Renewed controversy in recent months over the location of Israel’s capital (Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?) takes my imagination to biblical Bethel in the West Bank. At this “thin place” between heaven and earth, Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending, and received promises about the land (Genesis 28).
For my own spiritual prospects, I take comfort from the fact that divine revelation reached even a scoundrel like Jacob. He had cheated his brother Esau, and now was fleeing for his life to distant Padan Aram. Northbound on the ridge route later called Way of the Patriarchs, Jacob stopped for the night at Luz (which he renamed Bethel or “house of God”).
With stone for a pillow, the fugitive heard these gracious words: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south.”
Similar promises came to his forebears Abraham and Isaac, and in all three cases there also was a moral caveat: “In you all nations will be blessed.” All nations, even today’s Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries. Isaiah echoed the same universal theme in describing God’s intent for the eschatological future of Jerusalem: “All nations shall stream to it. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2).
How could anyone argue historically or biblically that Jerusalem is not the capital of the Jewish people? But how could anyone miss the caveat, the call for justice that pervades the Torah and Prophets? Israel is to conduct itself honorably among the nations, but sometimes treats Palestinians with contempt and coercion today. They too are children of Abraham, and legitimately claim Jerusalem as their capital.
An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon, 2015) shows how my own European forebears did not behave honorably with similar competing claims to territorial sovereignty. Anyone who thinks that scalping was something that nasty indigenous people did to European settlers should know that such brutality often was the reverse. The United States government paid a bounty for scalps to encourage the massacre of Indians.
That history gives me, a U.S. American, pause if I critique Israel’s conduct in the West Bank or critique Israel’s apparent attempt at exclusive control of Jerusalem. But I reject the biblical rationalization and Manifest Destiny arguments that some of my forebears used to run American Indians off their land. I protest today if Israel does the same in the West Bank, and if Palestinians or other nations want to destroy Israel.
I have been blessed by the Jewish people, and gladly travel with groups to Israel. In the words of Paul, “to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah” (Romans 9). My spiritual journey as a Gentile Christian is inextricably linked to theirs, and I am grateful. I support Israel. I also support Palestinians–Christian, Muslim, or secular–whose claims to Jerusalem and stewardship of the land run deep.
© 2018 J. Nelson Kraybill *****************************************
Come with Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walking tour in the Galilee and Jerusalem! Dates are May 14-25, 2018, and the pace will be moderate. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took his disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route on foot, and travel by vehicle to see more. Note that this tour cannot be a large group, and we are near capacity for registration. Contact TourMagination promptly if you wish to join. See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/