When my wife, Karen, and I lived in 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 the presumed angry Israeli god — a place condemned as cursed, with no buildings for 2,500 years.
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, Palestinian stone throwers, and totally innocent little infants are dying daily, as contemporary sacrifices to an idolatrous god.
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 see our neighbors, Ami and Aznif, 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 Aznif’s young adult children were not the victims.
Aznif’s words ring in my ears. She said,
“Thank you for your thoughts, 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.
“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 and aware of the consequences of such violence in our troubled and traumatized world.
Tom Getman lived and worked in Palestine as country director for World Vision from 1996 to 2001.