Sunday, January 11, 2009

A slightly disjointed meditation on the baptism of Jesus

In some Christian calendars, today is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus by the his prophetic predecessor, John. For those who've missed the story, John is often pictured as a sort of a wild nutcase who wandered around in the wilderness with sticks in his hair, exhorting people to turn back to the god of their tribe and offering to dunk people in the Jordan River to mark a new beginning. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, the older prophet recognized him as someone greater than he was and a voice from heaven named Jesus as "the Son of God, the Beloved."

Not surprisingly, in contemporary Jordan there's an actual location along the Jordan River which tradition names as the location of this event. And it's a tourist attraction which we visited a few years ago.

A path leads through "wilderness" which turns out to a thicket of low bushes.

There's not much river. Syria, Jordan, and Israel all draw water from it.

Multiple layers of tourist amenities, from ancient stone steps to contemporary National Park-style shelters, line the banks -- or where the banks have at times been.

Finally the river, supposedly the site of the awesome event. Tourists edge down cautiously to touch the waters.

Across the river in what the U.N. calls the Occupied Palestinian Territories and what our media calls the West Bank [of the Jordan], sits an Israeli fortification.

Jordan is at "peace" with the state cross the river. Unlike Syria or Lebanon, it has an internationally recognized, agreed border with Israel.

The conquered Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation have no such status. Nor does the occupying power want them -- their number already more or less equals the Jewish residents of Israel and is increasing rapidly.

So what is Israel to do with this living, breathing, population of unwanted people?
  • Israel could opt to become a modern democratic state in which political and human rights are not determined by religious or ethnic identity. That would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Not likely.
  • Israel could remove its fortified settlements (think pioneer stockades in the American West, only filled with Brooklyn accents), pull back to its 1967 borders, and co-exist with a Palestinian state, at peace with its Arab neighbors. Since 2002, some version of this has been, and still is, on the table. This is apparently politically impossible for Israeli governments, especially so long as they are propped up by U.S. support.
  • The Palestinians currently within Israeli borders could be ethnically cleansed, murdered or expelled somewhere (there are no apparent takers). Successive Israeli governments periodically go some ways along this path, as they are presently doing in Gaza. It is not clear how much of a massacre might lead the rest of the world to intervene -- it is possible that no atrocity would be too great, though one hopes not.

That banner is what brave antiwar Israelis said should be done about Israel's existential dilemma at a demonstration in Tel-Aviv yesterday. They know they don't have the option of looking away.

What, if anything, can we, who are far away onlookers, do about any of this?

In the United States, we have a direct, particular responsibility to get our government out of the business of enabling Israeli atrocities. At present our Congress is cheering and we're delivering the bombs to pound Gaza.

The thoughtful Professor Juan Cole says that street protests don't do much.

A protest culture around Gaza is growing up in the West of some sophistication ...

A wave of street protests swept Europe and the Middle East on Saturday. Personally, I don't think these events are very effective, though they can help with networking and social solidarity. They won't cause significant changes in Israeli policy. Setting up an effective counter to the Israel and military-industrial lobbies on Capitol Hill, now that would make a big difference.

Still, the scale of the protests is breathtaking.

He's right ... and I also think he's wrong. A culture of protest that assumes that Israel is the bully on the block is a prerequisite for any more effective political action. It can't keep Gazans alive today -- they'll die horribly until Israel chooses to stop -- but an end to giving Israel a pass on the basics of civilized behavior is a start. The shift that is happening is a lot like the generational attitudinal shift on gay rights: we are coming into a generation which is not confused either by the notion that gays are "unnatural" or by the myth that Israel with its army and nukes is a victim-state. As with gay rights, most of the "western" world is leagues ahead of the United States on all this. As the culture of protest takes hold, then an effective inside strategy can be created. J Street makes a start in Washington, even though for many protesters it will seem too little, too timid.

Is there anything that the Palestinians now being slaughtered can do? Probably not, but a commenter at Al Jazeera in English offered a vision [I have not corrected the English]:

I know by sitting safely in my house its very easy for me to suggest the below, but i think its the only safe place to Go & defy the israelis. People should create a mob all of them women children elderly youth and along with thier lifestock, start moving towards the state of israel as refugees runing away from war ravaged Gaza to the safe custody of thier enemy, then only this israeli propoganda will fail, yes definately they will start to kill but if gazans stand firm they will have to stop.

United Arab Emirates


Jesus was, of course, a Jew. And a very low status resident of what was Palestine and is now Israel. And, so we're told, he was loved by God, got dunked, and thereafter went about doing God's business.

The powers of his day found Jesus so threatening they tortured him to death. But it turns out that wasn't enough to make an end of him. In fact, it just started something.

Is there any way that contemporary unmerited suffering can start something? Perhaps.
See also Naomi Klein's argument for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in response to Israel's criminal behavior. That too could be something.


Darlene said...

When you take sides in any war you must, of necessity, fail to take in the other's position. Just as the propaganda machines of WWII called the Japanese, 'dirty Japs" and dehumanized them, so do the two sides in this tragedy dehumanize the opponent. Neither side is blameless.

This terrible hatred goes back to the time of John the Baptist. the only solution that I can see is tough diplomacy that will concentrate on education and the elimination of this hatred passed down from generation to generation. And the only way to do this is to give each side some of their demands while making them compromise on others.

Tina said...

do you mean to say that the palestinians were/are responsible of the facts that jews were massacred in europe and are the palestinians also responsible for the fact that the USA government of the time refused refuge to the survivors, thus the palestinians are co-responsible of the massacre perpetrated on them?
were, we, the lebanese responsible for the savage attack of the israelis on my country in 1982 that killed 17,000 people in a country of barely 4millions then?
let me state it once again: the good people of the usa who did NOT demonstrate against their government support of the destruction of my country in 1982, are co-responsible of the deaths that are happening in gaza today.
fortunately, we did not need your support in kicking out the israeli army in 1982 and again in 2006.
hopefully, the palestinians refugees will not need your support to march peacefully on israel, from gaza, from lebanon, from syria, from the west bank, from jordan. what will you say then? will you demonstrate then in order to have your government open, this time, the doors of your country to jewish emigration?

Darlene said...

Tina, I am not saying anything close to what you wrote. Of course the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust and it is horrible that the Palestinians left their homeland and that the Jews took part of it.

Yes, the United States is complicit in the atrocities perpetrated by Israel. Especially during the last eight years. What I am saying is that we must now get beyond the past and both sides must give up a revenge mentality. If each side keeps on making war, supporting terrorist attacks, invasion, etc. (note I am not taking sides here) there will never be peace.

My question is this; Can both sides realize this constant war of revenge hurts everyone and solves nothing? If they want peace and and a homeland for the Palestinians (as I do) then guns and rockets must be replaced by diplomacy and a common solution that stops the madness.

Your last comment sounds like you would like to push the Jews into the sea by having all Arab citizens march en masse. Do you really hate them so much? That is exactly what I am talking about. It is time to stop the hatred and revenge for everyone's sake. It only keeps the blood flowing.

You wonder if the U. S. would take the Jews if you were successful in ousting them. I think that times are different and we would assimilate them, but I don't know. I think it was shameful that we didn't take them during WWII, but it is time to let the past be the past.

Nell said...

hiAs the culture of protest takes hold, then an effective inside strategy can be created. J Street makes a start in Washington, even though for many protesters it will seem too little, too timid.

This is a wise point.

But as to J Street itself: An organization that can't bring itself to take a position on the recent cheerleading resolutions in the House and Senate, nor to give a straightforward answer to a question about it, is much too timid to be effective even as an insider strategy at this point.

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