Hermeneutics from Palestinian Perspective
BOARD OF THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION OF THE SENATE OF SERAMPORE COLLEGE
14 – 16 August 2014
Possession and Dispossession of Land
A Paper by M C Raj
I wonder how relevant it will be to speak about land issues of Dalits and Palestinians when the very existence of Palestinians seems to be on the brink. Therefore, let me start with the strongest possible condemnation of the massacre of innocent people, especially of children by the incessant bombings of the ‘chosen race of god’. It is nothing new to them as their own liberation history is wrought with mindless killing of innocent children by their horribly racial god YHWH. Seeds sown thousands of years ago have had their impact till now. Palestine is one of the earliest regions in the world to see human habitation, agricultural practices and civilization. It is a travesty of history that this particular entity was perennially subjected to changing hands due to wars, occupation etc. It must however be recognized that Palestine was a hotbed of crosscurrents in religions, culture, commerce and politics.
Dalit people in India can be compared to Palestine in different phases of their history too. There are similarities and dissimilarities between both. But the striking common features cannot escape the attention of the socially conscious. Unfortunately the Dalit issue in history has largely remained an ‘internal issue’ of India, so treated by the International forces as well as by the ruling caste in India. International solidarity towards Dalit cause has bordered only on tokenism with a few noble exceptions. In this Paper I make an attempt to focus on the similarities without neglecting the dissimilarities and appeal for some collective consciousness and action for liberation.
Myth and History
The point of interest for us is the intrusion of the Jews into this region that is estimated to be around 1200 BC. Let us keep aside historians for some time conveniently. According to the Bible that embeds subtle history in its mythical narratives, El Shaddai, the god of promise appears to Abraham, enjoys his hospitality and in return promises him land. When Sarah laughs he also challenges her doubt and promises children for Abraham. When descendants of Abraham are held in slavery in Egypt the same god in another name YHWH intervenes in their history as the god of liberation. After their liberation from Egypt through nefarious interventions of god on racial lines it is said that they entered the region that is now identified as Palestine. The united kingdom of Israel was set up in 1020 BC and split up around 900 BC into the Northern Kingdom known as Israel and Southern kingdom known as Judea. Very soon the Northern Kingdom was defeated around 700 and in 600 Southern Kingdom was also defeated scattering the Jews all over the world for survival. The ‘Remnant of YHWH’ remained holding on to the hope that YHWH would send a savior-king to re-establish their country in its pristine glory. They ended up with the arrival of Jesus as a revelation of ABBA as the embodiment of god’s love. Theologians say that the transformation of god from god of promise to god of liberation finally ended with god of love. Since the Jews did not compromise on a king and did not want to be cheated with love they killed Jesus and continued to live in glorious isolation as god’s own chosen race.
From the time the people of YHWH entered the ‘promised land’ their imitation of hegemonic models was evident in that they demanded the setting up of a king. The promise itself is wrought with nefarious designs of treating neighbors as ‘untouchables’, pagans and developing mechanisms of unlimited exploitation. History repeats itself. When Israelites were liberated from Egypt they used the same mechanisms of oppression vis-à-vis their neighbors. When the genocide of Jews by Hitler ended they indulge in the same intrusive, oppressive and genocidal measures vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Joshua argued against it vehemently saying that anointing a king would mean going against the authority of YHWH. It was a conflict of the political authority of king and the spiritual authority of god, as we witnessed in the Catholic church vis-a vis the Pope’s authority. A king would bring in all the instruments and mechanisms of exploitation that were associated with monarchs and monarchical governance. But his arguments went like water in the drain. Finally Joshua had to eat his humble pie and grant them a king.
The Muslim conquest of Syria in 636 AD is significant. In 1099 it was lost to the crusaders. Skipping through many intermittent conflicts for possession of Palestine let us understand that in 1832 the regions was captured by Egypt’s Mohammed Ali but the British plucked it away from Muslims in 1840. Jewish immigration started increasing in the region till the British issued the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration of 1917. In 1936 the Arab Palestinians revolted but were brutally crushed by the British. Around the same period Hitler’s Germany killed six million Jews and the rest fled to the present Israel. In 1947, the same year the British gave independence to India, the United Nations decided to partition the region definitely under the predominant influence of the British. The Arabs rejected the partition plan of the UN. In the consequent civil war Israel was declared an independent state in May 1948. Now it was the turn of the Palestinians to flee from their own country, 700,000 of them. A war ensued and in the Israeli-Arab war of 1948 Israel began its mega aggrandizement much against the partition plan of the UN. But Jordan captured the West Bank region and an all Palestinian government was announced in the Gaza Strip in September 1948. A series of wars and conflicts took place till the Oslo Peace Accord of 1993.
Just as many Brahmin scholars dispute the theory of Aryan invasion into India many historians dispute an invasion of Palestine by the Israelites. It will be good not to digress into this question in this paper. For the sake of evolving an understanding of how Palestinians lost their land and their claim to nationhood let us only trace a few historical facts. It will be significant to note that just as the Bible describes the Jews as a ‘chosen race’ carved out in the palm of the hand of god, the Brahmins in India have also appropriated for themselves a privileged position of originating from the head of Brahma. The cumulative consequence of this appropriation is the unlimited authority granted to these races to indulge in mindless violence against the people considered to be ‘pagans’ in the Bible and Rakshasas, Asuras, Mlechas, Atishudras, Atishudras and finally Harijans in India. All these are created to legitimize capturing of land and subjugating the very same people from whom land and nation are stolen.
It is an irony that both the Jews and the Aryans are not people of the land but are nomads, settlers aggressive in nature and their brand of civilization is markedly different from the civilization of the people of the earth. The usual practice in the world is that aggressors make inroads into the lives of settled people and later blame the natives for being unjust to them only because of their protest. You need to only vaguely remember the history and dynamics of colonization to understand the truth of this irony.
History has many faces. As the concept paper of this conference says, many Christians are quite callous to what is happening in Gaza taking umbrage under the false assumption that Israel ‘after all is the chosen race’ and has every right to exploit the ‘pagan’ Palestinians. After all Palestinians are ‘infidels’ in the jaundiced eyes of the neo chosen race, that is Christians. But let us revisit history a little bit. In 1032 during the crusades the Pope in Rome wanted to plunder the wealth of the Jews in order to finance the war, in which the Popes killed thousands of children. In order to plunder the wealth of the Jews, the worse than dacoit popes propagated that Jews should be chased out to their country, as they were the ones who killed Jesus. That systematically spread hatred towards Jews among Christians. Their wealth in the West was plundered and ultimately that hatred continued till Hitler massacred six million Jews in concentration camps and gas chambers. The followers of ‘holy books’ have never been holy going by the common understanding and definition of holiness. The Pope significantly kept quiet about the killing of Jews by Hitler. This demolishes the pet theory of many Christians that Jews belong to the chosen race of god. The church may have given a quiet burial to the original god of the Israelites.
What Israel does now is akin only to what George Bush and American administration have been doing in the name of democracy all over the world, destroying sovereignties of nations in the name of democracy and peace. Millions of innocent lives, especially of children have been sacrificed at the altar of man’s insatiable desire to accumulate oil wealth in the Gulf and land in India. God and religions have been lending their strong helping hand in this decimation of people and their claim to Mother Land, a nation in which they can be provided security to live as a self-governing people. It is also akin to what Aryans did to Dalits in India in the name of god, caste and religion.
Nationhood and Land
Capturing and plundering land of a people is equivalent to denying them the right to belong to a nation. Though nationhood and nation state are relatively new being the byproducts of the enlightenment era, these are very significant roots for survival of people. Significantly the land of Israel is known in the Bible as the Promised Land, and not promised nation. Nation and Land are interpolated. Around the same time Abraham was promised land and progeny one of those tribes from the region also migrated to India and plundered the land of the native people who are today identified as Dalits and Adivasis. Though non-Hindus generally tend to dismiss the Hindu myths of Ramayan and Mahabharat, the history hidden in these myths are very important to capture. The 14 years of Vanvas of Rama is a history of the deprivation of Dalit land from their ancestral holdings. Valmiki Ramayan clearly states that Rama killed 14,000 kings and queens of the native people. Genocide as we witness in Palestine has been taking place in India without anyone raising his voice against the rape and killing of millions of Dalits.
Today the Palestinians are fighting for their land and nationhood. Agriculture seems to have taken the backseat. Dalits are fighting for their land and not so much for their nationhood. In fact what defines Dalits is not so much nationhood as belonging to the Earth. Palestine’s fight is to regain their national identity. Dalit struggle is to reclaim and recover their lost land. Nationhood is only a speculative concept for Dalits as their ancient myths have clearly indicated. As the myth goes Adi Jambava was holding the earth in his hands three months before the Universe came into being. The point is that in the Dalit worldview entire earth is their nation. They are made strangers, slaves, untouchables in their own land. 90% of Dalit people have been rendered landless laborers as a consequence. The British opened up education to Dalits and distributed land to them. As soon as the British left India Dalits were clandestinely and blatantly deprived of their land through multifarious shenanigans.
For Dalit people, as it is among indigenous communities of people, land is a relationship and not a property. We look upon Earth as mother and worship her. The paradigm behind this relationship is that we come from the earth and we go back to the earth. While we live we keep drawing life-giving energy from this Mother. The Earth has its magnetic energy sharing and we in turn also share our energy waves from our body back to the earth. This energy from the Earth is shared among other human beings whose body cells are disposed to receive them. This is the earth spirituality and mysticism of Dalit culture.
Therefore, when dominant forces, either in Palestine or in Native America, in Africa, in Latin America or in India deprive people of their land they are in fact depriving them of a culture, of a relationship, of a spirituality and mysticism, of a nation in which they are rooted. What we witness in Palestine is bouts of violence and deprivation. What we witness in India is a well spread out slow motion deprivation of ownership of land and nation. Starting from 1906 the Hindutva forces started a vociferous deprivation of nationhood not only for Dalits but also for minorities who are converted to Islam and Christianity. Both these religions have clandestinely joined hands with Hindutva either tacitly or blatantly in the shenanigans of deprivation. Today the Hindutva forces are on rooftops croaking about their victory. Under their feet lay the debris of an earth loving people’s history and culture. The difference between Jews and Aryans is that the latter has achieved its violent objective without making much noise and without resistance because of their technology of co-option.
In Palestine the battle is not so much for agricultural land as it is for nationhood. But then a nation is not a mere idea. It is built on land with its boundaries clearly defined, with its people having their multiple identities and with its language and culture. Dalit people lost such nations of theirs in the mythical period and have never recovered them unlike the people of Palestine. The cycle of losing and recovering does not apply so much to Dalits. For them nation has remained only an idea externally created by people belonging to different other languages, identities and cultures. The struggle for Dalit land is for agriculture, for physical survival. The odds that both have to face are weighed heavily against them. If the US and UN are strongly backing the Israelites in their war against humanity, the Indian governments are strongly backing the Corporate Sector and caste forces in grabbing land from Dalits.
There is a huge difference in the execution of the struggles for nationhood by Palestinians and for land by Dalits. No one ever speaks of the Dalit struggles for land except Dalits themselves. Though we are shocked by the silence of the Muslim world, there are still strong symbols of solidarity with the Palestinians in many parts of the world. In both cases gods seem to be on the side of the oppressors of these two people, as gods have always taken the sides of the oppressors in the rest of the world too.
Freezing down this paper to land struggles it is of paramount importance that there has to be a cultural resurgence among Dalits reposing their faith on Earth as Mother who is called as Booshakthi in India and as Pachamama in different parts of the world. Worshipping Earth as Mother has regenerated an abiding faith among the people on their internal strength. This faith in themselves based on a relationship with Mother Earth has led many indigenous communities to reclaim and recover their land. Religions like Christianity and Islam will do well to strengthen Dalit culture on its own strength instead of creating false hopes in unknown gods and converting them to their religions. I do not see much of a difference between American Presidents who boast of their hegemony, and the Caste/Class combine in India that keep co-opting Dalits in order to enslave them. Conscientious citizens of the world have two paramount responsibilities on their head. One: Fight tooth and nail against Israeli aggression on Palestine. The international efforts should result in formal recognition of the nationhood of Palestine and giving them a land in which they can realize this nationhood. Two: International solidarity with the Dalit people of India for their reclamation of land within the nation called India, however much jinxed and screwed it may be by the Hindutva forces.