O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

My wife and I were in Jerusalem for a week in March. Below are some thoughts on the city, its religious heritage, and the current conflict. Please forgive the longwinded travelogue format — this is based on some thoughts I sent to family and friends after the trip.

It is called the Holy Land for a reason – religion is inescapable. Even when you’re not in the Old City (where most of the holy sites are), you can’t escape religion — the Dome of the Rock and church spires dominate the skyline, you see orthodox Jews in their distinctive clothing, and you hear the Muslim call to prayer over the loudspeakers several times a day. In a place where the absolute and transcendent are so ingrained in the land and the daily rhythms of life, it’s not a surprise that people feel so deeply about their conflicting identities.

In many ways it verified for me, in very tangible ways, that extremism is in fact the religious norm, given religion’s claim on the ultimate, and that it is moderation that we have to explain and work toward. (Here I am borrowing from the argument in Charles Liebman, “Extremism as a Religious Norm,â€? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22 (1983): 75-86.) Of course, religion can also work for peace and justice, not just violence and exclusion—Martin Luther King was proud to call himself an extremist in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and used the same term to describe Jesus and Paul. But it takes considerable courage, creativity, and strength to work for peace – it is much easier to channel one’s absolutism into a desire for domination, especially in a historically conflictive locale.

The reason we went was for a conference called “Whence the Heavenly Jerusalem? The Politics of Sacred Space and the Pursuit of Peace.” It was about as interesting as academic conferences get, largely because it wasn’t all academics. There were several panelists and presenters from the area, representing secular and religious Jews (including two Jewish settler women), Muslims, and Palestinian Christians. I’ve never been in an academic setting where two women got into a sustained shouting match, in this case over the use of the word “holocaust,” but it was revealing as to the depth of feeling over history and words, and how those things have real meaning in people’s lives and worldviews. My paper, on Mormonism’s presence in the Holy Land, was well received but ultimately unimportant in the larger scheme of things — the LDS presence simply isn’t very significant over there, and I said as much. (It’s not often that I give conference presentations in which a major part of my argument is that my topic isn’t all that important, but I felt it would trivialize the real parties in the contest if I were to pretend that Mormons had some deep stake in the matter.)

Besides the conference, we had about four days to explore, which we took full advantage of. Obviously we couldn’t see everything, but we got a very good sense of the Old City, seeing all the major sites and many of the other less famous sites that we had identified as interesting. The Western Wall (actually the retaining wall of the temple, not the actual wall), Judaism’s most holy place, is really quite remarkable. We visited twice, and I had a deep spiritual feeling about it the second time — particularly as I sensed how meaningful it was to all the people around me who were praying. I said a prayer for peace as I stood at the wall; I was jarred when I turned around and saw a young man praying just a few feet away with an automatic rifle slung on his shoulder (probably a soldier on break).

I also loved the Haram al-Sharieff (sp?), or the Temple Mount. Non-Muslims aren’t allowed in the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but it was impressive just to be up on the mount where so much sacred history has occurred — from Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac/Ishmael to Solomon’s temple to Herod’s temple (where Jesus taught) to the current Dome (the third holiest site for Islam). It’s too bad the conflict keeps us out of some of Islam’s holy places, as I would have liked to have visited, less as a tourist and more as a fellow
religious traveler.

Also intriguing, although simultaneously disappointing, was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site for Catholic and Orthodox Christians (most Protestants believe the crucifixion and tomb are at the Garden Tomb, which is outside the city walls and more pleasing to modern Western sensibilities). I was moved by the faith of the Lenten pilgrims, for whom this was clearly an incredibly momentous occasion, but it was so crowded, and several people acted quite rudely and un-Christian, that it was hard for me to get a sense of the holiness of the place. There was a nice moment, however, when a beam of sunlight from a skylight above shone down on Christ’s tomb. Most disappointing is that the church is in relative disrepair because the six churches that own it hate each other so much that they can’t come up with a plan to renovate and restore the church; they each have their own little fiefdoms within the church and are quite territorial — the tomb has had scaffolding on it since the 1920s because they can’t agree on a plan for how to restore it. Conflict is often the
most bitter between close brothers, not among distant cousins.

Walking along and then down the side of the Mount of Olives was a wonderful experience, particularly as I thought about how much Jesus loved to visit the Mount to pray and teach his disciples. When we went in the grotto at Gethsemane where some believe He performed the Atonement, there was a group of Asian Christians singing “Nearer My God to Thee” (in their native tongue), which was simple and touching. Seeing believers from around the world gave me more of a sense of the global reach of Christianity than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The most educational part of the trip was our trip to Hebron, which is a Palestinian city in the West Bank, but which was the first site of Jewish settlements after the 1967 war and which is now occupied by Israeli troops (approx. 1800 troops to protect 500-600 settlers). We went to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs (which houses Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebekah, and Jacob & Leah), which itself is a sad testimony to the division of the place – since a massacre of praying Muslims by a Jewish doctor several years ago, it has been separated into Jewish and Muslim sides, so Jews cannot enter the Muslim side and vice versa (Christians can go in either side). This complicated things for our group, since we had Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but the Jews agreed to not admit they were Jewish (which was a poor compromise but perhaps our only option), and we went in the Muslim side.

On our way back to the bus from the tomb, we were walking through some very dilapidated neighborhoods. Palestinian communities are typically poor, but these were even worse. Even stranger was that there was a fence above our heads with all kinds of garbage and debris on it. My first impression was that it was a dirty ghetto, but then our guide explained that we were walking under one of the areas of Jewish settlement, and the Palestinians put up the fence above the walkway because the settlers constantly throw trash, baby diapers, rotten food, etc. on people walking below. In addition, the Israeli soldiers block off any of the roads near the settlements and patrol heavily, so Palestinians have basically abandoned those areas, which means people losing their homes and businesses with no compensation.

It was at this point that we walked past a guard tower, on the corner of the settlers’ school, and were stopped by the squad of teenage soldiers stationed there. There was no reason for them to stop us, other than boredom on their part, and even less reason to detain us for over an hour — we were clearly an international group, mostly Americans, walking back to our tour bus. But we were forced to stop and stand in the sun — if we were Palestinians it would have been with our faces against the wall — and they even slipped a microphone out the window to listen to our riveting conversation. Although the situation was less than ideal, it gave us a chance to meet several Palestinian boys, teenagers and younger, who flocked around us. Some of them tried to act tough, but one boy in particular was eager to engage us in conversation. He told us he didn’t smoke (as opposed to one of the “toughsâ€? who was puffing away), clearly trying to communicate that he was a good kid. When the guards finally let us go, he smiled and said, “I love you.â€? In the midst of terribly dehumanizing circumstances, it was one of the most deeply human moments of my life.

The experience in Hebron gave me the smallest flavor of the degrading nature of the Israeli occupation–there really is no other word–and the deep damage that they are doing to Palestinian communities. The only parallels I could draw were to the Jim Crow South and to South Africa under apartheid. This is not a holocaust, as some Palestinians in their anger are wont to say, but it does feature many of the worst forms of colonialism, imperialism, occupation, exploitation, racism, and the ugliness of brute power.

I am sympathetic to the Israeli desire (and need) for security, but they are mortgaging their long-term security and even their humanity for short-term solutions that are in fact only exacerbating Palestinian disappointment, frustration, resentment, and ultimately rage and hatred. It doesn’t help that the Palestinians spend so much time fighting each other that they can’t provide a unified voice against Israeli abuses, or to stop terror from within their communities. The policy of the US and Israel to undermine confidence in the new Hamas government is working brilliantly, although I’m not sure that a plan leading to brilliant failure of a democratically elected government and then a brilliant escalation in violence is all that brilliant.

47 comments for “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

  1. Ben S.
    June 16, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    “Non-Muslims aren’t allowed in the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque”

    Really? When I was a student at the Jerusalem center, we entered and toured both, accompanied by our Muslim professor. I wonder if we just had special permission.

    Jerusalem’s magnetism is indescribable for me, and I enjoyed reading this as it brought back memories of my time there. Thanks.

  2. June 16, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I assume you were there several years ago, Ben. I can’t remember the exact date of when non-Muslims were barred, but it has been at least since 9/11/2001.

  3. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 16, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    I was on my mission in rural in 1978. Out of instinctive politeness, I bowed my head to an elderly black woman who reached the door of the country store before I did and said, “Excuse me, ma’am” . . . after which she did venture forth in, ahead of me.

    But she also began to cry. I was only vaguely aware of this transpiring — also vaguely aware that if a black person was in such a store and a white person happened to walk in, the black person was expected to meekly stand back a little bit and let the newly arriving white person be served first. Or, at least, this is what it seemed always did transpire — although at the time I halfway wondered if this was just how they were expected to act around “white people in dark suits and ties” like us? Although I doubt it.

    Anyway, when I’d noticed her crying, I simply thought it was because she’d never been shown such simple deference before (my not having done it to make SHOW of treating her the same as everyone else but just automatically and unthinkingly — as the “literally hated, myself!” Yankee I was: one who WOULD have joined an anti- Jim Crow march, at least, if I were to have been in another context than that I was: being on a mission at a time when disallowed to teach black people without local ecclesiastical permission.) But now I think she was crying since she sensed such an unconscious act, by a nicely suited non-local, was actually a harbinger of the times, that change elsewhere would eventually seep its way even all the way out to the sticks.

    You’re a wonderful person, Patrick. And not only does that little boy love personally YOU, lol — as well as others of goodwill in this world, but I sense God loves such actions as well — despite the fact that its been engrained within peoples’ superegos to abide by rules whereby distinctions and separations should be made among various groups.

  4. Clinton
    June 16, 2006 at 5:01 pm

    According to Wikipedia “Non-muslims are allowed to enter both the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque after paying for a ticket issued by the Palestinian Authority.”

  5. Nehringk
    June 16, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve never been to Jerusalem and probably never will make it over there, so I had to bring Jersualem to me. I was serving as bishop in our ward when we got money from Salt Lake to buy art for our chapel. After pondering about what we should order and where it should be hung, one of the items I ordered was a fairly large painting of Jerusalem, which I had mounted on the wall opposite my desk so I could gaze on the Holy City as I worked in my office. It brought a great sense of peace and reverence to the setting. I hope my sucessor is enjoying it as much as I did.

    Thanks for the post — it offered much to contemplate.

  6. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 16, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I’m generally an anti Nationalist.

    Anyway, I live in Teaneck, New Jersey, which is traditionally a Jewish enclave, and our public library has fairly numerous holdings regarding Israel. Anyway, once I was browsing through the stacks and came across a this old book about this famous Zionist thinker (whose name I forget right off hand) who’d been, I think, at the first Zionist Congress, et cetera, and yet whose views it said had been voted down. But it said that this guy had predicted that problems would result were the Zionists to put into effect, with regard to the local Arab population, expedient measures of what’s essentially fascist means. Also note also this political statement signed by Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook, Albert Einstein and others in 4 December 1948 issue of the New York Times decrying the fascism of the party led by Menacham Begin: http://phys4.harvard.edu/~wilson/NYTimes1948.html

  7. MikeInWeHo
    June 16, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    I believe that access to the Dome by non-muslims has changed back-and-forth over the years, depending on the level on political tension at the time. The Israelis have final say over everything in Jerusalem, don’t they?

  8. Mark Butler
    June 16, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    So a bunch of liberals tried to paint conservatives with a rather broad brush in a letter to the New York Times in 1948. What is so surprising about that. In the year 2048 should we take current statements by the contemporary left about the contemporary right as the gospel truth of the matter?

    Unlike the authors of the 1948 letter we have the advantage of the vantage point of history and we can investigate their claims better than they could at the time. Perhaps their is some merit to their complaints, but their say so prior to the facts of history hardly concludes the issue.

  9. Mark Butler
    June 16, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    “there is some”

  10. June 16, 2006 at 7:36 pm

    The Israelis control access to the Mount, but the Muslims control the Temple Mount itself. I know that access to the mosques goes back and forth, but right now they’re closed to non-Muslims. The Israelis are building a brand new entrance ramp to the Mount, again guaranteeing that they control access. There have been times when they have entirely closed off access, meaning Muslims couldn’t go to the Dome or al-Aqsa for prayer.

  11. June 16, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    I don’t recall ever having to pay for a ticket to see al-Aqsa mosque. Maybe I’m forgetting something. That doesn’t mean it isn’t required now. No doubt the PA is trying to get some much-needed currency, since funds are being held back.

    I’d love to be in Jerusalem. I miss the foods there. There’s a place where I like to read the International Tribune and devour schwarma. And there’s also a place I like to buy kanafi. Good thing I’ve got some bbq chicken baking or I’d be in utter misery right now.

  12. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 16, 2006 at 8:24 pm


    Doesn’t history show that mister Begin’s jackbooted freedom fighters under British colonial rule rather easily and unequivocally satisfy guestblogger John David Payne’s definition of terrorists!

  13. Mark Butler
    June 16, 2006 at 10:01 pm

    Well it is Haganah that I consider the responsible resistance. Irgun was a smaller group that did lots of things that definitely fall in the category of terrorism. The members of Irgun generally repented over their evil doings by 1948, however (with one notable exception), and fully integrated with Haganah in the newly formed Israeli Defense Forces in that year.

    The argument that has been made is invalid however because it is what Israel and the IDF did in the years after Israeli independence, not prior to that time that is what is stake here. To the degree that Israel does not follow the laws of war, they are an outlaw or criminal state. What some extremist groups did prior to the formation of the state does not decide whether the state of Israel is a competent authority under the classical just war doctrine.

  14. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 2:23 am

    I composed a short post that I went ahead and erased, but it may have SET A RECORD! in its referencing in such quick order: slavery, the Nazis, Apartheid and even the Mountain Meadows massacre and all in relation to Zionism! And: I was entirely serious about it too!

    It’s hard being a Leftie! But SOMEBODY’S gotta do it!

    Can’t we all just get along?

    — KLH

  15. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 3:19 am

    It is hard for me to argue too strenuously with Zionism when the Old Testament is littered with it:

    Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all:
    (Ezekiel 37:21-22)

    Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.
    (Jeremiah 16:14-15)

    And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.
    (Amos 9:5)

  16. June 17, 2006 at 10:46 am

    In regards to Zionism in the OT, my wife, who is a relatively new convert and never went through Primary, was preparing her lesson for this Sunday, about Joshua. It was the first time she had ever read in Joshua, and she was shocked. The violence, the slaughter of women and children…all because Israel said God told them the land was theirs.

    There’s an interesting book by Regina Schwartz called The Curse of Cain, which deals with the relationship of monotheism and violence, done through literary criticism of the OT. She argues, and it’s becoming somewhat trendy to do so now, that monotheism is inherently violent. That monotheists claims that their god is not just their god or even the best god, but the only God, and all others are imposters and fakes. This kind of absolutism leads to dualism, where everything associated with the true God is good, and everything not associated with Him is evil. Naturally we want to rid the world of evil, especially when the true God commands us to, and so violence is not an unfortunate evil but a necessary and positive good in cleansing the world of unrighteousness.

    The question that Schwartz poses, and which my wife essentially asked me while preparing her Primary lesson, is “What about the Canaanites?” As my wife said, “I had always imagined the land to be empty before the Israelites got there, but it wasn’t, and they had to kill lots of people to take the land!” For my money, 1 Sam 15, where Saul is commanded by Samuel to slaughter the Amalekites including women and children, is one of the most troubling chapters in all of scripture (although there are plenty of others).

    It seems this kind of scriptural basis is exactly what justifies things like modern-day Zionism, not to mention us killing all (or at least most) of the Native Americans and taking their land. The myth(s) that there is “empty land” for the taking (never mind the Canaanites, Natives, or Palestinians who live there), we are on the one true God’s errand, that violence is an appropriate tool in carrying out that errand.

  17. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 11:15 am

    First of all, the scriptures about the gathering of Israel hardly advocate killing. Second, neither did the vast majority of Zionists. Equating the two is enormously unfair.

    The modern state of Israel has treated the Arabs far better then we treated the Indians. None of this herding onto reservations. The Jews just wanted to gather and live their in peace. The British control of the area is what made that possible. If the Arabs controlled it they could have said sorry, we won’t let you immigrate here.

    So the Jews immigrate there under the protection of the sovereign civil authority, and the Arabs feeling threatened start a terrorist campaign to scare them away, if not wipe them off the face of the earth. Now true, some of the Jews reciprocated, but the vast majority of Jewish military action was purely defensive in nature. The Israelis as a people have never had a goal of exterminating the Arabs, where the Arab goal to exterminate the Jews, to wipe them off the face of the map, is so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable.

    However the Jews got there, by 1948 they were ready and willing to accept the U.N. Partition Plan, including international control of Jerusalem, to let Arabs on their side of the line live in peace, but the Arabs we never willing to follow the facts on the ground said as much and attacked immediately, notably putting the city of Jerusalem under siege so that the residents almost starved to death.

    Now the plight of the Palestinians is a sad one, especially the way they have been used by other Arab nations, but their whole problem revolves around one thing – they have never been willing to accept things the way they were and are, to get along peacefully with their neighbors who immigrated there legally – instead it is always endless attack and destroy to attempt to reverse a situation that largely came about through peaceful, legal means.

    There is no option of negotiation or compromise – anything resembling the status quo isn’t good enough. Their whole problem is they want something they cannot have. Instead of behaving like adults and turning Palestine into say a technology and research center like Israel with free flowing trade and immigration between the two, it is always gripe, insatiety, and revenge.

  18. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Equating Zionism and violence, that is. Also “live there”.

  19. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 11:21 am


  20. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Mark, I feel your //Jews having no desire to exterminate Arabs whilst Arabs are having one to exterminate Jews// to be more slogan than dispassionate analysis.

    Many Arabs do legitimately question the Zionist cause.

    Just as many Jews did the establishment of a so called Aryan nationstate/ homeland. And, for that matter, really — just as various constituent German principalities questioned a “German speaking” nation state — and also just as some in the Austrian portion of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire questioned their being annexed into the German homeland.

    Just as Gandhi questioned the movement to form Pakistan; Britain, that of Ireland; the Ottomans, that of an ethnic Greek homeland and nation state. Whereas the various fascists supported Zionism as fellow travellers. Just as skinheads now support Farrakhan. And, to be logically consisten, Mark, ethnic nationalists of whatever stripe should also support skinheads. (Sorry, Mark — but it’s diifficult to discuss virulent, ethnic nationalisms without violating REDUCTIO AD SKINHEADSUM — !)

  21. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    The Jews did not start attacking the Arabs; the Arabs started attacking the Jews. The Jews were willing to accept the U.N. Partition Plan; the Arabs were not. The 1948 War was not started by the Jews it was started by the Arabs. With a few exceptions, the Jews did not kick the Arabs out of their homes – the Arab nations invited them to flee from what they were about to turn into a war zone. There was no master plan for Israel to expel Arabs – they left voluntarily.

    Israel was quite willing to let the refugees return to their homes, in exchange for formal recognition as early as 1949; but the Arab countries refused to recognize Israeli legitimacy. Proper compensation or return should be made – but the way to do that is by appealing to the inherent morality and justice of such, both with the government of Israel and on the world stage. Continued terrorism is the greatest obstacle to return – in fact it was the original reason why the few Arabs that were expelled from their homes were kicked out in the first place – they were being used as human shields.

    The Zionists did not originally intend to create a Jewish state, but a Jewish homeland, even one in the midst of a larger friendly Arab state. There was an agreement to that effect once upon a time. The need for a Jewish state came about because the Arabs were unwilling to pursue their opposition through peaceful measures, or even according to a legimate (i.e. law of war compliant) recapture of sovereignty from the British. Instead they had to blow up Jewish settlements. Of course a minority of Jews descended to the same tactics, but the Haganah and the British authorities actively cooperated in defending civil order. When was the last time the Palestinians defended civil anything?

  22. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    According to the German constitution, anyone whose progenitors spoke German and who speaks it themselves can claim German citizenship. Thus the Ashkenazis who were founding Israel were ersatz German citizens. If National Socialism wished to accomplish a polarization of “Aryan” and Jew, there really ought to have been instituted, after World War II, a Jewish homeland within the former holdings of the Third Reich rather than this secular Zionism within the former colonial holdings of the British. But then, of course, it’s a done deal now. OK: Fine.

    Yet, the answer to the problems caused by discriminatory means is to rethink these means or to become increasingly ironfisted in supporting them. Which side are you on, Mark?

  23. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    It is the first rule of competent authority by the way, that you protect those you rule over, no matter who they are. By and large the Israelis protect the Arabs under their rule – where the Arabs have always expressed the desire to kill all the Jews.

    Any group with a genocidal or terrorist impulse, Arab or Jew (e.g. the Stern Gang) has no claim to be a competent authority. That is why Palestine is currently not recognized by the civilized world – they are a group of democratically elected rogues – a majority of criminality. States that sponsor terrorism are by long standing convention not states at all, but brigandi.

  24. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I am on the side of the right. And the first principle of right is working towards one’s goals by peaceful means, whenever possible. This do not the Palestinians.

  25. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    So, Mark, you’re saying that if you leave your Teaneck, New Jersey, home during some “skinhead” conflict and afterwards I violate US law (in Israel’s case, international law) by my not letting you come back, due to my reasoning that your presence will make my ethnicity a minority rather than a majority in Teaneck: I’d be justified?

    Cogent reasoning! (So: Which skinhead faction do you belong to?)

  26. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:21 pm

    Actually, strike that “wherever possible”. By peaceful means period. Self defense is not a goal, but a condition.

  27. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    I never said that, nor anything that implied that, Kimball. Whether you are a minority or a majority is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant in this case is criminality or support for criminality.

    The Israelis should either allow the Palestianians to return or fairly compensate them for their losses, on condition that they covenant to live in peace and give up their homicidal activities. The majority of the Palestinian people will not do this, so Israel is dragging their feet, in my opinion unjustifiably. Israel should get on with the business of piecemeal compensation and/or return right away. The Palestinians should abandon their cult of death and destruction and get on with civilization.

  28. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    If Israel let them return en mass, Jews would soon be a minority in Israel. Which would be fine!

    (Still, Mark, “if” — I say rhetorically. As I’m sure you did! — you followed events in South Africa, ya know that strong minority rights for whites there still did not translate to the maintainance of a white ethnic state.)

  29. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    On the infamous evening of “September the 11th” I happened to have been in Newark, New Jersey and boarded a bus back up to Bergen County. On it were numerous people who’d been evacuated from buildings near to the Twin Towers.

    One shell shocked man, describing his witnessing people from his apartment jumping to their deaths from out of the burning Twin Towers, said numerous times, utterly seriously, “We should just nuke Palestine!”

    I finally turned to him and said (only once), “But wouldn’t that be the same thought and action of those who just did this deed THEMSELVES had!”

    But the vibe I’d picked up from the mood on the bus was that this gentleman’s idea was the epitome of reason and logic while mine was ridiculously waaaaaay out there.

    He was actually right, though! You have to nuke Palestine . . . . . . . or RETHINK Zionism.

    Nothing else will ever work.

  30. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Doing anything en masse is always dangerous – Israel should get on with it, not turn the world upside down overnight. Jews were 31% of the population in 1948. Given the immigration since that time, I imagine that they now outnumber the Palestinian Arabs with claims within their boundaries by a factor of two to one. If they do not want to let some of them return to their lands, then pay them fair compensation, so they can acquire/build new homes.

    One question I have, is why don’t the Palestians want to become part of the state of Jordan again? Jordan seems to be a much more competent authority, one who could tame their worst tendencies and expedite their claims.

  31. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    “If the borders don’t change, [U. of Haifa professor Arnon Soffer] added, current population trends point in 2020 to 6,300,000 Jews is Israel, the West Bank and Gaza combined — alongside 8,740,000 Arabs.” (@ http://www.forward.com/issues/2004/04.01.09/faces.html )

  32. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Thanks for the information. I had no idea the West Bank was that densely populated. However, since a unified Jewish-Arab state is no longer in the cards, those Arabs that would likely return given the peaceful (i.e. non-genocidal) opportunity would still not outnumber the Jews in the areas likely to remain in Israeli hands indefinitely, i.e. excluding Gaza and the West Bank.

    Any idea on why the West Bank Palestinians do not get together with Jordan, and Gaza with Egypt? Whatever happened to pan-Arabism?

  33. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    South Africa tried not-really–autonomous homelands too. Funny how history repeats itself.

    Israeli only bypass roads through fenced off Palestinian neighborhoods with Israeil attrocities underreported since they’re justified by self-defense? Thus folks can say, “We didn’t know!” Does this sound familiar?

    Meanwhile, Israel’s colonial doublespeak colors its oppression as fulfilling Kipling’s white man’s burden of civilizing the natives!: 19th-century colonialism’s present day manifestations being wherever there’s ongoing ethnic nationalism — circa 1984 — today. So that where Muslim areas in Greece/ Bosnia/ or Israel as are cordoned off and occupied are “diputed,” where replacement, non-Mulsim settlements are just “neighborhoods.”

    to ethnically cleanse —> to “transfer”
    armed resistance ——-> “terror”
    utter domination ———> “peace”

  34. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 2:50 pm

    Kimball, we are immersed in that kind of rhetoric. Where is the argument? Or at the very least a recommendation for a practical Israeli policy to rectify the situation.

  35. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 17, 2006 at 4:19 pm


    OK, how about Israel should:

    Let the settlements be? And if settlers wish to remain, let them apply for Palestinian residencies? (Oh, we can’t do that! Palestinian’s are barbarians! (But ah yes: Nothing worse than the scant liberty afforded others by a people themselves recently liberated? As Israel themselves should know.))

    Accept innevitable minority status? And therefore: Draw up a new constitution for Israel? Accepting all longtime residents of the cordoned off neighborhoods in Israel and residents in the territories and refugee camps as citizens, with no preferential rights granted to any nationalist group? Thus, by definition, no more Law of Return; also land claims proceeding by title without reference to the claimant’s ethnic status?

    The other option: to build big walls/ fences and immediately forcibly migrate peoples on to one side or the other once and for all, with or without granting them whatever compensations and just to accept all of this as at worse a necessary evil and at best a manifestation some process championing some kind of eventual, true, separate but equal, ethnic self-determination?

  36. June 17, 2006 at 5:21 pm

    A typically spirited discussion here between two informed observers.

    I’ll only say this — I went to Israel basically feeling 50/50 about the conflict — I figured both sides had good (and bad) arguments, both sides had atrocities, both sides have rights, both sides have legitimate grievances. I left Israel about 80/20 in favor of the Palestinians (now it’s probably 75/25, seeing how Hamas and Fatah are both making matters worse by fighting each other — although it’s primarily as a result of US & Israeli policy to not allow any funding to Hamas, thus undermining their authority despite democratic elections).

    The fact of the matter is that regardless of what happened in 1200 BC or 1948 or 1967, the situation on the ground now is that Israel is a colonial power oppressing a colonized people. The level of structural violence against the Palestinians behind the wall, and against Arabs within Israel, is quite remarkable. I don’t think Israel is malicious in all this — I genuinely think they see it as an necessarily aggressive policy of self-defense. But the problem is, now that they are the ones in power, they are acting that way, and as Gandhi said, no one ever gives up power voluntarily. Israel is making life a living hell for most Palestinian families, many Palestinians are reacting (understandably) with anger and (understandably but illegitimately) with violence, which then justifies Israel’s oppressive policies of self-defense.

    At this point Israel, not the Palestinians, have the greater burden of blame, and have the greater burden of peacemaking (real peacemaking, not unilateral strategy), because they are the ones with power. They want it both ways — they want to be in the driver seat, then they get mad when the Palestinians don’t act as “equal partners” in the peace process, or when they can’t control the militants among their population.

  37. Mark Butler
    June 17, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    I have never been to Israel, but my perception is that the Israelis are weary of all this are willing to grant the Palestianians just about any reasonable request provided they grow up, and act like civilized peoples, civilly and socially pressuring the insurgency to stop, for good. Almost anything for peace, lasting peace, not just a ratchet step in their eventual annihilation.

  38. June 17, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    “Act like civilized peoples”…this kind of subtle racism is exactly the problem. If only “they” were as civilized as, say, America and Israel, since there’s nothing uncivilized or violent about “our” highly civilized and peaceful cultures.

    Mind you, I’m not saying you are racist, Mark, and I’ve appreciated very much the depth of thought in your comments, but that is in fact a racist comment. Some of the Palestinians’ actions may be uncivilized (just as many of Americans’ and Israelis’ acts are barbaric), but to suggest that the real problem is that “they” are not civilized and that they simply need to “grow up” and “act” civilized, is in fact a racist jab, and deepens the problem by subtly perpetuating stereotypes.

    Sorry for the lecture.

    And as you probably know, the majority of Palestinians are in favor of a two-state solution, as are the majority of Israelis, but the problem is where to draw the border. Neither side is irrational, but they are seeking their own interests, and Israel with its military and economic power has the upper hand in the process (i.e. unilaterally building a wall to literally concretize the borders they want, including the settlement land grabs).

  39. Mark Butler
    June 18, 2006 at 12:47 am

    An ethnic comment, perhaps, but racist? Hardly. What does it have to do with genetics? Color of skin? If opposing systematic, cultural promotion of death and destruction is anti-ethnic then sign me up.

    Cultures, like people, with self or other destructive impulses will either repent and reform, or they will end up on the ash bin of history – not by our doing, but of their own device. We had a civil war over our destructive impulses, so did the British, and also the French. So where is the war for reform within Islamism? Anywhere? Or are is everyone just content to follow their terrorist friends carefully down to hell?

  40. Mark Butler
    June 18, 2006 at 12:59 am

    When a man begins to be an enemy to this work, he hunts me, he seeks to kill me, and never ceases to thirst for my blood. He gets the spirit of the devil—the same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Life—the same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost. You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence” (TPJS, 358).

    So the question is why the thirst for bloodshed? Why are so many Arabs followers of vengeance? Where comes this desire to exterminate? And who is going to stand up and save Islam from its darker side? Where is the light within? Where is the evidence that Islam is truly a religion of peace, and that people are willing to die to keep it that way? Either Islam is in actual practice a religion of death and destruction, or the vast majority of Muslims are afflicted with the worst sort of moral cowardice – letting others shed the blood of the innocent in their name and the name of their God.

  41. Mark Butler
    June 18, 2006 at 2:30 am

    with hardly a word to the contrary.

  42. aletheia
    June 18, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    I saw your post earlier. Are you in earnest or are you trying to be provocative? If you’re the first, the either/or is more an expression of shock and misunderstanding (Are we still in shock from 9/11?) than an accurate description of Islam and its choices. Bet you the Iraqis are asking alot of similar questions about the “Christian” USA every time a child is killed or the Marines go on rampage.

  43. Mark Butler
    June 18, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    I am in earnest. I realize the dichotomy is not perfect – there are subtleties to the question, but it is about as stark as any comparable choice ever was.

    As far as your implication of necessary moral equivalence, there is nothing that makes me more sick. It is an article of faith among too many contemporary liberals that all systems of authority (read culture) are created equal. That is a wasting disease of the mind – the end to rational thought about religion, culture, and civilization everywhere, indeed the end of all three.

  44. aletheia
    June 19, 2006 at 3:07 am

    Mark, Your constant searching for the shakes and quivers of liberalism really cloud your vision. You don’t have to be a member of the “liberal” cabal to call you on the illiberality (remember that old sense?) and sloppy formulation of your questions on Islam.

    Try altmuslim.org or any of a number of Islamist associations in the West if you’re looking for Islam that is more mainstream and, I guess, less dark-side than Al Qaeda. You’ll see some people trying to dialogue up hill with publics that range from the hostile to the indifferent and coming up with answers to your questions and others in honest (and sometimes dishonest) ways. Altmuslim even has a podcast available from the Apple Music Store.

  45. Mark Butler
    June 19, 2006 at 3:25 am

    I wouldn’t be so sloppy, if the positions I was challenging were not so outrageous in the first place. I am aware of the more liberal adherents of Islam in the West. However, they appear to be a minority with little influence, in part due to a massive infusion of funds from Wahabi fundamentalists into Western Islamic institutions.

    Of course it is a wonderful thing, and I hope they keep it up, let their voices be heard, and export their doctrine back to the Middle East. At the moment their efforts seem rather embryonic, however. Either that or the press outright ignores them (or some hybrid situation perhaps, a qualifier which should not need to be said). It would be *far* better if the Middle East were the origin of Islamic liberalism, not the West, of course.

  46. Mark Butler
    June 19, 2006 at 3:33 am

    By the way, monotheism per se is not the cause of religious extremism. Religious extremism is invariably associated with theological determinism, fatalism, and absolutism.

    Now perhaps someone can enlighten me as to present Islamic belief, but scholastic Islam had all those three attributes in spades, the very same attributes that contributed to the intensity of the wars of the Reformation.

    If you are sure you are an instrument in God’s hands you can do anything right? Even if you are doing something evil, God is acting within you for some greater purpose. You do not really choose what to do, everything is according to God’s eternal decree.

    Now the best support for scholastic Calvinism is in the Old Testament, potter/clay, total inability and all that, so it is hardly surprising that such Semitic concepts were reflected in Islamic culture.

    So might I suggest that what Islam really needs is a Muslim Jacobus Arminius?

  47. Kimball L. Hunt
    June 19, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Wahhabism played into the various ETHNIC NATIONALISMS — and in this particular case, it’s the Arab one — the Imperial English made good use of to distablize her rivals (which, in the case of the Arabian penninsula, is the Ottoman sultan: the history of which is memorialized within the famous book by that secret agent posing as an archeologist, T.E. Lawrence. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.)

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