Here’s a thought you will never hear uttered from a synagogue bima or any other Jewish institution. And it will even come across as heresy to some supporters of Palestinian rights. How many tribes, clans, nations, religions, etc. do you think lived in the land presently called Israel-Palestine since the beginning of the human race? We know just in the Biblical period there were Philistines, Moabites, Jebusites, Amalekites, Edomites, Canaanites, and probably a few more who’ve slipped my memory. Not to mention all the nations and powers which conquered the land of Israel including the Babylonians, Romans, Greeks, etc. Of course we know of this history because of the Bible and similar contemporary sources.
The mistake that so many Jews make is to believe that this is the entire history of the land of Israel. But what about what preceded that? We have 1.5-million years of human settlement of that region. The earliest known human remains found in Israel date back 600,000 years. From the Biblical era up to the present is roughly between 2,500 years. Why do Jews (or Palestinians, for that matter) have the chutzpah to think that they were the only ones living there and that history began and ends with them? Why do we believe that the land is ours in perpetuity? Because God promised it to Abraham?? In a book (no matter how sacred)??
Well, I’ve got news: there were 1,497,500-million years of human settlement before the Bible and there will be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years of settlement after we’re gone. Who has the effrontery to believe that we who live now and our co-religionists will be the custodians of this land until the end of time?
I say all this not to dismiss or reject the claims of Israelis or Palestinians to the land. I think this is largely a foolhardy enterprise and I disparage such arguments from both sides. But the key, in my mind is to recognize that we are not owners of the land.
Yes, if you are Israeli you have a country of which you are a citizen and it claims sovereignty over that land. If you are Palestinian, your ancestors lived there and you live there (or your family does, if you were expelled) and you have every right to see this land as yours.
But all these are modern terms: nationhood, sovereignty, citizenship. Eternity doesn’t much care for this. Christianity and Judaism are relatively recent religions in the history of Homo sapiens. Will they exist forever?
So the point I’m getting at is that even if we or our country controls the land, we don’t own it; at least not in the long-term. We are custodians. Our responsibility is not only to our nation or our religion, but to perpetuity. And I personally believe that the latter should trump the former. In other words, be a good steward. Walk humbly and do justice, as Micah said:
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
I don’t hear a single word here about conquest or ownership or expulsion or triumphalism. I hear a demand for humility, for embracing all of humanity including those outside one’s own religion or tribe. I hear a demand to share the land and treat all humans justly and fairly. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s our responsibility to those who’ve come before and those who will follow; and to the land itself.
Someone may come along and argue: why should we expect Israel to behave any better than those earlier tribes which spilled so much blood over this land? That’s a cynical approach. Do we respond to Lincoln’s better angels of our nature? Or to the demons of our nature? I know which I prefer.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.