As a possible basis for discussions, Eunice Ordman has written a commentary on an essay by Frederick Bush, including both a summary of Bush's paper and her own remarks and views.

The Struggle for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine
Reading the Old Testament with Palestinian Eyes
By Frederic W. Bush
Fuller Theological Seminary

Summary and comments by Eunice Ordman.

How has the interpretation of the Bible affected the conflict?

Interpretations of the Old Testament by early Jews and Christians:

Both communities believe that God freed them from slavery in Egypt.

        Following the Ten Commandments in Exodus are commandments quite different from those of the Mesopotamian culture from which Abraham came. These laws enjoin people to "provide for and enhance the lives and well being of five categories of people who were at the bottom of the social order in the patriarchal structure of Ancient Israelite society, namely the resident alien, the widow, and the orphan, the debtor, the slave, and the poor." ... "In antiquity, aliens represented a vulnerable class, as illustrated by the numerous cases of resident aliens becoming victims of indebtedness and falling into slavery in the host country. Without the protection of extended family and clan, they
were easy prey for exploitation and extortion. Exodus 23: 9 Thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." (King James Version) ... "It is noteworthy that this prohibition was based on ... Israel's insight into the plight of the vulnerable resident alien is derived from the most personal of all sources, empathy, the kind of understanding born of identification with the fellow human's experience." Similarly for the other categories the Jews were commanded to follow God's compassionate example in freeing them from slavery. These texts could be used as guidance in the Israel- Palestine situation. However different texts in Joshua and Judges seem to be used to justify the actions of Zionists and Israelis.

           Dr. Bush then tells of his research and experience in Israel in 1996-97. He studied the experience of Christian Peacemaker Teams, sponsored by the Mennonites and Quakers. He told of their efforts "to mediate and reduce violence between the extremist, right-wing Israeli settlers there and the Palestinian residents" in Hebron. We visited the CPT volunteers who were most impressive in their dedication to non-violence. Two women team members were beaten with chains and clubs while escorting young children to school past a check point with soldiers with drawn rifles. The children's parents were not allowed to cross the check point. The Peacemakers' bones were
broken, but they offered no resistance. When the Israel Knesset read of the incident in the press, they decided that the soldiers were to escort the children instead.

    The author was shocked that the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government is not mentioned in American newspapers or on US TV. While in Israel/Palestine he talked with families whose homes had been demolished by the Israeli military.

    After experiencing this cruelty to Palestinians, he reread parts of the Old Testament to see what justification he might find. He quotes Father Nairn Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest, who founded Sabeel, the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center of Jerusalem which our group visited after I was mugged. The group brought us handouts from that group before they left Israel. He wrote that Palestinian and Arab Christians' "view of the Old Testament has been adversely affected by the creation of the State of Israel."   "How can the Old Testament be the Word of God in the light of their experience with its use to support Zionism?" 

    God promised land to the Israelites which was occupied by many tribes and helped the Jews to exterminate them, men, women, and children. Deut. 7:1-2 "When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it and cast out many nations .... the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee: thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them." Deut 7: 6 "Thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth."

    Dr. Bush says, "Here there is established a link between religious piety and the annihilation of indigenous people! In our modem language we call that genocide." He quotes that after the fall of Jericho "they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old." Similar tactics were applied wherever they went.

    The author goes on to discuss the use of the "Promise of Land" traditions as a model for ethnic cleansing in the history of Christianity and Judaism. Skipping over the past which can't be changed. I'm concerned about the claim that "the Bible legitimates the Zionist takeover of Palestine."

    He quotes David Ben-Gurion as saying the Bible is "the Jews' title deed to Palestine with a genealogy of three and a half thousand years. Dr. Bush goes on to say that extremists among the religious Zionists take commands to kill off all the Canaanites as applying to Palestinians now. Unfortunately extreme right wing Christians, hoping for the end of the world when Jesus will reappear, agree to this assessment.

    After regretting that these Old Testament passages have been used by Christians and colonialists to justify their actions, the author goes on to ask what we shall say about these texts now. He notes that much of the Old Testament was handed from father to son until the Babylonian Captivity when it was written down. The purpose was to provide an alternative form of worship to temple sacrifice and to reestablish a national and religious identity for those returning from Babylon. Given this it appears that there are many areas for dispute as to historical accuracy. Admitting that not every detail of the Old Testament is historically accurate does not lead to lack of belief in God and his hope that we will be merciful and forgiving. Being a Christian, the author suggests that the Old Testament be interpreted by Jesus. Jesus was a Jew all his life. I don't think he ever expected
to form a new religious body in opposition to Judaism. I think he wanted to reform Judaism. He never claimed to be God. He admitted that he might be viewed as the Messiah, but not the usual view of a Messiah who would drive out the Romans.

    I rather prefer the view that the Old Testament shows the evolution of the concept of God from the God of War in the early books of the Old Testament to the Prophets calling for love and justice and forgiveness. The New Testament goes on to emphasize good deeds to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the widows and orphans.

    He quotes Waltzer saying that for any of us to reach the promised land, we must struggle. We must be cocreators of justice. He says we must wrestle with the ethical problems these texts present.

    Personally I think God gave me a brain and expects me to use it. I think that one of God's great gifts to me is to share with me the ability to be a creator. I think God can still inspire all of us. No one has yet figured out a way to put a gag on God. He still inspires those who listen.

Eunice Ordman