The Failure of Zion

The Failure of Zion May 15, 2018

The recent massacre of dozens of Gaza protesters by Israeli snipers is a tremendous tragedy, just like the massacre of Israeli citizens by Palestinian suicide bombers during the second Intifada 17 years ago. For this massacre to take place literally at the same time that Christian fundamentalist end-times pastors John Hagee and Robert Jeffress were naming the US Embassy relocation to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy is a hideous blasphemy against God and a confirmation of the failure of the Zion envisioned by Israel’s prophets in the Bible.

Zion is an ancient word taken from the scriptures that Christians and Jews both hold sacred. It is a word for the holy place where God lives, which is usually associated with a specific hill in the vicinity of Jerusalem. It’s a different kind of holy place, not the kind where God’s mere presence smites people, but a place of ultimate safety and refuge. For not only Jews but oppressed people throughout history like African slaves, Zion has described the heavenly city that was their ultimate hope, a place where their oppression would finally cease.

The Bible says in numerous places that God’s word “comes out of Zion.” Not only does God’s word come from Zion, but Zion is supposed to be the place where all the nations receive the wisdom of God and put down their weapons once and for all. That’s why the secularization and militarization of Zion as a modern colonial enterprise is its failure and the blasphemy of the God who is supposed to be enthroned there.

This is what Zion is supposed to look like according to Israel’s prophet Isaiah:

In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
    Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
    and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more. [Isaiah 2:2-4]

The Israelite prophet Micah shares a prophecy that repeats Isaiah’s almost word for word, except that Micah adds an important vignette about how the nations will live when they stop lifting up sword against nation: “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:4). What Micah recognizes is the basic requirement of peace: a world where the people of every nation have their own vines and fig trees to sit under. When people have their vines and fig trees stolen or burned to the ground by colonial settlers, there can be no peace.

Today is the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” when more than 700,000 Arab inhabitants of the territory that became Israel were driven from their homes. The Nakba is the failure of Zion and the mockery of Israel’s prophets. It’s certainly true that there are complex, extenuating circumstances on all sides. Israel and its enemies alike have all sinned and created this awful mess. The suicide bombings of the second Intifada cannot be justified or erased. Nor can they be exploited as the ongoing justification for treating every Palestinian who lives under Hamas’ government as a de facto terrorist.

If Hamas is a permanently illegitimate terrorist entity because of the second Intifada, then the US government is the same. Our leaders have specifically authorized and ordered far more heinous acts of violence against civilian populations throughout the world. Barack Obama himself oversaw the massacre of far more civilians during his presidency through drone strikes than Hamas ever has.

If Israeli leaders were actually interested in creating the Zion of their prophets, then they would be engaging in trust-building measures with the goal of cultivating a legitimate partnership for peace with Hamas rather than using Hamas’ history as an excuse. As long as they cynically use charges of “terrorism” and “anti-semitism” to justify changing nothing and slowly gobbling up any possible future Palestinian nation, then the word Zion is no less blasphemous coming out of their mouths than saying the name of God aloud.

After the prophet Isaiah cast his vision for the Zion where God’s word would bring humanity to peace, he issues a dire warning against people who put their trust in “treasure” and “chariots” instead of the Lord:

Enter into the rock,
    and hide in the dust
from the terror of the Lord,
    and from the glory of his majesty.
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
    and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;

and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
For the Lord of hosts has a day
    against all that is proud and lofty,
    against all that is lifted up and high;
    against all the cedars of Lebanon,
    lofty and lifted up;
    and against all the oaks of Bashan;
     against all the high mountains,
    and against all the lofty hills;
    against every high tower,
    and against every fortified wall;
    against all the ships of Tarshish,
    and against all the beautiful craft.
    The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
    and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
    and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
    The idols shall utterly pass away.
    Enter the caves of the rocks
    and the holes of the ground,
from the terror of the Lord,
    and from the glory of his majesty,
    when he rises to terrify the earth. [Isaiah 2:10-19]

Isaiah lived during the reign of King Uzziah, when the southern kingdom of Judah was at its military peak. During Uzziah’s reign, a devastating 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit the region. It is referenced in multiple historical accounts and confirmed by archaeological findings. In some rabbinic traditions, this earthquake was triggered when Uzziah usurped for himself the authority of a priest and desecrated the Jerusalem temple by attempting to offer a sacrifice there. It seems like a reasonable hypothesis that this earthquake is what Isaiah had in mind when he speaks of God “rising to terrify the earth.”

I don’t think God causes physical earthquakes to punish people, but I do think that Israeli leaders should be warned about an earthquake that’s coming. By hitching their wagon so tightly to Donald Trump and far-right end-timer Christian Zionists like Hagee and Jeffress, Netanyahu and his gang have put the future of their nation in serious jeopardy. It is no longer viable for any progressive in the US to parrot the Orwellian talking points of Israeli hasbara. Donald Trump has successfully partisanized unconditional Israeli apologism and yoked it together with the Islamophobia that connects him so successfully with the Christian end-timer crowd.

By playing into Trump’s clumsy appeal to the far-right Christian end-timers, Netanyahu has ensured that the explosive backlash against Donald Trump will now include demands for justice for Palestine. And if the cowardly Democrats keep on signing a blank $4 billion annual check for the Israeli military with zero accountability, they will be voted out of office too.

There is nothing stable about the status quo that Netanyahu thinks he can maintain through ruthless brutal force on the other side of his apartheid walls. When Trump is defeated, whoever replaces Trump will no longer need to pretend to get along with Netanyahu like Obama did. American Jews my generation and younger are more enthusiastic in their support for Palestinian justice than any other demographic. By making Trump his best friend, Netanyahu has ensured that Israel won’t have any friends left after 2020.

In the extended metaphor of Isaiah 2, God’s mountain of Zion is “established as the highest of mountains” through the earthquake that levels all the metaphorical and physical high places in the land. Maybe the only way to establish the true Zion where God creates peace and justice for all nations is through the demise of the fake secular, colonial Zionism that is bankrolled by American empire. However it comes into being, I do believe in the Zion Isaiah was talking about, a place without checkpoints or racist ID cards where all nations receive God’s wisdom and peace, which will create a world where everyone can sit under their own vine and fig tree without fear.

Check out my book How Jesus Saves the World From Us!

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