Friday, 30 November 2012

A Land with a People.

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In a discussion over the events in Gaza recently I had the following exchange with a friend of mine about the fundamentals of the conflict. Note that the questioner is coming from a Christian perspective on the conflict, while I'm coming from an atheistic perspective. The primary issue is raised is the claim to the land and the specifics of the Zionist project.

Q: I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up MY land..."Does this land belong to Israel or Palestine? Well actually, according to bible scripture, God calls it His land, but the prophetic word from Joel, written 850BC is that it will in fact be divided.
"I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." (Ezekiel 37:22)
Joshua (great name Joshua, means 'God is salvation' or 'God rescues') rightly calls this a 'miserable situation', it has a long history, Ezekiel was written sometime around 590BC, about 650 years before Israel and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the people scattered to 'the four corners of the earth'. We may ask the question was Israel returned there in 1948, fully in 1967 simply to fulfill prophecy, was it just a self-fulfilling prophecy or is there some authenticity to the prophecy. Will Jerusalem be divided? Certainly according to bible scripture it is not intended to be and if it is, will those responsible incur God's judgement?

A: Well, I don't think Jerusalem should be divided, that's merely the beginning of another problem. I take the position that is enshrined in international law: Jerusalem should be an international city, it's just too precious to belong to any state or religion. This is the same framework that would settle the conflict in a roughly 80:20 split of what used to be Palestine into Israel and Palestine. I won't comment on the scripture as I'm not a theologian, nor am I a religious man (in spite of my cool name! lol) and I think it's fair to say that the Bible is open to a lot of debate and theorisation - just look at the use of the recurring use of Gog and Magog by fundamentalists, from Reagan to Bush II, to explain foreign policy decisions.

We know from Israeli archaeology that there is considerable evidence that there has been a Jewish presence in Palestine for a very long time, this can be determined simply by the lack of pig bones in ancient communities. So there is a legitimate Jewish claim to live there. That's the case even if you don't buy the Bible, which most Israeli archaeologists don't by the way. There is also evidence that suggests the Palestinians are the descendents of the Jews who were living there thousands of years ago. Probably they were converted through conquest. This is all interesting, and somewhat ironic, but it doesn't provide any answer to the crisis in itself. The question of what the Zionist mission ought to be in its finer details is left completely open still. That could be part of the reason why there is opposition to peace from inside Israel, it remains unclear where the expansion should end - if 80% is too little how about 90% and so on? There are those who dream of a Greater Israel, and that will mean a perpetual war with the Arabs.

Example, should Israel be a Jewish state or a state for Jews? That's an important distinction which has never been fully clarified in Zionist circles. This matters because it relates to what kind of law there should be in Israel, as well as the demographic composition - if it's a state for Jews then it doesn't have to be a majority Jewish state for instance. By comparison, Pakistan was founded as a state for Muslims modeled on India but in the 1980s the dictatorship began to change this to the notion of Pakistan as an Islamic state (and even began to compare itself to Israel funnily enough). It impacts the internal politics of the nation-state, Pakistan has been dominated by authoritarian governments sometimes more irreligious at times. I think that Israel could've been founded in a better way than it has been, though in its foundation it was just like every other nation-state (e.g. born out of violence/theft). But we can't turn back time. The strongest claim of the Jews is perhaps based on their need for a safe haven. Again, that doesn't really deal with the details of what Israel should look like.

The important point to stress is that Israel (however defined) can exist with an independent and free Palestine as it's neighbour. To paraphrase Abba Eban, a free Palestine would pose the same threat to the existence of Israel as Luxembourg currently poses to Russia.

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