Alternative Palestinian Agenda


Saber Al Sabbar


The Patience of the Cactus

Rev. Bruce Burnside


Israel's policies on Palestinians imperil its soul
By Rev. Bruce Burnside
December 14, 2002

Israeli 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.

We 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.

This was the fifth trip for my wife and me. Increasingly we have witnessed vanishing hope and mounting fear.

We 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.

We 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.

We 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.

We 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.

We heard it from children, learning too much hatred and too little justice.

We 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 nightmares.

As 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."

A 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."

David 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 it.

Rev. Bruce Burnside is pastor of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in Monona.

Published: 10:33 AM 12/14/02






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