Sunday May 23, 2021
Missiles fly between Israel and Gaza. Buildings collapse. People die – currently, about 20 Palestinians for every Israeli. Despite having vastly superior weaponry, supplied by the U.S., Israel still sees itself as little David against the Goliath of Gaza.
On Thursday, the combatants declared a ceasefire. But I doubt if this story will have a happy ending.
We call it the Holy Land. My exposure to it came in a brief period when Israel and Jordan had worked out an amicable arrangement for handling tourists. We walked across the bridge from Jordan into Israel. Officially, we were never there. The Israeli guards didn’t stamp our passports. There is no official record that I was ever in Israel.
But I was.
Flickering slide show
Assorted memories flood back.
Swimming in the Sea of Galilee.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Devout Jews bobbing their heads in ceaseless prayer. Less devout tourists stuffing slips of paper – prayers, I suppose – into crevices between the great stones. Somehow, the next day, there’s room for more slips of paper.
Bullet chips in the stonework of most buildings.
The model of Jerusalem, as it might have been in King Solomon’s glory, at the Holy Land Hotel, Solomon’s Temple dominating the city as the Acropolis once dominated Athens. Our Arab guide refusing to go in. He saw the model as propaganda by the Jews to justify their occupancy of his homeland.
The obsession with building churches on top of anything connected with Jesus – someone called it an Edifice Complex.
The most aggressive souvenir vendors outside of India.
The scandal of Christian faith groups feuding over who controlled what parts of which holy place. Churches with wealthy supporters flaunting statues and icons glittering with gold, silver, and gems; the poorer ones making do with dust and cobwebs.
Heavily armed Israeli soldiers casually rest their automatic weapons against your shoulder while they fumble for their bus pass.
Arab boys hurling rocks with a velocity and precision that would make Bob Feller envious.
I wonder if any country on earth has seen more consistent violence than Palestine/Israel. Or is it just that we know more about the endless conflicts there, thanks to the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings in the Bible?
Wars against the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Moabites … In one appalling passage, God commands genocide against the Amalekites – men, women, children, livestock, even pets.
Also wars between the sons of Jacob. One act of revenge so totally exterminated the tribe of Benjamin that the other tribes had to volunteer some of their own members to recreate Benjamin for posterity.
In Jesus’ time, the region was an irritating pimple on Rome’s backside. Other conquered nations accepted the inevitable, got on with business, and profited from the Pax Romana. But Rome had to constantly crush Hebrew rebellions. Protestant Bibles conveniently leave out the grisly saga of the Maccabees, but tourists line up to visit the final defeat at Masada.
Strange place to preach peace
Since Jesus, western Christians launched at least eight crusades. Armies sacked and pillaged their way across Europe in repeated attempts to dislodge the heathen Saracens from three religions’ holy city.
Britain spent the first half of the 20th century trying to suppress Zionist terrorists -- who became leaders of the new nation of Israel. Who then spent the last half of the century, and more, trying to suppress Palestinian terrorists.
During my visit, years ago, we stayed in a kibbutz on the shores of Galilee. Each evening, an elderly patriarch told tales of Jewish settlers always going out to the fields in pairs. One man farmed; the second stood guard with a loaded rifle.
We crossed Galilee by boat to a kibbutz where Syrian forces on the Golan Heights above used to shot down into the village school. The children, we were assured, could make it from their desks into an underground bunker in less than a minute.
Why would Jesus choose such a place to proclaim his message of peace? Wouldn’t he have had a warmer reception in Athens or Rome? Or even England, as William Blake fantasized: “And did those feet, in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green…?”
Perhaps precisely because it has such a lurid history of continuing violence. If the message of peace, of love between neighbours, even love for one’s enemies, could be heard there, it could be heard anywhere.
So I hold little hope for diplomatically negotiated ceasefires or peace proposals. I fear that violence – endless attacks and reprisals – are built into the genes of the region.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Lots of mail about last week’s column on wild lands and subdivisions. Maybe we should change our terminology. Instead of “undeveloped land,” perhaps we could call it “damaged land.”
Fellow blogger (if you know of a gender-free synonym for “fellow” please let me know) Mirza Yawar Baig noted my comment “We don’t have value for anything we can’t tax”. She replied, “That is so right, and so wrong. You know what I mean. Same story everywhere.”
Tom Watson echoed Mirza’s theme: “The thought that nothing undeveloped has intrinsic value is very sobering. Not only have we plundered undeveloped land, we have also hunted and fished various species to extinction. Seems that nothing has a value to us unless it can be monetized.”
David Gilchrist wrote, “Your comments on our ubiquitous flower (which I love to see in my lawn, and refuse to poison) made me realize how little I actually know about the dandelion (except for its ignored food value). So I went on the web to learn more.
1. It does, in fact, grow on unbroken land -- if it can get some sunshine.
2. There are actually varieties native to Canada -- though the common type is Eurasian.
“I’m glad you are still able to get out and enjoy the nature trails. Also glad you are able to keep my sleepy mind awake with new thoughts and perspectives to think about. It is indeed appalling how ‘planners’ seem oblivious to our finely co-ordinated, mutually dependent environment: flora, fauna and physical.”
Bob Rollwagen: “Wet lands or swamps have always been viewed as a problem to be conquered or drained or filled with gravel. We now know how vital they are to our environment.
“Recently, in Ontario the opportunity for tax revenue almost cost the loss of a critical wet land. Closer inspection illustrated options that would be better for all. A fortunate outcome.
“Developers, planners, and farmers have all been draining swamps for revenue opportunities and destroying environments that have taken thousands of years to create and areas that create the balance that provides us with clear water and clean air. Beware the politician that has to reduce the deficit, balance the budget, and reduce personal taxes at the same time . Beware the politician that heeds all the warning and does a worse job the second time through. Some are still cleaning up the mess left six years later by similar types and yet others will soon return from fighting Covid and continue to destroy one of the best education systems in the world.
“We once spoke of ‘draining the swamp’ as a good thing. When will we learn?
Mary-Anne MacDonald agreed: “Very little thought goes into planning our communities these days. You are so right -- it is all about the dollar and how to tax the land. Naramata was a good example a few years ago when they stripped the land for a subdivision. Then there was a rainstorm which caused immeasurable damage. Had the developers listened to the people they would have learned(maybe) that the vegetation was needed to hold back the flood waters. The same thing happened in Deep Cove in North Vancouver.
“Everything on this earth has a purpose and plays a part -- it should not to be stripped away. I believe it can be incorporated into the builds etc. But it seems greed prevails every time.”
Elaine Thomson: referred me to some Jehovah’s Witness articles on the same topic, and added, “My husband & I had the pleasure of moving here, to beautiful Kelowna about 7.5 years ago. Coming from the Prairies, I have often remarked to Allan, ‘I feel like we r living in a postcard!’ Your recent piece 'A eulogy for wild yellow flowers’ was so timely. So much of our beautiful planet has been ruined, all in the name of 'progress'!”
Randy Hall shared “some of the ‘sinking feeling’ that you had. Next to our log home we have a stand of oaks and pines. Next to those is a field planted twice a year with rotated crops -- corn, soybeans, etc. Jane and I walk by it during the week and enjoy watching the crops grow and inhaling the oxygenated air.
“After seeing little red flags along a line in my front yard, I learned that the field is going to become a housing development. Plans for four homes were approved. Soon the sounds and sights of rich farming land being turned into a vinyl village will begin. I've asked them to leave some of the oaks and pines as a buffer. We'll see.
“Change and progress are not the same, although two persons' loss may be four families' gain. But I sure will miss the corn and soybeans.”
Hanny Kooyman compared experiences on two continents: “In the forty some years that we have lived here in the Okanagan, we have seen destruction after destruction, more no trespassing signs and more gates. One wonders: When will humans learn the value of the area they are living in? When will city planners learn to plan with the value of nature in mind? Or only when it is entirely too late?
“Forty years ago we were amazed and rejoiced to find this pristine world. Coming from Europe we looked around in wonder, hardly able to believe a world like this still existed! Meanwhile Europe has learned and changed its ways. Land is set aside, inhabitants are encouraged to include ‘the natural’ back into their own yards. Birds return, bees thrive and more.”
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