Martin Marty – Israel’s Holy War

In eleven years of weekly Sightings I can’t find that I ever commented on “public religion” in Israel.  The U. S. is usually in our sights, and we are aware of participation in or leadership of holy wars by Hindu militants, Muslim extremists, Buddhist monks, and Christian forces around the world.  Israel, a close ally and, religiously, a kin, must have flown under the radar here, because it is on page one or in prime time almost daily, and religious themes – for example, Gush Emunim in support of illegal settlements – are prominent.

One can begin catching up on holy war in Israel in Eyal Press’s notice of four books on the subject in the April 29th New York Review of Books.  The book titles are revealing: Israel and Its Army: From Cohesion to Confusion; Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2000; Israel’s Religious Right and the Question of Settlement; and Israel’s Materialist Militarism.  Press supplements these with his own reporting.  The authors are consistent in noting that the IDF, Israel Defense Forces, is infused and in some outfits virtually taken over by non-secular officers and enlistees who make no secret of their intent to replace “Just War” with “Holy War.”

In language that recalls the religious rhetoric of Lieutenant General William Botkin, who regularly framed contemporary American military ventures as Christian holy wars, or Air Force Academy leadership that wanted to Christianize our warrior efforts, militants in IDF leadership echo an invited rabbi who “cast the Gaza war as a battle between bnei ha-or – the children of light – and bnei ha-hasheh – the children of darkness:  “In Hebrew literature, this is an eschatological war, a messianic war.” Read on…

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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