Whose land is it, anyway?
April 26 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Whose land is it, anyway? | Friday, April 26, 2002

Friday, April 26, 2002

Whose land is it, anyway?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

Devastating discord in Israel and the West Bank is a matter of concern for people around the world. In the Holy Land, as in no other place, the dangerous mix of politics, explosives and religious fanaticism is an everyday issue.

Israel has held the upper hand in the area since 1948, but it has not always been so. If not for an annual $2 billion in military aid from the United States, the story would be quite different now.

There are no simple issues when it comes to Israel, a land that is equally sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Whose land is it, anyway?

If we could answer that question, the other issues might fall more easily into line.

Does the land belong to the people who got there first? In that case, do the Paleolithic Mousterians, with their Neanderthal features, hold title because they inhabited the caves of Carmel, Kebara and Qafzeh during the Stone Age?

Or does right of claim belong to the Natufian peoples, who left grain-processing tools and grindstones in Palestine before 10,000 B.C.?

Perhaps the Aceramic Neolithic cultures of al-Bayda, Basta and Jericho should be given title, since they built some of the first permanent structures there between 9,000 and 6,000 B.C. Or should it belong to the next generation of settlers, the ones who first began to use pottery about 1,000 years later?

Urban culture began to emerge in Palestine during the third millennium B.C., as did international conflict. Ebla, the dominant city, fell to Naram-Sin of Akkad (which would later become Babylonia).

Egyptian texts from the Middle Bronze Age describe Palestine as a backward place, but a group of peoples called the Hyksos invaded Egypt from that direction.

As a land bridge between the powerful cultures that emerged in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the territory now called Israel spent much of the first two millennia B.C. as a battlefield, much like the rope in a tug-of-war. Dynasties from both east and west (who approached from north and south) sought control of Palestine, always doing battle with - but never fully subjugating - the indigenous peoples who lived there.

When Abraham first arrived on the scene, bolstered by God's promise that the land would belong to him and his descendants (Gen. 12:1-3), it was already home to a variety of people groups who became his neighbors.

When Joshua led the Israelites back into the promised land after their long sojourn in Egypt, the territory was held by people the Bible calls Canaanites, Perizzites, Amorites, Hivites, Asherites, Hittites, Jebusites, Moabites, Edomites, Sidonians and Philistines (from which the name "Palestine" is derived), among others.

The Bible clearly attests that Israel lived among the other people groups of Palestine, but never eliminated them or drove them out. Much of the Old Testament revolves around brutal and violent stories of conflict related to control of the land. Hebrew hegemony waxed during periods of Egyptian and Babylonian weakness, and waned when the neighboring powers grew strong and flexed their muscle.

Theologians of ancient Israel interpreted the nation's changing fortunes as divine punishment or blessing. They demonstrated a clear understanding that what God gives, God can take away, and that possession of the land does not always imply divine approval.

In time, control of Israel fell to Persians and Romans, Ottomans and others. Christian Crusaders of the Middle Ages sought to regain sacred sites from the Muslims, who fought to preserve their own belated claim upon the land.

In our own day, little has changed in Israel except for the horsepower of the chariots, the caliber of the weapons and the distance from which other strong nations can exercise their influence.

Whose land is it, anyway?

It is God's land - like all the other lands of the earth. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," said the Psalmist (24:1), in words that were echoed by Paul (1 Cor. 10:26, 28). The Bible, along with most other sacred texts, is clear in teaching that God created the earth, holds title to the earth, and has the ultimate say about what will happen to the earth.

As individuals and as nations, we hold little pieces of the world in trust, and are called to be good stewards of what we hold.

As humans, we fight most intensely over the most precious parts, and no place is more precious to Jews, Christians and Muslims than the part we call "the Holy Land."

I wish I could offer an easy solution to the deadly bickering that reigns supreme in Israel and the West Bank. In my dreams, both Israelis and Palestinians agree to mutual disarmament and surrender all claims of sovereignty, allow a multinational coalition to provide security for residents, and designate the entire region as a place of peace, a sacred site and a historical park for all the world's people.

There are, no doubt, many reasons why negotiators will not call me for advice, but the prophet Micah dreamed of a day when all nations would stream to Jerusalem to learn God's ways, and would respond by beating their swords into plowshares (Mic. 4:1-4). Isaiah dreamed of a day when wolves and lambs, lions and bulls would lie down together and rest easy (Isa. 11:6).

And we can still dream.

In any case, let us pray that those who have power to impact Israel's future will remember that the land ultimately belongs to God, who is less concerned with who owns it than with how its owners behave.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
4/26/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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