Monday, March 31, 2008

Religious Questioning & The State of Israel

An old friend of mine with whom I've recently gotten back into contact has also "lost her religion" - to a far greater extent than I have.

While she still enjoys aspects of Jewish culture (i.e., food, music, literature, etc.), she's completely rejected anything to do with Judaism (as in the religion). Questioning religion, for her, was only a part of questioning the entire value system in which she was raised. Much like me, she was raised to be a Zionist, went to Israel for the year, went to religious Zionist camps, etc. And so, Zionism was one of the value systems which she questioned and ultimately rejected.

She's now not only pro-Palestinian, but actually anti-Israel.

I have always been more "liberal" in my Zionism than others. By that, I mean that I've always been appalled by people who implied or openly stated that the Palestinians had no legitimate side. Even as I saw certain Palestinian tactics as murderous and unethical, I've never been able to understand some people's reactions to them. One really otherwise-sweet girl in my seminary, for example, declared that if she had a machine gun, she would walk into East Jerusalem and open fire. This - and all of those people I would meet who espoused Kahane-esque philosophies - was completely incomprehensible to me. I always believed, you can't lump a nation/race all together and say they are all evil and all deserve to die. (That is, at the end of the day, the biggest problem I have with the biblical injunction to eradicate Amalek.)

It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I actually began to read literature written about and from the Palestinian viewpoint.

Up until that point, I had always been taught as though Israel had never done anything wrong EVER (almost certainly a mistake from an educational standpoint). That every piece of land acquired by the State of Israel was done so either by purchase from absentee landlords (thus, the problem was with angry tenants, as it was) or by humane methods after the UN Resolution.

When I found out that this wasn't always the case, I was left really confused. In addition to this, because I was simultaneously questioning whether the Torah was true, I wasn't really sure how the State of Israel could be justified. If God didn't give us the land, what claim did we have to it?

Of course, the literature I was reading was very one-sided and written from an emotional perspective. And though I have since come to see things differently, for a while (maybe a year or two), I felt really strange about my allegiance to Israel. So much so, that I couldn't even bring myself to say the word "Israel" around non-Jewish people without a queasy feeling in the bottom of my stomach. That said, for some reason, I still felt really attached the country itself. When I did visit, it still felt good in that way that it always had. And I couldn't (and didn't want to) imagine a world without Israel.

Interestingly enough, it took conversations with an Evangelical Christian Zionist to balance out my perspective again.

From these conversations, I have since come to the understanding that while Israel was not ethical in every decision it has made, no country can make such a claim. Yes, there were Palestinians exiled in unfair and inhumane ways. Yes, that's awful. But Israel has been ethical in many of its decisions. And those instances in which it has not been ethical do not revoke its right to exist.

The original settlements and the subsequent founding of the State of Israel were at least partially premised on the idea that in this hostile world, Jews needed their own homeland. And world events (pogroms, the Holocaust, and other persecutions) supported this thesis. If we look at Middle Eastern countries and/or certain European countries, today's world events still point to this need.

I'm rambling, admittedly, but it really made me feel strange to talk to this girl who now believes that the State of Israel should not exist -- especially at this point in the evolution of my belief system. She says that unless we look to the Bible, we have no claim to this land (implicit in her statement is that the Bible is not a valid source).

Now, I don't really want to use the Bible as a source either for such disputes. But certainly, if the Jews are to choose any land for the purpose described above, we do at least have a historic connection to the land.

I don't even know if that's important, though. In my mind, what it comes down to, is that she's now arguing for something completely unethical. There are generations of Israelis who have now grown up in this land, who own property, who understand this as their home. How would removing these people be ethical when removing Arabs from their homes was not? Can we correct something that was unethical (from her perspective) in the past by doing something equally as unethical today? Following her line of reasoning, to me, would be equivalent to arguing that we should remove the residents of the American West and give all the land to the Native Americans.