Does God Demand The Ethnic Cleansing Of The Palestinians?

There is death and darkness in Gaza.  There have been petitions to end the siege.  A coalition of Israeli activists organized a relief convoy.  However, the convoy was not allowed through to give the emergency supplies to the Palestinians in Gaza.  Some interfaith leaders have called for intervention to end the siege.  But, what is actually happening is ethnic cleansing.  The Palestinians are being destroyed utterly and shown no mercy.  And, most of the world is silent.  “Never again” does not seem to apply to the Palestinians.  Why is this so?  Why are there not more who feel shame?  I believe it is because politics and pseudo-religion have been woven together so that it is almost impossible to separate the testimony of our own eyes from what it is that we want to believe. 

Ethnic cleansing has been going on for a long time in Palestine.  It has been a slow process, but is increasingly effective. 

According to Uri Avnery what is happening in Gaza is Worse than a crime“The Gaza Strip is the largest prison on earth. The breaking of the Rafah wall was an act of liberation. It proves that an inhuman policy is always a stupid policy: no power can stand up against a mass of people that has crossed the border of despair.”

Because of the splitting of Palestine into Bantustans, and the imposition of a stringent blockade of goods into Gaza, the people living there are now under what amounts to a siege, and there is little hope for a real two-state solution. 

The seven mile long border wall between Gaza and Egypt was built by Israel in 2001 supposedly in order to stop weapons coming in from Egypt to Palestine.  If that was really the concern, you would think that they would have already repaired the wall that was destroyed when Gazans recently blew up the border wall and flooded into Egypt to obtain food and necessary supplies no longer available in Gaza because of the Israeli blockade.  After this breach of the wall, the U.S. immediately put the blame on the Palestinians “The Palestinians living in Gaza are living under chaos because of Hamas, and the blame has to be placed fully at their feet,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.” This seems to be a justification for the collective punishment of the people of Gaza.  It is also part of a long history of noticing only Palestinian violence and not Israeli violence.

It is possible that this breaking down of the wall by the Palestinians played into the hands of those who just want to be rid of all the Palestinians in Israel.  The Gazan Exodus to Egypt may have been A ‘Blessing in Disguise’ for Israel? according to Pierre Heumann who said:  “But, as Jerusalem sees it, Egypt now has responsibility for more than just the Gaza Strip’s southern border. “The opening of the border relieves us of our responsibility for Gaza,” a government official said, “and if the international community demands that the Israeli border with Gaza be opened, we will now point to the Egyptian role.” This view was echoed on Thursday when Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that Israel wanted to “disconnect” from Gaza. He told Army Radio: “We are responsible for it as long as there is no alternative.”

The current crisis in Gaza is the latest manifestation of an ethnic cleansing that has been going on for a long time.  Most people in America don’t want to hear that, but that is what it is.  Whether is called “voluntary transfer” or any other euphemism to cover the true horror of what is happening, it is ethnic cleansing (and perhaps even genocide) and it is wrong.  It is also a “religious” problem because religion is being used (and has been used from the beginning) to justify policies and actions that are immoral, unethical, and illegal.

Acceptance of the possibility that ethnic cleansing is the answer for making Israel safe goes back to the beginnings of the State of Israel.  Joseph Weitz, the director of the Zionist Jewish National Fund, wrote in his diary in 1940:

“It should be clear to us that there is no room in Palestine for these two peoples. No `development’ will bring us to our goal of independent nationhood in this small country. Without the Arabs, the land will become wide and spacious for us; with the Arabs, the land will remain sparse and cramped …  The only solution is Palestine, at least western Palestine, without Arabs. There is no room here for compromises! … The way is to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps those from Bethlehem, Nazareth and the Old City of Jerusalem.”

Because this “religious” dimension to the conflict in Israel/Palestine has become the primary dimension any solution requires a truly religious, spiritual dimension. 

We have Jews who believe (based on their interpretation of the Bible) that “God gave the land to them”, and gave them not just a state, but a Jewish state forever.  Some are Messianic Zionists who see control over the biblical Land of Israel as a religious mandate.  Not all Jews believe that this is something that human beings are supposed to bring about or that the “solution” to providing a safe home for the Jewish people is war.  And we have Jews (also based on their interpretation of the Bible) who are ready to destroy al aqsa to rebuild the Third Temple.  This is a belief that is not shared by all Jews.  And, we have Jews who attempt to justify violence against civilians and even call it holy.  Some like Rabbi Yousuf Falay have even advocated murder and extermination.  There are even some Jews who honor those like Baruch Goldstein who kill Muslims.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has been quoted as calling for Gazans to be transferred to the Sinai Peninsula, to a Palestinian state which he said could be constructed for them in the desert.  He further said that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews and that since Muslims have Mecca and Medina, they don’t need a third place, and have no connection to Jerusalem, and he described Jerusalem as “the capital city forever to the Jewish nation.”

What this respected Rabbi is saying is shocking and a prime example of how mixing religious beliefs and politics can often lead to extremism.  That he had the courage to say this publically is not surprising considering the insistence on asking the Palestinians to recognize not simply the existence of Israel, but the existence of Israel as a “Jewish State”, and considering that a recent poll showed 68% of Israeli Jews in favor of expelling all Palestinian citizens of Israel.  The possible consequences of accepting a “Jewish” State have been much discussed in the Arab media.

This is exactly what some Jews worried about when the State of Israel was first being established:

Albert Einstein said:  “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical consideration, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain—especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight strongly, even without a Jewish state.”

And what even Mahatma Gandhi was concerned about:

Mahatma Gandhi wrote an article about the Jews in Palestine.  One paragraph stands out for me:  “And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it in the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the British gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs.  They should seek to convert the Arab heart.” This stands out because he got to the heart of the problem.  This injustice has a “religious” root.  The Bible was used to justify injustice towards the Palestinians.

Because so many Jews and Christians in Israel and in America see this entire conflict as a religious issue based on their interpretations of Biblical passages, Rabbi Metzger did not need to fear being condemned for his statements.

Most American Jews have been silent and support Israel no matter what.  Most American Christians who do not agree with what is happening to the Palestinians are fearful of speaking up because any criticism of Israel’s policies leads to charges of anti-Semitism.  (Even individuals with impeccable credentials like Arun Gandhi, Bishop Tutu, and Jimmy Carter have been tarred with this brush).  What we have as a result is a consent of silence

We have Christians who believe (based on their interpretation of the Bible) that “God blesses those that bless the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews.” And, further that the establishment–and continuation–of the State of Israel is essential to set the stage for the imminent return of Jesus. At the time of the Second Coming, these Christians believe, Jesus will descend from heaven, subdue all of Israel’s enemies and take believers to heaven in what is known as the Rapture–literally, they will ascend to the clouds to be in heaven which can only happen if the State of Israel exists within its ancient borders.  This belief leads to extremism.  And, for some Christians the possibility of ethnic cleansing has a long history.

It doesn’t seem possible that this particular Christian interpretation of scripture could go further, but it does:

“The dispensationalist view of Daniel 9:27 provides some troubling implications as well. They don’t care that tearing down the al-Aqsa mosque would result in a regional war and cause all sorts of global distress. This would not be a bad thing in their minds. They believe that it was all foreordained and is a sign that the end of the world would be soon upon us.  Also, if you buy into these interpretations, talks of peace in the Middle East are futile. Jews and Muslims must continue killing each other at high rates. And who will be the one bringing peace to the Middle East in this popular end-time paradigm? Not Jesus, but the Antichrist. Therefore, talk of Middle East peace during this current “dispensation” is not from Jesus, but the Antichrist. When dispensationalists hear talk of peace summits or treaties in the Middle East, they assume it must have evil origins and be antichristic. If that’s the cause, why bother trying to make the world a better place? All we need to do is be good Christians and wait for our ticket out of this earth and make way for the Antichrist.”

And, as noted in an article in Christianity Today:  “Some evangelicals have gotten caught up in the theology that before Christ can return, the Holy Land must belong to the Jews … They’re really advocating ethnic cleansing. … It’s the extremist view that favors taking more and more land away from the Palestinians.”

This belief in the rapture is something that has developed in a segment of Christianity (primarily in America) only in the last 100 years and is not an interpretation that all Christians agree with. 

We have Muslims who have turned their backs on 1,400 years of traditional Islamic scholarship and have attempted to find a religious justification for a “Palestinian exception” allowing for violence against civilians.  Because of their attempt to justify random suicide bombings by reinterpretations of the Qur’an and their attempts to find some religious justification for these acts they have betrayed the true beliefs of Islam. 

As Maher Hathout has pointed out“It is horrifying that this is a way to settle differences or express anger, soon it may become a way of revenge or even to achieve nothing but to die! We claim to believe in a religion that is a call to life “O ye who have attained to faith, respond to God and His apostle as He calls you to what will give you life,” (8:24), that endows all the sacredness imaginable to human life “If anyone slays a human being – unless it be in punishment for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind,” (5:32), that orders “Do not throw yourself into destruction by our own hands” (2:195), and that showed us through the example of Prophet Muhammad and the treaty of Hudaybiyah that utmost selfrestraint and flexibility are necessary in order to avoid exposing the lives of the inhabitants of Mecca to danger.  If we truly believe in this religion, we ought to go through very serious questioning and soul-searching. How did we, as a group, fail to nip this ugly phenomenon in the bud?  How did we indulge in the luxury of theoretical debates, and craft all kinds of euphemisms to let this go on, spill out and grow?”

We have politicians like former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey who called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the occupied territories and endorsed Israel’s conquests of those lands.  “Armey said that he “is content to have a Palestinian state” but is “not content to give up any part of Israel for the purpose of a Palestinian state.” He defined the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel-East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip-as Israel. He also said he has “thought this through for a lot of years” and believes that Palestinians living in the West Bank should be removed.”

Mike Huckabee, the Presidential candidate who when asked about a Palestinian state said that he “supports creating a Palestinian state, but believes that it should be formed outside of Israel. He named Egypt and Saudi Arabia as possible alternatives, noting that the Arabs have far more land than the Israelis and that it would only be fair for other Arab nations to give the Palestinians land for a state, rather than carving it out of the tiny Israeli state.”

Avigdor Lieberman, recently appointed as Israel’s deputy prime minister has long advocated the ethnic cleansing of the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, and one of his early ideas since being appointed to the new post, aside from sending Palestinians packing, was the killing of the entire leadership of the elected Palestinian government. “They…have to disappear, to go to paradise, all of them, and there can’t be any compromise,” he told Israeli radio.”

These “political” views have nothing to do with International Law, the Geneva Conventions, or what is best for Israel, Palestine, the U.S. or the world, but have everything to do with the confused religious beliefs of these individuals.

Religious movements have brought about and are helping to prolong the Arab-Israeli Conflict.  We are witnessing the politics of the Apocalypse.  We must do whatever we can to stop them from igniting the Apocalypse. 

What these perversions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common is Pseudo-religiosity

As Irfan Ahmad Khan has pointed out:

“The world is going the wrong way because pseudo-religiosity has taken hold of worldly affairs. But pseudo-religiosity does not have any solid ground to stand upon. When The Reality arrives, the Falsehood will fade away (Qur’an 17:81).  If truly religious people will work together, the pseudo-religiosity will wither away. Contemporary Interfaith Movement has to be a striving toward true religiosity; as such it should focus on the real problems of humanity. The most central of these is wealth being accumulated in fewer hands. Hunger, poverty, and other related issues are only byproducts of increasing economic disparity. Those, who are well-off, have a duty towards those who are economically broken and they are accountable for it to the humankind as well to the Lord of humanity. Charity and relief are not sufficient, systematic-change is required. The next in line is social injustice and discrimination, due to differences in sex, race, etc.  However the other problem which has produced a state of emergency throughout the Globe, has been created by pseudo-religiosity itself—perhaps, to divert our attention from the above real issues. …”

It is possible to take passages from any scripture out of context and come to conclusions that abuse and violate the spirit of those scriptures.  The Bible itself has many verses that might be considered cruel or violent. 

We have some glimmers of hope

In Jerusalem in 2006, Holy Land Christian Leaders issued a statement saying that Christian Zionism is a false and extreme theological and political philosophy that is has become a corrupting influence in the politics of Israel and the United States, and urging Christians churches to break their silence.  “Christian Zionism, the statement said, is an ideology that views the gospel through the prism of “empire, colonialism and militarism identifies,” emphasizing in its extreme form “apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.  We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation …”

In 2002 the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land stated in part.  &##8220;In the name of God who is Almighty, Merciful and Compassionate, we, who have gathered as religious leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities, pray for true peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and declare our commitment to ending the violence and bloodshed that denies the right to life and dignity.”

In 2005 a group formed out of this Alexandria Conference – The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (which is still active in 2008) includes leaders of major religious organizations in both Israel and Palestine, representing the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Chief Shari’a Judges of Palestine, the Ministry of the Waqf, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate, the Latin Patriarchate of the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem and Palestine and the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem and Palestine.  One impetus for the council’s work is to counter the way violence in the Holy Land is sometimes linked with religion. 

In 2007, 138 Muslim scholars from all over the world representing both Sunni and Shia, Salafi and Sufi, and all of the madhabs (schools of thought) signed and sent out a letter entitled “A Common Word Between Us and You” to 25 Christian leaders calling for peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims for the sake of the world.  The letter was addressed to the Pope, the Orthodox Patriarchs, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the heads of the world alliances of the Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist and Reformed churches.

This is a truly an important document, and Insh’Allah (if God is willing) will be a call for peace that will resonate with both Muslims and Christians.  The diversity and eminence of the signatories of this letter requesting dialogue and peace can only strengthen the resolve of the majority of the world’s Muslims to continue standing against extremism, and also these well respected scholars now provide a unified entity that can engage in the necessary dialogue.  This is a Muslim voice that is loud and clear and beautifully represents mainstream Islam.  This letter clearly undermines the position of Muslim extremists and also undermines the propoganda of those who have refused to hear the Muslim voices against extremism that have been attempting for some time to gain the world’s attention.

However, this doesn’t seem to have had any effect on the silence or on the continuing use of religion as a justification for injustice.  And, most ordinary Christians, Muslims, and Jews continue to accept questionable religious interpretations without really thinking through the real meaning and consquences of these beliefs.

“When people are dispossessed, dispersed and humiliated, not only with alleged divine support, but at the alleged express command of God, one’s moral self recoils in horror. Any association of God with the destruction of people must be subjected to an ethical analysis. The obvious contradiction between what some claim to be God’s will and ordinary civilized, decent behavior poses the question as to whether God is a chauvinistic, nationalistic and militaristic xenophobe. It also poses the problem of biblical prophecy finding its fulfillment in what even unbelievers would regard as a form of “ethnic cleansing.” Michael Prior, C.M.

I believe that we are misinterpreting scripture and defaming religion when we don’t confront the fact that God could not be the source of such violence and injustice.  Violence in the name of God is blasphemy

Therefore, woe to those who distort the scripture with their own hands, then say, “This is what GOD has revealed,” seeking a cheap material gain. Woe to them for such distortion, and woe to them for their illicit gains. Qur’an 2:79

And, since religious belief (correctly or incorrectly) is so woven into this particular issue, it would seem that this is a crisis that must involve the religious communities – Christian, Muslim, and Jewish in finding a truly religious spiritual solution that is just and making the Holy Land “Holy”.  We need for our Imams, Alims, Priests, Rabbis, Ministers, and religious scholars to come together and speak up strongly in defense of the true teachings of their respective religions.  We need them to speak about justice. 

Pope John Paul II said:  “It is time to return to the principles of international legality: the banning of acquisition of territory by force, the right of people to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations and the Geneva convention.”

And, as the Muslim scholars said in their appeal for dialogue and peace “A Common Word”

“Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population.  Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.  …  With the terrible weaponry of the modern world; with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the world’s inhabitants. Thus our common future is at stake.

The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake. And to those who nevertheless relish conflict and destruction for their own sake or reckon that ultimately they stand to gain through them, we say that our very eternal souls are all also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony. God says in the Holy Qur’an: Lo! God enjoineth justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbiddeth lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorteth you in order that ye may take heed (Al Nahl, 16:90). Jesus Christ said: Blessed are the peacemakers ….(Matthew 5:9), and also: For what profit is to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26).  So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill. God says in the Holy Qur’an:  And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which God hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a law and a way. Had God willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Al-Ma’idah, 5:48)”

Although the Common Word document particularly addressed dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  I think it is time that a broad interfaith group of religious scholars come together to attempt to find some solution to the problems in the Holy Land.  It is the Abrahamic Faiths (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) who bear the brunt of the responsibility for what is happening, but the problems in the Holy Land effect the entire globe.  We must make it clear that God is not the author of this violence, injustice, and despair but our all too human misunderstanding of what it is that God asks of us.  Our religious leaders need to find a way to bring us back to a spiritual understanding, and to condemn in no uncertain terms all aggression and injustice in the name of religion.

“In order to understand the true dynamics of conflict in the world, we must be aware that the suffering in the Holy Land is the result of a conflict between two civilizational paradigms, one the spiritual, which automatically serves as a bridge among cultures, and the other, the secular, which sees material power as the only variable in the world and automatically breeds war.” Dr. Robert D. Crane

“That is why we must strive to see this in the most broad of terms. Israelis and Palestinians must be seen as one group of indigenous people of the land of Canaan, each with an unalienable right to live and prosper in their homeland. That two differing ethnic groups have come to inhabit that land is not important. This disregard is essential in because there will never be an acceptable decision as to whom has more rights to the land, in fact such determinations are impossible. These two groups have over the past 60 years done terrible, sometimes unspeakable things to each other, and neither side has a monopoly on pain, nor does either side have a right to retribution.” AllPeopleUnite

“Peace is not an alternative; it is a necessity for the true comprehension of the divine message. One does not attack those who are the intended recipients of the divine message. If we want to show our commitment to peace, then we must go beyond words and rhetoric. The least that we can do is to express our condemnation of the killing done in the name of religion regardless of the victims and perpetrators.  The self-killing that is directed deliberately at innocent people is not part of the divine faith: “None despairs of God’s grace except the disbelieving people” (Qur’an 12:87).” Aslam Abdullah

O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant. Qur’an 49:13