Competing narratives

How can the West Bank settlement movement be so sure the land is their's?

settlement cartoon 521.jpg (photo credit: Avi Katz)
settlement cartoon 521.jpg
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
Well, we’ll always be people of the book but the question is which book and how do you know when to turn the page, end the chapter and read on? I’m thinking about this because Leviticus has been in season and it does seem a bit dated, overwrought and sometimes cruel.
Yes, I understand that it is a holy, sacred text and I respect and value that. But it is difficult for the modern mind, Holocaust scarred, filled with stories of injustice, murder, early death and national catastrophes to judge with such certainty the iniquities of other’s sexual preferences, sacrificial errors and emotional confusions.
Just how should a good Jew give obedience to laws that may not appear either relevant or humane? We know now that we are not so different from those on neighboring lands. We know that our biology is shared. We human beings get colds and cancer and we conceive our babies and we warm our bodies all in the same way. Chinese, Russian, Polish, Jew, Arab, we all end up in a grave, erased.
Television, science, microscopes, telescopes have taken us almost to the moment before creation, before God had become disappointed in our ability to keep to the rules, rules which grew increasingly exacting, complicated and perhaps unmoored from evolving human needs.
And so I am wondering about how the West Bank settler movement can be so sure that the land they build on is theirs, given by God and returned to them regardless of whose orchard they must possess, whose inheritance they must take. The texts are there.
The land is given by God to Abraham, to Moses and his descendants.
It is taken by the Assyrians and the Babylonians because the Jews could not keep God’s commands and became greedy, harmed the poor, cheated on their sacrifices, lost their honor.
The Jews were returned to their land and then exiled again and returned again, this time with fighter pilots and tanks and possibly a great weapon concealed somewhere in the far hills. The story is powerful. It stirs my heart. This is my story too, a modern American woman, and I know my love of books did not begin with my grandfather on Ellis Island but goes deep into the land where lambs were born anew each spring.
But we know that there are competing stories about the land.
There are competing memories of whose grandfather built with his own hands the stones that line the olive groves and provide the foundations for the homes. We know that our story is best and right because it is ours. But we also know that someone else thinks the same of their tale, the places their oxen plowed, their carts and their cars passed, their bodies sweated and their children played.
The settlers do not see that the other has a right, given perhaps by time, by toil, by memory to his place, and that our story is full of fighting and conquering and taking and killing. It had to be so, because it is a human story and we are not a peaceable species and if it is true that God loves us, he loves us despite, not because of, ourselves.
And so I am thinking about the book and the words in the book that make some think that the whole land is intended for their possession, who cannot be content with less than everything, who must build a nation that obliterates other claims. I think the book needs us just as we need the book. It needs us to bring what we know now to the words recorded in other eras. It needs us to listen to the calls of the prophets for justice and fairness and loving kindness. The warrior’s cold eye misleads, if it cannot adjust to the changing light.