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Date posted: December 29, 2007
By Jonathan Power

Perhaps the biggest single irony of Western history is best understood by standing in the town square of Bethlehem, allowing oneís gaze to pass over the rooftop of the church that covers the stable where Jesus was supposedly born, and let oneís eye drift into the blue sky beyond and thinking: how on earth could it be that the Christians, whose belief in the divine centre around Jesusí crucifixion carried out by Roman soldiers but done at the behest of the Jewish populace, could turn round nearly two millennia later and say to the Jews in effect: we buy the argument that you are Godís chosen people and this land is your land and we are going to turn it over to you as your ďnational homeĒ, even though the Arabs or their forefathers have been living here since the Romans kicked the Jews out of Babylon after demolishing the Temple in AD 70?

This is what the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, did in his famous declaration, strongly backed by prime minister Lloyd George, a religious man who saw the Jewish cause as one that must be supported by Christian charity.

The British had taken Palestine following the breakup of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was, at best, an emotional cause, at worst, a political adventure. The next generation of British politicians and colonial administrators, faced with a bloody Arab revolt that they mercilessly repressed, felt that the British had made an awful mistake.

A more recent irony: how could it be that the Jews of today could elect as prime minister in the year 2001 Ariel Sharon, when they had been voting for a peace candidate barely two years before?

Sharonís most successful campaign trick was to walk with a muscular entourage across the courtyard of Jerusalemís Dome of the Rock, the sacred Islamic place from where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven for a night, and claim this as Jewish territory forever because down below are the remains of the temple that the Romans destroyed.

In helping provoke the second Intifada, and thus undermining the democratically elected government of Palestine to the great advantage of the militant Hamas, he showed both his irresponsibility and his total contempt for 1,300 years of continuous Muslim presence.

How would Christians have felt if he had strutted across the piazza in front of St. Peterís Basilica and made a speech that slighted Christian claims to that piece of earth? How would the Jews have felt if the Palestinians had suspended political banners from the Dome of the Rock at the top of the hill down over the sacred Wailing Wall below?

Is there no sense of consistency or basic justice in the Israeli body politic? What is the point of subscribing to a religion of values if one can be so easily led by the nose by an unscrupulous politician out for power and vainglory and careless of human life that gets in his way? And arenít the Jews, as a rather small religious group, the ones who have the most to lose if religious tolerance is undermined?

Christians are meant to turn the other cheek. The Jews have long been satisfied with an eye for an eye. But both religions have stressed the need for justice and for consideration of how those one is dealing with might feel. ďDo unto others what you want them to do to youĒ is part of both Old and New Testament teaching. Neither Balfour nor Sharon appeared to have possessed a profound notion of the core values of their religion.

The Jewish notion that they can have this land and no one else can is so wildly anachronistic by any Western standards or historical experience that it is amazing that in 1917 it got the time of day. If every ethnic group in the world asserted so vigorously ancient yearnings to exclusive possession, the world would become totally chaotic in short time, and nowhere quicker than in North America itself.

But why should Israel get a free pass today? If the Jews want to believe that Temple Mount (on which the Dome of the Rock is built) is ďthe focal point of creationĒ and that in the centre of the hill lies the ďfoundation stoneĒ of the world and that here ďAdam came into beingĒ, they may be allowed to believe it. But that the arbiters of the United Nations, including the US, Russia and Europe, could go along with this myth at the expense of traditional Palestinian centuries-old occupancy rights is almost impossible to digest.

And the worst of it is that even the most liberal voices in the Western political world calling today for Israel to compromise seem to accept that even if the Palestinians recovered all of the pre-1967 territories on the West Bank, they would still only have barely 20 per cent of the land that the United Nations divided into Jewish and Arab states in 1948 when the British withdrew.

Read More ...

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Source: The Jordan Times, 28 December. 2007
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