Monday, April 25, 2016

The Return of the Desert God

Israeli blogger, Adam Keller (Crazy Country), begins his latest post, The Return of the Desert God (23/4/16), with a reflection on Passover, the Jewish Holiday of Liberty - based, of course, on the Biblical Book of Exodus - but, Israel being Israel, sees nothing to celebrate:

"In one particular Israeli home, this year's celebration of the Holiday of Liberty, reached a high peak. Sergeant Elor Azaria, who last month in Hebron shot a wounded Palestinian, lying on the ground, in the head and was photographed in the act by a human rights activist, was given leave from detention to spend the Passover holiday with his family. As opinion polls indicate, a majority of Israeli Jews think that anyone considered a terrorist should be killed, even if disarmed and no longer posing any threat. They concluded, therefore, that Sgt Azaria should not be charged with either murder or manslaughter. Rather, he should be released and perhaps even given a citation and a medal.

"In order to understand the deep roots of the present situation in Israel, it might be worth taking a look at another part of the Bible, a far less enticing one, the story of the Conquest of Canaan. After the great liberation from bondage in Egypt, the freed Hebrew slaves wandered in the desert for 40 years. They were reluctant to undertake the mission which God sought to impose upon them, namely to conquer the Promised Land. For that reluctance the Bible brands them cowards. The mission fell to their children, who did not remember the time of slavery in Egypt. Under the command of Joshua, son of Nun, they ferociously attacked the Land of Canaan and conquered city after city. God ordered them to slaughter all the inhabitants, men, women and children, and in some places, even the domestic animals. After they'd finished, they proceeded to divide and parcel out the land which had been emptied of its inhabitants.

"At least, that is how it is described in the Book of Joshua. Many modern historians and researchers doubt the veracity of this depiction. If so, then this Book, which gained a sacred status as part of the Jewish scriptures, must have been authored by someone with a particularly morbid cast of mind. This text was taken up by Christianity and broadcast around the world, serving as a source of inspiration for European settlers in North America and South Africa to identify with Joshua's Hebrew warriors and see Native Americans and Blacks as the new Canaanites.

"It should be noted that Judaism itself... has, over the centuries, increasingly distanced itself from this text. The distant descendants [?] of those savage nomads, they who had emerged from the desert with swords dripping with blood and destroyed the cities of Canaan, had become the quintessential urbanites in the many countries in which they lived. Above all, they admired scholars and sages, and kept their distance from warlike activities... Also, the god in which Jews believe, a universal God who holds eternal sway 'from end to end of the world', was far removed from the bloodthirsty tribal God of the ancient nomads. Jews also abandoned the blood sacrifice of animals, which had turned the temples of the ancient world into veritable slaughterhouses, and replaced it with public prayer, a custom also adopted by Christians and Muslims. But the Book of Joshua and other bloody verses remained part of the Bible. Observant Jews must not omit even one letter from the scriptures, let alone a whole book. But it is permitted to provide softening interpretations and glosses. It was also possible to put off dealing with such issues until the coming of the Messiah, when they would be irrelevant to the actual lives of Jews in the here and now... For centuries this was not the focus of Jewish faith and tradition; among the many sacred dates and holidays in the Jewish calendar no date was set to commemorate Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan.

"It wasn't until the rise of the Zionist movement in 19th century Europe, which even before reaching the Promised Land and meeting the Arabs face-to-face had already begun to cultivate dreams of a 'muscular Judaism'. In 1899, Saul Tchernichovsky... who was destined to become one of the main Zionist poets, wrote one of his most memorable poems: The people have grown old - their god with them/ Passions, stifled by unmanly folk/ Have arisen from a thousand years of slumber!/ I bend the knee to life, to beauty, to power/ To all the wondrous glories, of which/ Corrupt and degenerate walking corpses/ Have robbed the mighty God/ Of the vast, uncharted deserts/ The God of the conquerors/ Who took Canaan by storm/ But these have bound him up in straps, in phylacteries!

"One hundred and seventeen years have passed since a passionate young poet wrote those words. A hundred and seventeen years, during which the Zionist movement and the state of Israel have been engaged in the task of releasing the God of the Conquerors of Canaan from his chains. The ultimate fruit of these efforts, the visage of the rampant God of the Desert, can be seen in the video released this week containing footage from a demonstration in Tel Aviv, an enthusiastic rally called in support of the aforementioned Sgt Azaria, who had aimed his rifle and fired point blank at the head of the injured Palestinian lying on the ground. 'Muhammad is dead! Muhammad is dead!' chanted the crowd, and then 'We will burn down your village! Burn, village, burn!' and 'A Jew has a soul, an Arab is the son of a whore!' followed by 'A Leftist is the son of a whore!' and 'Fuck the media!' and concluding with a plain 'Death to the Arabs! Death to the Arabs!'

"Undoubtedly, the God of the Conquerors of Canaan is now rampaging throughout the state of Israel and the territories under its ongoing military rule. And where are we going to find, these days, someone to try binding him up again?"

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