Important!Some thoughts on this day before Easter, stemming from an email conversation between two Palestinians, one here in America, a college professor who lives and professes nearby in Arkadelphia (where my grandparents married in 1900), and the other who lives in Jesus’ home town of Nazareth, a city of mostly Christian Arabs that is now part of Israel. The comments following are slightly adapted from my belated leap into the fray…
The proverbial elephant in the so-called “Holy Land” room is the diaspora Palestinians, who for 70 years and now in their third or fourth generation of exile, have rotted in squalid indignity and injustice while the rest of the world looks the other way. Until they are included in the conversation, and until this festering sore is allowed to heal, discussions about what to do with “Israeli Arabs” (who inconveniently forgot to flee for their lives in 1948 like the others) are a complete sham.
This is the first week I have participated in Holy Week services at our local Episcopal church. Day by day, we have been reliving the last week of that most interesting other Palestinian from Nazareth… A few days ago, the rector delivered two sermons about the lead-up to Jesus and his followers trying to shut down Jerusalem’s temple economy, and the ensuing riot that sealed his fate. Maybe it’s high time for us to upend some American sanctimony and start a riot of our own among fundamentalists itching for Armageddon.
I was raised Baptist. In Beirut, where my parents were missionaries for four decades, and where I likely crossed paths with [the Palestinian in Arkadelphia] in the 1960s. I know, first-hand, the invisibility of refugee Palestinians, the simmering tensions between various confessions, and the arrogance of Ugly Americans who believe in their own exceptionalism. I know because I was one… I also know what sort of offensive misery Israel dishes out to its neighbors and the indigenous peoples unfortunate enough to live under a brutal military occupation that is, ironically, much like the one Jesus suffered under two thousand years ago. For fundamentalist Christians (I prefer the term “christianists”) to uncritically fawn over Israel and its thug du jour Netanyahu is the height of hypocrisy. WWJD? Pretty sure he’d raise hell.
It does bother me that Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, increasingly self-identify according to their religion. While those distinctions, and sometimes dissensions, have existed for millennia, their exacerbation, to the point of violence and ethnic cleansing and even genocide, have been carefully and deliberately cultivated by the West. It is disingenuous to suggest that all this present collateral damage and blowback (of which 9/11 was the most obvious example and ISIS is the latest cause for widespread hysteria) is somehow unrelated to our constant meddling in affairs that are none of our business. In my youth, there was an ancient Jewish ghetto in Beirut, not far from my school. I still remember seeing store signs written in both Hebrew and Arabic. Now, about all that is left is a restored synagogue and a token handful of Jews. There used to be vibrant Jewish communities all over the Middle East before 1948, but no more. Why? I’d suggest it has everything to do with maintaining the flow of cheap oil, an addiction that effete sheiks and ruthless Zionists have brilliantly exploited for their own selfish interests.
A day of reckoning is coming my friends. The status quo is unsustainable. The recent “Arab Awakening” was successfully quashed this time (as was our own “Occupy” blip, thanks to an abundance of pepper spray and a highly militarized police in the service of corporate interests), but how long will the West be able to suppress the rest of the world? It’s taken me nearly 60 years, but I’ve given up on Baptists. They were once on the front lines of education and social reform, but today their proud ignorance and faux patriotism (nationalism) and blind regard for Israel as some kind of magic talisman, a lucky charm to be cherished and stroked ad nauseum — have devolved them into elaborately produced extremists, as zealous and beguiled and slick as any tea party Republican or grotesquely gilded evangelist. There are still a few Christian groups brave enough to stand against Israel, and against this present season of hatred and prejudice that is raging in our own country, but Baptists here in the South are not among them.
It is time for Christians in America to stand with all Palestinians, whether they are inside the self-declared borders of Israel, or still waiting on the outside, waiting to return to their ancestral homes. Whether they are Christians or Muslims or Baha’i or Zoroastrian. It is time for Christians in America to stand with all disenfranchised people everywhere. The homeless and poor and imprisoned here at home. Those we tortured and abused and denied the privilege of self-rule abroad. Tomorrow is the day we Christians celebrate the victory over death of a man who was killed because he dared to preach about a new world order that is still largely unrealized. Would Jesus even recognize Christendom today were he to return? Would we recognize him?
Monsieur d’Nalgar, Saturday, April 4, 2015
Photograph of vandalized Muslim grave at a cemetery in Evergreen Park, Illinois, Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Friday, Aug 17, 2012. http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Hate-Graffiti-Muslim-Graves-Evergreen-Park-Illinois-166522676.html