Friday, January 16, 2009

A 7th grader's assignment

The following was a term project for my 12 year old daughter. She spent a lot of hours putting this effort together and I am quite proud of how it turned out. I helped her with the bare bones framework and final proof reading. Enjoy.

My letter is R for religion and my country is Israel. In five minutes, I have no way of covering this complex issue, so I have decided to focus on the religious history, the conflict, and some unique problems Israelis face as the only Jewish country on earth.

Why is the land of Israel important to the Jews?

Jews have had an unbroken connection with the land of Israel and their Holy Temple in Jerusalem for thousands of years. It has been the core of Jewish identity since the time of Solomon, when the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was built. This Temple had been the center of Jewish worship for a thousand years until 70 AD when the Roman emperor Caligula tried to force the Jews to accept the Roman gods. Rather than abandon their religion the Jews revolted against the Romans. Infuriated, Emperor Caligula ordered the Roman army to crush the Jewish people and erase any Jewish connection to the land. According to the eyewitness historian Josephus in his book, "The Jewish War", the Romans burned and destroyed the Jewish Temple, killed over a million Jews, enslaved most of the survivors, scattered the rest into hiding, renamed the country to Palestine, and outlawed all things Jewish. Some Jews that had escaped the destruction of Jerusalem fled to a fortress called Masada, where they held out for three years. But when Rome's 10th Legion finally broke the walls down, they were horrified to learn that the Jews inside had all killed themselves. According to Josephus, two women and five children managed to hide and tell what had happened. Since it's against Jewish custom to commit suicide, the men killed their own families, then each other, until the last few alive drew straws to decide who would be the only one to kill himself. Nine hundred and sixty Jews chose to die in Israel instead of being taken away in chains to Rome. Just before they killed themselves, the Jewish leader, Elazar ben Yair, gave a powerful final speech, listen closely to his words..."Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice...We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom." What makes Jewish history intresting is that even though they were exiled from their own land and kept away for two thousand years they did not disappear. Caligula attempted to erase Judaism from the world and break the Jewish bond to the land of Israel, but he failed.

Now that the Jews have returned to their homeland why can't they rebuild their Holy Temple?

After the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the exile of the Jews, the region was ruled by the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Egyptians, the Crusaders, Mamelukes, the Turks, the British and then once again by the Jews in 1948. None of these invaders bothered to make a Nation of their own in the land of Israel, EXCEPT the Jews. However, it has been a common Islamic custom to build mosques on the sites of other peoples holy places, and today, the ruined site of the Jewish Temple is occupied by a Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. All Muslims believe that Muhammad flew to heaven on the back of a winged horse one night at a place they call the "far mosque", or "Al-Aqsa". This creates a problem for Jews since some Muslims believe this far mosque is the one built on top of the ruins of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Oddly the idea seems to only become popular with Muslims when non-Muslims control the land, like it did when the Christian Crusaders captured the Holy Land. Many scholars point out that Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Quran and the Al-Aqsa mosque was not built until decades after Muhammad died. If it was that important to Muslims it is reasonable to expect to see it mentioned in their Holy book. Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Torah, for example. Today, for political reasons, the site is once again the center of an Islamic call to wage jihad. This time against Jews returning to their homeland. Many Jews believe that a third temple will be rebuilt there someday, but since any attempt to replace these structures would lead to an all out Muslim holy war the Temple cannot be rebuilt in the foreseeable future. Oddly enough, if the Iranians are successful in destroying Israel with nuclear weapons, there might not be anything to prevent surviving Jews from returning and rebuilding the Temple on the ashes of destruction. Like the Romans, the Mullahs in Iran seem to underestimate the bond between the Jews and the land of Israel.

Why do Muslim nations hate Israel?

Many people think that the conflict in Israel between the Jews and the Arabs calling themselves Palestinians is about land, but that is not true. The Middle East has plenty of land, miles and miles of it. It is a religious conflict with a tiny Jewish country facing hatred from the entire Muslim world. One huge religious challenge Israel faces is the fact that there are 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Conference. These Muslim nations routinely condemn, boycott, and attack everything that Israel does. Many of them don't even think Israel has a right to exist and refuse to have diplomatic relations with Israel. Over 25% of the UN are Muslim countries and only one is Jewish. This means it is usually 56 against 1, which is bad enough, but unfortunately for Israel, the Muslim countries were also blessed with a resource that would cripple the modern world if it were cut off, oil. Knowing that your economy could be devastated, it would take a powerful country to stand up to the threats of the oil lobby, a country that puts principle above convenience, a country that champions the rights of free people everywhere, and a country that won't let a friend fall. That country has always been America, and this is why we are hated. Ask any Muslim leader why his people hate America and he will likely say it is our support for the Israel. Much of the world would prefer that Israel would just quietly disappear and they are angry with America for supporting and helping the Jews.

Does Israel allow other religions freedom?

Israel is a land of tolerance surrounded by intolerance. In Israel, Most of the people are Jews, but Muslims, Christians, Druse, Bahai, Buddhists, Hindus, and all other religions are able to worship in complete freedom. The same can not be said of Israels enemies. Even in America we have some people that hate Jews, like the skin heads, neo-Nazis, and many others, but these people are usually looked down on here as being ignorant or hateful. But in places like Jordan, there are laws against Jews becoming citizens. In Saudi Arabia and other places, Jews aren't even allowed in the country, even if it is just for a visit. A passport stamped by Israel is enough to bar you entry to many Muslim countries. There are no Jews in Gaza either and if one were to be found hiding there, the Muslim Arabs would most likely kill him on the spot with no consequences at all. In fact, they'd probably be celebrated as heroes if they did. Sadly, Israel exists in a part of the world where graffiti covers every wall glorifying the names of Jew hating terrorists, and where parks, hospitals, schools, sports teams, and even city streets are named after suicide bombers and cold blooded murderers. What's worse is that many Israeli Arabs openly identify themselves as allies to these people.

Why should we support the Jewish people?

Israelis are just like Americans, many people in both countries are obsessed with trying not to offend anyone or their religious beliefs. These are American and Israeli values. But it's hard to face the ugly reality of religious intolerance with this limitation. Nobody wants to insult a religion or someones beliefs, but it is both accurate and fair to point out that Muslims have divided the world into what they call "Dar al-Islam" and "Dar al-Harb". In Arabic this means the house of submission or the house of peace, and the house of war. If you are not a Muslim, you have been labeled as being at war with Islam and this can only end when Islam has absolute control over the world. Muslims themselves created this division, and no matter how tolerant we and our Jewish friends in Israel are, there is nothing a non-Muslim can do to change the situation. Since Muslims once held control over the land of Israel they believe that a Jewish state there is an abomination. According to the Muslim clerics, from Tehran to Mecca, it is a religious obligation to wage war against and oppose the Jews of Israel. How can the Jews ever have peace when war is mandated as being something Holy? One of the most respected voices in the Islamic world, Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, author of the "Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam", states that "The most honorable form of jihad nowadays is fighting for the liberation of Muslim land from the domination of unbelievers", this is why Israel is the main focus of religious hatred. Muslims feel that the Jews have no rights over land that has previously been conquered by Islam and no amount of land the Jews can offer to them will be enough to make them happy. Until our leaders face this truth and reject intolerance the Jews of Israel will be in danger of being wiped off the map and thrown into the sea. Hitler massacred six million of them in the Holocaust. Shouldn't "never again" really mean never again?

"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." these are the words spoken by Imam Hassan el-Banna, founder of the so called moderate Muslim Brotherhood, and it is written into the Charter of Hamas, a people bent on the destruction of the nation of Israel.

Felicia LeFavour