So I was wrong to simplify it last week as Jews treating Palestinians as Native Americans. This is going to be a really long post that kind of disrupts the purpose of this blog. But it is on my mind and I want to share the link of this post with some journalists and scholars, so I’m publishing it here. If you don’t care about understanding the Middle East from a schizoaffective disorder perspective, whereby I enter into foreign worldviews fully, just don’t read it.
Though they are new as a modern country, Israel, they are also biblical since Jews live there. Jews are of course a people who have existed since the beginning of time. This is especially true if we believe the very openings of the biblical narrative, which Christians, Jews, and Muslims do. Isreal means “westles with God.” Let’s just say this is an apt name, and I wish it weren’t as apt as it is.
I still have to study a lot, and I will continue to report back on what I find.
There are layers upon layers of interpretation leading up to the current conflict, Americans are also involved. We are coming at the matter from multiple worldviews, and some of them don’t communicate well with one another. Some actually want to destroy entire worldviews and the ideas they represent. At first glance seems foreign to us in the US, because we’re so “tolerant,” until you consider how we war with the Arab/Muslim world, and how, and not just because of war, we act as though their views are monolithic–which they aren’t–and “wrong.” Our intolerance is also seen in book bans by the Religious Right and in political correctness and the murderously rigid decoloniality of the Left.
Shocker: History predates the US! And Arab written historical record goes back over three centuries. They have a much richer historical mindedness in the middle east than Europe
Arab, Jewish, and Western perspectives historically haven’t overlapped except in Spain, many centuries ago, Northern Africa, in biblical times, and the regions of Israel and Palestine, where the root of the three Abrahamic faiths come together. They come together in distinct ways, and each side has a different historiography regarding these traditions. No wonder this region is the most explosive in the world.
Furthermore, each of the three faiths views itself in absolute terms (that vary in terms of branch and sub-branch of a given faith) and that don’t often cohere one with one another (the question of orthodoxy within the traditions aside, who determines the arbiters of orthodoxy varies).
New Paradigms are Desperately Needed. Immediately. No one is acting with blind justice that would mark Christian’s “Just War” tradition or Islam’s “Jihad”.
We need a new paradigm. Actually, paradigms. The problem is we think there is only one truth. Really, justice is truth in motion, and what is needed in JUSTICE! To Jews, it seems, the existence of Israel itself is Justice. What it is forgetting is that Justice is a process, and Israel has been systematically ruthlessly unjust to the Palestinians, especially Gaza in the last 15 years.
Justice is manifested in relationships. These are deteriorating as our worldviews become more simplistic in the hot black and white views as we near global war.
Hamas had been planning this attack, apparently, for at two years, and it was laden with symbolism as to when it happened, and its severity, and that innocents were targeted. This is the biggest loss of Jewish life from religiously motivated attacks since the Holocaust. We should all be mourning.
But it’s not so simple.
If we believe popular magazines like the Wall Street Journal or the Atlantic, or even the New York Times, though they’re showing at least some restraint, what really triggered the recent escalation was not Israel’s calculated building of new construction outside the predetermined limits of Israel, thereby ignoring the suffering of Palestinians upon whose lands they continued to encroach without reprimand from the US who funds them–especially in Gaza.
(Of course that was a factor, and it was a grave injustice that needed prophetic correction if one looks at the matter biblically, which I think is what Iran was referring to when they said that Israel brought its misfortune on itself.)
Nor was it Jews going into a mosque and desecrating it by praying there, which they knew would be incendiary–that also happened, and just a few weeks ago.
(Totally insensitive and egregious.)
Nor was it that Jews have denied Palestine statehood and don’t let Palestinians vote, and haven’t let people of Gaza leave the strip for over a decade except to work in Israel (“but they should be grateful!”)
(Oh wait, that’s also true.)
Shocker: Mainstream American Media’s Consensus Absolves the West of Guilt and complicity
No, what really triggered it was the virulent antisemitism of Hamas, a terrorist organization. This is genuinely true, it was a terrorist attack. Innocent civilians were killed with the aim of evoking terror and determining the shape of politics. But jihad means just war, and though the means weren’t just, the claim can actually be made that they were lancing an unjust situation.
Sidenote: Maybe in the West there is something to simply supporting the Jews at this time, though: There were recent protests in Austria put on by Jews, and Palestinian groups wanted to hold a counterprotest using the slogan “from the river to the sea” which is a slogan that Hamas uses, though it was co-opted by organizations that had initially been more justice-minded and less genocidal.
We Still have Religious Wars in the West. How can we hold israel accountable without stoking antisemitism?
It is a delicate balance that I wasn’t aware of before: when we critique Israel, which morally we must because they have been unjust to Palestine, we must be cautious that we aren’t stoking Nazi-like hatred from others. We have lost our ability to be complex thinkers. Can we not see that Israel has been egregiously at fault for its treatment of Palestine while also acknowledging that right now we need to support Israel, and that it should still exist?
My current work
Devastated by the unfolding drama, where there have now been innumerable innocent civilian deaths on both Palestinian and Israeli sides, I have bought several large books on Islam and Judaism and the Middle East am poring over these, astounded by my ignorance of both traditions when considered outside of the Christian worldview.
I’m so ignorant that it’s not even time for me to take notes as I read. No, I’m just reading. I circle every Arabic name and place, and none of them stick. It’s completely foreign, and therefore utterly exhilirating! I feel unable to understand that the Middle East is so different from the West, and just last month I was blown away by the intricacies of Japan, which I will definitely write more about later.
I speak Russian, German, French and Spanish in addition to English, and have studied European history in those langauges from the 17th to 21st centuries, earning two MA’s along the way via the University of California system, and having been a Fulbright scholar in Moscow. And I am completely ignorant about anything not European, and have a very biased view of that because I only read European, Russian and American perspectives. That, and American liberation literature, especially Latin American liberationist theology and Womanist theology (theology from Black female perspectives).
More love for the Middle East
Today, I have been reading about world history through Islamic eyes. The Muslim faith has as many iterations, promises, and foibles as the Jewish and Christian traditions. Take for instance Christianity, since I’m Christian. We have Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Calvinists, Lutherans, etc.. And mystics and fundamentalists in each of these branches.
The Middle East is is positively inspirational. I don’t think I will be able to sleep, so riveted am I by the Middle East. When I read a famous scholar’s work on “Orientalism” I didn’t understand it because I had never cared about the Arabic world. I was obsessed with Russia because the US hated Russia, so I wanted to understand her.
Though Islam incorporates violence in its teachings, so does the Old Testament (violence which both Jews and Christians have been inspired by at different times in our histories, in fact Israel is acting like the book of Joshua right now with the ban in Gaza). Yes, Islam can be harsh to women, but not all branches, just like not all branches in Christianity. The Jewish right that had taken over Israel had been against women too.
Have we Forgotten History?
It’s not like we’re innocent as Christians. The crusades and the inquisition were definitely Christian miscarriages of justice that damaged lives and nations, but we tend to forget about these things as Christians living now, judging Muslims as if only Islam is potentially violent.
Jews (Israelis) are now violently killing Muslims in Gaza who are innocent, but America (a largely Christian nation) is not denouncing it, despite our influence. We are no better. The calls for a just war (jihad) are being offered by Americans in the Just War Tradition from Reinhold Neibuhr.
Will we really drown out the true injustices Israel has perpetrated on the Palestinian peoples with American blessing?
Today, I have also been reading a book on Jews in the Americas–both North and South America– starting with their expulsion from Spain in 1492 during the Inquisition. Jews have been “other” from the beginning of time. This book starts about how they became “other” in the colonies in the Americas. Jews were all throughout the Americas, and not just in the United States.
In reading this book, I have stumbled upon an important point: the Jews didn’t just come to the US after WWII.
We Are Horrible at Teaching World History in the US
The way we learned history in the US is reductive, and it is harming how we understand and form policy about Jews and Israel and whether they should be in the Middle East and how we make the case for the two state solution. We are a teenage country in the United States. The way we tell history must improve. We must include Arabic and European and Asian perspectives and not just content, fully, in our American education system. We have people from the Arabic, European and Asian continents in most of our classrooms. This is the beauty of America. Our ignorance and Eurocentrism is harming everyone all around the world, and in the United States.
In reading the book about world history from Islamic eyes, I have learned that the way people learn about the world in the Middle East is from an Arabic and Persian perspective. Jews are viewed from a Muslim perspective that is more ancient, as combatants, and not just as a people of a certain religion or region. At one point, Jews and Christians lived peacefully under Muslim rule in Spain. But we can’t forget that even in the Bible, Hagar is kicked out by Sarah (and Abraham at Sarah’s behest). Muslims claim Hagar and Ismael as their own in the Abrahamic tradition.
In America we learn about Jews in the Middle East as Europeans who are settlers. Now, to say Jews are new settlers in the Middle East is a political statement. Some people, probably many if not most Palestinians, agree. But it’s an interpretation and not a harmless “fact.”
Jews in the Americas
Jews were already in the Americas even before WWII. They are both oppressed and agents of empire, according to the Jewish authors of this book I’m reading now (which came out in 2023). They sometimes had slaves, and sometimes were executed for their faith, never counting as fully “European.” In South America their race would change based on marraige status, and there were Black and mestizo Jews.
Jews were tortured and executed even in the Americas as a part of the Inquisition, which also played out in the Americas. It wasn’t just in Spain. I hadn’t know that before today.
Often, Jewish Spaniards and Catholic Spaniards in the New World alike thought of the Native Americans as one of the Jewish tribes scattered early in the Old Testament.
(This might be, since it’s a Jewish book, an attempt not to undermine the Genesis narrative that says it all started with Jews and Israel. It seems that just like Christians think they belong everywhere because we’re spreading the message to the corners of the world, Jews think they belong everywhere because they existed first. I don’t know Arabic views enough, but I imagine that they have their version of expansionism as well.)
There were openly practicing Jews in the Americas when the colonies were run by the Dutch, but when under Spanish rule, some Jews were forced to become what are called crypto-Jews, who had to practice their faith covertly and could be killed if discovered.
Israel Should Exist
In my reading, I have learned that Israel is important because it’s a place where Jews can be at home with themselves. Hopefully nationalism will be curbed and they can just cherish that they have a home in the Middle East and won’t continue to make Palestinians suffer in the ongoing apartheid state that they have been in for many many decades now.
Our Conceptual Shortcomings and Lack of Shared Understanding is Killing Gazans
What a Jew is has changed dramatically over the years and Jewishness was considered racial and ethnic and religious all at once, with different aspects playing out more prominently than others at different times, settings, and synagogues. But just like a crime committed by a Black person is still a crime, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was wrong, the wrongs of Israel against Palestine are criminal. We can see the first two things in the US, and in fact, pick on Black people and associate them with criminality to an egregious extent. Why are we blind to the sins of Israel? And how can we address these sins politically, and also by reminding Israel of her own Hebrew prophets in a way that doesn’t fuel Jew hatred? Can’t we just correct course without stoking thoughts of destroying Jews everywhere?
Our inability to do this is ultimately costing Palestinian lives. It is a moral and ethical aporia that is growing into more of an obsession for me than mental health, which has commanded my attention for the last decade. If my mental health has been horrible the last ten years, imagine what people in Palestine and Israel are going through. Hopefully in the coming weeks I’ll be able to share an article about it.