A Promised Land
The Israel-Palestine war is kicking up a lot of questions.
How did we get here? Why for four or five generations has there been an active volcano in Israel/Palestine that can erupt at any moment? Israelis, Palestinians, and the three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—all claim the land. Whose land is it? Who is the occupier? Can we make any sense by looking at history?
Jews have continuously occupied what is now Israel/Palestine for at least 3,000 years. Arabs have occupied the same land for the last 1,400, side by side with Jews. For most of that time, the land was taken and controlled by a parade of foreign occupiers: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, and finally the British. There has never been a formal Palestinian state and no Jewish state since 63 BCE. Rome renamed their province of Judea, Syria Palestina, about 135 CE after the second Jewish-Roman war that finally purged most Jews from the land. The name stuck.
But 100 years ago, at the end of WWI, Britain took control of the area and supported a declaration calling for a Jewish national home in Palestine, opening the door to Jewish migration and creating tension and conflict with the Arab population. Twenty years and another world war later, Britain withdrew its control of Palestine in 1948, and the newly-formed UN approved a partition of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Arabs rejected it; Israel declared independence; Arabs attacked; Israel defended and won most of the land partitioned to Palestinians, then purged those Arabs from their homes. The stage was set for the constant conflict of the past 75 years.
Both Jews and Arabs have ancient claims to the land. But land is always occupied by the winner of the last fight, and Jews and Arabs have taken and retaken this land over millennia. Whose land is it now and what can we do from the sidelines?
We can start by admitting that history is not decisive, that all people have a right to a place to stand, and that we can’t afford to reflexively take sides and fall into the same patterns of hatred that lead to atrocities we abhor.