Does the Bible offer any wisdom regarding the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine and the warfare that erupts all too often between the State of Israel and Hamas? This violence is very distressing and seems to be unending.
Here are some thoughts on the question about the Bible and the awful Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- As usual, the Bible has a variety of answers to dilemmas such as this one. On the one hand there is a great deal of interpersonal and ethnic conflict in the Torah, with the Divine voice sanctioning the Israelites taking the Promised Land. On the other hand, there is the constant injunction to respect and care for the ‘strangers among you’; i.e., non-Israelites who for whatever reason are living among Israelites.
- As we proceed into the prophets there is a repeated focus on justice. In Isaiah 58 he rebukes the community for thinking that ritual purity can replace moral purity. “Loosen the bonds of injustice, feed the hungry” is his stern command.
- The Torah uses the same term—to oppress—to describe what Egyptians were doing to Israelite slaves and to what Israelites were forbidden to do to their own. In other words, it is justice that defines the religious community, not just personal background, explicit theology, or ritual.
- None of this tells us exactly what to do, who to support or condemn. It does suggest that our task as Americans, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists or anything else is the pursuit of justice.
- The great progressive journalist I. F. Stone once remarked: “If God is, as some say, dead, He no doubt died trying to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
- So if God can’t, it’s not wonder we’re not doing so well either. On the other hand, if we took the political and religious leaders from both sides and stuck them in a tin shack in the Sinai desert with no air conditioning and little food, and said they couldn’t come out until they found a way to make peace and stop killing each other’s children and wasting all that money on weapons of war, and preaching hatred, and ignoring each other’s suffering—well, then maybe they’d actually do what they were supposed to do instead of using the conflict to bolster their own power and privilege.