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Peace in the Middle East is elusive at best. But when the region's tinderbox of political and religious contention explodes, it does so in a big way. The Israeli raid on what has been called a Palestinian aid flotilla raises a host of serious questions. And while we may never really know the most relevant facts, a few critical reasons for soul searching have emerged.
Basically, it comes down to this: the community of nations that seems unable to unite on practically any issue in a meaningful way, is virtually unanimous in its condemnation of Israel. The world hates Israel. The press hates Israel. It seems everyone does.
Don't get me wrong. No nation deserves a pass on blatant violations of human rights. The days of "my country, right or wrong" are, thankfully, long gone. But let's also understand that every nation has the right to self-defense. Closer to home, our military personnel take an oath to defend the United States Constitution against "all enemies, foreign and domestic." I can't imagine a more clear indication of enmity than an openly stated desire to wipe my country off the map. I can't even begin to fathom what it is like to live in a tiny strip of land that is continually assaulted by terrorist missiles. Over 3,000 rockets and mortar shells were fired in 2008 alone. How can that level of aggression be considered anything less than a clear and present threat to the Israeli people?
It is particularly ironic that the United Nations, the body that helped to establish Israel in the first place, has become the largest and most vocal critic of its very existence. Every nation, including Israel, has the right to exist. All countries have the obligation to co-exist. Isn't that what the U.N. was supposed to facilitate? Isn't that the rationale behind its charter to exist?
For Catholics, the status of Israel and security in the Middle East presents a real conundrum. The few Christians who live in the Holy Land are ethnically Palestinian. As such, they have often suffered at the hands of both militant Zionism, and radicalized political Islam. As Christians, we really cannot support everything Israel does, or has done both within its borders and outside of them. The Evangelicals, I think, go a bit too far in uncritically affirming the policies of Israel as a modern state. Nonetheless, I can't shake some of what Scripture and history tell us about Israel, and the Jewish people.
"I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you." (Genesis 12: 2-3) That is God talking. And as far as I can recall, our God prefers keeping his word to changing his mind. "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights." (Psalm 137:5) That is the song of God's chosen people in exile. It expresses not just the desire of Jews to return to the land God promised and gave them. It is the song of every human heart longing for an eternal home.
Rome is often called the "Eternal City." Rome as an idea, and as an ideal, captures the human imagination. All kinds of empires -- noble and notorious -- have sought to emulate her. But as Christians, we ought to acknowledge that there is only one truly eternal city; and that it isn't Rome. "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Revelation 21: 1-2) The Divine imagination is fixed on Jerusalem. As such, Jerusalem is the center of human history, because it is the setting for human destiny.
Of course, there is also the matter of gratitude. I am, and will remain profoundly grateful to the Jewish people for what they have contributed to the world throughout the ages -- often at great cost. A love for learning, a thirst for justice, a timeless portrait of perseverance and repentance, faith in a God who is intimately involved in human affairs, a pattern for worship -- even the reckoning of time: all these things came to us through Jewish hands. Salvation too, as Jesus himself observes, is from the Jews. (John 4:22) We ought never to forget that it is Jewish humanity that hangs on every crucifix, and Jewish humanity that sits in glory at the right hand of the Almighty.
All this is why I will be slow to condemn Israel, and quick to rise to her defense. All this is why I pray that Catholics everywhere will stand against the rising tide of world anti-Semitism. As Church, may we speak to correct rather than condemn, to exhort rather than to excoriate, and then only as brothers.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.