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A View from the Arab World

Palestinian houses, Jacob, and the road to heaven or hell

By Rami G. Khouri, Ha'aretz, Wednesday, January 6, 1999

AMMAN - There I was the other day reading an Israeli rabbi's fascinating article on the moral and material legacies of biblical Judah and Joseph - the sons of Jacob - when I learned that Israeli troops had destroyed two more Palestinian homes in a rural area near Hebron. I was confused - more confused than usual in this land of spiritual and political extravagancies.The rabbi explained that Jacob blessed his son Joseph with a double portion of material well-being (political-military skills), and blessed his son Judah with the kingship and the spiritual legacy of Israel (a redemptive mission). The rabbi concluded: "Hopefully, the newly established Jewish state will merge both messiahs so that a spiritual Torah can provide the proper shape and form for science, technology, art and politics in a peaceful world perfected under the Kingship of God."

Wow!, I thought to myself, we should have no problem living together peacefully with an Israeli state and a Jewish people that seeks to perpetuate such fine values. The Prophet Jacob, I thought, was key to this quest for justice, peace and coexistence. Jacob wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel; his encounter with God transformed him from a selfish, materialistic schemer to a person who trusted in God and spent the rest of his life trying to manifest God's law and righteousness on earth. But then I was rudely brought back to the present reality of soldiers of the state of Israel destroying Palestinian houses.

The television pictures were more shocking than usual - Israeli troops firing tear gas grenades and then bulldozing into rubble the simple, three-room concrete home of a young Palestinian man named Husam Abu Yaqub. He ended up bloodied and beaten after trying unsuccessfully to protect his house, wife and young children.

Israeli soldiers destroying Palestinian houses was nothing new - Israeli groups have documented over 2450 Palestinian homes that Israel has destroyed since 1967, and another nearly 300 that Israel has sealed. This policy has made over 10,450 Palestinians homeless.

I kept pondering the images of Husam Abu Yaqub trying to defend his family and their simple, three-room home, alongside the image of Jacob's (Israel's) blessings to his children. Suddenly, I realized the cruel but powerful irony: Husam Abu Yaqub in Arabic means the Sword of the Father of Jacob.

It just did not make sense to me: the Children of Jacob (Israel) were destroying the three-room home of the Sword of the Father of Jacob. We Arabs and Israelis share a common God, a common patriarch in Abraham, common reverence for numerous prophets, common attachment to this blessed land, and many common names: Ibrahim/ Avraham/ Abraham, Yitzhaq/ Ishaq/ Isaac, Jacob/ Yaqub/ Yaakov, and many others. In practice, however, that which we share in common is negated by practices such as destroying houses.

Say it again - "destroying houses" - and think about it for a moment. The reality is far worse than the mere words. Where in God's plans or ethics is there moral space for such a practice? What possible purpose other than demonic cruelty and sheer, vindictive inhumanity could be served by the state of Israel heartlessly destroying nearly 2,500 homes and making over 10,000 Palestinians homeless in the past 32 years? Politically, the policy of systematic house demolitions is not working; legally, it is clearly against the provisions of the Geneva conventions on the behavior of an occupying power; emotionally, it only breeds greater anger and almost certainly gives birth to humiliated and desperate young Palestinians who will seek revenge by killing Israelis. This Israeli policy of destroying Palestinian houses is cruel, ineffective, illegal, counter-productive, and morally disgraceful.

What are we in the Arab world to think about Jews, Judaism and Israel that pursue this policy of callous house destruction? Is the Israeli House of the Lord of Jacob to be built by stones retrieved from the destroyed house of the Arab Sword of the Father of Jacob? One Jacob's house built from the rubble of another Jacob's house is not a durable edifice at all - it is a monument of death and double-standards, eternally haunted by its own cold-heartedness, perpetually vulnerable to the desperate need for revenge by those who are brutalized and dehumanized, and forever condemned to fear and to carrying rifles and bullet-proof vests. Jacob's mission was to rid our world of such menaces, not to perpetuate them.Of all the contentious things that Israelis and Jews have done in Palestine, the physical destruction of the homes of Palestinians is perhaps the most monstrous and morally egregious, especially when judged by the noble and life-giving values of Judaism itself. I simply cannot understand how the state of the Jewish people - after their own terrible history of suffering - can destroy other people's houses as a systematic, deliberate and official policy.

I went back to reading the rabbi's article about Joseph and Judah, and the Jewish quest for "a peaceful world perfected under the Kingship of God," but the words were suddenly less convincing. I wanted to believe them, but I kept being distracted by poor Jacob - this enigmatic man, tribe, and nation that builds and destroys at the same time, that preaches life while also causing death, that takes us and itself to heaven and hell in a single, dizzying journey.


(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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