It’s quite presumptuous for a Christian to write about an Israeli political issue in the context of a Jewish holiday, but I do so as someone who has been blessed immeasurably by Jewish thinkers and public figures like Abraham Heschel, Martin Buber, Elie Wiezel, Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and many others. I love Torah. I love the Tehillim. If I didn’t struggle enough to read my Christian Daily Office and pray my Jesus Prayers every day, I would strive to embrace the mitzvot of Orthodox Judaism because I know they would draw me into deeper intimacy with my Creator. But I’m grieving this Yom Kippur for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. I’ve heard the spin about how the activists are romanticizing the poverty of Gaza. I’ve seen the pictures of the skyscrapers and beachfront resorts. I know Israeli soldiers aren’t monsters even if a few of them have done monstrous things, and that I have no right to put myself in their shoes. I just want for Jews and Palestinians both to have a homeland where there is peace and justice. And I want to tell you what I would do if I had clout and could gather a contingent of American Jews, Christians, and Muslims with clout to visit the Holy Land.
We would go to the Israeli Embassy and ask for permission to visit Gaza as well as whatever towns in Israel had received rocket attacks, explaining that our purpose would not be to discredit anyone but simply to express contrition for our complicity in the quagmire as citizens of the most powerful nation in the world that has not stopped tinkering in the Middle East for the past 50 years. Our delegation would engage in a witness of penance, possibly by fasting, shaving our heads, covering our faces in ash, traveling some manageable measure of distance on our knees, or maintaining a vigil of silence as we visited Gaza and the corresponding Israeli towns. We would sit on the ground and ask to be told the truth about what the people had suffered. We would weep for their suffering without condemning anyone or pretending that the whole situation isn’t a complicated, impossible to disentangle tragedy between the two categories of people who are oppressed in every other country: immigrants and indigenous. We would not use this as a basis for “proving a point” or “applying pressure” on anybody, but simply to bear sorrow in the spirit of Yom Kippur.
The first step would be purely penance and listening. Then, if there were a way to accomplish this without being paternalistic or imperialist, we would create a massive economic solidarity network to support the Gazan economy through American houses of worship, which I’m sure is already happening among the mosques. It would be difficult to accomplish this under current US law which likely considers any collaboration whatsoever with Hamas (and any third party that requires legal documents to do business in Gaza) to be aiding and abetting terrorism, but Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that economic development is his solution for the occupied territories. Perhaps if the Christian Zionists and AIPAC could be convinced to support the stated policy of the Israeli prime minister and if somehow there were a way to achieve economic solidarity without polluting Gaza with trashy Western culture or engaging in the kind of cynical exploitation that almost always happens when foreign investors go to the Global South, then Gaza could thrive. Obviously there are too many people living in Gaza for it to thrive, but perhaps the witness of a massive good will gesture would change the calculus for the Egyptian and Israeli governments so that some Gazans could move. If Gaza thrived and the walls were taken down, perhaps this could provide a game-changer for peace-loving majorities throughout the Middle East who need inspiration to root out violent extremism in their own countries.
This dream is utterly naive and grandiose, but I really believe that the “desolating sacrilege” prophesied in Daniel 12:11 and Mark 13:14 is the Palestinian/Israeli quagmire, which is the contemporary analogue of the day that Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected a Zeus statue in the Second Temple. The perpetual stalemate in this conflict that the US government has been complicit in supporting is what keeps Zion from fulfilling its vocation as a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). True Biblical Zionism cannot be secular nationalist. The Israelite prophet Isaiah is the model of a true Zionist. He anguished about living under the economically and militarily powerful King Uzziah in a land filled with chariots, treasure, and idols (Isaiah 2:7-8), because he saw that Israel’s vocation as the servant of the Lord was to be the means of the world’s atonement, not a worldly power.
I have no standing to judge any Israeli or Palestinian. I can only offer my contrition and penance. But I can dare to long for the day when Mt. Zion shall be established above every other mountain and all the nations will say come, let us go to the temple of the God of Jacob to receive His teaching, so we may walk in His paths (Isaiah 2:2-3). I can dare to long for the impossible: that through some absurd miracle, Isaac and Ishmael would be persuaded that YHWH and Allah are the same and they would tear down their separation walls together as an act of joyful repentance in order to rebuild a single temple where a high priest king Melchizedek could sit on a throne as messiah for Abraham’s two family lines and all the other nations grafted onto Abraham’s tree. It sure would be beautiful; my Yom Kippur fast this year is for the temple of all nations that would make the Holy Land holy again.