Sunday, June 06, 2010

Shechem’s Briss and the Israeli Boat Raid

It’s not one of the stories you learn in Sunday School…

Jacob and his clan were grazing their flocks in the territory of the Hivites, where Hamor was king and his son Shechem was looking for love. And whom should Shechem’s amorous gaze fall upon but Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, who was paying a visit to some of her Canaanite girlfriends? Scripture doesn’t exactly reveal the nature of the blandishments Shechem lavished upon Dinah before having sex with her, but the Old Testament does relate that he loved her—to the point of going to his father and making a plea for parental intervention and the arrangement of a marriage contract for Jacob’s baby girl. It seems possible that Shechem’s love was not unrequited by Dinah, who may very well have been more than ready to leave behind a tent full of domineering older brothers and take up life as a Hivite princess.

Enter the brothers. Jealous for their sister’s chastity and enraged by Shechem’s intrusion upon her reputation, they hatch a devious plan to impose circumcision upon Shechem and all the males of his city as a condition of the marriage, insisting that this is the only way their sister can retain her honor. Shechem, blinded by love and testosterone, agrees. And then, while Shechem and his followers are convalescing after the painful ritual, Simeon and Levi lead a raiding party, massacring the entire city and looting it before dragging Dinah back to the camp. So much for Hamor’s gracious offer to Jacob to live in the land, engage in trade, join the Rotary Club, and otherwise assimilate.

When Jacob finds out what his vengeful boys have done, he says, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed” (Genesis 34:30). Not much more is said about the aftermath, other than protestations from Simeon and Levi that they were just defending their sister’s honor. We do find out, however, that Jacob, under divine guidance, prudently relocates his base of operations to Bethel—putting a few miles and several hilltops between himself and the vicinity of his sons’ recent crimes against humanity.

Reading last week’s headlines about the deadly Israeli commando raid on the flotilla of blockade-busters bound for Gaza with humanitarian supplies, I was immediately reminded of this violent old tale from Israel’s ancient past. Israel, under the leadership of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, seems well along the road to becoming a stench in the nostrils, not only of its longtime enemies in the Palestinian territories and the surrounding Arab nations, but also in the international court of public opinion.

Bent on starving Hamas into submission in Gaza—a strategy whose historical success seems wide-open to debate, by the way—Israel is coming to have an uncomfortable resemblance to the neighborhood bully: a far cry from the vulnerable, yet plucky image the nation capitalized on in its early days and up until at least the Six-Day War of 1967. Add to that the current Israeli regime’s truculent expansion policies, which appear to be imposing even greater stress upon the already fragile environmental, agricultural, and social infrastructure in what used to be the Palestinian territories, and one might be excused for coming to the reluctant conclusion that Israel intends the ultimate—if gradual—expulsion of the Palestinian people from the places that have been their homelands for thousands of years.

I wonder if anyone in the Israeli government has considered the words of Jacob to his angry sons. How long before Israel, by pursuing the politics of intimidation, expansion, and isolation in the name of national security, actually succeeds in isolating herself from the support of those who have heretofore been her allies? How much longer can the United States—with its own less-than-stellar record regarding the subtleties of international relations—continue to turn a blind eye to Israel’s economic, political, and military repression and disenfranchisement of the Palestinians?

Israel, more than almost any nation on earth, ought to know the value of tradition, history, and heeding ancient wisdom. It seems to me that the time is long overdue for Jacob to have another conversation with his modern-day children.

Solving this crisis, though, is going to be more complicated than moving a few miles down the road.

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