Sunday, April 3, 2011

Part III The Middle East: Religion ruins everything and I am not just talking about Jews versus Muslims.

Disclaimer: What you are about to read will not flow very well and will be filled with a mixture of facts, opinions, analysis, and sarcasm.  I am not a theologian, writer, or editor.  Please accept my apologies.
During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.  The city, the area known as Judea, and greater modern-day Israel itself  has been ruled by the Canaanites, Hebrews, Assyrians, Greeks, Egyptians, Philistines, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Babylonians, Crusaders, Turks, Mamluks, Ethiopians, Mongols, Jordanians, and the British to name a few.  What is the big fuss about this land?  It is about the only spot in the whole region that doesn’t have oil (it’s meant to be a sarcastic modern reference) and yet for millennia men have fought and died over it?  Is it about religion, nationalism, commerce, water, all of the above or none of the above?
Certainly during my days of reading the Old Testament in Hebrew School I was more interested in preparing for my Bar Mitzvah than I was geopolitical and sociopolitical aspects.  Yet today, after several visits to Israel and keenly watching the present day turmoil, I ask myself why there is so much strife and why do some who have no dog in this fight make matters worse? 
Even before the birth of Christ and the creation of the Koran, the region has been a hot spot for war going back to the time of Abraham in 1800BCE, the Exodus from Egypt in 1300BCE, the Kingdom of David in 1000BCE, and subsequent Greek and Roman dominations.  As a gateway linking the fertile lands of Mesopotamia to the lands of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, present day Israel, along with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, has been strategic in the movement of goods, materials, and labor.  Even during these times, times when the Hebrews were the sole monotheistic religion, there was a sense of religious tolerance.  I am not saying they were treated as equals or didn’t suffer from persecution.  The Temple of King Solomon constructed after the death of King David ~900BCE, stood for 400 years before being destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, its last remaining retaining wall is the holiest site in Judaism referred to as the Wailing or Western Wall.  We’ll call this Landmark #1. Did Nebuchadnezzar ransack Jerusalem because he was an anti-Semite?  Not likely as he also tried to invade present day Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon.  Before the birth of Christianity, religion was simply not a factor in the wars amongst tribes, nations, and races.
 Relax my gentile friends; I am not blaming the coming of Christianity as the source of the regions problems.  What it did do is bring another chapter of history into the world, the New Testament that spoke of Jesus’ works around the Sea of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.  When visiting Jerusalem and walking the Via Dolorosa and setting foot in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it is evident this site is as important to Christians as the Western Wall is to Jews and why the Church and great Kings of Europe set out on centuries of holy crusades to conquer this land.  Like the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Jesus was crucified and buried, was destroyed by invaders.  We’ll call this Landmark #2, and it sits only several hundred yards from Landmark #1. 
Fast forwarding to the 7th century CE, we arrive at the birth of Islam as documented by what Muslins call the Final Testament or Koran.  Over a 23 year period Allah, through the angel Jibril (Gabriel) delivers this book of divine guidance is created by the prophet Mohammed.  Unlike the New Testament, the Koran traces the history of Islam from the arrival of God’s first prophet Abraham and the birth of his son Ishmael, the older brother of Isaac.  In the Judeo-Christian beliefs it is Isaac who God asks to sacrifice to show his devotion, in Islamic beliefs it is Ishmael.  And that is where the differences begin and get wider and deadlier.  In 632 CE, it is from The Temple Mount, the same location where the Temple of King Solomon once stood, that the prophet Mohammed ascends to heaven and thus making this spot the third holiest site in Islam.  Here we have Landmark #3.
The story of Abraham, as documented in the Book of Genesis is considered the creation of the monotheistic religion as believed and preached by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  From this common start, these three religions would embark on centuries of warfare, destruction, murder, and persecution all in the name of God.  For nearly 1,400 years of Saracen invasions of North Africa, Iberia, and Judea; the Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, and the movement to reclaim the holy land for Jews, war has been waged and holy sites desecrated out of intolerance for other religions and beliefs.
Today, we have Evangelical Christians such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin preaching that the Jews have rights to all of Israel because that’s what the Bible says.  Well that’s not entirely true.  Evangelicals require the land of Israel to be whole and they are simply backing the Jewish state due its commanding position.  In their world the Palestine Mandate for partition of the land according to the United Nations is not applicable.  What is equally disheartening is the Evangelical belief that the land referred to as Palestine by the 1947 Mandate that included the Jewish State and the Arab state must all be controlled by Israel in order for Jesus to return.   These new friends of the State of Israel are welcome by many current Israeli leaders as they try to thwart the creation of the Palestinian State.  In fact President Johnson’s decision to arm Israel during the six day war in 1967 was buoyed by his evangelical upbringing.
Fundamentalists on all sides fuel the fire. Whether it is the orthodox Jews establishing communities in the West Bank, leaders from Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad who want all Jews wiped out, or evangelicals who think by burning Korans they are doing God’s work, we are guaranteeing that centuries of secular and religion-based war will only continue. 
Coming up in Part Four: Politics and Foreign Relations, what you won’t hear on the nightly news.

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