Politics & Media
Dec 15, 2023, 06:22AM

Jesus in the Rubble

The Palestinian flag is the flag of the world.

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One of the arguments I keep having on the internet is with people who say that the war in Gaza is religious in nature. Both sides are as bad as each other, they say. It’s fundamentalist Muslims vs. fundamentalist Jews, Hamas vs. the state of Israel, as if Hamas represents all Palestinians and the state of Israel represents all Jews.

What this fails to acknowledge is the complexity of both demographics. Most Palestinians aren’t Hamas. There are Christian Palestinians, secular Palestinians, socialist Palestinians, Samaritan Palestinians, Palestinians of all faiths and none. There are even Palestinian Jews: Jews from sects who were living in Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel, who remain loyal to the idea of Palestine as a state for all its citizens and who fly the Palestinian flag rather than the Israeli flag. You don’t hear much about these Jews in the media, but they exist.

Even Hamas isn’t a monolithic organization. It’s popular amongst Palestinians because it stands for resistance to the occupation. Those who become fighters do so because they have experienced first-hand the violence of the Israeli state. They’ve lost loved ones and are angry. They’re looking to focus that anger in a controlled and disciplined manner. That’s what the word “Hamas” means in Arabic. It means zeal, or controlled anger. But even most of Hamas aren’t fighters. Many of them are functionaries of the semi-autonomous region of Gaza, whose government is ruled by Hamas. So they’re policemen, bureaucrats, teachers, statisticians, health workers, civil servants, road sweepers, managers and charity workers, only some of whom may elect to engage in “jihad”: in the struggle to rid the Palestinian people of their oppressors.

The Jews, too, are a complex bunch. There are many Zionist Jews, it’s true, but many more who are anti-Zionist, who abhor the state of Israel and the violence it has inflicted upon the native population of the land it seeks to claim as its own. There’s an irony here. Genetic, historical and cultural studies have found that most modern Palestinians are descended from tribes native to the region who converted from Judaism. Palestinians are the original “Children of Israel.”

Modern Israelis, on the other hand, were born mainly in the West, not the Middle East. They come from all over. You have more rights in Israel as a Jew born in London or New York, than you do as a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, but driven out by Israeli terrorists during the Nakba, the catastrophe, of 1947-48. You hear Israelis with Australian accents, like Mark Regev, or Scottish accents, like Richard Hecht. Other prominent Israelis come from Poland, like Benjamin Netanyahu, or other countries in Eastern Europe, or from the United States. They claim an ancestry, on the evidence of an ancient book of mythology, going back 3000 years or more but, aside from this, can show little evidence of any real connection to the land. And yet here they are seeking to drive the native population out into other lands or—in the case of the people of Gaza—to their deaths.

I call the Bible “an ancient book of mythology.” That doesn’t diminish it in my estimation. In fact, it elevates it. Myth is an ancient way of understanding the world. It’s the language of symbols. It is the rubric of dreams. It precedes nationality or birth. It’s the breath of poetry. It’s the expression of raw consciousness as it flows freely through creation at the beginning of time. That is why the opening words of Genesis are so powerful: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

You don’t have to be a religious person to be moved by these words. They’re symbolic, not literal. They describe a moment in the imagination when consciousness becomes aware of itself. The words are echoed later in John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.”

This was a deliberate move by the composers of John’s Gospel. It brought the ancient myth up to date, to the time they were writing in, the First Century AD. That’s the nature of myth. It’s never exhausted by time. It comes to life, again and again, throughout history. It’s never definitive. It’s always symbolic. It becomes alive in the imagination.

The story of Jesus, too, is a myth. It doesn’t matter if you believe there really was such a man or not: the myth is potent enough to be reborn every year at Christmas in the story of the nativity. You don’t have to understand Jesus as a specific person at a specific time in history. You can understand him in the symbolic sense, as a child born under occupation, under oppression, just as the children of Palestine are born under occupation now.

This understanding was most eloquently expressed by the Rev. Munther Isaac, a Palestinian Christian and pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, in a sermon he gave on December 7th, 2023. He was referring to the nativity scene they had constructed in the church, in which the figure of Jesus is shown amidst the rubble of Gaza. This is what he said:

“Maybe some people were surprised by the nativity scene in our church this year. I realize this is a difficult idea but, believe me, this is precisely the meaning of Christmas. This year, as death, destruction and rubble are in our land, this is how we welcome ‘the King of Glory’. If Jesus was to be born into our world today I wonder, would he have entered our world in any other way? Christmas is the presence of baby Jesus with those who suffer. Christmas is God’s solidarity with the oppressed. Christmas is a ray of light and hope from the heart of pain and suffering. Christmas is the radiance of life from the heart of destruction and death. In Gaza today, God is under the rubble. He is in the operating room. If Christ were to be born today, he would be born under the rubble. I invite you to see the image of Jesus in every child killed and pulled from under the rubble, in every child struggling for life in destroyed hospitals, in every child in incubators. Christmas celebrations are cancelled this year, but Christmas itself is not and will not be cancelled, for our hope cannot be cancelled. Jesus’ birth is our hope. Jesus is our hope.”

This insight is echoed in the story from Matthew’s Gospel of the Massacre of the Innocents: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”

Isn’t this what the Israeli government is doing now, massacring the children of Gaza to wipe out any claim they might have to ownership of the land? Herod was a client king installed by the occupation army of Rome to rule over the land of Palestine on their behalf; not unlike the government of Israel, which is a client regime whose legitimacy comes entirely by force of arms and by money and support given to it by the United States.

As it says in USAFACTS: “The United States committed over $3.3 billion in foreign assistance to Israel in 2022, the most recent year for which data exists. About $8.8 million of that went toward the country's economy, while 99.7% of the aid went to the Israeli military... Since WWII, the US has provided more foreign aid to Israel than to any other country.” Without US support Israel wouldn’t/couldn’t exist. So you have the United States, as the modern Rome, with a client state in the Middle East oppressing a native people, with an army of Zealots, in the form of Hamas, opposing them, with families forced to flee to live in tents, or in the ruins of destroyed buildings, while being rained down upon by the winter skies. How much more Biblical can you get?

Which makes me wonder if a new Messiah hasn’t already been born? (I mean symbolically.) I’d say that a good contender for this title might be Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian activist from the village of Nabi Salih in the Israeli occupied West Bank, who became famous in 2017 for hitting an Israeli soldier after an incident in which her cousin had been shot in the head at close range with a rubber bullet, wounding him severely. Film of the event went viral around the world. You see the unarmed girl confronting a heavily armed soldier, slapping him in the face. Photographs of the incident show her anger in the face of overwhelming military might. She soon became the poster-girl for the resistance, with her mane of tight curls and the fierce look of indignation on her face.

Some years later more images appeared on the internet, said to be of a Ukrainian girl confronting a Russian soldier, telling him to go back to his own country. Unfortunately this turned out to be Tamimi again—not a Ukrainian but a Palestinian—showing her fist to an Israeli soldier, who is forced to return to his armored car.

But there’s something in that look, something about her presence, that reminds me of a Messianic figure. She holds the attention. She’s self-activated. Her raw energy wells up inside her and makes her act, regardless of the consequences. She’s not afraid. She’s like Jesus at the Temple, overturning the tables of the money-lenders, a fierce Messiah with the power of the spirit inside her, unmoved in the face of violence and cruelty.

This is the spirit of Palestine as it exists in the world today. Even as the Israeli occupation forces have raised the flag of Israel in Gaza, and maim, murder and starve its inhabitants, so the flag of Palestine is raised up throughout the world, as the symbol of resistance to oppression. It’s the symbol of hope against violence, the symbol of the oppressed against the war machine that ravages and burns and brutalizes our world. The Israeli flag is projected onto government buildings while government ministers pledge allegiance to the Israeli war machine. They look so lonely there in their spacious luxury whispering amongst themselves. At the same time the Palestinian flag is paraded in the streets of cities throughout the world, held aloft by people who can’t turn away from the plight of a captured population in fear for their lives. The Palestinian flag is the flag of the world, the flag of the majority, the flag of the poor as we rise up against our imperial masters in the White House, and in client states throughout the world.

Follow Chris Stone on X: @ChrisJamesStone 

  • There's a great deal of falsehood and misdirection in this piece. I will address a few salient points. >>There are even Palestinian Jews: Jews from sects who were living in Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel, who remain loyal to the idea of Palestine as a state for all its citizens and who fly the Palestinian flag rather than the Israeli flag. You don’t hear much about these Jews in the media, but they exist.<< You link to an article about ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews who have origins among European Jews, and who oppose Israel on religious grounds that the Messiah hasn't yet come. The characterization that they are "Palestinian Jews" with some special connection to the land or that their opposition is rooted in passion for democracy is false. >>There are many Zionist Jews, it’s true, but many more who are anti-Zionist, who abhor the state of Israel and the violence it has inflicted upon the native population of the land it seeks to claim as its own. << "Many more" Jews want Israel not to exist than those who want it to exist? Let's see any statistic that remotely indicates that. This may be another one of those "verbal snares" that you later say was not really what you meant. >>Modern Israelis, on the other hand, were born mainly in the West, not the Middle East.<< False. Over 70% of Israel Jews were born in Israel. https://web.archive.org/web/20181004055837/http://www.cbs.gov.il/www/hodaot2013n/11_13_097e.pdf Moreover, if born elsewhere, it often was not in "the West." Over 50% of Israeli Jews are now of Mizrahi or Sephardic background. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mizrahi_Jews Also saying that someone is "from Poland" is false in the case of, say, Netanyahu, who was born in Tel Aviv. He has ancestry in Poland. For that matter, I was born in New York 26 years after my father fled the Nazis in Austria, and am now seeking Austrian dual citizenship based on laws allowing descendants of persecuted people to apply, but it would clearly be tendentious to say I'm "from Austria" and not an American. Finally, I'll note that European antisemites long regarded Jews as not belonging in Europe, precisely because they "came from" the Middle East, so the antisemitic trope that they belong in Europe after all has a deep historical irony.

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  • I can't believe there would be any falsehoods in a piece written by CJ Stone!

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  • I love how the pro-Hamas writer points out, with zero irony intended, that Hamas means "controlled anger." What could be more controlled than kidnapping kids and gang raping women? Such "discipline"! I think I have to stop reading right here. Ken, thank you for reading this in its entirety so we don't have to. Being this guy's fact checker is a full-time job.

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  • I'll answer Beck first. As usual you can't be bothered to read the piece so it's probably a waste of time responding to you. The "gang rape" accusation is disputed by many observers. We know that Israel lies, and does so consistently, so that any accusations coming out of the Israeli authorities has to be seriously questioned. Here are some samples of lies that have been spread by Israel: https://imeu.org/article/fact-sheet-israels-history-of-spreading-disinformation

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  • Ken: Palestinian Jews flying the Palstinian flag: #AntiZionist Jews in #Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim wave Palestine flag in solidarity with #Gaza Members of the anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighbourhood are seen carrying the Palestinian flag in a show of solidarity with Palestinians. In recent days, Israeli police have cracked down hard on Jews in Mea Shearim for their protests and acts of solidarity with Palestinians. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-6zLw7NJ70

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  • Yes, "many more" is one of those literary snares which can be interpreted in more than one way. I wasn't intending to imply that there are more Jews who reject the state of Israel than support it, but that as well as Jews who support the state of Israel there are also Jews who oppose it.

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  • 70% of Israeli Jews born in Israel, still leavesa 30% born in the West. That's a huge percentage and doesn't alter the basic point, that a Jew born in New York of London has more rights than a Palestinian born in Jerusalem.

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  • You are right about Netanyahu. The other names remain.

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  • >> 70% of Israeli Jews born in Israel, still leaves a 30% born in the West. << No, that's not correct. As of 2010 (most recent I could find), among 1,619,000 Israeli Jews born outside of Israel, 516,800 came from countries labeled "Africa" or "Asia," meaning the Muslim world. (Itemized data at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_Jews .) So 32% of foreign-born Israeli Jews aren't from "the West." The expulsions or evacuations of Jewish communities from Muslim countries went from 1948 into the early 1980s. Many Israeli-born Jews are of similar ancestry, hence why Mizrahi/Sephardic are now a majority among Israeli Jews. I think it's a tragedy that Palestinians don't have similar rights to Israelis, but that's a long story as to how that developed, beyond scope of this text box.

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  • This is the group I was referring to as "Palestinian Jews": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mea_Shearim Here is the YouTube video of them flying the Palestinian flag: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-6zLw7NJ70 I saw another piece which talked about how Muslims and Jews were neighbours and looked after each other's children. Will post if I find it.

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  • Yes, I saw the video of them flying Palestinian flags, and I'm familiar with their compatriots from seeing them in NYC wearing big fur hats. I believe their connection to the Palestinian cause is tactical in that: "They view the present state as a blasphemous human attempt to usurp God’s role, and many actively work to dismantle the secular State of Israel. However, unlike many gentile anti­-Zionists, Jewish anti-Zionists usually firmly believe in the Jewish right to the Land of Israel, but only at the future time of redemption." https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/anti-zionism-among-jews It's true anti-Zionists have communities that predate Israel, but of course Zionists did as well. "Palestinian Jews" struck me as a misleading description, but if they call themselves that (?), or you call them that, I won't worry about it.

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  • Palestinian Jews and their relationship to their Muslim neighbours: https://twitter.com/TorahJudaism/status/1733719273472655516

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  • Some final notes on this piece, Ken. The "many more" phrase would be better put this way: "There are many Zionist Jews, it’s true, but a growing number who are anti-Zionist". I accept you numbers about the percentage of Jews born in Israel as compared to those who were born outside but, however you put it, it can't be right that a person born in another part of the world has more rights than those born within historic Palestine. Please see this piece from the Guardian, about American-born settlers in the West Bank: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/dec/15/biden-extremist-jewish-settlers-travel-ban-loophole

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  • I read it. I make no argument for the settlers and especially ones who admire Baruch Goldstein.

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