Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part 4: Only Visiting—a Mere Breath

We humans are a “mere breath” here for a brief time and then gone—so very finite, as religion and modern science both teach us.

None of us can permanently “own” anything. The sheer delusion of history has been and still is that anyone--any individual, any group, any nation can “own” land and that their owning this land gives them the right to kill other human beings created in the image of God.

Only God is eternal, only God theoretically “owns” any physical reality. When God gives land to groups of humankind for a finite time (“…he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation,” Acts 17:26), God does so in order that each particular nation or ethnic group may be a blessing to others! Life is not about taking, but about giving.

Even when God chooses one people to be special messengers to bless humankind and then gives this group a portion of land, their living on the land is always to be based in justice and mercy as the prophets say. “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24 and “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does God require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8 and “… if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness.” Isaiah 58:10 ETC.

The horrors of human history and the tragic news of the present day show what happens when humans turn to lethal violence in order to “own” land.

No national group has an ethical right to claim sole ownership of any land irrespective of the needs of others--of goodness, love, and justice. Instead, we are to give, to be generous, to share, even sacrifice.

The Spirit of God divides asunder all the honest misguidance, illusion, and pretension of both Israelis and Palestinians who claim some parcel of land is theirs alone! Wait 100 years and the proud “owners” will be gone. These warring nationalistic individuals will be gone with the wind. Only God knows where.

But, agonizingly true, the deeply, incredibly difficult agenda is how to implement a loving, just, fair policy for all people in the Middle East. How does one put into practice the spiritual truth that Jewish people and Arab people need to share, because they are only visiting this earth like the rest of humankind?

#1 The first step would seem to be for the warring parties to become “compassionate listeners” ( Tragically most Israelis and Palestinians avoid each other. Not only do they not share, they often do not know each other, let alone have deep open honest conversations. They need to listen to the grievous hurts of the other.

#2 Secondly, they need to ask each other for forgiveness for the past. Horrendous acts of violence, theft, lying have been committed by both sides.

#3 Thirdly, the Israelis and Palestinians need to remember that they as individuals created in the image of God are far more important than any land claims.

#4 Fourthly, they then can go about the difficult task of working out how to function together despite having different cultures, different religions, different mindsets.

#5 Lastly, they will then be able to tackle the issue of how to SHARE the land, not to “own” it, not to fight over it, not to claim exclusive right to it.

There are many more steps, all of them difficult.

Having lived and worked in Palestine/Israel myself, and knowing how difficult human relationships are in my own life, I realize, none of this will be easy nor will it come about in a few years.

But agreeing to LISTEN and agreeing to SHARE are a good place to start.

In the Light of God,

Daniel Wilcox

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Part 3: Jew or Arab? History and Religion

Historic claim when it comes to ownership has much appeal and quite a bit of historic precedent. If you have owned your car since it came from the factory, but then someone steals it, then it makes not only legal sense, but common sense and I dare say philosophical sense, that the property should be returned to its original owner—you.

If your family and ancestors have lived on the same land for hundreds of years, maybe in a few cases even a thousand years, then unless you are a murderer, etc., it would also seem common sense to assume you have the right to stay there.

But this is where the case of historic claim gets tricky, and downright conundrumed! What if another family’s ancestors lived on your little spot of heaven before your family, way back many hundreds of years ago. Now they have returned and want their ancestral land back?

To use the simplistic crass example, what if the car you have owned for 29 years didn’t come to you from the factory but was passed down to you by your grandfather? What if it turns out your grandfather originally bought it from a neighbor, who bought it from a friend who it turns out stole it from the original owner? Who gets it? Who’s on first?;-) We end up with a complex semantic confusion of mumbo-jumbo absurdity very quickly, not unlike the Abbot and Costello baseball skit. 'Whadad' you say?

This is where lawyers and court justices make their living, trying to sort out all the legal complexities of complex conundrums of claim.

And, of course, the simplistic example is just that. Though complex from a legal standpoint, it’s simplistic in comparison to figuring out the historic nature of land ownership covering hundreds, even thousands of years! In real life it so convoluted. For instance, in Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life by Sari Nusseibeh, the author states his family first came to Palestine in the 7th century. Think of it! His extended family has lived in the area for 1,300 years! Then how could Jewish people moving from the United States in the 21st century possibly claim land ownership? Because they go even further back, another 600 years backward, to when the Romans decimated the Jews and their Jewish leader Bar Koba in 132-136. Before then, they claim Jews continuously owned the land for a long time, well, except when it was owned by the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Philistines, etc.

Of course, some Palestinians such as Yasir Arrafat, claim they can out trump such long-winded history, stating their own ancestors were the original Canaanites, who owned the land before the Jewish conquerors came, slaughtered them and took their land away from them.

And so if we rely on the historic claim, we end up becoming sleuths of history, mining the ancient past for evidence. The most huge difficulty of all this is, as any student of history knows, nearly everybody came from somewhere else at some time so living by historical claim not only gets questionable (based on various countering reports by historians, turning into an imponderable legal question), but nearly everyone everywhere now would have to move from their land.

Californians would have to leave their land of the last 150 years and give it back to the Mexican government who would have to leave and give it back to the Chumash, etc. who need to leave and give it back to what unknown tribe who now claims to have a previous claim. The English would have to leave England, the Scots Scotland, the French France, etc.

Also, the historic claim often leads to the next claim--the religious/worldview one. For instance, historically the Jewish people have claimed that God ordered them to take over the land in question and to slaughter every man woman and infant of the Canaanites.

Thus, we have a religious claim by the Jews that the God of the universe ordered them to take the land versus the opposite religious claim of the Arab Christians and Muslims who present alternative claims for the Trinity or Allah ordering them at some point in the past (the Crusades or the Jihad) to take over the land and kill the inhabitants. Many modern American Evangelicals/Fundamentalists argue that the Israeli government is going against God now if it gives even a few yards of Gaza or the West Bank to Arabs!HAMAS claims God is on their side. I wonder what Buddha thinks;-)

Sheesh! See why most humans, when faced with land ownership in the Middle East throw up their hands and cry, “It’s hopeless.”

But I don’t think the final answer, Visitor Status, is hopeless. Come back for the fourth installment:-)

In the Light of God—the Ultimate Reality of the Cosmos who loves every single human who has ever been created and who loves the whole cosmos, and who is wooing all toward Goodness, Truth, Beauty, and Love in the final consummation.

Daniel Wilcox