The theology of the Land

By Fr. John Sansour,

Former Chanselor of the latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Introduction

The Theology of the Holy Land ,once reserved to Scholars , became today a common subject and unfortunately the expression of some erroneous ideas that politicians and religious men spread among their people in order to provoke a premeditated action or to justify an activity. I was in Jerusalem last may. The Israelis believing that the Holy Land is still that land that God gave to their fathers , seized an Arab Land and started building on it. Jews own a small parcel of that Land that an Arab has sold to a Jew some years ago. To stop this phenomenon of selling Arab Land to Jews the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, in a session of discussion with his Fuqaha on the Theology of the land according to the Coran formulated a new Fatweh: i.e. a decree in the name of God : Moslems must sell land only to Moslems under death penalty. Two days after this declaration two Moslems who have sold their land to Jews were killed savagely . Christians who made the Intifada with the Moslems became frustrated with this decree and started arguing with each other. Here and there fights started to take place between Christians and Moslems .

Theology is usually defined :" the field of study, thought and analysis which treats of God, His attributes and His relation to the Universe." ( Webster's Dictionary ) The theology of the Holy Land would be God's relation to this Land. As I already said this subject became lately widely spread among the inhabitants of the Holy Land Jews, Moslems and Christians; it became a source of dissension and fight. If God is one, He is different in his relation to the same land : Jews believe that God gave them the Promised Land and they fight to have it. Christians believe that Christ sanctified this land and they fight to stay in it and protect the holy places. Moslems believe that Mahomet is the last Prophet and all the biblical promises are now theirs including the inheritance of the Holy Land, hence the Gihad to have back Palestine is the duty of every good Moslem. They declare it openly Jews are the Maghdoub Alaihem ( upon whom there is God's Anger and the Christians are the ( Dallin ) those who live in error. Both of them must not command the Holy Land. In my talk I'll enumerate the different convictions of those Christians, Jews and Moslems I personally met in the Holy Land concerning God's relation to the Holy Land.

A- Among Christians

1- Jews are God's chosen people . He gave them this land. God does not change his promises. We must accept that. If we do not want to work with them at least we must not fight against them. This position pushed certain Christians to collaborate with the Israelis. Some young people asked even for the Israeli nationality. During and after the Intifada some of them paid with their life for such a position.

2- God gave this Land to Jews in order to prepare the advent of the Messiah. The Messiah already came : those who accepted him became God's Children. These Jews spread the Gospel to the nations They are the Fathers of the Faith. God made of them a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart : their descendants and all those who followed them in the faith are the New Israel. As blood they have been diluted with the other nations. Their descendants are everywhere especially among the Christian Syrians, Maronites, Chaldeans and Palestinians Moslems and Christians.

The other Jews who did not accept Christ as Son of God , as nation , Jesus cursed their capital Jerusalem and announced the destruction of their pride the Temple . St. Paul declares them the enemies of the Gospel . God is extremely angry with them. A lot of them have been killed or deported by the Romans.

The actual Jews of the Diaspora are the descendants of those Jews who have been deported by the Romans, or for a reason or another they left the Holy Land . Do their descendants have the right to come back to their Fathers' Land. The answer of this category of Christians is affirmative provided they buy their parcel of land and not steal it. They compare them to the Palestinians in the Diaspora Have they the right to come back to the native country of their forefathers. During my last visit to Latin America, I met descendants of Christians from Bethlehem and Beit Jala, Palestine. Some of them are already on their sixth and seventh generation. Their fathers emigrated in 1845 - 1850. Do they belong to the families of Beit Jala and Bethlehem. Yes they do. Do they have the right to come back to Bethlehem and Beit Jala. Yes they have. If they come back would they steal a land or buy one?

Most of the Jews now living in Israel used force to come back in their Fathers' Land. They stole the Arabs' Land. It can not be God's will. They must pay for the land they seized or to be absolved by those Palestinians from whom they usurped this land. These Christians are even fanatics in their fight against Israel because they feel themselves somehow guilty because the western Christians helped the Jews in the name of the Bible to commit injustice and atrocities against their People.

3- Some Christians believe that the time of the nation Jesus spoke about is over. The kingdom of God has been taken from Jews as a nation and given to another nation to have it produce fruit. Now the time of the Nations is over. God in his mercy gives the Jews as nation a new chance to accept Christ as Son of God. A lot of catholic theologians think this. The Catholic Church in fact encourages Jews to become Christians and stay in their Jewish society; She created for them proper parishes with Episcopal Vicar General in order to practice their new faith in their own language and be able to use the methods they find appropriate to evangelise their brethren. While I was parish priest in Taybeh ( Ramallah district) Palestine, a young converted Jew wanted to live a Christian hermit life. I gave him a piece of Land with the consent of the Authority. By his work he already built a whole monastery . He is accepted by Moslems and Christians.

4- Some Christians especially among the Protestants in America,( Christian Embassy) are very fanatics in helping the Jews to come back to the Holy Land. They do not care if even Christian Arabs are evicted. They seem to be friends of Israel but in fact they are not . They want to see the end of the world . They believe that Christ in the latter days will be back among Jews. Those who will accept him, will reign with him and the others will be exterminated. 5- The Arab Christians of the Holy Land are unanimous to say the actual Israel presenting themselves as still the chosen people of God are a threat to Christianity. To pretend to wait for the Messiah to come means that our Christ is not the good one. The idea of rebuilding the Temple is already a challenge to them and feel themselves obliged to oppose it because it is like to say to Christians your Messiah is the wrong one and we'll show you that.

B-Among the Moslems

The theology of the Land , launched by Jews to justify their presence by force in the Holy Land created a new Moslem theology of the Land. It is, in its large content, identical to the Jewish one. Abraham according to the Coran was a Moslem, an Aramean who trusted in God . The promises of God concern only Moslems (those who trust God). The direct heir of Abraham is Ismael his first born child and not Isaac. They celebrate the sacrifice of Ismael and not Isaac. All the fathers of the old Testament are Moslem Fathers. In Jerusalem they venerate under the Dome of the Rock the first Altar built by David to honour God. In Hebron they venerate the Patriarchs and their wives as their fathers and mothers of the Faith. The promises of God to Abraham to be a big nation from the sea to the sea have been fulfilled in favour of the sons of Ismael and not Isaac. The sons of Isaac passed most of their time in exile because rebel to God . They have always been persecuted, deported and scattered in the whole world, because they are bad believers, greedy and cheating each other. Abraham purchased an arid land not enough to be divided between two brothers. Jacob greedy cheated his brother and was compelled to escape and live in exile. Back to the promised Land his sons are shepherds . They sell their young brother Joseph to have some money. The have no enough land to eat bread . They emigrate to Egypt. The descendants of Ismael and Esau stayed in the Holy and fulfilled the promises of God. The sons of Jacob because bad from the leadership with their brother Joseph they became slaves. Moses with the help of the Arabs in Sinai makes of them a new nation. The arab tribe of kenaz help them to conquer the Holy Land and annexe the region of Hebron to Edom the land of their possession.

The sons of Israel are spoiled children . They pretend to have God's favours without following his law. They exercise their muscles on each other and on their cousins while they accept to be submitted with cowardice to the foreigners . God cannot fulfil his promises concerning the Land with such people. He fulfilled and is still fulfilling all his promises with Ismael and his sons.

The principle which commands this theology in Islam is that Mahomet is the last prophet. The revelation given to Mahomet puts an end to the precedent revelations and clean the prophets of all the lies men said on their account long the centuries in Judaism and Christianity.

What is the position of the Moslems concerning the Israelis who are back in Palestine:

1- The Holy Land is entirely a Moslem Waqf to God . Palestinian Christians have their rights preserved by orders of Caliph Omar . The Jews have no right to the Holy Land . They are conqueror s , a new form of Crusaders. They command the Land in the name of the Koffar the infidels . Palestinian Christians with the Moslems of the whole world must unite and fight them. No peace, the Gihad is declared until the victory.

2- If the Jews are back to Palestine it is by God's will that they are there. It is a punishment for the Moslems who are no more good Moslems. Moslems must convert, increase and prepare themselves to execute God's will which is to command again the Holy Land. Some of these Moslems believe simply that God gathers the Jews in Palestine in order to exterminate them. They show even in Jerusalem a valley which will be filled with the blood of Jews. 3- Jews are Arabs . They have the right to dwell wherever they want in the Arab world . To live in Damascus, in Cairo or in Haifa and Jerusalem, it is the same. The Jews of Israel are guilty of stealing private properties and evicting people from their houses making of them unwanted refugees. It is the duty of all Arabs to punish these aggressors until they establish justice with the Palestinians. They expect Israel to reach a solution with them, to give them satisfaction and live peacefully with each other.

C- Among the Jews

In Israel every party has its own belief and programme. Every religious group has its own interpretation of the Bible and own approach to the question of Land. I do not pretend to be able to talk about them. I'll mention to you some incidents happened to me which may give us an idea about what do think some Israelis who live in the Holy Land.

1- I have been for 15 years parish priest in Taybeh (Ramallah district) Palestine. The Military Governor in visit to the area used to held his meetings in the Latin Presbytery. The discussion was always free. One of them one day said : We put two thousand years to conquer the Holy Land. Why Arabs are impatient . They want the Holy land back in such a few time, wait. For this Governor and for all those who think like him : The presence of the Jews in the Holy land is a pure "conquista". They admit to be conquerors. 2- One night during winter I took in my car a settler from Ofra , a settlement between Ramallah and Jericho. The Jews seized an arid land and transformed it in an orchard. I asked him: You spend more money on the land than you make out it. How do you explain this. " If the whole Land is not green the Messiah will not come" he answered. .. The messiah has already come and according the roman authors the Holy Land was in that time prosperous and green. The young settler asked me there to stop and left my car. This Jew and those who are like him wait for the Messiah; they are sincere in their belief and you can not argue with them. 3- In the plane from Tel Aviv to New York in my way to the Latin America,I sat close to a rabbi. I was in a mission to visit those Christians who lately left the Holy Land and ask them to come back. The coincidence wanted that this Rabbi was also in a similar mission to his fellow Jews to ask them to come back to Israel. For this Rabbi Judaism is tied to the land. You can not be a good Jewish if you are not in Israel. This Rabbi and all those who think like him are sincere in their belief and you can not argue with him. Pushed to its extent the logic of this Rabbi was hor rible. The Jews who refuse to come back to Israel are guilty, they live in sin. Every thing is allowed to redress them even using force to oblige them to make their Aliah. For Christians and Moslems it is not necessary to be in a certain place to be good Christian or Moslem while for Jews it is necessary to be in Erets Israel. For him it is normal that Arabs move and give place to the Jews who want to exercise their religion and wait for the Messiah. I asked him what was his interpretation for the pacification of the wild animals among themselves and among the human race and when it will happen. He believed that this will be realised at the end of the world when the Messiah will come. Then I asked : Arabs will never give up the Holy Land so the destiny of the Jewish people is always to suffer and to be persecuted until the end of the world . Yes he said this is our destiny.

4- I had a friend in Maale Efraim . He built a beautiful house on a beautiful hill taken from my parishioners. I asked him one day whether his conscience was quiet and peaceful to live on a stolen land? He answered me: where to go, the world hates us, you are our cousins or you take money for your land or you forgive us.

Personal Conclusion

The founders of new religions seem always to be sincere in their claims that they are sent by God and that they speak in His name . And the fact that their adepts accept their mission and their message as divine, there is a unilateral contract between these adepts and God . A covenant is imposed to God. Therefore I can say that there are several covenants with God, the covenant of the Jews with God, the Covenant of the Christians with God, the Covenant of Moslems with God, the covenant of the Hindus with God and so onů These covenants are to be taken into consideration and must even be feared . Some Ayatollahs push their adepts to suicides in order to free Palestine. Some Rabbis push their adepts to shoot even people in prayer to oblige Palestinians to leave the country.

Shimon Peres in his book "Time for Peace" sees the danger of fundamentalism in both sides. The solution for him would be a "compromise" including a minimum of concessions and a maximum of justice from both sides. I think that he is right. We must fight all the religious currents in Islam and Judaism who preach the exclusivity of the land in favour of one camp. Any theology of the land which does not preach such a compromise is to be avoided.

On the religious level there is no compromise. Everybody talks in the name of God. The compromise is to be found find on the political level , in reconciliation and democratisation.