While the United States celebrates the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Israeli army shot and murdered 58 Palestinians. Yesterday Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary while Palestinians commemorated the great tragedy of the Nakba, their violent displacement that to this day has not ended and has resulted in refugee camps outside Israeli territory and two separated enclaves where Palestinians struggle for survival under economic hardship.
After 2000 years of persecution of Jews by European Christian nations any criticism of the state of Israel can easily seem out of place if not utterly hypocritical. Even when Israel employs tactics against Palestinians that are reminiscent of the very atrocities that Europeans committed against the Jewish diaspora in Europe, the specter of antisemitism always looms enough to ensure that any criticism against the state of Israel is guarded and couched in careful language. Of course, stronger than any remorse over past sins is the motivation to protect current investments and interests. No wonder, then, that Israel has had no better ally than the USA with its wealthy Jewish lobby.
Western nations have generally been in agreement that Israel has a tendency to strike too hard at its enemies, that Israel uses disproportionate amounts of violence against a disproportionately weak and powerless enemy. This criticism could never become so strong, however, that the bond of friendship between Israel and the West was under threat of being broken, but it was there. US presidents usually took the initiative to bring peace to the Middle East and thus needed to rein in the Israeli tendency for harsh retaliation.
Until yesterday that is. Yesterday, the United States delivered on Trump’s promise to move its embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The unreserved choice to support the state of Israel with its unilateral claim on the city of Jerusalem resulted in yesterday’s celebration of the opening of the new embassy. Simultaneously, something else happened, however. A brazen crackdown on the Palestinian protest took place. As fifty-eight Palestinians were killed by well-aimed bullets and more than 2000 civilians got wounded, the USA celebrated in Jerusalem.
Why? It’s all got something to do with a myth that goes around which has its origins in fundamentalist Christianity of the 19th century. This Christianity had developed a literal interpretation of the symbolism of the apocalyptic book of Revelation in which a thousand year reign of Christ will be ushered in by a Great Tribulation followed by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Although this Christianity has informed the policies of previous US presidents to a certain extent, it is only with the a-moral and truth-less Trump administration, that received crucial support from 81% of America’s evangelicals, that an apocalyptic vision seems to directly inform US foreign policy. This time not out of religious conviction on the part of the current president but out of concerns about power and influence. For Trump, if it takes an apocalypse to stay in power, he’ll gladly give his fundies their wish.
Whether or not that is the case, the truth is that many Christians the world over have an idolatrous love for Israel that completely blinds them to the injustice perpetrated by the Israelis. Soldiers shoot with live ammo at Palestinian civilians while Israeli citizens cheer for the army and admonish it to kill Palestinians one by one. In horrific irony, this macabre spectacle is repeated in the eager gaze of the Christians who glorify the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for being allowed to see biblical prophecy being fulfilled right before their very eyes.
Christians cheer as Israel prepares the way for Jesus’ return. Never mind, as a recent Facebook meme words it: “Psssst . . . Don’t tell the folks in Jerusalem, but GOP Christians only want to ‘protect’ Israel so it is still around long enough for God to destroy per Revelation. Otherwise, we don’t get our Second Coming.”
Indeed, to the extent that Palestinians are mere meat for bullets and tear gas, and to the extent that the godless hordes of the world will be destroyed in the apocalyptic spectacle of God’s cosmic wrath, Jews are no less merely instrumental to the divine theater of destruction performed before the eyes of all the innocent and right-believing believers. The love chiliastic Second-Coming-Christians have for Jews goes only as far as their interpretation of biblical prophecy.
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But let’s make no mistake, not only are the Palestinians current victims of God’s wrath, not only are Jews past and future victims of God’s judgment on all haters of Jesus, even Jesus and the God of Israel suffer a horrible fate as they become, in this gruesome display of worldwide conflagration, mere executors of a base human desire for bloodshed and self-justification. The chiliastic imagination that informs this apocalyptic interpretation of history along with its desire for cosmic mayhem is the underbelly of the Western colonialist mentality that considers itself the center of history and the apex of divine action toward the world’s fulfillment.
Cameron Carter, author of “Race: A Theological Account,” put it well on his Facebook page: “While fixing my breakfast, I looked at the ceremony opening the US embassy in Jerusalem today. Trump’s speech, Jared Kushner ’s speech, Netanyahu’s speech, all these ‘Christian’ preachers offering prayers and remarks and such, giving it all a Christian anointing—it’s all utterly repulsive and violent. Israel and the U. S. are settler colonizers. This is settler colonialism in practice.”
Prophecy and Justice
Any superficial reading of the Old Testament prophets will yield the simple truth that true religion and worship of God consist of justice and a care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. The very actions that occasioned, according to the prophetic tradition, God’s decision to exile Israel and Judah such that they lost their land, are the same actions Israel practices today in order to assert itself. These actions include displacing Palestinians, planting illegal colonies in Palestinian territory, practicing apartheid, terrorizing and humiliating civilians at checkpoints, shooting civilians, etc. Israel knows only one law: a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye.
Retaliation for what in reality was a protest to injustice, however, has led to a vicious cycle of violence to which there is no other end than the destruction of God’s enemies—or so the chiliasts believe. However, their expertise in biblical interpretation has, in spite of the many announcements of dates on which the rapture is to take place, in spite of the many tv and radio shows, in spite of the books with colorful end-time charts, just one glaring omission: Prophecy is not about prediction but about justice.
Any talk about prophetic fulfillment that does not incorporate the central notion of justice misses the point. Israel can be God’s chosen people ten times over, but, as John the Baptist reminds us, God can make sons of Abraham out of the stones in the pavement. Without justice, prophecy means nothing. In fact, prophetic fulfillment without justice is the true apocalyptic monster that eventually necessitates the great reversal of the first being the last. Nobody seems to get, for instance, that Jesus’s teaching about hell was intended for believers, not unbelievers.
I won’t claim to be an expert on Middle East affairs and so there are many sides to the issues at hand that I may not be aware of. But I know one thing: what you see happening is not a fulfillment of prophecy but false prophecy. The false prophet claims to be God’s emissary. The false prophet roots for power. The false prophet wants to have influence and gain territory. The false prophet doesn’t care about justice, because he wants war.
What we need in the Middle East is not fulfilled prophecy but applied prophecy. The people of God are those who care for the weak, love their enemies, and seek peace. Blood-thirsty end-time Christians who gaze in perversion and blood-shedding Israeli hardliners who party as the bullets fly, are anything but God’s people. They represent the perversion of religion.
Photo: Times of Israel