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No, Jesus would not be a settler — he’d practice solidarity

Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren says Jesus would be considered a settler if he lived in Bethlehem today. Such talk obscures the nature of the settlement enterprise and slanders Jesus.

Text and photos by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

A mural portraying Jesus is painted on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem, July 28, 2010. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A mural portraying Jesus is painted on the Israeli separation wall dividing the West Bank town of Bethlehem, July 28, 2010. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren has been saying a lot of obnoxious things lately. His recent book angered Jewish-American journalists by twisting the truth and burning bridges with the liberal Zionist establishment. And while it’s clear that diplomacy is no longer Oren’s priority, he may have crossed the line from belligerence to blasphemy with his latest remarks.While preaching to the choir of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, Oren took the name of Jesus in vain, using it to defend the settler enterprise.

“Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist would today be considered Jewish settlers in Bethlehem,” said Oren, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Mike Huckabee has been saying some stupid stuff too — essentially calling Obama a Nazi — but such dangerous absurdities are nothing new when it comes to his Middle East policy. The last time Huckabee ran for president, he laid a cornerstone in the East Jerusalem settlement of Beit Orot and expressed willful ignorance of geography and international law:

It is inconceivable in many ways that we would have to even argue and debate whether or not Israelis could live in Israel, not just in parts of Israel but anywhere in Israel they wished to live. … I cannot imagine as an American being told that I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English.

Israelis can live in every part of Israel. It’s just that But Beit Orot is not Israel. East Jerusalem is not Israel. That’s why Israel does not grant the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank the same civil rights as the Jewish Israelis who live in these same areas.

Construction expands the Israeli settlement Beit Orot in the Al Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem, February 28, 2011. Unilaterally annexed by Israel after the War of 1967, East Jerusalem, including the Old City, are still considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Construction expands the Israeli settlement Beit Orot in the Al Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem, February 28, 2011. Unilaterally annexed by Israel after the War of 1967, East Jerusalem, including the Old City, are still considered occupied Palestinian territory under international law. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Are Oren and Huckabee really ignorant of what makes a settler a settler? According to international legal consensus, shared by virtually every other nation except Israel, all settlements are illegal. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC):

It is unlawful under the Fourth Geneva Convention for an occupying power to transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies. This means that international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of settlements, as these are a form of population transfer into occupied territory.

This is what makes settlements illegal. It’s not because they’re Jewish. It’s because they’re colonies built on occupied land outside of the state of Israel.

A map of Palestine hangs on the wall in the home of a Dutch-born settler in the Israeli settlement of Susya, West Bank, April 6, 2011 Located next to the Palestinian village of the similar name, like all Israeli settlements it is considered illegal under international law.

A map of Palestine hangs on the wall in the home of a Dutch-born settler in the Israeli settlement of Susya, West Bank, April 6, 2011 Located next to the Palestinian village of the similar name, like all Israeli settlements it is considered illegal under international law.

That’s also they key point in the unfolding case of the Palestinian village of Susiya and the Israeli settlement of Susya. While Israel considers the Palestinian village “illegal” because it doesn’t follow the rules of its occupiers, the rest of the world considers the nearby settlement Susya illegal because it was established on land outside of the state of Israel.

Of course, if you are a religious fundamentalist, you don’t care so much about international law. You only care about God’s law. But at least have the honesty to declare so openly when speaking about matters of international policy. That way, anyone in the arena of international diplomacy can decide whether or not to take anything you say seriously, and whether or not it’s a good idea for any country’s foreign policy to be guided by religious fundamentalists.

An Israeli settler youth living in a confiscated Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah covers his face with the Israeli flag, September 2, 2011. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli settler youth living in a confiscated Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah covers his face with the Israeli flag, September 2, 2011. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Oren offers another data point in this regard with the statement that preceded his Jesus remark: “God speaks only one language and it’s the language in which we are yelling at each other in the next hall.”

In other words, Oren believes in a God who only speaks Hebrew.

Jesus, on the other hand, also spoke Aramaic. It was the most common vernacular of his region, spoken by Jews as well as other ethnic and religious groups. Today, if Jesus lived in the region, he would almost certainly speak Arabic.

A road sign for the Israeli settlement of Susya has had the Arabic defaced with spray paint, West Bank, April 6, 2011. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A road sign for the Israeli settlement of Susya has had the Arabic defaced with spray paint and a pro-settlement bumper sticker, West Bank, April 6, 2011. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In his life and ministry, Jesus consistently identified with the oppressed and marginalized. He did not exploit his privileges at the expense of others, and he severely criticized those who did.

If he lived in Bethlehem, it would not be there as a settler stealing land, it would be in solidarity, struggling alongside the oppressed. Like many other Israeli Jews in that struggle, he may even get arrested, beaten up, or shot.

Palestinian and Israeli protesters chant and beat drums during a demonstration against the demolition of the West Bank village of Susiya, June 22, 2012. Israeli authorities have issued demolition orders against the entire village, which is located near an Israeli settlement with a similar name. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Do not misunderstand me. Solidarity activists should definitely not think of themselves as messianic. Like all people of privilege, myself included, we need to humble ourselves and listen and learn from “the least of these” who are suffering the most. But my Bible tells me that you will know a person’s true character “by their fruits.” Having listened to both firsthand, I find the attitudes and actions of those marching to save Susiya far more Christ-like than the entitled mentality of settlers living on Palestinian land.

Border Police arrest an Israeli activist protesting the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank town of Al Walaja, August 27, 2011. If built as planned, the Wall will virtually encircle the entire town. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Border Police arrest an Israeli solidarity activist protesting the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Al Walaja, August 27, 2011. If built as planned, the Wall will virtually encircle the entire town. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

So no Mr. Oren, Jesus would not preach the exclusive demands of the settler enterprise. He would be criticized for welcoming all peoples into the land — including African and Palestinian refugees — those your government considers “infiltrators.”

Jesus would want the best for his own people. He would risk the wrath of right-wing Israelis and hardline anti-normalizers alike.

Jesus would not seek security in walls, soldiers, fences and guns. He would practice nonviolent resistance, and condemn the logic of an eye for an eye—or 2,205 lives for for 71 lives.

As Israeli settlers look on from above, Israeli soldiers arrest two Palestinians and an international solidarity activist after settlers interfered with a Palestinian family harvesting olives, Hebron, West Bank, October 22, 2012.

As Israeli settlers look on from above, Israeli soldiers arrest two Palestinians and an international solidarity activist after settlers interfered with a Palestinian family harvesting olives, Hebron, West Bank, October 22, 2012.

He would be Christ at the checkpoint, Christ at the wall, Christ at the house demolition, Christ at the price tag attack, Christ at the refugee camp. He would be Christ in the Gaza fishing boat. He would be Christ among the rubble and under siege.

No Mr. Oren, today Jesus would not be considered a settler. He would be considered a subversive. He would not align with any established political group, but would be considered a dangerous revolutionary by the powers that be.

He was and would be a Jewish Palestinian, a Palestinian Jew. That’s how the Roman occupiers saw him: A Jewish troublemaker from the province of Palestine.

 

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    COMMENTS

    1. Giora Me'ir

      Jesus would not be a settler if for no other reason than he lived in Nazareth. As an historian, Oren should know that. But these days, he’s an hasbaraian not an historian.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Leave it to Michael Oren to attempt to say something so dishonest and smoothly manipulative of Americans at the same time. “Jesus would be a settler.” Gets my vote for one of the all-time hasbara “greats”–belonging in the “hall of fame” for that kind of thing, except it’s so lame.

      Reply to Comment
    3. been there

      If Mary and Joseph were alive today, Mary probably would have had a miscarriage because some armed arrogant young IDF thug would have amused himself by holding the couple at a checkpoint.

      Reply to Comment
      • Tony Riley

        As they were Jewish, that seems a bit unlikely. Put more tobacco in the next one, dude.

        Reply to Comment
        • been there

          Oh very very likely. Mary and Joseph were villagers..natives of historic Palestine..the ancestors of people Zionists of today despise

          Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      The Lie:

      “He was and would be a Jewish Palestinian, a Palestinian Jew. That’s how the Roman occupiers saw him: A Jewish troublemaker from the province of Palestine.”

      This is a lie because the Romans considered Israel up to the repression of the Bar Kokhba rebellion in 135 CE to be Judea. Iudaea (taken from the Greek name for Judea) was the Roman name for the Land of Israel. It included the whole area ruled or inhabited mostly by Jews. Jesus who is reputed to have lived and died a century before 135 CE was not considered a Palestinian Jew, because there was no such thing as a Palestinian, Jew or otherwise.

      Roman Historian Tacitus (50-120CE) wrote his annals before the defeat of the Bar Kokhba rebellion in 135 CE. Tacitus makes reference to Judea and Roman procurators of Judea, not Palestine:

      “Judaea was divided: the Samaritans came under Felix and the Galileans under Ventidius”

      Strabo the geographer (circa 22 CE”) described Judea as encompassing:

      “the interior above Phoenicia, as far as the Arabians, between Gaza and Antilibanus, is called Judaea”

      Strabo’s Judea includes the Golan and a strip of land on the east bank of the Jordan. Elsewhere in Strabo, Judea’s southern borders reach into the Sinai, touching on Egypt.

      Another Roman historian described a Judea immediately before the beginning of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. Cassius Dio:

      “Soon, the whole of Judaea had been stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of great hostility to the Romans.”

      Thus when Roman Historian Tacitus in his Annals XV, 44 talks about Jesus he refers to Judea not Palestine:

      “Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, by through the city of Rome also.”

      Roman Thallus circa 52 CE (referred to in Julius Africanus Chronography XVIII, 47) in referring to earthquakes after Jesus’ death talks about Judea not Palestine:

      “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness. The rocks were rent by an earthquake and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History,calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the
      14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover.”

      Justin Martyr (100 -165 CE)First Apologia locates Jesus as born in Judea, not Palestine, and his source is the Roman tax registers:

      “There is a village in Judea, thirty-five stadia from Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ was born, as you can see from the tax registers under Cyrenius, your first procurator in Judea.”

      Roman author Celus circ 178 AD also stated:

      “Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her hands. His mother had been turned out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade,…”

      These sources clearly refer to Jesus as a Jew from Judea.

      So why does Beiler make up a story out of whole cloth to make Jesus a Palestinian Jew, when he clearly was not? It is simple, he is inventing a Jesus to use in his own form of Palestinian propaganda.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I think your tunnel vision misses the whole point Beiler makes and makes well, and which necessarily transcends your narrow side-taking about real estate. From what we know Yeshua of Nazareth was a true subversive, a strange radical, mocked and feared and finally put down by the authorities. Whom both the Roman and Jewish authorities of his day wanted to disappear. And make a lesson of. Crucifixion at the time was a specific punishment reserved for political subversion. For treason. It was not meted out to ordinary criminals, usually. Beiler is asserting that, since MK Michael Oren wants to place Jesus among the settlers of the West Bank, let’s actually look at that, and when we do place the historical Yeshua there, in the situation today he would almost certainly have been someone very different than Oren (disingenuously) imagines and would have been similarly pitted against not allied with the ruling authorities. On all sides. He would have railed against the likes of Eli Ben Dahan and Dov Lior and very likely against their clerical counterparts on other sides. Every bit as much as he opposed the Pharisees of his own time. He also would have railed against both the corrupt Yesha establishment and the corrupt PA collaborators every bit as much as when he is said to have in a rage thrown money changers out of the temple. And it is reasonable to conclude that he would have called the Jewish worship of stones in the West Bank idolatry. All such historical analogies carry a large element of absurdity, are at best a stretch, but Oren started it. To my mind the closest analogy today to the historical Yeshua of Nazareth would be a radical religious zealot named Isa ibn Maryam from a poor family from an insignificant Arab town in the West Bank who would oppose both the clerics of Hamas and the corrupt money changing collaborators of the PA and the money changers of Yesha and most probably sided with the marginal, downtrodden villagers of Susiya and the like against their settler overlords. And get himself killed by the Romans of today: the Israelis. After spending considerable time in both Israeli and PA prisons. If we want to make the historical Yeshua a 21st Century Jew, however, then Beiler is right; the Jewish guy in the red shirt in the picture above is a not unreasonable association. Similarly; if we place the historical Jesus among the bible-thumping money-changing US Republicans of today they of course would absolutely detest him. Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” is an easily accessible and absorbing account of what the real Yeshua and his contemporaries and their time and place were like.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Ben: “Crucifixion at the time was a specific punishment reserved for political subversion.” Wrong. Crucifixion was used a punishment for many offenses. Point in fact, the two men crucified next to Jesus were thieves.

          Oren made a simple observation that John the Baptist and Jesus today would have been considered settlers because of geography. They were both born in Judea and carried out religious activities in Judea. There is no doubt that if they, Jews born of Jewish parents, lived today and worked in Judea spreading the “Good Word” the Arab population would consider John the Baptist and Jesus settlers and apostates for trying to spread a new religion.

          John the Baptist lived and carried out his religious missionary work in Judea, on both sides of the Jordan River. He purported to baptize Jesus in the Jordan River, which was located in Judea. He lived as a religious hermit in the wilds of Judea. He was closely related to a priestly clan. Mary was related to John the Baptist, explaining Jesus contact with him.

          Jesus identified by John the Baptist as the Messiah was a religious missionary who criss-crossed all of Israel, the Galilee, Samaria and Judea preaching his religious views to the people. He was born in Judea, he was brought up as a Jew, went to temple and received a Jewish religious education. He was not a political activist but someone with a religious mission. He came into conflict with the religious authorities of the day because he claimed he was the son of god. He claimed to have the power to heal the sick and raise the dead. It was a religious matter. When Jesus was asked about whether people should obey Roman law with respect to taxation, he said people should give Caesar what is due to Caesar and to give to God what is due to God. When a Roman centurion cut the ear off a follower of Jesus, Jesus prevented his disciple from drawing his sword. Jesus’ mission on earth was not to challenge the political establishment of his day, neither the military or the civilian. His mission was religious. His followers considered him a Rabbi, a Jewish teacher, not a politician or a political activist.

          When Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables outside the temple, he did so in a religious act with respect to temple practices, not in respect to political matters. He was steeped in religious learning and respect of the temple as a Jew.

          If John the Baptist or Jesus was born of Jewish parents today in Judea, each would be born in a Jewish community and receive a Jewish religious education. They would likely attend a Yeshiva in Judea or Samaria. They would pursue the same religious mission, preaching religion to those who would listen. They would leave politics and political activism to the Caesars of the day.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Actually you are wrong. This is a common misconception about the “thieves” crucified beside him. And about the nature of Jesus’ relationship to power. Religion and politics in that time were in no way so neatly divided according to 21st C sensibilities as you imply. Jewish power for one thing was absolutely centered in the Temple with the elite priesthood, whose corruption Jesus’ anger against culminated in his overturning those money-changing tables. Certainly, as best we can tell, he made the intelligent and wise statement about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s… and “my kingdom is not of this Earth”…etc. (By the way, you seem to be wanting to prove Jesus of Nazareth was a zealous religious Jew in the Galilee and Judea and Samaria of his time and that he was not a modern style politician or an ancient style Roman politician. Who disputes that?) “If John the Baptist or Jesus was born of Jewish parents today in Judea….” Like Oren, you are deceptively tugging on emotional heartstrings. Oren made no such “simple observation.” He made a conniving statement pregnant with all sorts of other meanings and I rather think you know that. “settlers because of geography?” Hello? Jesus was a “settler” in Roman (settler) occupied Palestine? Please tell me you aren’t serious or that you realize you’ve absolutely reversed categories here? One the one hand you want to assert that Jesus was an unpolitical religious creature and on the other hand you want to insist that he was the most political creature of all: a 21st Century Jewish settler in the West Bank of Palestine. As I said, the best analogy to Jesus is Isa ibn Maryam from…oh…how about Duma, (deep in the) West Bank? Does that work for you ? You know I recommend Reza Azlan’s book on this, but here is an interview that addresses the exact issue quite clearly:

            http://genius.com/Reza-aslan-interview-on-zealot-the-life-and-times-of-jesus-of-nazareth-annotated

            REZA ASLAN:
            “Well my conclusions about Jesus start by placing him in the world in which he lived. So I start with one fundamental truth that everyone agrees on, with Jesus: and that was that he was crucified. You have to understand that crucifixion in 1st-century Palestine was a punishment that Rome reserved exclusively for crimes against the state, like sedition or rebellion, treason, or insurrection. The thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus were not thieves. The Greek word, “lesthus” means “bandit.” And bandit was the most common term in Jesus’s time for an insurrectionist. What I say is, if you know nothing else about Jesus except that he was crucified, you know enough to understand what a troublemaker this guy must have been. The movement that he started was such a threat to the political stability of the empire that they actually had him arrested, tortured, and killed for it. So I start with that fundamental fact, and then I take the claims of the gospels, as every single Biblical scholar for 200 years has done, and look at them in light of the history of this world that we know. And what’s interesting about Jesus’s world is that we know a lot about it, thanks to the Romans, who were very good at documentation. And the picture that arises from this is of a real political revolutionary who took on the political powers of his time on behalf of the poor, and the meek, the dispossessed, the marginalized– who sacrificed himself in his cause for those those who couldn’t stand up for himself—“

            Note also the fatuous and undignified anti-Muslim attack by the dimwit interviewer that Azlan sustains and is forced to parry.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Electric Avenue

      Wrong. Jesus would own a Sodastream.

      Reply to Comment
    6. andrew r

      If Jesus were alive today, there wouldn’t have been a state of Israel in the first place because there would have been no Zionist movement. Let’s ask a more interesting question: How different would the world be today if Napoleon had the atomic bomb?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bar

      Blah blah blah, I hate settlers therefore Jesus wouldn’t have been one.

      You know what Jesus proves? That before the Palestinians arrived, Jews had a thriving and real society on this land. Deal with it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “Blah blah blah, I hate settlers therefore Jesus wouldn’t have been one.”

        Spoken like someone with no real knowledge of the historical Jesus and no wish to distinguish between thoughtful, principled opposition and hate.

        “You know what Jesus proves? That before the Palestinians arrived, Jews had a thriving and real society on this land. Deal with it.”

        No one here is denying it and no one here is not dealing with it. Thanks for the strawmannish irrelevancy. And you know what Bar Kokhba proved? The folly of national religious fanaticism.

        Reply to Comment

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