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The Zionist Ideology of Domination Versus the Reign of God

The Ultimate Triumph Of Justice And Love

by Naim Ateek

At an Israeli security checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Naim Ateek rallies a crowd of Christians to support a young Palestinian woman detained by the police.

Israeli soldiers at the security checkpoint at Ramallah, a Palestinian village north of Jerusalem, hold back Naim Ateek, accompanied by Don Wagner, Director of the Center for Middle East Understanding.

An interfaith coalition of Muslim and Orthodox, Protestant, & Roman Catholic Christian leaders lead a rally in Ramallah. Naim Ateek, head of the Sabeel liberation theology center, is second from left. Photo by Ethan Flad

The Sabeel banner is prominently displayed at a rally for Palestinian human rights in Ramallah. Photo by Ethan Flad.

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Learn more about the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, including RealAudio speeches and worship services from the February 2001 assembly in Jerusalem, at their home page:

For related content, check out several articles offered in A Globe of Witnesses during November, 2000, including:

Living under the Principalities and Powers

In the letter to the Ephesians, the writer mentions that in our struggle against evil, we are not fighting against flesh and blood alone, we are fighting against evil structures that oppress and dominate people. "...our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand..." (Ephesians 6:12-13). This is a call to Christians to be alert and to recognize and identify the powers that operate around them. It is also a challenge to resist the powers and struggle against them by the power of God. These destructive powers are forces of darkness that undermine life itself. They must be resisted with the full armor of God. Yet it is clear that this armor is not the armor of war. It is not military might and it is not violent resistance. The author is using military metaphors but he is talking about weapons of non-violence. The God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of violence and war, but a God of peace and reconciliation. The struggle against the forces of evil must continue. We must be engaged in the struggle, but we cannot do it alone. We must do it with the armor of God. According to Ephesians, this armor is composed of the following: truth, righteousness (justice), peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer. Every one of these is a powerful weapon in our resistance against the evil structures that oppress and dominate people.

Jesus suffered under the powers

During Jesus' lifetime, these powers of darkness were also operating. They were represented in at least three personalities mentioned in the Gospels. King Herod represented the power of the local government, especially one that operated on behalf and in the orbit of a higher power. Herod had a vassal state under Rome. Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, represented Rome directly, the highest form of power in those days. Caiaphas, the high priest, represented the power of religion, especially that which works in collaboration with the state. It was not these people as individuals alone who had the power to oppress and kill, it was the powers and principalities they represented. It was the systemic structures of domination that were fixed in place. Jesus was aware of these powers. In fact, he was killed by the collusion of both state and religious powers. He did not, however, bow down to them. He gave us a way to resist them without being absorbed by them, to struggle against them without using their means and methods. This he did through his life and teaching on non-violence as well as his own suffering and death at the hands of the powers. Yet we believe that it is in the resurrection of Christ that the triumph over the powers takes place. We stand firm that in the power of God, and for us Christians, in the power of the risen Christ, we can continue to resist fully believing that ultimately the victory is God's.

There are Christians in our country, many of whom are clergy, who are very skeptical of our liberation theology. I am sure you find them everywhere. They believe that we have no business working against structures of domination. As Christians, they maintain, we are only called to evangelize individuals. When individuals are changed, they will change structures. We believe that we are called to do both. We must work on individuals and on systems. As Walter Wink has observed, "We are made evil by our institutions, yes; but our institutions are also made evil by us" (Wink, 1992:75). It is our responsibility to resist evil wherever it is found. Indeed, to begin with, within ourselves, within our churches and homes, as well as within society, nation, and the world.

Theologically speaking, since all power comes from God and is intended for good, people, and especially people of power, are supposed to set up structures that serve the common good. But due to evil and sin, these powers become corrupted and fallen. They turn against the people they were set up to serve and therefore become destructive. Walter Wink's thesis is this, "the powers are good, the powers are fallen, the powers must be redeemed" (Wink, 1992:10). We need to recognize this basic principle. We must be busy in working for the redemption of the powers both on the individual as well as the systemic basis.

Where Zionism Has Gone Wrong?

Let me now apply my words to the evil structures that have dominated the Palestinians for the last hundred years. I believe that the background to the Zionist movement was good, but it got corrupted and I hope it will be redeemed. I can appreciate the noble reasons for the rise of Zionism among European Jewry. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of Zionism, and his friends must have deeply felt the plight of their Jewish brethren. Anti-Semitism was a menace. One can only admire Herzl's perception of the problems and determination to do something about it rather than sit back and complain. The Jewish religious leaders had passively accepted their people's predicament, but the secular Zionists were not going to be apathetic to the agony and misery of their brethren.

The assessment of the Zionist leaders regarding the suffering of their people in 19th century Europe was correct. Anti-Semitism was rife and many Jews were suffering as a result of causeless hatred and prejudice. The Zionists' intention to help was noble. The questions they raised were right: how could they help their fellow brothers and sisters who were being oppressed due to the fact that they were ethnically and religiously different from the majority of the population around them? Tragically, it was difficult for the Zionists to anticipate the evolution and development of democracy in Europe. Democracy was the right answer to the problem, a true democracy with equality for all. They did not anticipate the day when Europe would have democratic systems of government that attract many people to its shores as we see happening today. The Zionists could not foresee this. They decided to opt out of Europe.

Herzl, who was a journalist, went to France to cover the case of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew who was a captain in the French army. Dreyfus was accused of espionage. When he was condemned, though innocent, Herzl concluded that if this can happen in France - the bastion of freedom, equality, and fraternity - then there was no hope for Jews in Europe. They must leave. It is important to mention that even then, most Jews opted to go to the United States and not Palestine. By 1900 almost one million Jews had left Europe to the United States (Jews for Justice, p.5). The decision to set up a Jewish state in Palestine was, therefore, very much bound by the colonial spirit of the time. It made perfect sense to the Zionists to set up a state for Jews away from European Christian prejudice. So they started looking for a European country that would sponsor such a project. That was the beginning of the original sin. This is when a noble idea was turned into a colonial and oppressive project.

The Zionists undermined the importance of the people of Palestine. They considered them a non-entity. It was part of the nature of colonialism to negate the worth of the colonized. The indigenous people of the land were considered dispensable. So Herzl plainly stated that the Zionists would "spirit the penniless (Arab) population across the border." Herzl felt that they could live and find employment in the neighboring countries (Quigley, 1990). This was the original crime. This was the beginning of the setting up of the structures that eventually contributed to the expulsion, destruction, oppression, humiliation, and domination of the Palestinians. This was how the powers that are meant for good became corrupt and destructive. Once the powers became corrupt, a chain of reaction was set in motion that led to further corruption. In order for Zionism to maintain and sustain their domination they began to employ lies, deception, falsification of history, stereotyping of their victims, torture and many other methods. The end began to justify the means.

Two Examples of Domination

Let us consider two important examples of how Zionism has used different structures that were meant for good, but were turned into destructive forces. Firstly, let us take the case of religion. After the 1967 war, secular Zionism began to give way to religious Zionism. Today, in fact, the strongest form of Zionism is not the secular that gave the vision and birth for the state of Israel, but religious Zionism. We need to remember that religious Jews, in their three main denominations - Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed - opposed Zionism at its inception and considered it a heresy. Rabbi Hirsch of Jerusalem declared "...Zionism is diametrically opposed to Judaism. Zionism wishes to define the Jewish people as a nationalistic entity. The Zionists say, in effect, 'look here, God. We do not like exile. Take us back, and if you don't, we'll just roll up our sleeves and take ourselves back.'" The Rabbi continued, "This, of course, equals heresy. The Jewish people are charged by Divine oath not to force themselves back to the Holy Land against the wishes of those residing there. So if they do, they are open to the consequences..." (Washington Post, October 3, 1978).

One would expect that when religion takes over from a secular movement, it would work to transform it and infuse it with a religious morality and ethics. We would expect religious Jews to use the best values their religion can offer to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What happened was the total opposite. Religion was used to justify the confiscation of Palestinian land and even the expulsion of Palestinians. Religion was used to oppress the Palestinians. Emphasis was laid on all the exclusive material in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament that negated the indigenous people of the land, i.e. the Palestinians. Instead of using inclusive material, and there is plenty of it that talks about God's love and mercy for all, the focus has been on everything that is derogatory and denigrating to the Palestinians. In other words, the Bible that is supposed to bring justice and mercy was used as a weapon to oppress the Palestinians. Today, the greatest obstacles to peace are the settlements that were inspired in large part by religion. The Hebrew Bible has been translated into a structure of domination instead of a structure of justice and peace. Even God has been Zionized. Stickers on cars carried the words, "God is a Zionist" and some even added, "God is a religious Zionist".

The second example has to do with the Oslo Peace Process. Many of us recall the exuberant feelings within the Palestinian community when Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the lawn of the White House. Many of us breathed a great sigh of relief that finally we were witnessing the end of a long struggle of the use of violence and bloodshed, and were now entering into an era of peace. We anxiously waited for the implementation of international law, i.e. UN Resolutions 242 and 338, where Israel will retain most of the land of Palestine, but will leave to the Palestinians less than a quarter of the land to establish their own sovereign state. This was the hope. The Palestinians had resigned themselves to accepting a small state, when before 1948 they constituted the majority of the population and had control of most of the land. What transpired in the peace process was the opposite of what was hoped for and expected. The peace process itself was turned into an instrument of further oppression. Since Oslo, illegal Jewish settlements expanded 52%, and there was an increase in the confiscation of Palestinian land, the torture of Palestinians, the demolishing of their homes, the closures, the siege, and the fragmentation of Palestinian areas, let alone the daily humiliation and dehumanization of a whole nation. The peace process was another way of deepening the structures of domination.

I believe that the original sin and crime was Zionism in the way it turned into a colonial force. Israel still lives and acts in the same basic ideology. The structures of domination that have been set up started in the hearts and minds of people who could not see the Palestinians as human beings with rights. Ze'ev Sternhell, Israeli professor of political science, was rebelling against such a Zionism when he wrote in Tikkun (May/June 1998), "If a 'Jewish State' that does not recognize the absolute equality of all human beings is considered to be closer to the spirit of the founding fathers (Zionism) than a new liberal Zionism, then it is time to say good-bye to the ghosts of the founders, and to start forging for ourselves an identity detached from the mystical ramifications of our religion and the irrational side of our history."

The Reign of God

While these structures of domination are in place and are bearing heavily on us, we must not despair. We must keep our eyes fixed on God's reign and sovereignty. The Pharisees asked Jesus, when will the kingdom of God come? He said to them, "...the Kingdom of God is among you (and within you)" (Luke 17:21). When he said this, the land and people were not experiencing paradise on earth. Most of the land and people were under occupation. There was violence and terrorism everywhere. Yet Jesus could announce the fact that God's kingdom is breaking in. The reign of God is the dynamic rule of God over people. Whenever people submit themselves to God's sovereignty and authority, the kingdom of God is present. It is not only internal and individualistic it is social and communal. It has to do with people, society, and the world. "It involves membership, citizenship, loyalties, and one's identity. Citizenship in (God's) a kingdom entails relationships, policies, obligations, boundaries, and expectations..." (Kraybill, 1990:21). In other words, once you are grasped by God's reign over your life and the life of others, once you are aware and conscious that God is there with you in the midst of the struggle, and the power of God is active within you and in the community of faith, the Kingdom is lived and promoted, and God's reign has broken in. God's reign must impact individuals and institutions. It must spread and influence others.

How can we live kingdom life, and be kingdom people today when we live under occupation and when we are working together for justice? What is our responsibility? What are the signs and marks of God's reign?

I. In the midst of the Domination Structures, our allegiance must be to God alone. Our primary obedience is to God and to no other power. In this regard, we must follow the example of Jesus when he was living in our country. He had a radical obedience to God's reign. We must continuously declare the ultimate sovereignty of God over every sphere of life. But when I say this, I am aware that this is exactly what the Jewish religious settlers are saying. They are in those settlements because they believe they are obeying God. In fact, they are ready to disobey their own Israeli government if need be in order to remain faithful to God. They strongly believe that it is against God and the Torah to give up any inch of the "Land of Israel" to the Palestinians.

Our litmus test that we must use in such cases is based on what it means to love our neighbor. The Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, mentions the dictum, "love your neighbor as yourself". Unfortunately, in Classical Judaism it has been narrowly defined as being limited to loving one's own fellow Jew. I believe this must be challenged. We cannot accept such a narrow interpretation. The neighbor must be inclusively defined. Anything that does not stem from the basis of love is sin. Our love of God without our love of neighbor means nothing. To live under the reign of God is to have full loyalty and obedience to God, tested, judged, and defined by our love and concern for the well being of the neighbors even if they are our enemies.

II. Loyalty to God alone forces us to unmask the powers. I would like to name and unmask four of these powers that oppress us.

1. The powers that emphasize the distinction between races. Racism is a corruption of what is good. The gift of kinship in the narrower or broader sense when absolutized becomes the evil of racism. Anything that stems from a racial foundation and leads to racial inequality and discrimination must be condemned and resisted. Arab Palestinian Israeli citizens have been suffering as a result of this since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Some Israeli Jewish authors themselves have observed that the absence of a constitution in Israel is due in large part to the grave injustices done against the Palestinians. Had we had a democratic constitution (as Israel claims to be a democratic state), the injustices and discriminations carried out against the Palestinians would have been considered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (Jews for Justice, p.28.). Racism is an ugly mask that must be exposed and removed. When redeemed, racial discrimination must give way to inter-racial relationships.

Closely connected with race is the mask of nationalism. There is place for a healthy patriotism so long as it does not undermine or infringe on the rights and feelings of others. Any narrow form of patriotism or nationalism can get out of control and become extreme. When nationalism becomes ultimate and absolute, it is dangerous. Such extreme forms of nationalism threaten both Palestinians as well as Israelis. It is ironic that at a time when some nations are leaving nationalism behind and moving into "inter-nationalism", we find ourselves still stuck in its narrow, primitive, and antiquated form. It must be unmasked and its ugly and dangerous face must be exposed. That is why many of us feel that the ideal resolution of the conflict lies not in the formation of two national and sovereign states where nationalism could become negatively competitive, but in one state that combines the two nationalities in one system of equal democracy. The two-state solution must be only a first step that hopefully will lead to the formation of the one state.

In fact, Israel can have an important contribution to make. Once its injustice is removed, and a fully democratic constitution is adopted, it can be a yeast in the Middle East that can affect democratic reform in our region. Israel has been able to establish a basic democratic system that is needed in the Middle East. This democratic seed must be planted here in Palestine and Israel and hopefully can grow and be emulated by others. An Israel/Palestine ruled by a democratic system of government for all its citizens is a wonderful dream. This is the foundation that we are trying to lay down today.

2. Another form of the powers that oppress us and must be unmasked is that of security. Security is important and we all cherish and need it. In Israel it has become an idol. It is a god that Israel worships. In the name of the god of security, the Palestinians are today humiliated, dehumanized, and oppressed. The airport ordeal that Palestinians have to go through every time they travel abroad is a case in point. Recently, when my wife Maha and I took my mother-in-law (77 years old) to the airport, the security officer interrogated her for over 15 minutes, and then, as usual for Palestinians, decided to take her to the side room. Maha argued with them: "Why not use the scanner machine?" They refused. It is the irrational god of security that they worship. We must unmask it. Israel must bring back to security its healthy concern while maintaining the dignity of every human being. Israel has turned security into an oppressive structure of control and humiliation.

3. We need to unmask the ideology of religion that has been used to oppress people. Religion is meant to bring us close to God. To get closer to God is to become more human. Religion, however, has imprisoned many people and imprisoned God. Through religion, religious leaders forbid God to act except in the way they have chartered. Religion has become a trap. It must be unmasked. Religion must set God free. This is, unfortunately, one of the worst masks that we have in the Middle East. We are all guilty of it. Jewish religion sees non-Jews as the strangers in the land, without rights. Islam sees non-Muslims as Ahl -Adhimma. Similarly, Christians have narrowed and limited God's activity outside their own denomination.

It is important to point out that Jesus could not work through the religious system of his day. It too had created structures of domination; and he condemned it. Most of his ministry was carried out on the periphery, outside the religious system that had turned oppressive. I cannot adequately express to you how important it is to unmask the ideology of false religion and its religiosity, beginning with Christianity here in Palestine as well as everywhere. We must unmask it and move from religion to genuine faith. That is why many of our people do not want to have anything to do with God. The god they see before them is a bigot, racist, land grabber, discriminator, prejudiced, hateful killer, and every other ugly adjective in the dictionary. I would like to kill this god nonviolently. The true God must re-emerge. The God we have come to know in Christ is the God of peace, not war; the God of love, not violence; the God of justice and love, not injustice and hate. We must allow God to play a role in peacemaking. But our God cannot be involved because we have imprisoned him in our minds and psyche. God must be set free, to work in and outside our denomination and our religion to bring about justice, peace, and compassion.

4. We need to unmask the ideology of violence. Walter Wink has written a lot on the myth of redemptive violence. Contrary to what many people say, we must expose the ugly face of violence. Our commitment is for nonviolence. Violence must always be condemned even when we think we have good justifications for it. We must address it at its core. The first place where we must tackle it is in our own Bible, and especially in the Old Testament. In order to deal with it, many faithful Christians try to allegorize or spiritualize those violent passages in the Bible.

This topic has been researched by many scholars. There are 600 passages in the Old Testament with very explicit acts of violence; one thousand verses where God's own violent actions of punishment are described; a hundred passages where Yahweh expressly commands others to kill people; and several stories where God irrationally kills or tries to kill for no apparent reason (for example, Exodus 4:24-26). "Violence," one scholar concludes, "is easily the most often mentioned activity in the Hebrew Bible" (Wink, 1998:84). If God is pictured as violent, how do we expect humans to act differently? We have projected on God our human desires and tendencies. Because we want to kill, we made God a killer. We portrayed God as a God of war who goes with us to war and helps us kill our enemy. In the best of the prophetic material where prophets critique the powers, we find passages that talk about the extermination of Israel's enemies whether in the prophet's own day or at the end of history (Micah 4:13; Joel 3:1-21) (Wink 1998:85). In Micah 4:12-13, the prophet says that God gathers many nations "as sheaves to the threshing floor" and then God calls for their total extermination. This Micah passage is found in the same chapter where the prophet earlier talks about turning swords into plowshares. We must not fall into the trap of justifications or rationalizations. We must not allegorize or spiritualize. Such a picture of God must be rejected. The God we know and believe in is the one who says, "Love your enemies" but stand for your rights. Do not give in to hate and revenge. Break the cycle of violence. Learn to live nonviolently and use nonviolence as a method to struggle against injustice. In the words of Walter Wink, Jesus articulates before us "a way by which evil can be opposed without being mirrored, the oppressor resisted without being emulated, and the enemy neutralized without being destroyed" (Wink, 1998:111).

III. As we unmask the powers around us that contribute to oppression and domination, we need to realize that a very important characteristic of the reign of God that distinguishes it from the structures of domination is the element of truth. Speaking the truth and committing oneself to the truth is at the heart and center of our understanding of the reign of God. God is the God of truth. Our commitment to truth is both personal and communal, in our private and public life. All structures of domination are built on lies and they stand on lies. The evil of lies must be addressed on a large scale not only locally but also internationally. The most radical political action we can take is when we speak and testify to the truth. The full armor of God that the writer of Ephesians talks about begins with truth, then includes justice, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer. These are our nonviolent means of resisting and struggling against the domination system of the state of Israel and the powers behind it. Mahatma Gandhi encouraged people to begin their day with the following resolution:

I shall not fear anyone on earth.
I shall fear only God.

I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.

I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.

I shall conquer untruth by truth.

And in resisting untruth I shall put up with all suffering.

(The Treasure Chest, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 73)

IV. Finally, another important characteristic of the Kingdom of God and the reign of God is power. It is, however, a different type of power from the powers that be. We need power in order to affect change. Without power we are ineffective. Our source of power is God, the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ, living in our country as a Palestinian under occupation, offers us a different model of power. The power of love; the power of nonviolence; the power of serving others; the power of servant leadership; the power of influence, not manipulation or control; the power of truth and justice; the power to stand up with courage and confront evil and oppression.

Sisters and brothers, we are partners with God in the work of justice and peacemaking. Let us, therefore, put on the full armor of God so that we may be able to stand firm in our struggle against the powers. With St. Paul we can say, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor. 15:57).

Selected Bibliography

Jews for Justice in the Middle East.
The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict (2nd Edition).

Kraybill, Donald B. The Upside-Down Kingdom. Herald Press, 1990.

Quigley, John. Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice. Duke University Press, 1990.

Wink, Walter. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press, 1992.

Wink, Walter. The Powers That Be. Doubleday, 1998.

Naim Ateek is the founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem. A Palestinian Anglican priest, he is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Berkeley, California), and the author of several books, including the acclaimed Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation and Faith and the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voices.