Fortress Press

The Wrath of Jonah: Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Wrath of Jonah

Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Herman J. Ruether (Author), Rosemary Radford Ruether (Author)


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The wrenching situation in the Middle East, recent events have shown, is as complex as it is volatile. In this immensely learned and clarifying volume—here updated and issued in paper for the first time—the Ruethers trace the tortured and contested history of Israel/Palestine from biblical times through the Diaspora, the development of Zionism, the creation of the modern state of Israel, and the subsequent conflict with Arab and Palestinian nationalism.

Magisterial in its grasp of the historical, political, economic, and religious roots of the conflict, The Wrath of Jonah also offers convincing analysis of the moral and political dilemmas facing Israelis and Palestinians today. Though they see possibilities for peace, the Ruethers are forthright about what they and others see as Israel's betrayal of its own original mandate. Their purpose, state the Ruethers, "continues to be to make a modest contribution to truthful historical accountability that must underlie the quest for justice, without which there can be no 'peace.'"
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800634797
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 320
  • Publication Date March 4, 2002


"A valuable contribution. ... The Ruethers address this emotionally charged issue with deep concern for human rights and the effects of the rising spiral of violence. ... The overarching concern ... in this well-balanced book is to bring to the foreground ethical norms that Christians, Jews and Muslims can recognize and subscribe to."
— New York Times Book Review

"Should be read by every United States policymaker and citizen interested in avoiding World War III. ... A powerful case for the only fair and just way to peace in the Middle East."
— "Pete" McCloskey Jr., former U.S. Congressman


The first edition of The Wrath of Jonah was completed in mid-1988, in the midst of the first intifada. At that time the toll of the dead and wounded Palestinians, confiscated land, and bulldozed houses and olive trees mounted daily. We were associated with the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and kept abreast of daily events on the ground through the DataBase Project on Palestine Human Rights. At that time there was an energy and spirit among Palestinians. There was a sense that injustice was finally being confronted and that eventually the world would hear the Palestinian cry and respond. Nongovernmental organizations, boycott committees, and self-help projects abounded in the Occupied Territories, reflecting a new spirit of creativity. As we write thirteen years later, much has changed on the surface, but the deep structures of Israeli oppression of Palestinians remain the same, although in worsened form. The Oslo "peace process," initiated in 1993, made possible Israel's recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and seven years of negotiations for the terms of Palestinian self-government. Initially this created euphoria among many Palestinians and around the world that a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians was at hand.

Unfortunately, Israel seized this opportunity, not to make real peace, but to try to negotiate the terms of the surrender of the Palestinians to an Israeli scheme of colonial apartheid. The Palestinians would be locked into separate "cantons," without real sovereignty, means of travel, communication, or development, without resources of land, water, or adequate employment, economically in abject subjugation to Israel, while being charged to collect their own garbage and maintain the submission of their own people to Israel's overlordship. Real dignity, self-government, and economic conditions for a livable daily life without constant harassment were denied.

The results were predictable. Without some modicum of real justice, there could be no peace. Palestinians realized that the whole "peace process" has been a process of continual betrayal by Israel, and also by the United States, Israel's supporter in this process, and by much of the world, which looked on and refused to comprehend what has been happening. In the fall of 2000 new resistance flared in the Occupied Territories, which today approximates open warfare, although pitifully one-sided in terms of the means of force available on the two sides. Once again, the toll of the dead, the wounded, the confiscation of land, the destruction of fruit trees and houses mounts, although this destruction had never really stopped in the intervening years.

Israel, in its official policy, remains as convinced as ever that if it simply batters the Palestinians long enough, and raises the costs higher and higher, it can either drive them off the land altogether or get those remaining to submit. In this policy Israelis deeply miscalculate both Palestinian humanity and their capacity to remember their own history. The legacy of this treatment of the Palestinians is an endless buildup in hatred, not a hatred based on cosmic abstractions of "anti-Semitism" but on a concrete history of injustice that is not forgotten. This in turn generates heightened fear and hatred of Palestinians by Israelis, making them less disposed to make "concessions" for peace.

In February 2001 Israelis responded to new Palestinian resistance by electing Ariel Sharon as prime minister. A former general with an extreme record of violence to Palestinians, Sharon had sparked the resistance six months earlier with a provocative armed incursion into the area of the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Underlying the dominant Israeli assumption that more and more "punishment" will finally win Palestinian submission is an inability or unwillingness to consider Palestinians as fellow human beings. That they themselves would never submit to such treatment is obvious to Israelis. That they cannot force Palestinians to submit to it seems to escape their imagination.

Some of this failure of imagination lies in a refusal on the part of Israelis and the world to know and be truthful about the actual history of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The myth of Israel's "right to the land," based on a combination of divine donation and compensation for the Holocaust, continues to rule official rhetoric, as well as Western Christian ideology. Much of the world does not know the actual history. Even Israelis and the world Jewish community are ignorant of its full scope, despite the work of critical revisionist historians among Israelis over the last two decades. As one Israeli friend of ours, who has "crossed over" and lives on the Palestinian side, has said, "The Israelis simply have no idea of what they have done in this country."

The purpose of this book continues to be to make a modest contribution to truthful historical accountability that must underlie the quest for justice, without which there can be no "peace." In this new edition we have added a record of events of the last thirteen years, which represent the "failed" Oslo process and the new intifada. We have also added some new concluding reflections on the difficulties of securing such a just solution, given the worsened situation of these years. We have updated the bibliography and added new maps of expanded Jerusalem and cantonized West Bank and Gaza.

But the real quest for peace that goes beyond truthful knowing to genuine caring, to real commitment to a solution that gives some modicum of a just and tolerable life for Palestinians with Israelis, still remains. It lies finally, we believe, in the hands of Israeli Jews themselves, who have to decide that Palestinians cannot be "removed." They are their neighbors, and they have to live, not just alongside them but with them as fellow humans, neighbors, and finally extended family. We put the onus on the Israelis side because they have overwhelmingly been the aggressors. Palestinians have offered their concessions (the two-state solution within the 1967 borders). A genuine response by Israel must be based on a recognition of just coexistence as the minimal condition for "peace" and "security" for both peoples in relation to each other.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition

Part 1
Classical Foundations: The Three Monotheistic Faiths

1. Peoplehood, Covenant, and Land in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
The Land of Canaan: Crossroads of Empires
Covenant People and Promised Land in Hebrew Scripture
Peoplehood, Covenant, and Land in Rabbinic Judaism
The Two Covenants, the Heavenly Land, and the Exile of the Jews in Early Christianity
The Community of Islam and the Peoples of the Book

Part 2
Historical Development of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

2. Religious and Secular Roots of Zionism
Kabbalistic Messianism and the Return to the Holy Land
European Nationalism and the Rise of Zionism
Varieties of Zionism

3. Christianity and Zionism: The Making of an Alliance
The Reformation Era and the Restoration of the Jews
Christian Zionism and European Empire
American Christian Zionism and the Foundation of Israel

4. The Emergence and Survival of Palestinian Nationalism
The Beginnings of Arab Nationalism and Its Betrayal by Western Imperialism
Palestinian Nationalism during the Mandatory Period
The Suppression and Resurrection of the Palestinian National Movement
From the Lebanese Civil War to the 1987–88 Uprising
From Oslo to the Second Intifada, 1991–2001
Palestinian Nationalism and Zionism

5. Contradictions of the Jewish State
Building a Jewish Majority: Immigration and Settlement
Making Palestinians Invisible in Israel
Making Palestinians Invisible in the 1967 Occupied Territories

Part 3
Christian Relations to Judaism and to Zionism

6. Contemporary Christian Responses to Judaism and to Zionism
The Vatican: Relations to Judaism and to the State of Israel
The World Council of Churches: Relations to Judaism and to the State of Israel
American Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Israel
Arab Christians, Judaism, and Zionism

7. Jewish and Christian Responses to the Holocaust: The Link to Zionism
Jewish Holocaust Theology
Christian Holocaust Theology

8. Zionism and International Justice: A Theological and Ethical Evaluation
The Jews: Religious Community or Nation?
Jewish Election and the Promised Land
The State of Israel and the Beginning of Redemption

Postscript, 2002