Blood Covenants: Israeli Violence and Christian Complicity in the Oppression of a People
For centuries, many Christians have used the bible to justify countless violations against the autonomy of individuals, racial/ethnic or religious groups, and nations. Some of these violations take place at the hands of Christians themselves, while others are met with either outright support by Christians or at least (but not less complicit) their willful inaction. The exile and extermination of American Indians, the enslavement of millions of Africans, racism, sexism, and even antisemitism have all at one time or another (if not currently) had biblical precedence based on a skewed (if not literal) interpretation of the bible (Carroll, 2001). So I wasn’t surprised to see an old friend declare “Praise Jesus!” on a shared Facebook post highlighting the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem last month. I wasn’t surprised to learn that they said “Praise Jesus!” despite knowing that on the same day, more than fifty Palestinians were murdered along a fence in Gaza by Israeli forces for staging a protest related to the new embassy. And I wasn’t surprised that, when I implored them to see the bigger picture of what exactly was going on halfway around the world, they said, “god has a plan.”
There is a common misconception within Western (and especially Christian) culture that recognizes the beginning of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict taking place several centuries ago. The conflict is also often seen as just another chapter in the fight over “the holy land,” a geographical space that hosts tremendous significance to the three Abrahamic religions. These perspectives are false, however, and quite possibly projections of Western culture itself trying to distance itself from nearly two thousand years of its discrimination against Jews. Instead, the current turmoil in the region ultimately began after World War I, although its roots lie within the late nineteenth century. Moreover, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a political one, not religious.
Granted, there is much nuance within this larger narrative, so much so that any attempt at writing about it with complete objectiveness is nearly impossible. But to the extent that the loss of human life (or, to be specific, the murder of Palestinians) is being justified and, at times, even lauded by some Christians, I would argue that a reevaluation of the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a reexamination of the Christian justification for Israeli violence is an important starting point to any conversation that is had about it. Not surprisingly, my old friend declined to have this conversation with me.
II. A Brief History of a Modern Conflict
The modern state of Israel’s existence is ultimately rooted in the region’s history of colonial rule. As part of the Ottoman Empire, the area known as Palestine was populated mostly by Arab Muslims. But with the Ottomans having their fingers on the pulse of mercantilism for the majority of their 600 years in power, Palestine was also home to an ethnically and religiously diverse merchant class. In fact, despite the Arab Muslim majority, it was a common practice of the empire to place non-native minorities into positions of power, such as tax collectors or military officials. This was part of what Burbank and Cooper (2010) called the Ottomans’ “repertoires of imperial power”: that is, specific practices designed to govern a vast expanse of territory while retaining central control over diverse populations (p. 2). By moving a non-native minority into an area and assigning them power, imperial officials believed that the migrant intermediary would be indebted to the empire and less likely to garner a wide enough base of support for revolt. The system was flawed, however, and the Ottomans were quickly losing control of their empire’s borderlands by the nineteenth century. With the help of European powers, Egypt, Greece, and Serbia each split off from the Ottoman Empire and, to varying extents, became autonomous states within a twenty-five-year period. When the Ottomans found themselves on the losing side of World War I, their hold over much of the Middle East and Southeastern Europe was reduced to obsolescence.
The Middle East became the spoils of war for a select few European powers, such as England and France, following the First World War. Arbitrary lines were subsequently drawn across the map to divide the region into semiautonomous states which, according to the League of Nations’ mandates, would remain in a form of protective custody until they were deemed able to govern themselves. In essence, this was a continuation of the same colonialism that the Middle East was under during the Ottoman Empire, only with a vague promise that the outsiders would leave one day. Palestine came under the authority of the British, then, and until they withdrew in 1948, the area was a hotbed for violent colonial resistance by Palestinian Arabs. But they weren’t the only ones who resisted. Since the late 1800s, ethnic and religious Jews from across the world started migrating to Palestine partly to flee increased persecution, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, and partly to fulfill the vision of Zionism (the Jewish return to the Holy Land). Even though British authorities in the early twentieth century were amenable to the possible future of a Jewish state in Palestine, there were radical Zionists who grew impatient with the slow pace of achieving independence. Violence erupted between Arabs and Jews, Arabs and the British, and Jews and the British, and it was all related to the continuing colonial rule over Palestine.
Israel declared itself an independent state in 1948 following intensified violence between Palestinian Arabs and soon-to-be Israelis, and ever since then the region has been embroiled in waves of indiscriminate bloodshed and a constant state of unreason. On several occasions over the past seventy years, neighboring Arab states have challenged the sovereignty of Israel and lent their support to the Palestinian right of land and self-governance. With each challenge, however, Israel has been victorious, using mostly preemptive military strikes and employing the support of their Western allies (none more preponderant, of course, than the United States). And furthermore, with each new display of military might, Israel has continued to incrementally defy the United Nations 1947 Resolution for the partition of Palestinian land, ultimately leading to the military occupation of Palestine that is ongoing today, as well as the forced exile of millions of Palestinians. Ultimately, Israel has followed in the footsteps of its colonial forebears by claiming land that is not their own as the spoils of war and redrawing the boundaries not just on the map, but on the human rights of Palestinians as well.
I must pause briefly to make two important points. Firstly, there is a need to note again the considerable amount of nuance in this history. There are Palestinians who have committed unspeakable acts of violence in response to both the British and Israeli occupations and who have certainly stoked the fires of irreconcilability (Carter, 2006; Khalidi, 2007). But not all Palestinians. In fact, there is a large number of Palestinians who have never lifted a finger or raised their voice to oppose their fates as exiles or as prisoners in their occupied homeland (Barghouti, 2000). Likewise, there is a considerable number of Israelis who oppose their government’s continued encroachment on Palestinian land or use of unreasonable force against innocent civilians (Carter, 2006). In other words, the brief history above is not about all Palestinians or all Israelis. Secondly, much of the debate that envelops the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is centered on “who is to blame,” or more familiarly, “who started it.” This is a fruitless endeavor, however. Insomuch as this question is approached binarily (Palestinians vs. Israelis), it essentially serves first as a tool to justify support for one side or the other, and second as an abstraction that inhibits any real progress on ending the conflict and rising death toll. Who started it? The Ottoman Empire did, but they’re not around anymore to make amends for turning two different groups of people into both victims and monsters, so let’s move on.
IV. “For the Bible Tells Me So”
There is another group of monsters in this narrative—one which is far more closer to home for me than the fertile crescent. The success of the Zionist movement and the sustainability of the state of Israel could not be possible without the unwavering (or rather, blind) support of allies, specifically Christians, and especially Christians in the U.S. But why? Why do Christians that are half a world away from Palestine declare “Praise Jesus!” in support of a Jewish government that sheds the blood of innocent civilians in the streets and at fences? Ultimately, their support for Israel is rooted in a biblical prophecy which claims that the return of the “nation of Israel” to their homeland will usher in the return of Christ, Armageddon, and the rapture of all believers from earth to heaven (Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 37:21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-21). Cute, right? And quite possibly the most deplorably selfish justification for the oppression of a people in recent history. It goes beyond chalking up some death or tragedy to “god’s will” and adds to it the element of receiving a reward promised almost two millennia ago for blind faith, a covenant that is as blood-soaked as the one made with the Jews of the Old Testament.
Christian complicity in the oppression of Palestinians is actually not justified by the bible, though, and relating the state of Israel today with nation of Israel of antiquity is a misrepresentation of terms and of what is written in the bible. We often conflate the words “nation” and “country” today, and less commonly the words “nation” and “state” . But there is an important reason to why I have been careful to call Israel a “state” thus far (other than the fact that Israel is officially known as the State of Israel): the word “nation,” as it was penned and later translated in the bible carried a different meaning than what we associate with it today. Nations of antiquity were something more akin to a homogeneous ethno-lingual body of people, whereas modern nations are better characterized by the people’s political unity, although in most examples, they still retain at least an imagined ethno-lingual homogeneity (Anderson, 2006). In other words, modern nations are characterized by their modern governments, and nations from the bible are not. Therefore, the 1948 declaration of independence did not mean that the Jewish people had returned to their homeland. It rather meant that, anachronistic to any biblical prophecy, the State of Israel had been established.
A closer reading of the bible proves my second point: claiming that the creation of the state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is a misrepresentation of what the bible has to say about the Jewish people and how they should be governed. According to the bible, neither the god of the old testament or Christ himself were ever keen on “modern” governments. After being delivered from Egypt in the old testament, the Jewish people were governed by judges who were appointed by prophets of their god for more than four centuries (Acts 13:17-20). The nation of Israel asked the prophet Samuel to appoint them a king so that they could be “like all the [other] nations,” and while their god eventually agreed to the modernization project, he initially declared to Samuel that “they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (KJV, 1 Samuel 8:4-7). Christ reaffirmed this position in the new testament when he was asked about whether it was right or not to pay Caesar a tribute, and he answered, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (KJV, Matthew 22:15-21). Remember that the nation of Israel was under Roman occupation at the time that Christ was alive and, more importantly, when the ideas of his return, Armageddon, and the rapture were being spread . Ultimately, Christ’s message to a people under siege was to take comfort because their “citizenship is in heaven,” not on the earth (NIV, Philippians 3:20).
The nation of Israel has not returned to its homeland, and the exile, oppression, and murder of Palestinians is not the will of their god.
“The most dangerous of all enthroned lies is the holy, the sanctified, the privileged lie—the lie that everyone believes to be a model truth. It is the fruitful mother of all other popular errors and delusions. It is a hydra-headed tree of unreason with a thousand roots. It is a social cancer!” (LaVey, 1969, p. 32)
VI.VI.VI. Playing the Adversary
Next comes the big question: “So what?” Why should I, as a Satanist, care? First and foremost, my Satanism is not apathetic. Like The Satanic Temple’s first of The Seven Tenets suggests, I “strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason” (TST Seven Tenets). Moreover, my Satanism is defined in part by embracing what Ba’al (2015) called “The Narrative of Satan,” or more specifically, “an unrelenting rebellion waged against the antitheses of Satanic ideals and deeply held beliefs” (p. 7). As a Satanist, I feel compassion and empathy for Palestinians under an oppression that is justified by “the social cancer.” As a Satanist, I am moved to actively work against the exile, occupation, and murder of innocent people by a government drunk on colonialism and power. But is it enough to write a brief essay? To share it with others? Or even to shout “Free Palestine” every time I go out in public? The short answer is no.
As an American citizen, I am funding the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Aside from a portion of my tax dollars that helps to fund Israeli defense, there is a slew of corporations that actively invest in the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine with the money I spend on their products (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). This means that every time I buy a value meal from McDonald’s, or a Coca-Cola product, or even ink for my Hewlett-Packard printer, I am also being complicit in the oppression of a people halfway around the world. It is time to start playing the adversary.
- Nation: a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own. Country: a state or a nation. State: a politically unified people occupying a definite territory; nation.
- Keep in mind that Christianity was then seen as a sect of Judaism.
Anderson, B. (1983, 2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.
Ba’al, D. (2015). The Satanic Narratives: A Modern Satanic Bible. Hell: HLA Publishing.
Barghouti, M. (1997, 2003) I Saw Ramallah. (A. Soueif, Trans.). New York: First Anchor Books.
Burbank, J. and Cooper, F. (2010). Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Carroll, J. (2001). Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Carter, J. (2006). Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Khalidi, R. (2007). The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Boston: Beacon Press.
LaVey, A. S. (1969). The Satanic Bible. New York, Avon Books.
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