PEACE IN JERUSALEM
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
The Old Testament exhorts us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:6) Yet, despite this, and the fact that its name means “city of peace,” it has been a centre of conflict for thousands of years, and remains so today. The current war in Gaza may be about Israeli security and the Palestinian demand for the lifting of the Israeli blockade and the release of Hamas prisoners, but it is ultimately about the peace of Jerusalem. A city over which ancient Israel, the Syrians, Persians, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, the British, Germans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, have all fought, as do Palestinians and Jews today. Jerusalem is the key to peace in the Middle East; it is also a key to peace in the rest of the world. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is to pray for the peace of the world. But what are we praying for in relation to the present war in Gaza, and why is the United Nations now accusing Israel of crimes against humanity? Was not the State of Israel founded in 1948 in response to the Nazi Holocaust so that Jews might have their own homeland where they could control their own destiny in peace?
I have visited several former concentration camps in Europe built by the Nazi’s to incarcerate and murder those whom they considered undesirables: communists and homosexuals, and millions of Jewish people of whom six million were exterminated simply because they were Jews. This was the result of centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe propagated by Christians. If you have not yet visited the Holocaust Museum in Cape Town then you should do so to be more informed about this sordid crime against humanity. The State of Israel was established in 1948 to make sure that this would never happen again. But does the Holocaust justify what Israel is now doing to the Palestinians whether in Gaza or the West Bank?
The story is a complex one, but simplistically put, the founding of the State of Israel was the result of a war fought by Zionist Jews against British control in Palestine, in order to take control of Jerusalem. And the British Mandate that eventually led to its formal establishment was a European solution to the “Jewish Problem,” but much against the interests of the Palestinian majority living in the country. Naturally there was Palestinian and Arab resistance and even violent attempts to destroy the new state, not helped by some serious errors of judgment. But Zionism prevailed, and Israel has flourished, but at the ongoing expense of the Palestinians, including Christians.
Many Christians in the West think, however, that all this is in fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and therefore they give their uncritical support to the State of Israel. But Israel as the people of God in the Old Testament is about the Jews as a “light to the nations,” a people providing a moral compass in witnessing to God’s justice and mercy; it is not about the modern State of Israel, today pursuing its policies of security through expansion with ruthless power armed to the teeth by the United States. Being critical of Israel today is not being anti-Semitic or anti-Judaism any more than it was when the Jewish prophets called those in power in Jerusalem to account, demanding justice and mercy both in Israel itself and in its dealing with other nations.
More than the five million displaced Palestinians now live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, and those in Gaza and the West Bank live under Israeli occupation. Israel continually expands its borders in disregard of international law. The situation for Palestinians, especially in Gaza has become intolerable. This has led to the violent reaction led by Hamas, its rejection of the State of Israel, and the launching of indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli citizens. Hamas has rejected ceasefires and truces because in the past, despite promises, these have not brought about change; things have only got worse. So the war on Gaza continues apparently unabated. But it is a case of a David versus Goliath, only now David has all the tanks and helicopters and Goliath largely ineffective and inaccurate rockets.
On Tuesday morning I joined thousands of academics around the world in supporting a statement made by almost a hundred Jewish academics in Israel. It reads as follows:
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
Israelis have every right to live in peace; but the killing of over 650 civilians, with 4,000 more injured, many of them women and children — some of them playing on the beach — and the bombing of schools and hospitals, has turned the war on Gaza into a crime against humanity. Rockets may well be hidden in homes, schools and hospitals. But that does not give Israel the moral or political right to bomb wherever and whatever they choose, and to do so at will. The war has become grotesque and outrageous. But it is also counter-productive. The more Israel acts in this way the greater the resistance not just in Palestine but around the world. The truth is, there is no military solution to the problem, nor will a cease-fire actually solve anything unless the underlying problems are addressed. Conflict will continue, many more lives will be wasted, and the reaction of militants will become more violent. We know that from our own experience in South Africa: the only way forward is to pursue justice with mercy. Former President FW de Klerk said as much to the Israelis on a visit to Israel recently. They have to come to their senses through increasing pressure and diplomacy.
Luke tells us that as Jesus came near to Jerusalem on his way to the cross, he “wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!'” (19:41) Those who challenge Israel today, including many Jews, stand in the shoes of Jesus who wept over Jerusalem because its leaders refuse to recognise the things that make for peace. As we weep for the victims of war in Palestine and Israel, we also pray for peace in Jerusalem, for those who are seeking to make it a just reality, including those Palestinian Christians who witness to the gospel of peace in such terrible times. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 24 July 2014