Israel's policies on Palestinians imperil its soul
Rev. Bruce Burnside
December 14, 2002
security officials scrutinized our entry at Ben Gurion Airport:
"Why are you coming? Aren't you afraid?" We heard
that question frequently during the two weeks that followed.
Fear is epidemic.
went to the West Bank during the November olive harvest to support
Palestinian villagers, who are often attacked by Israeli settlers.
Often the settlers steal and destroy Palestinian crops. Today
thousands of Palestinians suffer tortuous and untold economic,
physical and emotional despair from Israel's systematic and
insidious policies that destroy their olive groves, decimate
villages, kill countless innocents and foment despair, all under
the sham of security.
was the fifth trip for my wife and me. Increasingly we have
witnessed vanishing hope and mounting fear.
felt it on a rooftop with villagers in Kufr Laqif, watching
military planes explode flares all around the houses throughout
the night, and we experienced it with a brave, gentle man forced
to beg settlers day after day for permission to harvest his
own olives, which are now enclosed by settlement fences.
met it in the eyes of a dispirited family of 10, made to live
in a metal shipping container after Israeli bulldozers demolished
their house three times.
We walked through it at the Jenin refugee camp after children
and adults were mercilessly buried alive by bulldozers crushing
homes into a landscape that now looks like moon craters.
were told about it by a man at church in Bethlehem who sat between
his mother and brother, "feeling the warmth leave their
hands" after Israeli assassins shot them in their home.
saw it at Jayus, where Israeli soldiers launched tear gas and
bullets into a peaceful protest against the building of an apartheid
wall to encircle the West Bank. It will make the Berlin Wall
look like a snow fence in comparison.
heard it from children, learning too much hatred and too little
endured it at endless roadblocks designed for humiliation, not
security, which prevent Palestinian travel from village to village,
students from going to school, workers getting to jobs, sick
reaching hospitals, families seeing family, markets being reached.
... We viewed it in landscapes strangled by hundreds of illegal
Israeli settlements that devour not just Palestinian land and
economy but hope itself.
Strangely, there is another heartbreak. Christian Zionists -
many from the United States - express a religious fervor no
less fanatical than Muslim extremists possessed by a spirit
that motivates them to destroy others in the name of God. Christian
Zionists raise millions of dollars for Israel. They do it to
hasten the return of Christ, which according to their own peculiar
interpretation of biblical prophecy cannot occur until all Jews
have returned to Israel to rebuild the Temple. The dark humor
in this odd alliance is that those same Christians fully expect
Christ's return to inaugurate the end of Judaism. It is a mutual
exploitation. Israel, not duped by such motives, is happy to
receive its money but loses no sleep over such eschatological
a Christian I also read biblical prophecy but not to unlock
hidden calculations about end times, which Jesus warns is a
pointless endeavor. The biblical prophets voice God's demand
for justice among all nations. Micah warned: "What does
the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?" And Jeremiah: "Do
not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the
Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.' For if
you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute
justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the
fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood ... then I will
let you dwell in this place."
young Israeli student at Hebrew University named David said
to me on our last day in Jerusalem: "All this madness will
end, and justice will win. History has proven that nations built
on militarism and oppression cannot survive. I only pray that
our madness will end before Israel has lost its soul."
is right, justice will prevail. But it is not only Israel that
is in peril of losing its soul. That danger looms before any
who side with hateful rhetoric, evil oppression and inhumane
codes that must be fortified by bulldozers, razor wire, monumental
walls, assassins, torture, curfews, bombs and tear gas. Israel
has chosen that policy. It is time for us to cease supporting
Bruce Burnside is pastor of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in
10:33 AM 12/14/02