Whose Land? Whose Promise?
Gary M Burge
This promises to be an extremely unpopular book unpopular, that is, with those who don't like the truth. Humanity has a wonderful way of dealing with the truth; it crucifies it. And please note that I say "humanity", not "the Jews" it wasn't the Jews that crucified Christ: it was you and me, ordinary people who couldn't, wouldn't accept his Truth.
The book is subtitled "What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians" and Musa Alsha'er's cover photograph says it all: a stone-throwing child squared off against a tank. It's David and Goliath all over again, but this time around David is not an Israeli and he isn't winning. Throughout the book examples of Israel's brutal oppression of the Palestinians are cited: deportations; discrimination; homes and entire villages destroyed; outright murder; theft of land and water; travel restrictions. It's grim reading, almost a litany of human rights abuses. Bare statistics would be bad enough but these are backed up with personal accounts.
Gary Burge has been called - to his face - "the anti-Semitic professor from Wheaton" (p.269). If that's the case, he points out, then Isaiah indeed, most of the biblical prophets who held ancient Israel to account for her sins are also anti-Semitic. No! The opposite is true: this book is written by someone passionately committed to the welfare of God's people, and for that reason its author dares to hold modern Israel to account for her crimes. "If Israel makes a biblical claim to the Holy Land, then Israel must adhere to biblical standards of national righteousness." (p.13).
The book is written in three parts: The Background to the Problem; The Old Testament and the Land; and The New Testament and the Land. In each section a close look is taken at the relevant scriptures: you'll need an open Bible available as you read. Burge concludes his review of the Old Testament thus: "The very Scriptures in which Israel has anchored its hope are the Scriptures that judge Israel today." (p.164).
Burge has walked the land himself and writes from his own experience, but extensive footnotes refer the reader to his sources, frequently citing web addresses for the latest information. These are indexed in the book and links to several are provided here.
Burge is not a lone voice. He makes it clear that not all Jews are taking part in what has been described as Israel's brand of apartheid - many are openly opposed, to the point where some have even called for the State of Israel to be disbanded. Burge himself does not go this far. But he does, unashamedly, side with the Palestinians, the underdogs. There's no discussion from the pro-Israel/pro-Zionist point of view and this is perhaps the book's one weakness. Is his analysis fair? Does it redress the balance or tip the balance too far the other way? You must decide. Whether you agree or disagree with Burge, the facts themselves remain: the very stones cry out for justice. If you're concerned about Israel/Palestine, one thing you can't afford to do is ignore this book.
The final chapter - ironically, chapter 13 - asks "Where Do We Go From Here?" There is hope: "Hope comes when I suddenly see my enemy as my neighbour." (p.266). Six foundations for peace are offered - but for these, you'll need to read the book. Peace itself, according to World Vision's Paul Beran, "will mean victims become forgivers and perpetrators of crimes become confessors." (p.268).
I have one complaint for the publishers: why a hardback at £14.99? This book deserves to sell well and with the rapid pace of change in the Middle East it needs to sell now. It should have been released in paperback immediately at a lower price. Inevitably references to Saddam Hussein in Iraq are already out of date; by the time a paperback is printed, more revisions and a new chapter will be needed. Maybe that's the plan?
When you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, do so with a copy of this book held between your hands and close to your heart.
Phil Groom, June 2003
Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.
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