Gaza: Notes of an embittered apostate

This is directly quoted from a posting to a list earlier this evening. I find this topic entirely unbearable. First, from a poet in Canada:

What’s terribly fascinating (in all sense of the word, terrible) is the way those offering ‘defenses’ of both sides can manage to sound so ‘reasonable’ as they portray the necessity of violence. So, in our paper on Saturday, we had Robert J Lieber (special to The Washington Post) saying that ‘Lasting peace will only be possible once Palestinians accept that they cannot prevail ober Israel by use of force,’ & arguing that the land attack is ‘necessary.’ Daud Kuttab (also special to The Washington Post) says that ‘support for Islamist movement was waning before Israel’s heavy-handed action in Gaza.’ both took sides. The most interesting piece was by Gershom Gorenberg (special to the Los Angeles Times), titled ‘Shortsighted leaders have released a flood of fury,’ in which he blames the leaders of both Hamas & Israel for their foolish belief that violence will win the day, force the other side to do what they want. He also points out that the ‘victims’ on both sides simply do not know (he says that Israelis can see more of what is happening on the other side of the world than what is happening in Gaza) how bad it is for their Others (more so for the Israelis’ sense of how it is in Gaza).

The bitter truth seems to be nothing will change, but many will have died to achieve this terrible status quo.

I don’t want to talk about this but if I don’t my descent into dishonesty will be complete. If you have problems with theological issues behind social and class activities, I’m sorry, but the Middle East is perhaps the most blatant argument for and against a God idea that I know.

Random and in need of fact checking:

I read a theory, presumably emanating from an Israeli scholar, that the founding history of the Jews is perpetrated on a mythological fraud. According to the theory, the Jews were Egyptian monotheists who were kicked out of Egypt and then had to account for their history by inventing it. Hence Eden, Cain & Abel, the Flood, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, and the liberation from bondage. Oddly–and this I heard from a rabbi over 30 years ago–there is nothing in the Egyptian chronicles that suggests that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt much less were enslaved for 400 years. According to the theory, actual Jewish history begins with King Saul and his successor David because other nations engaged in trade and warfare with them.

Out of this period (the Kings and Chronicles books) comes one of the most merciless incidents I have ever read, from 1 Samuel (emphasis added):

Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'”


And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

Given the period, the prophet Samuel probably was real even if the history was somewhat embellished. That’s what makes what happens even more distasteful. For Saul “disobeys” and doesn’t kill everyone. Oh, children and women, sure, why not? But Saul spares farm animals and the King, Agag. The animals are plunder and the King is ransom. Samuel has other ideas:

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?” And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Saul repents, but Samuel rejects his repentance on the grounds that God has rejected the King of Israel. God talks to Samuel and Samuel talks to the King of Israel. A bad day. But for the King of the Amalekites, it’s as bad a day as you can have.

Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is at hand.” But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Hacked to pieces. Not enough to kill the man, but you have to treat him like a sacrificial animal.

There is (for me) no way to rescue this passage from the “true believers” except to assume with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and a few of the earlier Israeli government heads of state and military that everyone had to be killed. And I can’t do that. This is the fishbone passage in the Prophetic books. There probably are others: this one is mine.

Another thought–

This morning when I read the Times online and read of the land incursion into Gaza, cutting it in two, I flashed to some things I did not want to think or feel. One was Guernica (well, that was from the air), a second was the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, yet another was the tanks rolling into Budapest and Prague to quell uprisings, and the last I dread to write out. The Warsaw Ghetto. Right. Jews acting like the people who almost ran them off the earth 65 years ago.

What can come of this except mutual extermination?

I take this way too personally despite the fact that 12 years ago I abandoned the Jewish religious ship. No, I wasn’t a rat, and it wasn’t sinking, but I left anyway. And a priest I knew at the time suggested that for Christians, even though Christianity began in those same hills, cities, and deserts, the religion was and is portable. Christians don’t need the Holy Sepulchre for there to be the Christian structures of belief. But for Jews and Muslims, the land itself is holy. It is supposed to be the legacy of Abraham to his two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, who according to the mythology became the Jews and Muslims. It is the brothers’ war and it is fought for the same land.

Who wants war and who wants peace? Does anyone really want to end this or just win? Passion seems to defeat reason every time. In 1977 Anwar Sadat made a separate peace between Egypt and Israel. And I was friends with a man from my class in Binghamton who was teaching at Columbia, and who told me that Edward Said was storming around Hamilton Hall kicking things and loudly cursing “Fucking Sadat! Fucking Sadat!” I thought Orientalism was a remarkable book, but Said’s reported behavior seemed less thoughtful than belligerent and vindictive, as though someone had messed up a greater plan.

What plan?


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