God of all peoples. (4) “The result is that the theology of annihilation and subjugation cannot be justified. It ignores the rights of the other nations, and ultimately God’s truth itself” (Knierim 321).
This point would appear to be moot given the evidence collected in Unearthing the Bible since it is clearly a century’s old fabrication narrated centuries after the events described, and for specific purposes related to King Josiah’s ambitions. Any attempt then to yoke the promise of a greater Israel to the revealed word of God as a legal precedent for annexing or stealing or assuming control over another’s land is untenable since the land cannot be said to be historically and uniquely belonging to the Israelites. Belief in a God does not establish the historical events, especially when the evidence questions a conquest by the Israeli people or a nation of a size described in the Bible as existing or indeed an exodus from Egypt that necessitated the eradication of people living in land that was at the time a protectorate of the Kingdom of Egypt.This leaves only the metaphorical understanding of the tale. If YHWH is a living God to the Israeli people, then the Exodus story, the flight from Egypt, the passing through the Nile, the forty years of wandering in the desert, and the eventual genocide of the people of Canaan and surrounding tribes becomes an accomplished deed and an ancient narrative of the Israeli nation as guided by their God, and nothing more; it has accomplished its purpose. That it should become a base of understanding of an Israeli God that has no other purpose than to serve their belief, then it serves a religious purpose, and with tolerance by all will remain just that. If it becomes a weapon to justify further acquisition of lands perceived to belong to the Israeli people because this tale of YHWH’s intervention on their behalf identifies geographic areas assumed to have been conquered by Joshua centuries ago, it denies the existence of a God sympathetic to all His creatures, indeed, a cruel, envious, despicable fabrication that mocks the very image of God as accepted by peoples around the world.
There is need now to return to the present. Since the only claim that the Israeli people have to the land of Palestine is the claim made by YHWH in Exod 23:23-33 and 34:11f. “I will hand over to you the inhabitants of the land, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenants [peace] with them and their gods” (Exod 23:31b +32), and since we have established that the source of this proclamation was “At its core a sacred scripture of unparalleled literary and scriptural genius. It was an epic saga woven together from an astonishingly rich collection of historical writings, memories, legends, folk tales, anecdotes, royal propaganda, prophecy, and ancient poetry,” (2) there is no meaningful, unquestioned right for the peoples of Israel to claim this land while others living there have as much or greater right since they have continued in residence for centuries beyond those immigrating to Palestine. We will leave for another time the argument that YHWH gave this land solely to the Semitic people which would then deny legitimacy to the Ashkenazi Jews (“For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever” (Genesis, King James Bible).
"Jews" have no blood-link to the Israelites of the Bible. Jewish historian scholars have established that at least 90% of all Jews come from a Turkish-Mongol mix of people and are largely sourced from the Khazar Kingdom. These "Jews" have no blood-link to the Israelites of the Bible (5).
We must now attempt to comprehend the consequences of YHWH as a distinctly Jewish God leading His people to a genocide of another nation as it is a fictional narrative designed to unite tribes under the banner of Josiah hundreds of years after the destruction of the Canaan peoples, and therefore a genocide that did not happen at the hands of the Jews but rather provided a God who serves His people and makes demands on them, a nation’s God alone. Theologically, a fictional narrative would not accept that nation’s historic right to the land since the conquest never happened at the hands of the Jews; a corollary of that denial would recognize that the Jews are not guilty of genocide. Politically, therefore, the judgment that historical rights exist must come from a different source, unaligned with any theology or Nation or Oligarchy for it is only the United Nations and its Charters and Declaration of Human Rights that can bring an objective resolution to matters that determine the interrelationship of all peoples on the earth.
That source is inferred in the opening story of this article. Shock and Awe broad cast to the world that the United States of America had undertaken a war against a member nation of the United Nations without provocation by that nation. Indeed, for the previous twelve years, Western nations including America and Britain, had pulverized Iraq with bombs and sanctions, eliminating in the process the capability of that nation to secure its people from aerial attacks. Sanctions had devastated its economy, its health services and its participation in international affairs. Collaborating in the move toward invasion of Iraq, Christian Zionists, who used the Book of Revelation to justify their belief that Israel must exist if the second coming were to happen, employed “God’s word” to cajole the President to see himself as a missionary of God Almighty responsible to the free world to usher in God’s Armageddon against the infidels.
The Christian Zionists’ interpretation of the Book of Revelation, preaching to millions via television and satellites, enabled a handful of preachers to use the Bible for their own purposes, not unlike the Jewish Zionists using America’s “unconditional support” in money and men, to attack a member nation of the UN and in the process disregard, any more, defy international laws and Conventions. These men had no rights from any acceptable source, nationally or internationally, to provoke a President and a Congress to war because they believed, if they did, the images in the Book of Revelation “told” them their interpretations were true. No country should be ruled by a few religious zealots especially when the Christianity they preach is categorically at odds with the majority of denominations in the Christian world. Nor should they, the 1% of preachers of Christianity, millionaires all, determine for the humble and righteous ministers throughout America how to use mockery of Christ to satisfy their greed.
How benign the scene from Trinity Broadcasting paralleling the release of bombs from the guts of silver tubes cascading from the heavens on innocent men, women and children shredding their lives into the rubble that had been their homes, thousands dead and blessed that they are dead by ministers of war heralding God’s proclamation that the rapture is imminent, Fools crying in the wilderness of superstitious images drawn from pages of an ancient text that creates a Jesus of hate and vengeance, the very antitheses of the Christ of the gospels. That these men should proclaim to know God’s will and force it on a gullible man sitting as President is ludicrous in the 21st century. Yet they are still selling this ravenous image of Jesus to the American people
The 20th century erupted in global devastation in two world wars, both resulting in millions dead and untold numbers maimed and mutilated. Those who endured these holocausts joined together to bring a means of order out of this chaos, a League of Nations and the United Nations. That the design of these organizations was flawed does not erase the understanding that the need for a peaceful means to resolution of grievances among nations should exist. Now in this 21st century we have watched the effort made to find agreement and tolerance across the world frayed by a faulty structure in the design. No single nation should have the ability to negate the actions of the majority. We have witnessed the second half of the 20th century dissolve into an oligarchy of powerful men as they control a few nations by purchase of greed ensuring their will, will be done. As a consequence, the last half of that century is known as the century of unending war,
In 1945 the United Nations gathered together approximately 53 Nations world-wide all of which agreed to abide by the UN Charters and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today there are 194 Nations including Palestine. It is a voluntary organization constructed on a foundation of moral values protective of human rights everywhere in the world. The principles on which it was founded, guarantee all peoples in all countries equal rights regardless of income, nationality, geographic location and, most importantly, guarantee citizenship in a Nation. Never before has the planet had a united body built expressly to recognize that all humans are created equal partners in the struggle for life, each having equal rights to all thirty articles defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.(6)
From 1945 to the present day there exists then a unified body representing all people on the earth; there is no other universal means to accomplish that end, no religion, no philosophy, no Nation, no ideology, no superstition, it alone is inclusive, tolerant and just. For that reason the world must accept the moral power and legitimacy of the UN in General Assembly to adjudicate differences among Nations and peoples.
Let the Preamble address the universal need to establish the United Nations as the only viable source for resolutions among Nations. No Nation or combination of Nations must be allowed to supersede it and its glorious recognition of equality across the globe. The opening declarations of the Preamble speak to all humanity:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
- Anti-war.com: Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer” 1904.
- Rolf P. Knierim. The Task of the Old Testament Theology. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Cambridge, UK. 317-321).
- see the detailed and archeologically constructed research done by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in Unearthing the Bible, The Free Press, New York, London 2001.
- Knierim 321.
- Peamble continued with articles:
Two recent books by William Cook confront related matters dealt with in this article, Age of Fools and the new paper back edition of The Plight of the Palestinians.
Post Footnote to establish urgency of this thesis. William A. Cook
7. Richard Falk interview in Truth NGO 2/ 2016
Israel has been violating the Fourth Geneva Convention in a variety of ways that can be best summarized by reference to the overriding obligation of an Occupying Power to protect the civilian population of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. This general obligation is particularly relevant to an assessment of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as serious unlawful transfers of population that alter the character of the occupied society. Also, [there’s] Israel’s reliance on several forms of collective punishment, most frequently and punitively in relation to the 1.7 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
There are many additional violations of international humanitarian law involving disproportionate and indiscriminate uses of force responsible for major suffering endured by the Palestinian civilian population. Also, Israel has defied the near unanimous advisory opinion in 2004 of the International Court of Justice with respect to the unlawfulness of the separation wall, deciding that according to international law Israel should dismantle the wall and compensate Palestinians for any damage.
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