One day last week, as I watched an unfamiliar plane fly overhead, it struck me how fortunate I am to live unafraid of whose aircraft it might be. My thoughts went immediately to Gaza and the West Bank of Israel, then to all Israelis and Palestinians, then to Ukrainians who have been watching the fearful skies for a year and a half. It turned then to the Russians whose sons have bled to death on Ukraine’s once-rich soils, now destroyed fields. Each day’s news brings new craters to my heart and mind, but I can sleep at night without worrying that their fate is mine.
The biblical phrase “an eye for an eye” has been pestering my mind, wanting attention. The ratio now is 20:1—twenty pairs of Palestinian eyes (mostly innocent) killed for each pair of Israeli eyes murdered in the October 7 raid. “Where is your faith?” I want to scream at Netanyahu, “Are you no longer afraid of Yahweh’s wrath?” But I’m not a rabbi, not an Old Testament scholar, barely a professing Christian, so what leg do I have to stand on? The worst thing I have to fear is some MAGA rebel shooting me up with an assault rifle, possibly one of my neighbors unhappy with the way I keep my yard.
The “eye for an eye” provision is actually a limitation on retribution, a reform in Mosaic law meant to keep people and tribes from destroying each other over minor infractions. It comes from Torah, the core of the Hebrew Bible, in Leviticus 24. It comes right after the breathtaking revelation of God to Moses that blaspheming the Lord’s name triggers the death penalty, to alien and native-born alike. Other transgressions, however, are to be met with like penalties, i.e., if your dog kills my lamb, you have to replace my lamb, but I don’t also get to kill your dog, your wife and children and everybody else on the block. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth are measured responses to injuries we cause to each other. And if anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death. (These definitions of justice are also spelled out in Exodus 21.)
Right after the “just punishment” provisions of Leviticus 24, the land provisions are laid out in Leviticus 25. We ignore these now as if they were irrelevant, although they are the foundation for social and economic equality among the Hebrews that was supposed to make Israel a light to the world. These provisions describe how land tenure is to be managed within the territory that was God’s gift to these people. That they had to defeat (and kill off) the Canaanites who previously occupied this territory is sometimes conveniently forgotten. History repeats itself constantly.
God’s gift of this territory, however, came with conditions. Israel was to remain in covenant with God, to keep God’s laws and revere the Creation, to remember that God is their landlord, in effect. It seems to me that modern day Israel has forgotten all of that, which seems to me to invalidate their lease. (We Americans might be wary of eviction for aiding and abetting.)
It’s not retribution for the 1200 people that were killed or brutally taken hostage that lies behind Netanyahu’s assault. It’s the violation of Israel’s territory, the breaking through of their boundaries that allows Netanyahu to justify murdering hundreds of civilians for each Hamas rebel sought. The loss of confidence that Israelis can maintain Home there gives him permission for displacing Gaza’s millions and destroying their homes to “root out” the unrootable. It’s the Israelis’ inherited fear of being homeless once again, of being under threat of extermination, that has driven them to make these Palestinians homeless and under threat of extermination.
The word “pogrom” is Russian, from roots that mean “away,” “riot, storm,” and “thunder.” My old dictionary defines it as “an organized persecution and massacre, often officially prompted, of a minority group, esp. of Jews (as in Czarist Russia.)” Now it’s Czarist Israel committing pogrom on Palestinians, seizing their lands while destroying their homes, making permanent refugees of those who flee and corpses of those who don’t.
Czarist Russia is doing the same thing in Ukraine. Will we never get enough of czars?
Trudy Wischemann is a latecomer to the peace movement who writes. You can send her your wounds and observations c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.