The Common Good

Blindfolded Judges

In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.  

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
n undated picture shows US peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, in the Rafah refugee camp. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

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Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance.  My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.

The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).

In other words, under the profound sovereignty of the Lord, when people seek after false gods (even political or sporting saviors) consequences can be dire and those who love and seek justice must be on alert for judges or analysts who cannot (or will not) provide help.

Repeatedly the Psalmist underscores this reality:  “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods” (Ps. 16:4).  

We already have a Savior and it is a trap to find our hope and joy in even commendable political or athletic figures. They all disappoint. “Do not put your trust in princes” (146:3).

It is timely to be concerned about the implications of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, and other conflicts, or in the painful flow of misinformation at the American political conventions. Surely the party “swords” being used pierce hearts of the users. To further paraphrase the Psalmist, we fall into the ditches we dig to catch others. The walls we construct to keep enemies out obstruct our own way. As Republican message tester Frank Luntz observes “a lie (about an opponent) is a big ‘no-no’ because the negative impression splashes back and makes the accuser unlikeable.”

Unalterable creation ordinances were much on my heart these past days as the news unfolded about the ongoing tragedy of brave Rachel Corrie who sought with colleagues to protect vulnerable Palestinian mothers and children. And died doing it. (See Rose Marie Berger’s blog post).

Israeli Judge Gershon, in Haifa District Court, ruled with little compassion about Rachel’s death. He ruled that those who took her life were innocent as “she did not move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her own death” … by being in the wrong place when the Caterpillar rolled over her she caused it.

The assumption that cleared the soldiers was that she must have been a stupid person to be in a place where Israelis were carrying out collective punishment demolishing the farms and homes of suspected terrorists. Never mind the violation of international law about such action. Or that the incriminating film evidence that the operator saw her was disallowed.

However, as the incident demands justice in an appeal to Israel’s High Court for Rachel and her family, it also cries out for understanding the long-term dire consequences for the lenient judge and the bulldozer operator who escaped being charged for her murder.

Though less shocking, there are certain unintended inferences from politicians who stretch the truth, and pardon the expression “kill with lies,” in criticizing opponents. Who of us does not carry the burden of some guilt in this regard for our fumbling attempts at peace building and restorative justice, or in our own political entanglements? 

When Karen and I lived Jerusalem we awakened each morning to see the rising sun shining on the Mount of Pentecost. It is the traditional site of the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), the Upper Room and King David’s tomb.

The power of that image remains in our consciousness. But even more compelling was the view from our hillside terrace where we had breakfast and entertained our friends. Below, between our home and the holy “mountain” 100 yards across the Hinnom Valley, was the still garbage-strewn site of the Moloch cult’s altar where babies were sacrificed to their angry god. A place condemned as cursed with no buildings for 2500 years.

Sadly in the 5th Century BC fearful Hebrews also joined in the exercise and as a result were cast into the 70-year Babylonian exile for their unfaithfulness to their Lord God (Jeremiah 25).

The contrast was always startling. Land, hills, trees, military power, and false religion have become the idolatrous substitute for God Himself, as church historian Martin Marty has noted. And the fact is that “children” such as Rachel Corrie, Israeli soldiers, and Palestinian stone throwers are dying daily, as contemporary sacrifices to an idolatrous god.

I suspect the bulldozer operator, in spite of his exoneration, and his friends, will never sleep a full-uninterrupted night for the rest of their lives! 

They will surely relive the sight of that frail young woman disappearing under the grinding treads of the huge armored U.S.-built machine. They will hear the screams of Rachel and her colleagues and fellow soldiers to stop before it is too late. They as well will see the ululating guiltless mothers and crying small children from the homes in Gaza they had been knocking down and clearing.

Among my greatest and most touching experiences while living in that home above the Hinnom Valley, just a few hundred yards from where Judas hung himself, was what I heard from the mother of three Israeli service members. Karen and I went to our neighbor after hearing that two young soldiers had been killed brutally by Arab young men after being captured while spying in Palestinian Ramallah. We shared our condolences even after being assured that Ami and Aznifs’ young adults were not the victims.

Aznif’s words ring in my ears. She said, “Thank you, but these were soldiers, and while we grieve, we know, and they knew, that death is the risk they take doing what they were doing. My even greater concern is for the young Palestinians who will forever live with the awful thing they have done. They will never sleep a full night soundly because of the blood they have on their hands.”   

And we grieved together for all the young people dying so needlessly sacrificed to the god of war.

Sometime later the commander of the Israeli Defense Force psychiatric unit arrived unannounced in my office to voice this recurring dirge. He said, “I can no longer serve in this position because I am becoming so sick working with the most traumatized soldiers in the world, not for what has happened to them but for what they have done to others, especially women and children. They will awaken screaming from troubled sleep throughout their lives as a result of anger, fear and xenophobia.”

May we listen to the lessons of the ages and seek to apply them ourselves so that we, and our public servants, will become more perceptive fully sighted “judges” in our troubled and traumatized world.

 

Tom Getman lived and work in Palestine as country director for World Vision from 1996 to 2001

 

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