In today’s synagogue service, Jews throughout the world will read the opening chapters of the book of Deuteronomy (1:1-3.22). Verses 1:41-44 recount the Jews’ response to the admonishment of Moses:
Then you [the Jews] answered and said to me [Moses], we have sinned against G-d; we will go up and fight, as the Lord our G-d commanded us. And when you donned your armour, you made light of going up into the hill country.
And G-d said to me: say to them. Neither go up, nor fight, lest you be struck down by your enemies; because I am not in your midst.
So I spoke to you; but you would not listen, rebelling against the commandment of G-d, presumptuously going up into the hill country.
And the Emorites, which dwelt in that hill country, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you from Seir, as far as Chormah.
His Grace was sent this exposition yesterday (by a Jewish communicant [before the onset of the Sabbath]):
The early mediæval Rabbinic commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, universally known by the acronym “Rashi”, explains that just as bees die immediately after stinging, so did the Emorites die following their attacks on the Jews. Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (1886-1959) asks the question: “Why does the Bible inform us (indirectly) what happened to the Emorites, when the principal purpose of the verses would seem to be to inform the Jews of the dire consequences of disobeying G-d’s word?” He answers that it is to tell us of the level of hatred the Emorites bore us, and that we should be under no illusions that the enemies of the Jews will never willingly decease from their attacks, irrespective of the consequences.
In similar vein, the verses in Psalm 118:10-12 read: “The nations surround me; in the name of G-d they will be struck down. They surround me, they also surround me. In the name of G-d they will be struck down. They surround me like bees. They will be consumed as a fire burns thorns. In the name of G-d they will be struck down.”
The commentators explain that initially the anti-Semites besiege us. If the initial siege looks as if it will be breached, they re-double their efforts by re-encircling the previous siege lines. If this too fails, they attack us with reckless disregard for their own safety. Our only protection is a recognition of the power of G-d; but with that, they can be destroyed as comprehensively as a fire destroys a dry thorn bush.
The symbolism of the thorn bush is perhaps that it appears impregnable, with devastatingly sharp thorns; it is unbelievably hardy with an ability to survive with minimal water (which itself represents Torah because of its life-giving properties as a channel between G-d and man). It also bears no useful fruit. However, when attacked through the appropriate medium, it consumes itself speedily and with ferocity, precisely because it contains so little water/Torah.
This is meaty stuff for the Christian, too. In Deuteronomy, Moses is not simply explaining the laws of God: he is earnestly enjoining them upon the consciences of his people, and urging them to pursue a holy life under the Covenant. Israel’s greatest peril is idolatry, which is to be resisted and suppressed with uncompromising severity. Faithfulness to the Covenant will be rewarded by material benefits; violation and disregard of the Covenant will be punished by material disaster and, ultimately, exile.
The overriding lesson which pervades the whole of the Old Testament is that a nation that turns its back on the Lord will be judged. And God will use the enemies of that nation to mete out that judgment. You might think this absurd, but the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing judgment is ongoing:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.
And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
Of sin, because they believe not on me;
Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more;
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (Jn 16:7-11).
God, sin, righteousness and judgment are real and present: they determine the meaning of the life that we are given to live in this age. But this age repudiates God, mocks sin, scorns righteousness and laughs in the face of judgment. It is no wonder that the thorn bush is being consumed.
In light of the collapsed truce in Gaza, and Hamas’ kidnapping of an IDF soldier, Rabbi Eckstein recalls Psalm 120 when he looks at the reality of an enemy committed to war, even while Israel longs and prays for peace:
While the collapse of yet another ceasefire agreement is a bitter blow to war-weary Israel, it comes as no surprise. During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has consistently refused to honor ceasefire terms, even as Israel has consistently accepted and tried to maintain them. History has shown us that terrorists will use any tactic to sow death and destruction and prolong conflict. The sad, but realistic attitude all Israelis must take is to be prepared for continued war – even while praying fervently for peace.
The psalmist wrote, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120: 6-7). This is the situation Israel finds itself in today – longing for peace, and willing to make painful concessions to achieve it, but facing an enemy committed to hatred, war, and bloodshed. I ask you to pray for the bereaved loved ones of the soldiers who have lost their lives fighting this ruthless enemy, for protection for all the men and women of the IDF, and for the safe return of Lt. Goldin. And pray, too, for the day when Israel’s dreams of peace will be realized.
Hamas has executed scores of Gazan civilians over the past few days, according to several separate reports.
Yisrael Hayom quotes Arab news sources that report that Hamas has executed some 30 Gazan civilians for allegedly collaborating with Israel.
Human rights groups report that some were executed after being caught ‘red handed’ while marking targets for the Israeli Air Force. All the alleged collaborates were summarily executed without trial.
A separate report by several new sources describes protesters in Beit Hanun who were shot in the street by Hamas on Sunday for demonstrating against Hamas’ leadership and the destruction caused to the Gaza Strip. They blamed Hamas for the calamity which has befallen the civilians of the Gaza Strip. Some 20 protesters were rounded up and shot in front of a crowd.
Hamas has previously been harshly condemned by the international community after being accused by local Gazans of summary executions of alleged collaborators who were shot on the basis of mere rumors or who confessed after being horribly tortured and were shot.
Unreported, and well researched.
From the Institute for Palestinian Studies:
Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics of Israel’s Siege
A similarly cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities damaged the movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 children have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials. Safety controls on imports appear similarly lax, although the TAC insists that a sixteen-man contingent carries out sporadic spot-checks.
HT goes to Fr Z.
From Bloomberg News:
Omer Benjoya took a job this summer selling drinks, snacks and postcards on a hill that offers one of the most breathtaking panoramic views of Jerusalem.
Now all the 17-year-old needs are customers. Since hostilities flared this month between Israel’s army and Palestinian militants in Gaza, tourists have been scarce.
U.S. aviation regulators delivered a further blow this week, temporarily banning flights to Tel Aviv by American carriers for the first time since 1991, while their European counterparts also recommended a suspension after a rocket fired from Gaza landed about a mile from the city’s airport. The decisions came just days after a Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down in Ukraine’s war zone.
“Look around, see how empty it is,” Benjoya said next to the bright red truck his employer uses as a refreshment kiosk. “Normally, there’d be one or two hundred people standing here,” he said, gesturing to the near-empty stone-paved promenade that overlooks the walls of the Old City, the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives.
While Jerusalem is calm, fighting that has left hundreds of Palestinian and more than two dozen Israeli families grieving their dead is threatening the livelihoods of many more. Almost a third of foreign visitors expected in Israel in July have canceled, according to a top trade association. An industry that welcomed a record 3.5 million overseas visitors last year is facing substantial damage.
Read on here.
Last week the Catholic Herald reported that five Church Schools (“two Catholic and three Christian”) are under threat in Gaza because of the ruling party Hamas’s intention to extend their Muslim Brotherhood-inspired version of Islam throughout their fiefdom. Their edict, which forbids the education of boys and girls together, will mean that the schools must close down because of lack of space and staff. That most of the students are Muslim matters not at all. What’s important is the segregation of male and female as far as possible.
For some, this will be the first chill wind signalling what a Palestinian state dominated by Islamists will mean for Palestinian Christians. But such folk have missed warning signs going back many years…
Cranmer has the rest.
At first glance, the exhumation of the remains of Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader, seems a bit bizarre. Conspiracy theories about his demise swirl on Twitter, particularly those that ascribe his death to Israeli poison or HIV, but neither of these seem to have much in the way of serious traction. Meanwhile, a tentative ceasefire is holding in Gaza, and a vote on enhancing the status of Palestine is coming up on Thursday; it seems that there would be more important things to think about than submitting an eight-year-old corpse to the autopsy that Arafat‘s widow would not allow at the time.
On a deeper level, however, this points to the lack of confidence that Palestinians of the West Bank have in their current leadership. Many believe that Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of violence, acceptance of the 1967 borders, and even – in a recent interview with Israeli television – his suggestion that he is willing to abandon his desire to return permanently to his birthplace of Safed, in northern Israel, has left him emasculated. This has been highlighted by what is seen as the success of Hamas’ recent operations in attracting the attention of Israel and forcing it to the negotiating table.
Perhaps the contrast between Abbas’ impotency and Hamas’ dynamism is best illustrated by the kidnap of Gilad Schalit. Abbas frequently issues demands for prisoners to be released, and these have consistently fallen on deaf ears. Hamas kidnaps a soldier, and is rewarded with the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Palestinians on the West Bank may be uncomfortable with the hardline religious stance of Hamas, but the Islamist group’s ability to get results through violence makes the more circumspect leadership of Abbas appear almost absurd. If his upcoming bid for enhanced status at the UN falls flat, he will be left with almost no currency whatsoever with his people.
Giving this backdrop, the exhumation of Arafat makes more sense. When Arafat was alive, there was no split between Hamas and Fatah; he was an undisputed hero to the vast majority of Palestinians, and commanded an immense, unifying authority. He spoke to the UN wearing a holster, and made his famous statement that “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Mahmoud Abbas pales in comparison. This renewed attempt to establish the cause of Arafat’s death indicates a nostalgia for strong Palestinian leadership more than anything else.