Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Palestine is Desolate

   In this month of mourning for the defeat and murderous persecutions at the hands of the Romans in 135C.E., and of rejoicing for the miracles experienced in our own time, it is instructive to go back 145 years, to Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, first published in 1867.  Mark Twain’s book is based on  a tour of Europe and the Middle East that he took with some friends.  These quotes are taken from the Modern Library Edition, New York, 2003: 

Galilee:  (p.358) – There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent – not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation.  One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings.

Tiberias (p.374) – They say that the long-nosed, lanky, dyspeptic-looking body-snatchers, with the indescribable hats on, and a long curl dangling down in front of each ear, are the old, familiar self-righteous Pharisees we read of in the Scriptures.  Verily, they look it.  Judging merely by their general style, and without other evidence, one might easily suspect that self-righteousness was their specialty. 

Entering Jerusalem (p.418) – Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound.  Lepers, cripples, the blind, and the idiotic, assail you on every hand. . . .Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless.  I would not desire to live there.

Summarizing (p.456) – Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince.  The hills are barren. . . .The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent.  . . .It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.. . . .Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.  Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.. . .Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village. . . .Palestine is desolate and unlovely. . . .Palestine is no more of this work-day world.  It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is dream-land. 

   Tiberias’s self-righteous Pharisees?  Mark Twain is hardly the first Christian author to so egregiously misuse the word “Pharisee,” but that could be the topic of another post.  Dyspeptic-looking?  Well, at least they were not the fat slobs walking around Brooklyn today.  Transplanted to Meah She’arim or Beit Shemesh, they would fit right in with today’s haredim, many of whom are self-righteous and worse.  And these were the only Jews Mark Twain saw there, more’s the pity.  

   If he had traveled 20-30 years later, he would already have seen a different kind of Jew, strong broad-shouldered men (and more than a few women) laboring on the holy land, the land whose productivity Turks and British alike despaired of, but that yielded when watered with holy Jewish sweat.  He saw Palestine, a barren land. as lonely and desolate as Jeremiah describes in Megillat Eicha (the Scroll of Lamentations).  He saw a land that had not enjoyed political independence since 63 B.C.E., a land empty of people, since the much-ballyhooed “Palestinian Arabs” did not come until after 1917, i.e. after Jewish immigrants began to create living conditions conducive to human habitation.  

   If Mark Twain were to wake up today, he would see a modern prosperous independent nation, a Jerusalem steeped in holiness with more Torah learning going on than at any time in its long history, and simultaneously a living, breathing capital of a living, breathing country.  He would see (ro’im et ha-kolot) our ancient language once again on the lips of children, and on the lips of drill sergeants barking out their orders.  He would see the hustle and bustle of Tel-Aviv, and a concentration of brain power that gave the world countless advances in agriculture, high-tech and all fields of human endeavor.  I think he would marvel out loud, as many others have:  Are these people Jews?  Where did these come from?  Who gave birth to them?  (See Isaiah 49:21) 

   Palestine is desolate.  Even today, the areas controlled by the “Palestinian Authority” are barren.  Their people live in poverty and backwardness.  Men kill their own daughters and sisters for “dishonoring the family.”  Their leaders’ corruption and thievery make the worst Israeli and American politicians look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  Their children are taught not to pursue knowledge but to glorify and emulate suicide bombers, thus passing ignorance and backwardness to the next generation. 

   Palestine is desolate.  But Israel thrives and, please God, will continue to thrive until the unfolding ge’ula reaches its glorious conclusion.

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