Some people may think that Jesus would have preached 'peace and love' in Palestine, had he been alive today, as he did to the Jews 2,000 years ago. But could he? Well, had he tried, his body might be found torn into pieces and thrown on the streets of Gaza (not by Jews, but Muslims)...
On Christmas Eve, Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey in his article “What would Jesus do in Gaza?” reflected on what Jesus, the messiah of ‘peace and love’, would have done in the Holy Land, his birthplace, today. He wrote:
The narrow confines of Gaza, Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria are places where God's love was long ago supplanted by war for land and ill will among men. It has been a year now since the bloody and fruitless Israeli effort to crush Hamas in what amounts to a massive prison for a million people. Peacemakers in the Middle East are rarely blessed, and often reviled; just ask special envoy George Mitchell. And the truth rarely sets anyone free, as proved most recently by the fact-filled United Nations report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which was dissed by Washington and dismissed by Israel.
The crux of Dickey’s article is: President Obama, the rhetorical ‘messiah of peace’ in today’s world, is unwilling, or is handicapped by anti-peace Israel, so as to bring peace in the Middle East.
How else could the Obama administration spurn Goldstone’s “fact-filled” report?
Dickey would be highly credulous or naïve in believing that the Goldstone report, based solely on interviews of members of Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.N. and Western nations, would be “fact-filled”.
Dickey is bitter that Obama—taking a cue from what Jesus would have done in Gaza today, namely enforcing peace—is not bending the hands of Israel, the sole spoiler of peace in the Middle East, into agreeing to a peace plan.
Without going into intricacies of the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict, I will discuss what Jesus, had he been alive, could, not would, have done in Gaza today.
Could Jesus preach what he preached—namely peace and love, according to Christopher Dickey—2,000 years ago?
Jesus is portrayed, today, to have preached only ‘peace and love’ in Palestine and nothing else. In reality, he also preached a new religion or at least a radical reformation of Judaism. While part of his preaching bore extraordinary messages of ‘peace and love’ (although not new; all borrowed from the teachings of classical Greek philosophers, particularly Socrates), that was not the whole story.
When Jesus’ preaching or new faith was not readily embraced by the Jews or Jewish establishments, he quickly ran into abusive outbursts. His most explicit anti-Jewish tirade was his famous ‘Seven Woes’, the entire Chapter 23 of Mathew’s Gospel (also see Luk 11:39–52), in which he railed against the piety and customs of the Pharisees, the dominant Jewish community in Palestine.
Jesus accused them of hypocrisy, ridiculed their customs and attire, and railed against calling the Rabbi “Teacher”, demanding that he himself (i.e., Christ) be called the “Teacher” alone [Mat 23:1–12]. Then, he unleashed abusive and aggressive outburst against the Jews: ‘‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!’’, ‘‘Woe to you, blind guides!’’ and ‘‘You snakes! You brood of vipers!’’; he called them ‘‘son of hell’’, ‘‘blind fools’’, ‘greedy and self-indulgent’ and ‘‘wicked’’; he condemned them for their honest remorse for their forefathers’ murder of the prophets of old; and he made a series of audacious and crude accusations against them, including of killing and crucifying ‘the prophets and wise men’ sent by the Lord and flogging them in their synagogues [Mat 23:13–36].
Elsewhere, he condemned an assembled crowd of Jews as ‘a wicked generation’ [Luk 11:29], ‘A wicked and adulterous generation’ [Mat 12:39].
The worst of Jesus anti-Semitic outburst was his calling a group of Jews ‘Children of the Devil’, when they rejected his exhortation that only by believing in him, ‘[you] will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ [John 8:31–45].
Jesus’ reducing the Jews to ‘devil’, the enemy par excellence of God, became the main springboard of Christian anti-Semitism that runs well into our time, causing tremendous sufferings to them, unknown to any people in history.
Let us now make an assessment of what Jesus could do in Palestine had he lived today.
Could he preach his creed or a radical reformation of Islam to Muslims in Palestine today in the way he did to the Jews 2,000 years ago?
One may say that the world has become much more civilized today, that we live in a civilized world, in which Jesus’ preaching would be tolerated more.
This assumption might be true for many places in the world, but not for Palestine and the wider Islamic world.
Preaching to Muslims, although not vice-versa, is a capital crime—if not by law, then by ‘mob justice’—almost anywhere in the Islamic world today. And in Palestine, where Jesus allegedly tried to sow the seed of ‘true peace’, if he tried the same today, i.e. preach Christianity or another faith to Muslims or radical reformation of Islam, he would’ve met a violent end.
Even the most humble approach of Jesus’ preaching in these countries would’ve brought him violence, possibly even death, while the aggressive and abusive style of his preaching, as he did to the Jews, would’ve earned him instant death, thanks to ‘mob justice’, widely prevalent in Islamic countries.
Christopher Dickey, out of his naivety or ignorance, might think that, given a chance, today Jesus would be happily preaching ‘peace and love’ (like he did in his lifetime) to the Muslims and Jews of Palestine, and the latter would be warmly embracing the ‘messiah of peace’.
Dickey has no idea that had Jesus tried it today to the Muslims of Palestine, what a horrible fate would engulf him, much worse than how the Jews dealt with him 2,000 years ago!
One may point to the violent way Jesus was dealt with by the Jews. Well, let us first recognize that we are dealing with two vastly different times. Secondly, Jesus preached his messages, rather freely, for three years, which the Jews tolerated. Indeed, Jews’ reactions to Jesus’ messages, or their encounters with him throughout, as become evident from the New Testament (NT), remained highly civil, even more civilized than the language or provocations of Jesus.
And only when Jesus’ annoyance reached an intolerable level that the Jews took firm actions.
And what did they do?
They arrested him, and dealt somewhat roughly Jesus showed an arrogant behavior, and handed him to the Roman authority, then in power.
The story has been much distorted in the NT, in an attempt to put all blame on the Jews, while trying to turn Pontius Pilate (Roman governor of Palestine), who handled Jesus’ case, into a saint. The fact remains that it is the Romans, who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion. One should take into consideration that, contrary to saintly depiction of Pilate in the NT, contemporary historical writings show him as ruthlessly cruel, to the extent that the Roman Emperor recalled him and had him executed.
In sum, the Jews found Jesus a troublemaker, and quite so given desire to take over the authority and some of his outbursts discussed above, and dealt with him as per the rule of law.
Now, turning to the issue of peace-making in the Middle East, it is a problem with unrealistic and over-enthusiastic peace-makers like Christopher Dickey that they have little understanding of the reality of the Middle East crisis (discussion above proves it).
While Jesus might’ve liked to preach “peace and love” there, like he did 2,000 years ago, but Dickey has no idea of the consequence Jesus would suffer for it.
And, there lies the intractable difficulty of solving the Middle East crisis.
To grasp what Jesus truly could, not what he would have loved to, do in Gaza today, he/she may take a look at how the followers of Jesus are living in Gaza and the wider Islamic world.
Despite being the humblest of peoples, Christians suffer persecutions and live in constant fear in most parts of the Islamic world. Christians from Pakistan to Indonesia had to celebrate the just-concluded Christmas amidst heightened fear of attacks by Muslim mobs and heightened security-measures, keeping their festivity low-key. Even then, a congregation of Christians, assembled for Christmas prayers, came under attack in Pakistan that injured 60 devotees; hundreds of Muslims started celebration of the Islamic New Year in Indonesia’s Java by attacking a church and setting it on fire; while another church near Jakarta was attacked by a thousands-strong Muslim-mob that included women and children.
In Holy Land itself, the Christian population in Jesus’ birthplace Bethlehem in Muslim-controlled Palestine has dwindled from 80% at the birth of Israel to only 20% today, although Nazareth in Israel, where Jesus grew up in childhood, has maintained its Christian character over the same period.
Israeli oppression has been widely condemned for causing the decline of Christian population in the Holy Land, but it is Muslims, who force Christians to leave, causing a silent and slow ethnic-cleansing of Christians there.
Many Christians had to leave Gaza after Hamas captured power there in 2006. Christians faces intimidation and pressure of Islamization. In Gaza, Christian girls are under pressured to wear veil; in 2007, the owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was abducted and murdered; Christian shops and schools have been firebombed; in 2006, the Hamas government also sought to reinstate the humiliating jizya, a subjugation tax, extracted from non-Muslims in ideal Islam states.
Yussuf Khoury, 23, like many other Christians, fled Gaza after Hamas captured power, and took refuge in Palestinian Authority (PA)-ruled Bethlehem in West Bank. Even in Bethlehem, said Khoury: “Muslims often stand in front of the gate of the Bible College and read from the Quran to intimidate Christian students. Other Muslims like to roll out their prayer rugs right in Manger Square.”
Manger Square is the front-yard of the Church of Nativity at Jesus’ birthplace, probably the oldest church extant. In the 19th century, Muslims raised a mosque, the Mosque of Umar, fitted with a towering minaret, next to the church to overshadow Bethlehem’s importance to Christianity. Still, in a show of force, they often assemble in large numbers and offer prayers in the Manger Square (see picture).
Moreover, Muslim gangs often come and take possession of Christian-owned lands and properties, as the PA’s security forces stand by and watch without taking any action.
And the irony of the matter is that Christians even do not dare to speak honestly about the intimidation and persecution they suffer from.
When asked about why Muslims would pray so close to the Church of Nativity, Christianity’s holiest site, Pastor Alex Awad, dean of the Bethlehem Bible College, fearful of Muslim violence if he spoke the truth, advised reporters to pose the question to Muslims themselves. In a balancing tone, he said, “Muslims and Christians live here in relative harmony”, only to add that Christians “feel the pressure of Islam… There is intimidation and fanaticism but these are little instances and there is no general persecution.”
This would make it conspicuous the kind of pressure and intimidation under which Christians live in Bethlehem; it must be worse elsewhere in Palestine.
Indeed, there is a general exodus of Christian populations from all over the Middle East, driven out by their Muslim neighbors or Islamic fanatics.
This does not apply to Christians only, but equally, if not more severely to other non-Muslim minorities in all Islamic countries.
So, what could Jesus do in Palestine today?
Definitely not what he preached there in his life-time, not to Muslims at least!
If he would, his body might be found torn into pieces and scattered on the streets of Gaza.
More likely, he would be forced to recite the kalema, the Islamic confession to faith, and would become jihadi shouting “Allahu Akbar”.
Islam claims, Jesus, Moses and Abraham et al. were all “true” Muslims. If Jesus would not wear the mantle of Islam willingly, Muslims know how to make that happen. Apostasy is not tolerated in Islam, definitely not in Gaza.
One may well wonder, if, in a few decades, there will be any Christian, living in the holiest land of Christianity, to light the Church of Nativity or ring its bell in a timely manner.
Yet, it would be some consolation for the world’s Christians that Christianity would maintain its prominent presence in Nazareth, the pleasure-ground of child Jesus, given the state of Israel survives.