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21 May 2011

Two Nations are In Your Womb

Genesis 25:23 The Holy One of Old said to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.”

While this text is about Jacob (Israel) and Esau in its initial context, today it speaks to me of Israel and Palestine. Another text that speaks to me is:

Exodus 23:9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 

In both of these texts the moral agency is placed on Israel in my reading. Israel should know better. This is why I am so aggrieved with Prime Minister Netanyahu's response to President Obama's recent speech on the Middle East, rejecting the 1967 boundaries of Israel out of hand as "indefensible." They who have been hunted to the brink of extinction have been commanded not to turn around and do the same thing to anyone else. Particularly if they see themselves as a Jewish state for whom the bible is scripture.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the on-the-ground reality has changed since 1967; there are as many as 400,000 Israelis living in what is Palestine according to the 1967 map. He is saying that the fact that they are there, means the land can't be Palestine (there will be no Palestinian state within the borders he claims for Israel) - however the fact that there are Palestinians there does not mean to him that the land can't be Israel. And of course those settlements were (and are) constructed illegally inside of what was Palestine's internationally recognized borders. And at the same time Israel is demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, claiming they were illegally constructed, while refusing to grant permits for new construction and preventing Arab citizens from living with their spouses in Jerusalem if the new spouse does not have a residency permit - there is no way for them to get one.
Now, what President Obama said - what every American president since Clinton has said - is that the borders of the two nations should be based on - not even identical with - the internationally accepted borders, allowing for negotiation, give-and-take, land swaps.
A deeper issue for me is what Netanyahu and others seem to mean by a "Jewish state." They don't mean religion, they mean race. They mean to create and keep an ethnic majority by any means necessary. They imagine a future in which all of the Jews in the region are Israelis and all of the Arabs are in a greatly-reduced Palestine or are refugees absorbed by the other Arab nations.
The last time in recent memory that a modern state was founded along ethnic and religious lines was the partition of Pakistan from India. The partition was accompanied by monstrous violence and the ongoing and continuing hostility between the two nations has led to the increase of terror in the world (the Mumbai bombings, the escape of OBL and other Al Qaeda leaders at Tora Bora and along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border).
I said that Israel should know better. Even if Israel is not a religious state, it was founded on the principles of equity for all peoples in the bible. The founding declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel says in part:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

It is time for Israel to live up to and into the words of its founding mothers and fathers and the prophets whom they venerated. Hear them now:

Micah 4:1 In days to come the mountain of the house of the Holy One of Old shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; peoples shall stream to it. 2 And many nations shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Holy One, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God's ways and that we may walk in God's paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Fire of Sinai from Jerusalem. 3 God shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; 4 but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Commander of Heaven's Armies has spoken. 5 For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of God-Whose-Name-Is-Holy, our God forever and ever.

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