WHY THEY FIGHT
There's a big alignment of the planets this month. Their gravity combined is only about 18 times Earth's gravity so remember to prepare for catastrophic events. Like the tides being a few inches higher.
I see your anti-bamboozlement filters are in place, good! Let's concentrate on more important stuff, like our Resident's upcoming war against Saddam Hussein. You know, the little operation where he gets to clean up that ugly stain on the map his dad left. Reality check! I don't think that's going to happen as planned, Dubya. Your dad at least could marshal the necessary international will for that war, he just didn't take it far enough. What with the new Intifada still burning in Palestine, I don't think you're persuasive enough to get that kind of cooperation. Where's a little Texas justice when you need it? Unfortunately things are not conveniently black and white there, are they? These two sides seem as set in their vengeful ways as the planets are in their orbits.
Did you see that old series "Why We Fight" when they showed it on the History Channel? It was a set of propaganda films that Frank Capra made to motivate Americans to fight the bad guys in World War II. I wonder what films the Palestinians and the Israelis would make to inspire their people today? Film at eleven I guess; there's plenty of blood and gore footage for both sides lately. But exactly why did they start fighting anyway?
My son asked me that same question after his teacher came up blank. Fortunately Closet Philosophers have to know these things so I was all prepared to answer him. It took about an hour to explain it all but I think now he understands it as well as anybody can.
But enough of that. Now I want to talk about Robert Blake's arrest and how famous people think they are above the law.
What, you think that isn't important!? You want to hear the stuff I told my son about the Mid-East? Do you really want me to get all pedantic on you? You might learn a lot but don't expect easy solutions to today's conflict. And there's gonna be a test, you know. Okay, here's what I told him.
I started with the picture of two beautiful dark-haired young women Newsweek had on its cover a few weeks ago. One was a Palestinian suicide bomber and the other was one of her Jewish victims. They looked like they could be sisters. In a way they are; the two sides are actually more alike than either cares to admit.
Who really has the better claim on the Holy Land anyway? They have a common heritage. They revere many of the same prophets and holy sites, but they let religion divide them. They really should be one large Jewish-Muslim country. Wait a second, did I say "large?" Let's get one thing straight: Americans are terrible on their geography and history. Sorry that's two things. And I'm off the subject now, damn! Okay, let me start again.
My son isn't so bad on geography that he didn't know where Israel was on the globe, but I did make sure he got one thing straight: Israel is not large at all. It's only about two hundred miles long and no more than fifty miles wide. The "Sea" of Galilee wouldn't even come close to Great Lake status here; it's only about ten miles across. (Maybe Jesus wasn't walking on water, he was just standing in the shallow end!) The whole country would fit between Los Angeles and San Francisco with lots of room to spare. Hell, Israel would fit inside Ohio twice! What the heck makes this tiny patch of near-desert so important?
History, my boy. Too many people think Israel is eternal. WRONG! Like most people, me included, my son's lived in a world where Israel was always there, so it's easy to forget it was NOT always there. Modern Israel began in 1948, less than sixty years ago. Not very long at all by historical standards. But most people don't realize that even in ancient times Israel was just a small part of the Holy Land. It was the northern section, about fifty miles away from Jerusalem. Also packed into this region were the ancient kingdoms of Phoenicia, Philistia, Samaria, Judea, Canaan, Akadia, Edom, Moab, Goshen and many others in addition to Israel. Kingdoms about the size of a Dallas suburb, but they existed in a time when a group of 10 or 20,000 people made a bustling metropolis. These "nations" were always fighting each other and their borders changed practically every decade. Read a couple chapters of Kings in the Old Testament if you want to get an idea of how it was.
My son said he thought the Israelites had the best claim of all on the Holy Land because they were first the first to live there. Well, that's not correct either. As specified by the Bible, the original inhabitants called the area Canaan and were living in "cities" such as Jericho. Archaeologists have found evidence of habitation there as early as 5000 BC, well before the pyramids were built. The Canaanites lived there for another couple thousand years before the Hebrew Patriarch came along. There's no exact dates, but Abraham probably lived about 2100 BC. You might think Israel was finally established at that time, but the "nation" he founded didn't always stay in the Promised Land. The Bible says the Jews were invited to Egypt during the time of Joseph, a couple centuries years later. How the Jews became Egyptian slaves is not clear, but scholars agree that Moses and the descendants of Abraham came back to Canaan by 1500 BC.
So then Israel began, right? Not to get too repetitive, son, but no, it didn't happen so fast. In fact it took several hundred more years before a unified country emerged. Besides, the central country in the Bible, wasn't Israel! It was the land around Jerusalem, called Judea, or sometimes Judah. Talk about tiny, the traditional area Judea occupied is roughly forty miles square, centered around the City Of David. King David lived about 1000 BC and was able to briefly unify Israel and Judea into an empire roughly the size of today's Israel. His empire grew under the reign of his son Solomon, whose own sons broke it up after his death in 925 BC. However, Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish faith if not government, lasted about 400 years more until the time of the Babylonian Captivity. David and Solomon's Judean Empire, the high water mark in Jewish history, remains as what most people think of as Israel, even though it lasted less than a century!
It didn't exist very long and it wasn't very big. In fact, all these tiny ancient kingdoms would long ago have been forgotten except that three major religions were born in this region. They weren't the only religions born there of course--even at the height of their empire the Jews apparently had large numbers of Baal worshippers in their midst--it's just these three are still popular to this day.
I told my son a lot more about the history of the Holy Land, but now I'd really like to go on to another philosophical topic for this month. So, if you don't want to hear about celebrity arrogance, I'd like to start a discussion of The Force as portrayed in the upcoming Episode Two of Star Wars. The Force is of course channeled by one's mitichlorians, but is this something that actually...
What? You still want to hear more about the history of Israel? Guess I'll have to save this material on mitichlorians and their effects on special effects for another column.
This is getting to be like a title search in real estate. Who really owns this land? The Bible clearly states that it was given by God to His Chosen People to make a "great nation." But instead of a great nation we got this collection of micro-countries that would barely qualify to print postage stamps today. To further complicate things, the whole region was conquered over and over again by countries from other parts of the Mid-East. Turkey has the best claim on the Holy Land if we go by length of ownership. The Ottomans ruled there for six hundred years, dwarfing David and Solomon's eighty. Or maybe Egypt has a claim since several pharaohs conquered the area before and after Abraham's time. Perhaps their lawyers could argue the Jews are all escaped slaves! Maybe Lebanon could make a claim; as ancient Phoenicia they were a powerful trading country whose borders often intruded into what we now think of as Israel. Syria was ancient Assyria and the Hittites also came from there; both conquered all of modern Israel.
[Reconstruction of Ur]
Iraq also has a double claim since the sites of Ur and Babylon are both in Iraq. Abraham came from Ur and much later Babylon conquered Jerusalem. Around 560 BC they destroyed Solomon's Temple and forced the Jews to live in Babylon for 70 years. Iran's claim on the area comes from the Persian conqueror Cyrus, who conquered all the Babylonian Empire and let the Jews return to Judea to rebuild their temple and their culture. Around 300 BC Greece conquered the Holy Land under Alexander, so they have a claim too. In fact Greek culture became so predominant that for two centuries people spoke Greek as much as Aramaic. (Also, the many parenthetical statements found in literature of the time are evidence of many Jewish thinkers following the Greek philosopher, Parentheses.)
Just making sure you're paying attention. Lose that last part!
Of course there's Italy's claim because Rome held sway there for centuries. They effectively destroyed all Jewish control in 70 AD along with the Second Temple. This scattered the Jews all over the Mediterranean world, perhaps the single most important event in this whole history. After Rome fell about 350 years later, the Byzantine Empire held sway there until the new religion of Islam took control, which of course made Crusading fashionable for the Christian nations during the Middle Ages. Several European countries, even Norway, could lay claim to the Holy Land because they participated in one of the crusades that briefly conquered Jerusalem. Finally the Ottoman Turks took control in 1300 and the area settled down for its most stable period of all. A thoroughly Islamic period that lasted right up to modern times.
This is where our present troubles begin. After World War I, since the Turks were on the side of the Germans, the victorious European powers decided to break up the Ottoman Empire. Thank you Lawrence of Arabia. You know, the same guy who made kings of a bunch of warring Bedouins, the Saudis. But we've hardly heard from them since, right? In any case, the region became Trans-Jordan, the forerunner of today's Jordan. Britain and France had dominion over the region between the World Wars. There was much talk of a Jewish homeland being set up in Palestine, and some Jews started to move there, but nothing concrete happened.
After Hitler's atrocities in World War II there were thousands of Jewish refugees who had no home left in a devastated Europe. Understandably, they didn't want to be pushed around anymore. They wanted their own country--the land the Romans had tossed them out of 1900 years before. Never mind that other people were now living in "their" traditional home. What was the name of those people again? Oh yes, the PALESTINIANS, the mostly Arabian folks who lived there for centuries, only they weren't Jewish anymore. The new Israelis, mostly European and Russian Jews, succeeded in setting up their own nation in spite of the then-current residents. You can see the glamorized version in the movie Exodus, but it's a fact that there were bombs thrown by radical Jews to push the last British and French troops out. Sound familiar?
Later in 1948, a war was fought with Jordan and the official borders of modern Israel were created. The first wave of Palestinian refugees was also created as they fled that fighting. Many families have never been allowed back to the homes they left sixty years ago. Borders changed again in 1967 after the Six Day War. Israel conquered more of the area around Jerusalem, also known as the West Bank, or the Occupied Territories to the Palestinians. These are the disputed areas where Palestinian shacks have been bulldozed and new Jewish towns have been created.
If you still can't see what was wrong about the way they set up and expanded the Jewish homeland by force, consider this. What if a bunch of American Indians, rich on gambling money, decided to buy back a couple of states to set up homelands for themselves and then bulldozed out anyone they felt like? White Americans have been holding sway here for a mere 220 years or so, the Indians had been here for thousands and are just returning to their land. Think our claim will hold up over theirs? I think a few Born-In-The-USA 'Mericans would be resisting the bulldozers regardless. Again, sound familiar?
So who really can call it their homeland? Sure the Jewish people have a strong claim, having built Jerusalem and lived in Judea, Israel and other kingdoms at least 1500 years, but the Islamic residents have been there at least 1500 years too. In a way they've both always been there. Both claim to be the Chosen People, the inheritors of the great nation promised to Abraham. So if they are really the same people, what's the problem? The Jewish people I've known are fine, compassionate human beings. The Muslim people I've known are also good people, as strong and clean living as can be. However, some of their leaders have concentrated too much on dogma, selling their way as the only way to get into God's favor, and now the people think they can't live together. Palestinians and Israelis need to realize they are praying to the same god.
I'll let that sink in a bit.
Islam reveres Abraham as the patriarch who first said there is but one God, just as Jews and Christians do. They also revere the Old Testament prophets; even Jesus is a prophet to them. They believe in the exceedingly strange act of circumcision as a sign of fealty to God too. They just insist on calling God a different name. Big deal. Conversely, early Hebrew practice avoided saying any names for the Almighty in public. Actually I rather like the name the Burning Bush gave to Moses, "I Am That I Am." It seems suitably unconfining. In any case, the secret name of Yahweh was only uttered in Jewish temple rituals. That restriction, along with circumcision, was among a few practices Christianity decided to drop. Mohammed revised the old Jewish practices further, but it remains that his name for God, "Allah," or any other name we choose, is a human name--a symbol to fix our finite little minds on, not the god-thing itself. God's name for Him/Her/Itself is probably so far beyond our comprehension that it doesn't make any sense to bicker about it. Indeed, is there even a personified locus of "God" that would even care about a name in the first place?
I have a bumper sticker that reads "God Is Too Big To Fit Inside One Religion." I think we can agree on the basic idea that there is only one reality that we all inhabit, the Universe, and only one thing caused all this to be. Surely whatever was capable of that, the real Godhead, is above all human conceptions. As long as there's a note of thanks and reverence in your prayer somewhere, I'm sure He/She/It doesn't really mind if you pray at the Wailing Wall, The Dome Of The Rock above it, The Church of the Nativity five miles to the south, at a Hindu ashram in India or while watching a sunrise atop Haleakala. Differences in ways of belief are all human creations.
Some leaders of religion forget this, concentrating only on promoting their faith's fine print, their own peculiar version of things. Pushed to their extreme by these leaders, decent people can slaughter other decent people simply because they are convinced that's what God wants. It only gets worse if these beliefs are hooked up to the power of a nation. In fact, the situation in the Middle East is a text book example of why it's a bad idea to have a state sponsored religion. Fundamentalist Christians who see no problem in making Christianity the Official Religion here in the US should take note. The only solution is a secular government that respects both, no, ALL religions equally instead of favoring one group over another.
For sure both sides need to stop the bombing and shooting before they can reconcile. Easy for me to say. Or Colin Powell. Each has given the other so many innocent deaths, it's understandable that both need assurances it won't happen again. These people need to kiss and make up. Figuratively of course. Wait, what am I saying? Not figuratively at all, tolerance of religion and intermarriage would save the day for them. Love is the answer.
But how to get there? Michael Moore says that the Palestinians should stage mass nonviolent sit-down demonstrations like Gandhi used to. Great idea! As far as I know they've never tried such a thing. About 100,000 or so should choke up Israeli roads nicely and without a shot being fired. If the Israelis use violence to break up the demonstrations then world opinion will only condemn them, forcing them to negotiate that much more quickly. It would work. Then Israel needs to invest in Palestine, improving the standard of living there and showing tolerance when Islamic families come to live next door.
Maybe if we got all the planets lined up just right they could build a lasting peace in Abraham's Promised Land. Ah well, let's hope my reality check doesn't bounce.
That covers pretty much everything I told my son. I hope his anti-bamboozlement filters are stronger because of it.
Right now I have to go back into the Closet to mimeograph these history tests I promised you. Wait a minute, where are you going? I didn't even get a chance to say thanks for reading! Oh well, I guess the Closet is closed until next month.
Official Disclaimer: You'd think somebody coulda given that Gandhi guy a sandwich.
I mean, yeah, they say he didn't want a sandwich, but maybe he just hadn't
had a really good one, like the Tuna on wheat my mom made. I don't understand being
finicky to the point of emaciation. Oh, and whatever Rusty said is his deal and we're
not claiming responsibility for it because we were out having sandwiches at the time.
They kinda sucked, actually. Maybe Gandhi was onto something.