As a Jew, I love Israel. There’s no way around that. In fourth grade I remember being assigned to write a report on any country in the world, and it was a complete no-brainer as to which country my report would be about. With great pride I decorated the blue-and-white report cover with the Israeli flag. Although seemingly irrelevant, I sprinkled some family recipes for things like matzo ball soup into the report, although now I see that the ethnic pride in recipes and that nationalistic pride in my peoples’ country really are not that far apart.
Years later, I’d get to take my first trip to Israel, and tour dozens of ancient Biblical archaeological sites. And where our Israeli tour guide could not take our group, but instead handed us off to a Palestinian tour guide, we also got to tour the ancient sites of the West Bank. As I came to realize how many places in my peoples’ history and my Bible were not under Jewish ownership but instead Palestinian, I started to realize that this did not sit well with my fantasies of what the “Jewish homeland” should be. My inner child wanted a complete restoration of what once was – I was living a fantasy of having walked back through the pages of the Bible, into the land of my Fathers and Mothers and into the “Kingdom of Israel” — with King David or Solomon, take your pick, ruling from Jerusalem, the Shekinah glory of God sitting on the Temple Mount in the Jewish temple, and every ancient parcel of land firmly a land for me, for us, the Jews.
It would be so neat and tidy if it were like this. Dare I admit that while I wouldn’t have let myself think such a thought with conscious intentionality — I started having a secret wish that the whole thing would blow up, and that Israel would have an excuse to destroy the Dome of the Rock, and that some war would break out allowing armies to wipe away the Palestinians by the millions, allowing there to finally be peace in the region because, well, there’d only be Israel and no more Palestine to wrangle with.
Of course, the Palestinians have their own fantasy that works a lot like this, but in reverse. In their daydream, they rise up and push Israel into the sea. Thus there is peace in the region because there’d be no more Israel. It’s funny how dreams for peace tend to take on a tone of ethnic cleansing and ethnic Utopianism.
Of course all of this comes from a dream of what once was – the dream of returning to a time when one ethnic group had a golden era in the land. I want to have my peoples’ golden era back. I want to walk into the pages of my ancient storybook and have that world again. The Palestinians are an uncomfortable inconvenience.
But this is my fourth grade Utopian dreamer self musing. My adult self can dream of peace that doesn’t put my collective ethnic self quite as much in the center of it all. My people don’t need to have a land that has the exact same borders they had 3000 years ago. I can dream of Isaac and Ishmael dwelling together again as one family, or at least learning how to have their respective tents side by side, even as much as Martin Luther King, Jr. could have a dream of black and white kids holding hands in America.
In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people,Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19, ESV
The first time I ever read Isaiah 19, tears went streaming unbidden down my face as I realized that God didn’t just love Israel and He didn’t just love Jews. He didn’t even always have Jews first – so much for all that I thought being the “chosen people” was about. It was not an affront to see this – it was a relief. It meant I could have new fantasies – fantasies where loving Palestinians, Arabs, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Iraqis – was somehow in the center of God’s plan, not peripheral to it. It meant I could care about what it meant to be a Palestinian, and what it meant to be Arab, and what it meant to be living as the unwanted party in the middle of the Jewish hopes for a restored homeland.
My adult fantasy might have about as much realism as my fourth grade Utopian fantasy. The Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jews might never get along, but at least this dream of finding a way to share the land doesn’t inflame tensions in the region and make things worse. My fourth grade ethnic pride admittedly got really excited to know that Trump proclaimed Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel; some part of me hoped as many of my evangelical friends proclaimed that, “God was working something out here despite how insane Trump is to do this.” It’s a dark fantasy – the fantasy that diplomacy is unneeded, that Jerusalem is the Jews’ merely by history and divine right, despite any developments or changes that may have occurred over the past 2000 years, and despite the history of any other people that could now also have a stake in the matter.
We can brush away those “other people” with a mere return to what once was, we wish inwardly. By reading history from 3 and 4 thousand years ago in a sacred book, we can brush those people away by pointing to prophesies about the Jews’ return from Babylonian exile and rework them so they are talking about today. We can brush away the Palestinians because there’s no room for them in our narrative, they aren’t in our Utopian dreams, they don’t get us excited about the Bible coming to life in front of us the way a conquering, abiding, reigning Jewish presence in the Holy land does. They don’t fit in our ideas of God’s covenant with Abraham, so we can brush these people away theologically. And if we brush them away enough in our fantasies and musings, we can brush them away in the types of political solutions we applaud and get excited about. To the point where our dark fantasy selves will even applaud at brutal, blood-filled military efforts to brush them away should any sort of provocation or incident give us room to happily justify it.
What then is eschatology? Eschatology becomes the working out of our Utopian desires to walk into the Biblical world from the past in some promise of the past becoming the future – but even better. In clinging to eschatology, we give ourselves permission to rejoice in other people being marginalized, removed, or destroyed for our personal fantasy of what the future should hold. It’s a glorious future, no doubt, one in which we imagine God and His Messiah receiving all sorts of glory for elevating people who come from the storybook fantasy and return it to that storybook ideal – while destroying all the people who weren’t written into the story we want to see enacted.
Or we can dream different dreams, and hold to different goals. We can even revisit our eschatology and see if there might be room in it for the past 2000 years of Palestinian history and life in the region to be included as a God-thing. Maybe.
All this to say – if your fantasy is for a perfect Israeli gestalt end to all this, I get it. I really do. I just know how dangerous it is for me to live in that mindset, and how impossible it is to be able to love this other tribe of Abraham and value them while my fantasies for a perfect Jewish world would be held out as some idyllic dream on God’s heart – and I hope to warn you too.
For further reading: