Guest columnists

Rev. Bruce Burnside: Israel's policies on Palestinians imperil its soul

By Rev. Bruce Burnside
December 14, 2002

Israeli security officials scrutinized our entry at Ben
Gurion Airport: "Why are you coming? Aren't you afraid?" We
heard that question frequently during the two weeks that
followed. Fear is epidemic.

We went to the West Bank during the November olive harvest
to support Palestinian villagers, who are often attacked by
Israeli settlers. Often the settlers steal and destroy
Palestinian crops. Today thousands of Palestinians suffer
tortuous and untold economic, physical and emotional
despair from Israel's systematic and insidious policies
that destroy their olive groves, decimate villages, kill
countless innocents and foment despair, all under the sham
of security.

This was the fifth trip for my wife and me. Increasingly we
have witnessed vanishing hope and mounting fear.

We felt it on a rooftop with villagers in Kufr Laqif,
watching military planes explode flares all around the
houses throughout the night, and we experienced it with a
brave, gentle man forced to beg settlers day after day for
permission to harvest his own olives, which are now
enclosed by settlement fences.

We met it in the eyes of a dispirited family of 10, made to
live in a metal shipping container after Israeli bulldozers
demolished their house three times.

We walked through it at the Jenin refugee camp after
children and adults were mercilessly buried alive by
bulldozers crushing homes into a landscape that now looks
like moon craters.

We were told about it by a man at church in Bethlehem who
sat between his mother and brother, "feeling the warmth
leave their hands" after Israeli assassins shot them in
their home.

We saw it at Jayus, where Israeli soldiers launched tear
gas and bullets into a peaceful protest against the
building of an apartheid wall to encircle the West Bank. It
will make the Berlin Wall look like a snow fence in

We heard it from children, learning too much hatred and too
little justice.

We endured it at endless roadblocks designed for
humiliation, not security, which prevent Palestinian travel
from village to village, students from going to school,
workers getting to jobs, sick reaching hospitals, families
seeing family, markets being reached. ... We viewed it in
landscapes strangled by hundreds of illegal Israeli
settlements that devour not just Palestinian land and
economy but hope itself.

Strangely, there is another heartbreak. Christian Zionists
- many from the United States - express a religious fervor
no less fanatical than Muslim extremists possessed by a
spirit that motivates them to destroy others in the name of
God. Christian Zionists raise millions of dollars for
Israel. They do it to hasten the return of Christ, which
according to their own peculiar interpretation of biblical
prophecy cannot occur until all Jews have returned to
Israel to rebuild the Temple. The dark humor in this odd
alliance is that those same Christians fully expect
Christ's return to inaugurate the end of Judaism. It is a
mutual exploitation. Israel, not duped by such motives, is
happy to receive its money but loses no sleep over such
eschatological nightmares.

As a Christian I also read biblical prophecy but not to
unlock hidden calculations about end times, which Jesus
warns is a pointless endeavor. The biblical prophets voice
God's demand for justice among all nations. Micah warned:
"What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to
love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?" And
Jeremiah: "Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is
the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple
of the Lord.' For if you truly amend your ways and your
doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if
you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow,
or shed innocent blood ... then I will let you dwell in
this place."

A young Israeli student at Hebrew University named David
said to me on our last day in Jerusalem: "All this madness
will end, and justice will win.  History has proven that
nations built on militarism and oppression cannot survive.
I only pray that our madness will end before Israel has
lost its soul."

David is right, justice will prevail. But it is not only
Israel that is in peril of losing its soul. That danger
looms before any who side with hateful rhetoric, evil
oppression and inhumane codes that must be fortified by
bulldozers, razor wire, monumental walls, assassins,
torture, curfews, bombs and tear gas. Israel has chosen
that policy. It is time for us to cease s upporting it.

Rev. Bruce Burnside is pastor of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in Monona.

Published: 10:33 AM 12/14/02

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