I visited Israel and Palestine four years ago this month, and my tour guide was Palestinian Christian. I met his wife and two young children outside Jericho. I don’t know if he held any radical political views (many Canadians hold radical political views), but I would suspect that even if he did, underneath it all were the desires that lie behind the political views of most everyone—that they truly and honestly believe that their views, values, and ideas are the ones which will be most beneficial for themselves and the future of their children, and will ultimately lead to peace.
I find it remarkable that for evangelicals who hold extreme pro-Israel & anti-Palestinian political views, who support and would defend the actions of the Israeli state in bulldozing Palestinian villages because of the belief that Israel has a divine right to possess Eretz Israel, that in the same scriptures where they find justification for these Zionist beliefs, there are entire books (Ezra + Nehemiah) written about a population which was exiled from their ancestral homeland and prevented from returning. The idolatrous king which awarded the exiles the right to return and rebuild their crushed nation is praised for his actions.
The Jewish population has suffered untold tragedies since 70AD, whether from anti-Jewish pogroms, the Inquisition, general anti-semitism, or the horrors of the nazi holocaust, and, like every people group on the planet, have a right to security, safety, and health which should be protected. But the actions of some Zionist leaders and militants in the land, both before and after 1948, have replicated oppressions the Jewish people have historically faced onto the Arab residents of the region of Palestine. Persons from the conflicts of the 20th century live in crowded refugee camps, if they have not already passed waiting for the chance to return to their homes. Residents of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have had their homes destroyed, their children killed, their farmland stolen, and their autonomy crushed.
It struck me today that the return from exile narratives in the Hebrew Bible, embraced by both Jewish persons and Christians, are about the desires of a people to return home, to live in safety and security, and to have autonomy over their own land and future. They have a power to spark conversations about the challenges facing immigrants all over the globe today, the challenges of indigenous persons who have had their nations systematically destroyed, their culture crushed/appropriated by the conquering nation, and their land stolen.
I am not interested in engaging in black/white debates about who is solely to blame for a terrible situation—suicide bombing, Hezbollah or Hamas attacks on Israelis are just as unjustifiable as aerial bombing raids of Gaza that hit civilian targets (although there is something to be said for the distinction between intended targets v collateral damage, in the end innocents suffer on both sides), I want to highlight and come back to later on this blog the idea of reading Ezra//Nehemiah through post-colonial eyes, and the potential that a reading of the ancient texts might have to say to people currently living in exile all over the world today.
As a Christian, I am committed to the belief that the root of all problems facing humanity today is our exile from God; you might be more comfortable with the idea of us merely being in exile from each other or nature, maybe simply referring to a generic ‘divine presence,’ but as one who has a commitment to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, I contend that we are all in exile from our creator. As the eternal longing of the hearts of a people in exile is to return home, to find rest, Jesus is the way home for everyone. He came to end the exile, to bring us home, to end division + conflict, and to bring us to God.