Yom Kippur memories

This evening is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and I find myself thinking back.

One memory is from my childhood – my sister walking into the kitchen and asking our mother to show her some chocolates. Not the most obvious way of coping with a total fast, but hey…
Another memory is from later – my very early 20s – a rebellious meirav going to the beach and having a picnic, wanting to make my rebellion totally public. Just as I had a habit for a while of going to a non-kosher burger place in Tel Aviv during Passover and ordering a cheeseburger so that I could break three rules in one go: eating non-kosher meat, eating meat and cheese together (combining meat and dairy products is not allowed), and eating bread during Passover, when we’re supposed to eat only unleavened bread.
Why such rebellious acts? who was I rebelling against? not against God – I didn’t even know he existed. against my parents? not against my dad – he was a devout atheist and would have probably been proud of me. and I don’t think my mum would have been all that bothered, she has kept these customs mainly because that’s the tradition, not out of a serious belief that it’s important. so who was I rebelling against?
When you grow up as a Jew in Israel, you grow up with the tension between the religious minority and the secular majority, and if you are – as I was – part of the secular majority, then there’s a sense of injustice at how the religious minority force their customs onto you. This is down to our voting system – proportional representation is a great idea in theory, but in practice what it means is that no party has a large enough majority to form a stable government, so they’re at the mercy of the smaller parties; so after the elections we have a period of unpleasant horse trading, in which the religious parties, representing a small minority of the population, are able to dictate terms to the larger parties. So in the interests of forming a government, they agree to pass laws which the majority of the population do not want and did not vote for.
And so this afternoon a whole load of secular Israelis will have been rushing to get their shopping done before the shops close, and the shops are obliged to close whether the people working there observe the Yom Kippur fast or not. The same goes for every weekend – Friday afternoon the shops close early, and stay closed for the duration of Saturday. Public transport stops, so if you don’t have a car you can’t take the family on a fun day trip to enjoy the sea or the beauty of nature, so families stay cooped up at home getting bored. (Am wondering if now that there’s cable and satellite maybe at least there’s the option of watching TV – in my days we had only Israeli TV and that stopped for the Sabbath.) Lots of restaurants and cafés are forced to close for the Sabbath not because of a legal requirement but because the rabbis threaten to revoke their kosher certificate if they don’t comply, which would mean losing the custom of anyone who won’t eat in a place that doesn’t have a kosher certificate. And there’s a whole load of complex issues as a result of marriage regulations – if you’re Jewish then you’re under the rabbis’ jurisdiction for anything to do with marriage, and there are all sorts of reasons why they won’t allow some people to marry, so some couples end up going off to neighbouring Cyprus to get married there.
Looking at all this from where I stand now, it saddens me because of how this stuff gets in the way of people getting to know God and finding out how wonderful he is – because forcing stuff onto people is a sure way of getting them to rebel, to turn away, to want nothing to do with any of it.
My prayer for my people on Yom Kippur is that some will, despite all the obstacles, come to know God for real.

Well, that was quite a debate, wasn’t it

I don’t often blog about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, because I don’t have the energy to engage in these type of debates very often – as we saw here yesterday, this is a subject that brings out lots of strong feelings and different points of view, there is a huge amount of misinformation around, and so much that could be said that I could be here twenty four hours a day answering the different arguments and would have no time or energy left for anything else. And sadly I feel that even if I did that, the difference I could make would be minuscule.

My country is world-famous, and nearly everyone seems to have an opinion as to what we should do about the situation we’re in.

I have come across those who seem to think Israel can do no wrong and the Arabs are all evil – what a load of rubbish! We’re all human. I recently came across a blogger who says she’s a Christian standing with Israel – great, I thought, we need all the support we can get. But when I made a comment on her blog about how I believe most Gazans are, unbeknown to them, pawns in a horrible and cynical game, her reply was that she has no sympathy for them – I was horrified. How can you be a Christian and have no sympathy for people who are suffering in this way? I’m not sure I want that kind of support for my country.

On the other hand, here in the UK there is a lot of the “Israel is an evil occupying and imperialistic force” kind of mentality, with the Palestinians viewed as totally innocent victims.

Where is the truth? somewhere in the middle, as usual in real life.

The truth is nobody is totally innocent, and nobody is totally evil.

There is a lot that could be said and I am not going to attempt saying everything here. I’ve blogged before about some good sources of information on the subject. But I will try and throw a few useful facts on the table:

The State of Israel was founded as a result of a UN decision. The UN voted on a proposal to split the territory which we call the Land of Israel and some call Palestine into two separate states – one for the Jews and one for the resident Arabs.

It is a point that many are unaware of that what we call the Land of Israel is the same territory that they call Palestine – the whole of the territory, not part of it. (And why do we call it the Land of Israel? for historical reasons, which you can find in the Bible. Why do some call it Palestine? This name was invented by a Roman Emperor who wanted to hurt the Jews as much as possible and therefore made up a name based on that of our worst enemies in biblical times, the Philistines. The Arabs, who don’t actually have a P in their alphabet and can’t pronounce that sound, call it Falasteen.)

The UN decision was a compromise. Each party says “this is all mine”, so each party is given only part. (Very Talmudic by the way…)

We Jews were desperate enough and grateful enough to accept that compromise. We had been through a huge amount of persecution in our nearly-2000 years of exile, we had just seen six million of our people murdered by someone who thought the world would be a better place if only there were no more Jews in it, we had come home and faced persecution even there, so yes, we were desperate enough to say yes to even a small piece of land that we could call our own. And so, in May 1948, when the British left, the tiny State of Israel declared its independence.

The resident Arabs could have at that point done the same. If they had wanted to live in peace side by side with us, this was a historic opportunity to do just that. They didn’t. They chose war instead.

Why? Because the Arab countries around us said: nah, you don’t need to settle for those crumbs, the Brits have gone, these people have no army, let’s just go kill them all and then you can have the whole of this land. Get out of the way so it will be easier for us to get at them, give us a few weeks and we’ll annihilate these pesky Jews and then you can go back to your homes and all will be well. (I am not making this up, there is documentation of those declarations made publicly.)

Thanks be to God, this plan didn’t work out. Just as Haman in Persia tried to destroy us (see the book of Esther), just as the Pharaoh in Egypt tried to destroy us (see the book of Exodus), just as Hitler tried to destroy us, etc etc etc – so many have tried but God doesn’t allow it to happen. He has a plan and that plan includes the Jewish people surviving to the very end of time. (Not many nations have survived from biblical times. Have you met any Jebusites or Hittites lately? The ones who have survived are the Jews, because of God’s promises, and the Arabs, the descendants of Ishmael, because Abraham begged God to “bless him too”.)

Now, that territory that was going to be an Arab state under the UN decision – they had less of it at the end of the war, but they still had quite a bit. Did they found an independent Palestinian State in that territory then? No. Jordan took over part of it (known as “the West Bank” or “Judea and Samaria”, depending on what side of the political divide you’re on), and Egypt took another part (known as “the Gaza strip”). Did the world then raise its voice on behalf of the poor Palestinians who had lost their land to Jordan and Egypt? Did anyone speak against that illegal occupation? Funny, but the answer seems to be no. For some reason that was okay. But when Israel won those pieces of land in 1967 in a war entered into in self-defence, suddenly there was a hue and cry which has continued to this day – how dare we take over those territories, and why don’t we give the land back to the Palestinians – give it back? excuse me? in what way was it theirs? when they were given a chance to take it they said no. they let the Jordanians and the Egyptians take it over without a murmur. in what way is it their land?

Another point in history that many aren’t aware of, is how very recently most of these people arrived. In the 19th century, when Jews began to return to the land from exile (though there always were some Jews living there, but not many), they returned to a land that was mainly deserted and neglected. There was hardly anyone living there, and it was full of swamps. They risked their lives to malaria and dried up the swamps and made the land bloom again. The local Arabs looked in astonishment and said, God is blessing the land because of the Jews. And then many Arabs from neighbouring countries started to arrive – why? because there was work to be had, because there were people working the land again.

These people were at that stage mostly happy to live and work alongside us. The Arabs didn’t have much of a history of anti-Semitism. They learned it from the west. They learned it from the British who took the land over from the Turks in the early 20th century, and stirred up hatred towards us amongst the local Arabs. The British did not allow Jews to carry weapons, but turned a blind eye to the Arab mob massacring defenceless Jews. That’s why underground movements came into being – because we needed to be able to defend ourselves, and handling weapons had to be done in secret. It’s not a pretty story and it shocked me when I read some of what the British did in that time. They were not objective, even-handed rulers, far from it.

But thanks to people like my late father, who fought to drive the British out, it got to the point when they had had enough and appealed to the UN to sort the mess out… and then they left, and as soon as they were out, we declared independence and the next day seven Arab nations declared war against us. That’s how much they wanted peace…

I wasn’t born yet when all those things happened. I was a child in 1967 when this whole new era started – Israel taking over these contested territories, and the questions of what we should do with them, should we hold on to them or should we give them back. I had friends who said we should give “the territories” back and make peace, and I believed that – I believed that if only we would give them those territories, there would be peace. But time has passed, we’ve made so many gestures of peace towards them and what have we got in return? Nothing. We even unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip, and what was the answer? Missiles.

I know very well that there are plenty of Palestinians who would love to live peacefully side by side with us. But if they speak out, they’ll be dead very very quickly. Hamas and their like do not believe in freedom of speech.

There are a few other facts I need to throw in whilst we’re on this subject – some things that I feel are a bit confusing for people in the West trying to get their heads round it all.

There is a massive difference between how life is within the recognised borders of the State of Israel, and the way life is in the territories we took over in 1967. Those territories are in two parts – the West Bank/Judea and Samaria which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority, and the Gaza Strip which is under the rule of a Hamas government. Within the recognised borders of the State of Israel, Arab citizens have equal rights under the law. The only difference is they don’t have to do military service. I’m not saying that everything is 100% hunky dory, there are people with attitudes, just like everywhere in the world. But by law they are equal, and free to take part in all walks of life. There are even Arab Members of Knesset, including those who speak against Israel’s right to exist – I don’t think there are many countries who would allow that, but for us freedom of speech is hugely important.

As for Christians within the recognised borders of the State of Israel – there are Arab Christians, and there are Messianic Jews (and of course a smattering of Christians from the West). Messianic Jews are a small but growing minority within the Jewish population. It is a persecuted minority, but not anywhere near the scale of persecution suffered by our neighbours – Arabs from a muslim background in the Palestinian Authority-controlled area who come to faith in Jesus actually risk their lives, and I’ve heard of those who have escaped into Israel as a result. Within Israel, there are good relations between Messianic Jews and Arab Christians, and I was very privileged to see a live example of this on my last Shabbat there before leaving to come back to England, when a group from an Arab fellowship in the Galilee came to join us for worship. It was truly wonderful. One of their leaders was asked to speak, and he started by saying: I used to be a terrorist…

Israel has freedom of religion in its statute book, and as far as the Arab population is concerned, this is for real – unlike in the PA-controlled area, where people have been tortured by police for converting to the Christian faith! (For Messianic Jews, there is some discrimination, because the Orthodox Rabbis don’t accept that we are still Jewish, they claim we have “changed religion”. As far as they’re concerned, we are the worst of the worst. But they couldn’t care less what Gentiles believe.)

Okay, I’m getting off the podium now. I hope you find at least some of this helpful. I’m disabling replies for this post – something I’m not in the habit of doing – because I really haven’t got the energy for another debate like yesterday. Live Replies made it very confusing and stressful, trying to answer a zillion different points all at the same time. So if you have a specific question you want to ask me, send me a PM and I will do my best to answer.

If there is one point I want you all to get from this, it’s that this situation is a lot more complex than most people realise. There is a huge amount of goodwill on the Israeli side, a huge desire for peace, and if there was a simple solution we’d have done it by now.

Oh, and I must say something quickly about the “refugee” issue. The Arabs claim that we forcibly deported many of them and that’s why they are refugees. There were some enforced deportations, but those were very much exceptions rather than a general rule. Most of those who left, did so because they had been encouraged by the neighbouring Arab nations to get out of the way so that the Jews could be killed more quickly and efficiently. When this plan didn’t work out, they found themselves on the wrong side of a new border. Under these circumstances, is it really so surprising we didn’t let our enemies back in?

Another small point on the “refugee” issue: why are they still living in refugee camps? why have the oil-rich Arab countries not helped these people to build homes and settle down? is it because they’ve preferred to pour their money into giving them weapons to fight us? is it because they’ve preferred to keep these people in a situation of suffering so that their frustration could be used against “the zionist enemy”? And how come their children and grandchildren are still regarded as refugees?

Just a few thoughts and facts to help you think through this complex issue.

There, I’m done now. Thank you for listening.

Plans to give whom a hope and a future?

Here’s something that’s been bugging me – maybe someone could help me understand?

Again and again I’ve come across Christian writers who quote this verse:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

as an encouragement to all believers.

And the more I look at the passage from which this verse is taken, the more weird this seems to me.

Have a little look with me:

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (courtesy of Bible Gateway)

God is very clearly talking to the exiles from Judah. His promise here is to a particular nation (which happens to be my nation). Where does anyone find a reason to pluck a verse from the middle of this promise and say it applies to all Christians?

Sorry, I just don’t get this. Am I missing something?

My country – right or wrong?

As an Israeli living abroad I get asked all sorts of questions about my country, about the history of the conflict between us and the Arabs, etc. Obviously I don’t know everything, but here are some good sources of information I’ve come across:

http://www.peacefaq.com/warindep.html#werent for facts about the 1948 War of Independence, addressing questions such as: How did so many Arabs become refugees? (plus links from there to other related issues)

www.thelandofmanynames.com and also the book “The Land of Many Names” by Steve Maltz

http://www.shoebat.com – a brave Palestinian’s point of view

http://www.honestreporting.com for the truth behind media reports

Don’t believe everything you hear on television. Read. Think. Ask some questions.

And by the way, I do not believe that my country is always right. Israelis are not perfect. Of course not. We’re human. And we have been in an impossible situation for a long time, surrounded by those who want to annihilate us and who are prepared to use any means towards this goal. The fact that we are still in existence despite all this is thanks to God.