Let’s get down to this because it is, without doubt, the single most apocalyptic battle raging in the world today. Israel versus . . . well, everybody else in the Middle East, if not the entire world. We can attack or defend Palestine (and the curiously growing trend is to fight on the side of Palestine, the left taking on this battle, dreaming of human rights violations, while the right remains confident that biblical prophecy will see whomever remains through); we can think about Saudi Arabia or Iran or Jordan, Lebanon, any of those nearby nations feeling the sting of Israel’s self-defensive militarism, and still not come to any conclusion on who has the justification to claim the land.
Harry Truman was soddenly in charge of the United States when Israel was granted its charter, mostly as a response to the crimes of Nazi Germany. The survivors of the death camps were frail, sick, very angry, and born again into a radical Zionism that all people who re-find their God, of any faith, take to the Nth extreme. Those who founded (or re-founded) Israel were fundamentalists, understandably trying to escape from a world that had murdered so many of their brethren. They wanted a land of their own, surrounded by the similar, by the like-minded. Since Hitler had convinced them that Judaism was more than just a religious belief system, and was actually a racial designation, the idea of racial segregation offered itself in a new light. And so the founders uprooted nomadic people already living there, claiming all the ancient holy sites, the land of the destruction of the Temple of David, the home of the crucifixion of Christ, and the spot of Muhammad’s ascent into heaven on the wings of the angel Gabriel. They took possession of that most holy of mosques, al-Asqa, on the very site where the messiah of all three monotheistic faiths is supposed to emerge (that is, the Jewish messiah, the second coming of Christ, and the rising of the Mahdi.)
Religion is the cause of most of the problems in the world, and yet it also provides the majority of hope to people terrified by destruction, fear, and death. Religion orders the political systems of the world and breeds our endless imagination, giving our minds the idea that anything is possible. And yet we live in the world where fanatics and radicalism consume all of the best intentions of faith, and punish all dissent in endless holy warfare. Israel merely represents the center of this battle for God, and it has been this way since long before 1947.
The land of Canaan was, purportedly, the chosen space that God granted to the escaping Jews, fleeing Egyptian slavery, wandering in the desert for forty years, the great leader Moses only making it to the top of Mount Sinai but, as with Martin Luther King so many years later, he could not get there with them; he had only seen the promised land.
The myth of this holy land is a profound and powerful story of hope for the future. It is the dream of a better place. And yet such a promised land (slap in the middle of a barren desert) is desired by everyone as a base for their divine superiority–for the acknowledgment of their approval by God. Apparently we all wish to be considered ‘the chosen people.’ Being excluded from such a title seems to annoy the very religious. One should wonder if it is less about sincere belief in the Lord’s benevolence, and more to do with pointless labels, like the argument people have about which athlete is the ‘greatest of all time.’
So what happened to cause all these troubles? Plenty of good-willed people in what was then British-run Palestine understandably felt for the Jews after their liberation, not the least of whom was England itself. The then natives of Palestine, many of them anyway, welcomed these poor, emaciated souls into their new home with open-arms. They were kind, decent people, not so much Islamic fundamentalists as they were devout people of good will back in those early days).
Then the Christians got involved.
Let’s back up for a moment, because we can’t blame the Christians entirely for this split. Jews who had escaped the clutches of the Nazis before the war also emerged, hard-line, hard-core, the sort of radicals that form in the younger generations after atrocity. People without the same experiences of the horrors, perhaps having lost grandparents and aunts and uncles, or even angry enough to have lost their immediate families. These people had spent the whole war being educated and outraged over the news reports. They plotted revenge and went into politics. These people pressured Harry S. Truman, made demands of Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee. They proposed their new state to the brand new United Nations. They were given whatever they asked for. What people of conscience can refuse the victims of genocide anything?
Evangelical Christians, whose population drastically spiked with the founding of Israel, had other ideas, far more sinister, glaring in the fluorescence of their divine visions. There was a great rise in readership of the Book of Revelation, which had started certainly during the war, end-of-the-world belief increasing up to, and drastically beyond, the bombing of Hiroshima. And for many this possibility seemed the greatest of all joys.
Here is a curious truth that will hopefully make my point about just how destructive religious belief can be in and around Israel, not to mention the rest of the world: There have been numerous very wealthy farmers, from America, from Great Britain, and from elsewhere in the world, Christians, Jews and Muslims, who have moved to Israel with the intention of breeding ‘a red heifer.’
Let us look to The Book of Numbers 19:2-10: “This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. 3 And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. 4 And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. 5 And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned.6 And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. 7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. 9 And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.”
This dense passage is about purifying the land where so much sin has happened in order to finally rebuild the Temple of David, last sacked in 70 AD. This is the place where the three-headed messiah of the three major monotheisms is predicted to emerge, only after this purification ritual. A purely red cow is a very rare thing, if not non-existent (auburn can be called ‘red’ if you really wish to). According to Talmudic scholars, there have only been nine or eleven red heifers before (a similar debate occurs in Islam over whether the coming Mahdi will be the seventh or twelfth ancestor of Muhammad’s bloodline. This is the primary reason for the battle between Sunni and Shia Islam). And so these evangelical ghouls, of every faith, are trying to use the modern science of genetic engineering to create a monster that will justify their launching of missiles, endless terrorist attacks, and the declaration of an actual ‘war to end all wars.’
There is another important issue to consider regarding this prophecy, which, like so many misinterpretations of biblical meaning, has to do with the inaccuracies of translation: In ancient times, there were no cows whatsoever in the region surrounding Canaan. Such animals were transported to the middle east more than a thousand years later. What they had were goats. In Israel a ‘heifer’ is a goat. I once wrote a story, actually a part of an apocalypse novel called “The Red Goat.” Here is a link to it (and please don’t come after me, should you choose to read this, for the drastic blasphemy of much of the content in anything other than words: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/370068-the-red-goat?chapter=0). It is extremely violent, and condemns religion much more brutally than I shall do within this essay. I did a great deal of biblical and Koranic study for this piece, and I suspect some of my frustration rubs off.)
So why is Israel so important to people? It isn’t oil rich. There are no significant crops growing, other than fig trees. It is, of course, an international land, where people are capable of coming together over common beliefs, regardless of their declared faith-based allegiances, and pray to the same God for notions of peace, love and forgiveness. But, as with everything, people on different sides feel possessive over history, and that is all that Israel really has to offer. Nostalgia. A dedication to myths constantly being revised and recreated in order to justify some of the most horrible actions in the world.
Lest you mistake this piece for a simple attack on the Jews and Christians, who greedily gobble up more and more land, displacing poor shepherds with tanks, we can turn the whole thing sideways by looking at the radical Muslims with their own death cults, who like to launch missiles day-after-day into the heart of the most populated cities. And this is not even an act of vengeance but, like the red heifer, yet another hope to engineer the end of the world, a battle for end times to prove who are the true chosen people.
Just in the past few days there has been another escalation in the battle for Israel, with Islamic death cult Hamas launching rockets into the Gaza strip. Israel has responded by launching rockets of their own. The whole thing started after some members of Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers near the West Bank, while a Palestinian teenager was grabbed up by Israeli soldiers and burned to death in a makeshift public square. It is uncertain which horror happened first, or if they were unconnected and simultaneous.
Israel is increasingly a scorched earth, a desert of ash and burned out buildings. The people are constantly at war, and many of the victims seem to be those blindly hopeful visitors–the truly faithful–who merely want to take in the ancient sights, marvel with either wonder or hatred at the Dome of the Rock, and weep by the wailing wall while sticking little love letters to God inside the cracks. For those interested in history Israel certainly has great value–even for the modern world as the apparent center of a true apocalyptic struggle (there is a barren plain called Megiddo, which literally translates into Armageddon, where the last battle is supposed to be fought, the hounds of Satan and the four horsemen of the apocalypse barreling through those who remain after the rapture. This war is meant to end when Jesus returns, or the Mahdi or the Jewish messiah arrive to smite all evil from the world.)
These religious beliefs–these magical ideas turned into reality are perhaps the gravest threat mankind has ever faced, and it has been going on for a very long time. The only reason one might suspect all of this is coming to a head is back to where I started this piece. In 1947 Israel was founded (or re-founded). To many this is seen as the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is coming back soon, they shout. Consider this in the light of atomic weapons and the ever-increasing virulence of our death wish, and we can see, alongside messianic visions, a very real threat to the end of our reign over this world.