Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pilgrimage 4: Military Occupation in Israel: Ancient and Modern

--> Entry for 17-20 May 2015:

Military conquest and occupation is a constant theme on this pilgrimage: It’s easiest to start with the Romans, safely removed by a couple of millennia. There were other military conquerors before the Romans: Babylonians, Persians, Greeks among them; and others came later, including early Moslem invaders, Christian Crusaders, Ottoman Turks, and the British. 

However, it’s the Roman presence that we can see most clearly today. We see this everywhere in both classical Roman and later Byzantine incarnations: Lots of ruins with their architecture and mosaics; and in place names, like Tiberius, where we stayed for four days.  We see the heavy Roman footprint strikingly at Masada, where the Romans successfully besieged a group of Hebrew Zealots holed up in Herod’s fortified desert palace, and also in Jerusalem itself, where the Herod the Great's Second Temple is conspicuous by its absence on the Temple Mount, having been torn down by the Romans in 70 CE.  

The Roman military occupation created a whole set of complex dynamics for Jewish people of that time, especially around how much and in what ways they should collaborate/ cooperate in the face of overwhelming force, as opposed to rebelling.  In Sepphoris we saw evidence of many centuries of hellenisation and living peacefully under Roman rule, even while rebellion raged elsewhere in Judea.  And of course several Jewish rebellions were put down brutally and decisively by the Romans, eventually leading to the diaspora of the Jewish people.

But the Jewish nation has also repeatedly played the role of military conqueror and occupier. In the first instance, they originally conquered the even more ancient Canaanite peoples who preceded them in what is today Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.  For example, last week we visited Tel Dan, the ruins of the city of Dan, far in the north, near Mount Hermon.  As described in the Bible, this was  a peaceful, prosperous place, known variously as either Laish or Leshem, before the Israelites conquered and burned it to the ground and then built their own city on the spot. 

Checkpoint, Wall of Separation, Bethlehem
As we’ve travelled through modern Israel over the past week we’ve passed through the occupied West Bank three times, visiting Jericho, Nablus and Bethany.  Along the way we’ve passed through military checkpoints, seen roadblocks, following the course of the Wall of Separation, as well as the incursion of settlements into the disputed territory.   We’ve seen the Bedouin shanty towns in the South and followed recent news stories about whether Palestinians were going to be forced to travel on segregated buses to and from the West Bank.  We’ve talked with Palestinian Christians and heard how difficult it is for them to live and to maintain hope in the face of the intractable difficulties they and their children face.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many people who were traumatised or bullied earlier in their lives.  As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the worst, most morally corrosive things that can happen to someone who has been badly mistreated is for them to find themselves in the roll of the perpetrator of similar abuse on others.  And yet it seems to me that this is exactly the situation with Israel today, and has to be as harmful to the Jewish people of Israel as it is to the Palestinians, in or out of the West Bank and Gaza.

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