Jesus lives in Palestine

banksy palestine

Jesus lived under occupation.

During the life of Jesus, the Roman Empire occupied Jerusalem, extending their imperial authority through the local “chief priests, the elders, and the scribes (Mark 14:53).” This collaborating class served as the eyes and ears of the Empire. They orchestrated the imperial tax, the regulation of society, and were rewarded financially and tangibly via land for upholding imperial rule. Most importantly, the temple of Jerusalem was complicit in this power system of imperial domination.

Chief priest collaboration with the Roman Empire went against the Judaism Jesus adhered to. Jesus expresses his contempt with the elite collaborators at many different times in the first Gospel. He confronts the chief priests and scribes in Mark 11:27-33; 12:1-12, 24, openly defying their authority in front of the public demonstration he was leading. We can understand his defiance to imperial hierarchy by how he associated with the under classes of Greater Jerusalem; the peasants, the tax collectors, the lepers, and how he publicly proclaimed the authority of the “Kingdom of God” while living under the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ heavy citation of Hebrew scripture assures us that his actions were in line with his own interpretation of righteous Judaism. His challenging of the local Jewish-imperial authorities does not amount to a break from Judaism – but a reclaiming of it from a corrupted system reliant upon a foreign empire.

Fast forward to today, and that imperial structure of domination from Jesus’ lifetime in Palestine has been resurrected. Local elites citing religious authority, receiving financial and political support from an imperial power, and displacing the underclasses is a concise summary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Palestinian defiance of Zionist Israel mirrors Jesus’ defiance of the imperialism that occupied Jerusalem during his lifetime. British imperial sponsorship of Zionist settlement in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries ensured an ally in a region that was experiencing a shift in power after the fall of the Ottomans in World War I. The Romans too needed an ally in Jerusalem to help run their administration, and the local elites fit the role perfectly. From both cases emerge a mutually beneficial relationship between a foreign empire and a local elite class, who receive financial, military, and political aid from the imperialists in exchange for a reliable local power source in a geopolitically desired region.

Zionism, the 19th Century founding ideology of modern Israel, had noble original intent: to solve the problem of historic persecution of Jewish people. However, it went awry as soon as it set its sights on Palestine. An ideology that proclaims a Manifest Destiny to the Jewish People became inherently problematic when the land it chose for its “destiny” was home to hundreds of thousands of non-Jews.

Palestine land lost

Zionism never intended to include Christians and Muslims in its project of creating a Jewish state of Israel. In the minds of Zionists: the Palestinians were and still are a problem; an obstacle to be overcome. Under the haze of an ideology that empowers the ethnicity and religion of one group over another, Palestinians were turned into a “Question.”

During Jesus’ lifetime, the collaborating class needed the compliance of the Jewish peasant class; the alternative was rebellion. So, they played a careful balancing act between satisfying the imperial Roman authorities and not pushing the peasant class too far. Their occupation of the temple as a “religious authority” added the necessary layer of legitimacy to their power among the Jewish peasants. This misuse of the temple’s religious authority was the direct target of Jesus’ teaching in synagogues and forgiving of sin that defied the chief priests and scribes (Mark 1:22; 2:5-12).

Israel needs Palestinians too. A population they can occupy, dehumanize, and disenfranchise until the point of resistance so they can claim, “Look! We must defend ourselves from these terrorists!” regardless of whether resistance is violent or non-violent. The mere existence of Palestinians legitimizes the need for financial, military, and political aid to Zionist Israel. The monopolization of the “sole representative of Judaism” that Israel anoints itself with provides the necessary layer of legitimacy to their power among Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists around the world.

Jesus palm sundayOn the day that became Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Roman occupied Jerusalem upon a donkey leading a procession of peasants. On the opposite side of the city, Roman governor Pontius Pilate also rode into Jerusalem in an imperial procession with what we can imagine to be great fanfare and decadence. Pilate’s mission was to observe and control the Jewish celebrations of Passover, a holiday celebrating the liberation of Jews from a previous imperial rule.

Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem directly mocked the Roman Empire. Here is a peasant sentenced to death, riding a donkey while proclaiming the authority of the “Kingdom of God” in direct contrast to an imperial governor’s entrance into the same city. It’s satirical genius. Jesus’ intent was to symbolize the return of the authority of God to Jerusalem, a city he believed had been corrupted and ruled by an illegitimate authority (Mark 11: 15-17).

Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel number in the millions today. They live in refugee camps in neighboring countries and within Occupied Palestine. Those that live under direct Israeli military occupation are confronted every day by a state whose founding ideology saw them and their ancestors as a problem, a “Question” – a demographic threat. Many have begun new lives in other countries, but their right to return to their homes in Palestine remain.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem in defiance of religious collaboration with empire. That seemingly powerless Jewish peasant has become the Palestinian people; disenfranchised, denied their human rights, opposing a state claiming religious Manifest Destiny in collaboration with empires. In Jesus’ example, Palestinians now march on Jerusalem, defying empire.

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Works Cited:

Borg, Marcus J.; John Dominic Crossan. “The Last Week: What The Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem.” Harper One. New York, NY. 2006

The Gideons International Bible. “New Testament: Psalms & Proverbs.”

Images from:
“An Introduction to: The Practicalities of Return”, Badil, October 2013