Alain Epp Weaver
The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish captures well the ambiguities of exile: travel without end; the pain of disconnection and the nostalgia of memory; the realization, encoded in the closing demand to “Speak speak,” that, for a people who have “a country of words,” return from exile, the end of travel, will more likely than not be textual rather than physical. Darwish thus shows the reality of millions of Palestinians exiled from their land, living without fixed destination and sustained by the tenuous hope of return.
How should Palestinian exile, and exile more generally, be understood theologically? How should Christians understand the dreams of many exiles, dreams which often appear hopeless, of return to their homes? The late John Howard Yoder would probably have objected to starting with such general questions; they might have struck him as too “methodologistic,” beginning theological reflection with abstract questions rather than with God’s story in Scripture and the church.2 Nevertheless, the drama of exile, especially as displayed in Jeremiah’s call to the exiles to seek the peace of the city in which they find themselves (Jer. 29:7), played a key role in shaping Yoder’s reading of Scripture, his ecclesiology and his missiology. As early as 1973 Yoder was probing the fruitfulness of the theme of exile for theology, writing in CrossCurrents of exile and exodus as two faces of liberation.3 Exile, while painful, opens up a new chapter in the history of the people of God’s radical reliance on God alone; God’s people, for Yoder, are called to a nonviolent dependence on God which eschews the sovereignty of the sword in favor of embodying an alternative politics amidst the Babylons of the world.
Yoder tentatively wondered about the relevance of this exilic, Jeremian vision for other exiled peoples. Was there “something about this Jewish vision of the dignity and ministry of the scattered people of God which might be echoed or replicated by other migrant peoples,” Yoder asked. “Might there even be,” he continued, “something helpful in this memory which would speak by a more distant analogy to the condition of peoples overwhelmed by imperial immigration, like the original Americans or Australians, or the Ainu or the Maori?”4 Yoder recognized the potential affront of his question, I believe, and thus phrased it carefully. The provocation remains, however: can those who have been violently uprooted from their lands embrace as good news the prophetic admonition to build houses and plant gardens in exile? What does Jeremiah’s call mean for a return to one’s land, for justice for the exiled refugee? Are justice and return endlessly deferred, postponed until the eschaton?
In this paper I seek to answer Yoder’s question through an examination of the way in which the motif of exile functions in the thought and politics of the Palestinian-American critic Edward Said. After a summary of the role of exile in Yoder’s reading of Scripture and his understanding of the church’s mission, I turn to an examination of Edward Said’s multifaceted appraisal of exile: while insisting on the harrowing character of exile, Said also expounds at length on the critical epistemological and moral possibilities opened up by exile. Finally, I sketch how an exilic consciousness of not being fully at home in one’s home so long as injustice endures can contribute to a theology of living rightly and justly in the land, taking the particular case of justice in the land of Palestine/Israel as a springboard for my reflections; the view from exile, I suggest, poses a challenge to exclusionary politics which would deny a just place in the land for both Palestinian and Israeli.
John Howard Yoder on the Theological Politics of Exile
Just as “Constantinianism” named for Yoder the perennial threat and temptation for the people of God, so did the Jeremian vision of the people of God living faithfully in exile form Yoder’s positive vision for the church.5 Grasping the importance of Jeremiah’s call to the exiles for Yoder sheds light on his reading of Scripture, his understanding of church history, and his theology of Judaism.6
Let us begin with Scripture. Any Christian reading of the Old Testament must inevitably grapple with the plurality of voices and genres presented therein, interpreting its multiple strands and perspectives from God’s definitive revelation in Jesus Christ.7 The pacifist Christian, in particular, must struggle to understand the continuity of the two Testaments without resorting to a Marcionite dismissal of the God of the Old Testament and its wars of conquest as different from the God of love incarnated in Jesus Christ; rather, we must insist that the Triune God who reveals the nonviolent “grain of the universe” in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is the God of Israel.8
The theological vision from exile, Yoder argued, is one of “not being in charge.” The exiles in Babylon do not rule the empire, or even a little corner of it, but instead live without sovereignty in the midst of empire. Because “God is sovereign over history, there is no need. . .to seize (or subvert) sovereignty in order for God’s will to be done.” Living outside of the land, the community in Babylon relies solely on God for the sustaining of its life and becomes nonvio- lent in style and substance.9 The continuity of this exilic vision with Yoder’s ecclesiology should be clear: the church is the community called to go out into the world, into diaspora (Matt. 25), a community which refuses to wield violent force, pointing instead to God’s sovereignty and the conviction that Jesus has already triumphed over the powers of death, a triumph which will ultimately be revealed to all.10
If the continuity between Jeremiah’s vision for the exiles and New Testament ecclesiology (as interpreted by Yoder) should be clear, the relationship between the call to exile and other parts of the Old Testament, such as the embrace of sovereign kingship in the land or the violent conquest of the land, might well appear to be one of tension, even conflict.11 Yoder resolved this tension by focusing his attention on one thematic strand in the Old Testament, namely, Israel’s radical dependence on God alone. Yoder did not deny and need not have denied that Scripture contains multiple stands, some of them in tension with one another; he did believe, however, that by identifying a strand within Scripture which repeatedly insists on God’s absolute sovereignty and the people’s concomitant dependence on God alone, one could highlight the continuity between YHWH the God of Israel and the Triune God incarnate in the non- violent Messiah.12
Exile, Yoder suggested, did not simply equal punishment in Israel’s history, but represented a new opportunity for mission in the world and stood in continuity with God’s previous gracious acts of dispersal, dispersal which highlighted the people of God’s absolute dependence on God. Interpreting the Babel story in Genesis 11, Yoder wrote that “Diversity was the original divine intent; if God is good and diversity is good, then each of the many diverse identities which resulted from the multiplying of languages and the resultant scattering is also good.”13 The exile to Babylon then becomes on this reading another act of gracious dispersal: while the false prophets preach a premature return to the land, Jeremiah calls on the exiles to “seek the peace/salvation (shalom) of the city” (29:7).
Just as the exiles in Babylon live dependent on God and without reliance on their own sovereignty, so do the narratives of Exodus and the conquest of the land in the wars of YHWH exhibit a radical, completely dependent trust in God. “‘Trust in JHWH[sic]/Adonai’ is what opens the door to His saving intervention,” claimed Yoder. “It is the opposite of making one’s own political/military arrangements.”14 When addressing the question of Israelite monarchy with its violent exercise of sovereignty, Yoder turned to such texts as Judges 9, I Samuel 8 and Deuteronomy 17:14ff, texts which exhibit “the antiroyal strand of the earlier history” of Israel which rejected any sovereign other than God. Exile, for Yoder, was not a brief hiatus between monarchy and the return to the land; rather, monarchy formed a problematic interruption in a history of dispersal as mission. “The move to Babylon,” Yoder argued, “was not a two-generation parenthesis after which the Davidic or Solomonic project was supposed to take up again where it had left off. It was rather the beginning, under a firm, fresh prophetic mandate, of a new phase of the Mosaic project.”15 “Jeremiah’s abandoning statehood for the future,” Yoder continued, “is thus not so much forsaking an earlier hope as it is returning to the original trust in JHWH [sic].”16
Yoder thus identified a strand within the multiplicity of texts in the Old Testament which insists on complete dependence on God alone. Reading back from the Resurrection, we can not only observe that this strand stands in continuity with Jesus’ nonviolent trust in God unto death, but can identify certain aspects of that strand, such as Jeremiah’s counsel to the exiles, as very close to the nonviolent coming of God in Jesus.17 Jesus “rounds out” the mitigation of violence within the prophetic portions of the Old Testament, “and says that what it meant for Abraham to let God’s future be in God’s hands, and what it meant for Moses and Joshua to let the survival of the people be a miracle, means that now we don’t have to kill anybody.” This view is not “evolutionary” in that it does not assume some “survival of the fittest” in a contest of ideas, but Yoder concedes that its assumption of “organic growth under guidance” is in some ways similar to models which see evolutionary development within Scripture.18
“How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land?” the Psalmist asks. “Painful as the question is,” Yoder responded, “that is what the Jews learned to do, and do well.”19 Exile marked a new beginning in the history of God’s people, one which would continue in the history of the early church and in the life of the Jewish people in diaspora. While the church would lose sight of its calling to live as an embodied alternative to the violent politics of empire, becoming entangled in various forms of Constantinian compromise, Jewish communities in exile more successfully stayed true to the Jeremian call. “Occasionally privileged after the model of Joseph,” Yoder noted, “more often emigrating, frequently suffering martyrdom nonviolently, [Jews] were able to maintain identity without turf or sword, community without sovereignty. They thereby demonstrated pragmatically the viability of the ethic of Jeremiah and Jesus. In sum: the Jews of the Diaspora were for over a millennium the closest thing to the ethic of Jesus existing on any significant scale anywhere in Christendom.”20 Jewish communities in Diaspora thus lived as embodied critiques of Constantinian Christendom. Zionism, in contrast, as a late nineteenth-century form of European nationalism, represents a sharp departure from Jeremiah’s exilic vision.21 An analysis of the ways in which Zionist discourse negates the diaspora and an assessment of the possibilities of retrieving an exilic politics after Zionism will be my concern in the final part of this paper.
Edward Said: The Moral Task of the Exilic Intellectual
Yoder’s appropriation of Jeremiah’s call to the exiles has, I believe, undeniable power for a hermeneutics of Scripture, for an interpretation of church history, and for the articulation of a nonviolent ecclesiological politics. Can the call to seek the peace of the city of one’s exile, however, also be heard as good news, even if only by “distant analogy,” for the millions upon millions of people in the modern period violently uprooted by imperial and colonial practice? Is Jeremiah’s call compatible with a struggle to return to one’s land, with a struggle for justice? To answer these questions, I turn to a consideration of Palestinian dispossession and the writings of the most prolific, provocative, and insightful Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said, whose writings display the agonies and the promise of exile.
An initial caveat: Said, given his relentless critique of “religion,” his stark opposition between “religious” (bad) and “secular” (good) criticism, and his desire to keep religion in proper bounds, might appear an odd thinker to bring into conversation with Yoder, someone who operated within an explicit theological horizon, who lived under the authority of God’s Word and the church, and who resisted liberalism’s attempts to confine the church’s witness.22 Apart from noting the similarities in the wide-ranging, “amateur” character of their intellects, what theologically useful observations can possibly come of bringing Yoder into conversation with such an aggressive, even dogmatic, secularist?23 Clearly, Said’s treatment of religion is problematic at many levels. Nevertheless, I maintain that in Said’s appropriation of exile we find a “distant analogy” (Yoder) to Jeremiah’s vision for the people of God in exile; exploring these “distant analogies,” what Karl Barth called “secular parables of the kingdom,” provides provocative material for reflection as Christians seek to articulate theologies of exile, land, and return.24
Palestinian existence is at root one of exile. Said observes that Palestinians form “a community, if at heart a community built on suffering and exile.”25 Palestinians are dispersed geographically, separated by borders, exiled from one another. In the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, in what Palestinians call al-Nakba (“the Catastrophe”), well over 700,000 Palestinians fled in fear from the fighting or were driven from their homes by Israeli military forces who destroyed over 400 villages: many of these refugees and their descendants now live in UN administered camps throughout the Middle East, denied the possibility of returning to their homes and properties. For the Palestinians left behind in what became the State of Israel, many were classified as “present absentees” under the Absentee Property Law of 1951 and denied return to their land. Tens of thousands more Palestinians, many of them already refugees, became refugees once more in 1967, driven out of Mandate Palestine across the Jordan River by Israeli forces. Since 1967, for Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, dispossession has taken on a variety of forms: the Israeli civil administration confiscates land from Palestinians for the construction of colonies illegal under international law; Israeli bulldozers destroy Palestinian homes and rip up Palestinian orchards and vineyards; checkpoints and roadblocks separate Palestinian from Palestinian, making travel between, say, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip nearly impossible, while travel within the north and south of the West Bank becomes excruciatingly long, humiliating, and, at times, dangerous.26
Palestinians are thus continually ripped out of their contexts and find themselves travelers in a strange world. “The Palestinian is very much a person in transit,” Said notes. “Suitcase or bundle of possessions in hand, each family vacates territory left behind for others, even as new boundaries are traversed, new opportunities created, new realities set up.”27 If, as Said indicates, exile creates “new opportunities,” exile also is profoundly alienating. “Exile is a series of portraits without names, without contexts,” Said observes. “Images that are largely unexplained, nameless, mute.”28 Without continuity of place, Palestinians experience no continuity of identity. “Palestinian life is scattered, discontinuous, marked by the artificial and imposed arrangements of interrupted or confined space, by the dislocations and unsynchronized rhythms of disturbed time,” Said explains: “where no straight line leads from home to birthplace to school to maturity, all events are accidents, all progress is a digression, all residence is exile.”29 De-centered, out of place, Palestinian life becomes one of travel without fixed destination: “our truest reality is expressed in the way we cross over from one place to another,” Said insists. “We are migrants and perhaps hybrids in, but not of, any situation in which we find ourselves. This is the deepest continuity of our lives as a nation in exile and constantly on the move.”30 Rupture of continuity is the fate of the defeated, while the victors, the powerful, remain in place. “Continuity for them, the dominant population,” Said notes, as opposed to “discontinuity for us, the dispossessed and dispersed.”31 Said’s emphasis on the Palestinians’ “privilege of obduracy,” their steadfastness (sumud), the declaration that “Here we are, unmoved by your power, proceeding with our lives and with future generations,” is a way of desperately trying to hold on amidst the transit of exile, so that the de-centeredness of exile does not become dissolution.32
Said strenuously objects to any attempt to romanticize exile. “Exile is one of the saddest fates,” he claims. “There has always been an association between the idea of exile and the terrors of being a leper, a social and moral untouchable.”33 For Palestinians, the experience of exile has not only been physically and emotionally painful, but has had negative effects on individual exiles and the exiled community as a whole. “Our collective history fil-kharij (‘in the exterior’) or in the manfa and ghurba (‘exile’ and ‘estrangement’) has been singularly unsuccessful,” Said judges, “progressively graceless, unblessed, more and more eccentric, de-centered, and alienated.”34 Exile can turn people inwards, generating a form of sectarian withdrawal which shuns those outside the community.35 Exile is a “jealous state,” Said observes, which can create “an exaggerated sense of group solidarity, and a passionate hostility to outsiders, even those who may in fact be in the same predicament as you.”36 Ripped out of place, the exile often seeks solace in uncritical commitment to political parties and institutions, a tendency which Said, as a perpetual critic of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has carefully resisted. Those, meanwhile, who resist the temptation to subscribe blindly to political programs face the temptation of individualistic withdrawal away from all communities. Exile is marked, Said suggests, by “the sheer fact of isolation and displacement, which produces the kind of narcissistic masochism that resists all efforts at amelioration, acculturation, and community. At this extreme,” Said warns, “the exile can make a fetish of exile, a practice that distances him or her from all connections and commitments.”37
Warning against finding a moral within exile, Said demands that the reality of life in the refugee camp be given priority over the literature produced by such exiles as James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov in any evaluation of exile. “Exiled poets and writers lend dignity to a condition legislated to deny dignity— to deny an identity to people,” Said maintains. “To concentrate on exile as a contemporary political punishment,” he counsels, “you must therefore map territories of experience beyond those mapped by the literature of exile itself. You must first set aside Joyce and Nabokov and think instead of the uncountable masses for whom UN agencies have been created.”38 Literature and religion, Said believes, run the risk of downplaying the horrors of exile in the interests of extracting new insights from exile itself. In contrast, Said insists that
Here Said would appear to be challenging Yoder’s theological appropriation of exile directly, accusing this religious view which uncovers a dignity of the vocation of the exilic community of banalizing the losses exile inflicts on those who undergo it.
Said’s caution about an aesthetic or religious amelioration of exile’s pains serves as a needed reminder not to lose sight of the fact that exile does not simply name a concept but names a condition in which millions of people live. That said, however, it is equally important to recognize that, just as Yoder articulates a missiological vocation for the people of God in exile, so Said argues that exile opens up an intellectual and moral space which provides a place for the intellectual from which to resist attempts to co-opt him or her into becoming an apologist for power and which creates a discomfort with being settled in one’s home so long as injustice forces homelessness on others.
Exile, Said believes, is the proper place for the critic, the intellectual. “If you think about exile as a permanent state,” Said suggests, “both in the literal and in the intellectual sense, then it’s a much more promising, if difficult, thing. Then you’re really talking about movement, about homelessness in the sense in which [Georg] Lukàcs talks about it in The Theory of the Novel—‘transcendental homelessness’—which can acquire a particular intellectual mission that I associate with criticism.”40 While exile, Said recognizes, “is an actual condition,” it also functions in Said’s thought as “a metaphorical condition.” Developing a distinction between insider and outsider intellectuals reminiscent of Yoder’s contrast between the Constantinian and free churches, Said differentiates between
The responsibility of the intellectual, as articulated by Said in his 1993 Reith lectures, is to offer a critique from exile. “Exile for the intellectual in this meta-physical sense,” Said explains, “is restlessness, movement, constantly being unsettled, and unsettling others. You cannot go back to some earlier and perhaps more stable condition of being at home; and, alas, you can never fully arrive, be at one with your new home or situation.”42 Even those who have not experienced the pain of being physically uprooted from their homes can be marginal to the powers (of the academy, government, the news media, etc.) which reward uncritical support for policies which oppress, exclude and dispossess. “Exile means that you are always going to be marginal,” Said claims. “Exile is a model for the intellectual who is tempted, and even beset and overwhelmed, by the rewards of accommodation, yea-saying, settling in.”43 Furthermore, the exilic intellectual should not succumb to a morose despair. “The intellectual in exile is,” according to Said, “necessarily ironic, skeptical, even playful—but not cynical.”44
Even more than to Georg Lukàcs’s notion of “transcendental homelessness,” Said’s positive appropriation of exile for his construal of the intellectual vocation owes a debt to the reflections of the German Jewish theorist Theodor Adorno on dwelling. In his biographical reflections, Minima Moralia, Adorno asserted that:
Adorno’s insight, amplified by Said, is that particular economic and political configurations make the condition of having a home, of landedness one could also say, possible; it is “part of morality,” then, to recognize how these economic and political systems also exclude others from the condition of landedness. In the case of Palestine/Israel, we will see, this insight can be deployed to suggest that no one, neither Palestinian nor Israeli, can truly be “at home” in the land so long as the structures which generate homelessness are perpetuated.
Adorno, having grasped the impossibility of dwelling securely given the knowledge of the conditions which make such dwelling possible, looked to the text, to literary production, for new dwelling. “In his text, the writer sets up house,” Adorno suggested. “For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.” Text provides only elusive comfornoted that “In the end, the writer is not even allowed to live in his writing.”46 Said develops Adorno’s point, noting that the intellectual in his or her writing “achieves at most a provisional satisfaction, which is quickly ambushed by doubt, and a need to rewrite and redo that renders the text uninhabitable.”47 A comparison to Yoder proves useful at this point: while doubt and existential agony drive Said’s exilic intellectual to rewrite her text again and again, the exilic community—the church—for Yoder is driven not by doubt but by the workings of the Holy Spirit to engage continually in the theological, missionary task of bringing the Gospel into new thought worlds. Lacking any theological horizon, Said can only view the poeisis of the text as production and construction, whereas for the church the textual task of revising and renewing its proclamation of the Gospel occurs within the framework of pathos, of a suffering receptivity to the Word of the Triune God.48
Said does, it turns out, “redeem” exile by stressing its moral possibilities; in particular, the exile, because she is not at home in her home, can resist accommodation to the powers, intellectual and political, which exclude and dispossess. Is this critically beneficial aspect of exile, however, compatible with a struggle to end the physical condition of exile? Specifically, in the case of Palestinian refugees and other Palestinians who have lost their lands, can one work for al- Awdah (return) and not lose the moral perspective granted by exile? This question relates to our earlier question of whether or not Yoder’s exilic politics could speak to a theology of landedness, of justice in the land. To begin to tackle this question, let us examine how Said discusses the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
On the one hand, return is clearly not only a metaphorical concept for Said. In a volume of essays examining Palestinian refugee rights and ways to press for return and compensation, Said expresses dismay with what he views as the current Palestinian leadership’s historical amnesia and willingness to forgo the demand for return; what Palestinians must do, Said urges, is to “press the claims for return and compensation in earnest with new leaders.” Said cites as exemplary the work of the Badil Refugee Resource Center and the Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta for their work on developing concrete plans and campaigns for the actual return of refugees.49
On the other hand, Said also writes about return in a more metaphorical fashion and warns against an easy symmetry between exile and return which threatens to undermine the moral insights exile provides. “All of us speak of awdah, ‘return,’” Said notes, “but do we mean that literally, or do we mean ‘we must restore ourselves to ourselves’? The latter is the real point, I think, although I know of many Palestinians who want their houses and their way of life back, exactly. But is there any place that fits us, together with our accumulated memories and experiences?”50 Exile, by separating people from place, threatens to separate people from their history, de-centering and disorienting them to the point of threatening their identity. What return would then mean is a “return to oneself, that is to say, a return to history, so that we understand what exactly happened, why it happened, and who we are. That we are a people from that land, maybe not living there, but with important historical claims and roots.”51 The greatness of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Said explains, consists in his refusal in his poems to provide the reader with an easy return, with simple closure: Darwish’s work, Said contends, “amounts to an epic effort to transform the lyrics of loss into the indefinitely postponed drama of return. . . .The pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of the question.”52 A return which forsakes the moral insights of exile, a return which reaches back to retrieve a pristine past without concern for the human cost, must be avoided. The Zionist project of a return to bring closure to Jewish exile stands for Said in marked contrast to the positive dimensions of Palestinian exile. Darwish, he believes, captures the key dimensions of the exilic experience, dimensions vital to the critical intellectual’s task: “Fragments over wholes. Restless nomadic activity over the settlements of held territory. Criticism over resignation. . . .Attention, alertness, focus. To do as others do, but somehow to stand apart. To tell your story in pieces, as it is.”53 The openness of exile presents more powerful political and moral possibilities for the intellectual, Said emphasizes, than the closed symmetry of Zionist return. The broken story of Palestinian exile, Said observes, occurs “alongside and intervening in a closed orbit of Jewish exile and a recuperated, much-celebrated patriotism of which Israel is the emblem. Better our wanderings,” Said goes on to suggest, “than the horrid, clanging shutters of their return. The open secular element, and not the symmetry of redemption.”54
An Exilic Politics of Land and Return?
Said’s positive appropriation of exile as a critical posture provides, I believe, a positive answer to Yoder’s question about whether or not Jeremiah’s vision for the exilic community might speak by “distant analogy” to other dispossessed peoples. Pressing questions remain, however. Can Yoder’s exilic politics of the church as the nonviolent body of Christ in diaspora speak to the call for justice and right living in the land, to the desire, the justice, of people returning to their homes? Gerald Schlabach, in a friendly challenge to Yoder’s “Jeremian” reading of Scripture and church history, provides a helpful reminder of the “Deuternomic” admonition to live rightly in the land (cf. Deut. 6–9). European- American Christians, particularly those in urban and suburban settings whose livelihoods are not dependent on the cultivation of the land, could be tempted to confuse Jeremiah’s vision for life in exile with the rootless, virtual reality of much postmodernist thought; such confusion would be self-deceptive, in that it would obscure the ways in which general North American prosperity has been built at the expense and on the land of its original inhabitants, and would further avoid the desire of many exiled peoples to return to live justly in the land. Schlabach sharply observes that “we do no favor to any dispossessed people if we think of land only in a figurative rather than an earthy sense.”55
If, however, we do not avoid the challenges of return and justice, can we envision a politics of return, a politics of living rightly in the land, which does not simply replicate injustice and create new exiles in the wake of return? To answer these questions, I will first examine how traditional Zionist discourse about a Jewish "return" from exile was not only dependent on a binary opposition between exile and return but that such discourse depended on the erasure of the indigenous Arab Palestinian presence and the positing of an “empty land” in which the drama of the return from exile might unfold.56 In practice this discourse translated into the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and continues to underwrite Palestinian dispossession today. For a future in Palestine/Israel which does not depend on the violent uprooting of others, we must paradoxically articulate an exilic politics of land and return. “Christians can live rightly in the ‘land’ that God gives,” Schlabach suggests, “only if they sustain a tension with landedness itself.”57 Part of this tension, I suggest, is not being fully “at home” in the land so long as others are excluded from the benefits of landedness.
“The binarism of homeland/exile is central to Zionism,” writes Laurence Silberstein in his perceptive study of “postzionist” debates within Israel.58 The homeland of Eretz Yisrael and the exile of Jewish life elsewhere are not complementary in traditional Zionist discourse but stand, rather, in tension, even contradiction. Sander Gilman observes that Zionist discourse places the land at the center and diasporic communities on the periphery. This model, however, is not innocent of ideological baggage, however, but “is in truth a symbolic structure of the understanding of the impossibility of a Diasporic life within this mod of center and periphery. Such a definition,” Gilman continues, “demands the existence of a ‘real’ center and thus defines the Jews in terms of their relationships to that center.”59
Silberstein delineates a series of binary oppositions issuing from the initial opposition of exile and homeland:
These oppositions present life in exile as an intolerable condition whose only cure can be found in immigration to the “homeland.” The Hebrew word for immigration to Israel, aliyah, or ascent, encodes the negative valuation which Zionism accords life in diaspora; those who grow disenchanted with life in Israel, meanwhile, are classified as yoridim, or “those who descend.”
Zionism, in most of its traditional forms, thus meant the “negation of the diaspora” (shelilat ha-galuth). “The fulfillment of the Zionist dream,” Silberstein explains, “depends upon acts of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. . . Jews and Jewish culture must be deterritorialized from diaspora spaces and reterritorialized in the spaces of the homeland.” Silberstein also perceptively notes that the “reterritorialization” of Jewish immigrants into Mandate Palestine eventually involved the “deterritorializing and reterritorializing of large numbers of Palestinian Arabs, particularly during the 1948 War.”61 Israeli political theorist Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin argues persuasively that the traditional Zionist negation of the diaspora went hand-in-hand with a negation of a prior Palestinian presence in the land. “The definition of zionist settlement as an expression of ‘shelilat hagalut’ [negation of diaspora] and ‘shivat haam’ [the return of the nation] to its homeland,” Raz-Krakotzkin contends, “prevented relating to the collective yearnings of the local Arab population and its perspective. It [also] undoubtedly made it impossible to turn the fact of this collective’s existence into an essential foundation for establishing a new Jewish identity.”62 Raz-Krakotzkin argues that the Zionist valorization of a “return to history” accepted the Christian and Enlightenment perception that exilic existence had been an exclusion from history, an exclusion from grace.63 The Zionist “return to history,” sadly, has mirrored much of the Christian West’s violent and exclusivist practice. “The historical conception of shelilat hagalut, the emptiness of Jewish time that separates the loss of sovereignty over the land and its renewed settlement,” Raz-Krakotzkin suggests, “is completed in a direct way through the image of the land—the place for the realization and resolution of history—as an ‘empty land.’”64 The distance between conceiving of the land as empty and actually emptying the land of its indigenous inhabitants proved unfortunately short.
To counter Zionist discourse and practice of dispossession, Raz-Krakotzkin proposes to recover exile, or galut, as a critical concept. Exile as a concept, for Raz-Krakotzkin, represents an “absence, the consciousness of being in an incomplete present, the consciousness of a blemished world.” The absence, moreover, involves a lack of justice for Palestinians. To “return” from exile, then, must mean justice for the dispossessed. To yearn for redemption, Raz-Krakotzkin maintains, is to engage in political activity “that values the perspective of the oppressed, the only perspective from which a moral stance can develop.”65 A recovery of exile as a critical concept demands that Israeli Jews incorporate the consciousness of exiled Palestinians into their own longing for return. As Silberstein explicates Raz-Krakotzkin’s position, “By identifying with and assuming responsibility for, attending to, and responding to ‘the consciousness of the conquered Palestinian,’ the Jew recovers the ‘principles embodied in the theological concept of galut.’”66
The critical use to which a secular political theorist like Raz-Krakotzkin puts exile finds a theological counterpart in the Jewish theologian Marc Ellis’s recent insistence on exile as the proper place for prophetic Jewish communities. For Ellis, “the reality of exile is less the return to geography or tradition than it is a journey without return.”67 While certainly not downplaying the painful history of many Jewish communities in the diaspora, Ellis also views as a threat to Jewish self-understanding the assimilation of Judaism in the United States and in Israel to the state and to power, a “Constantinian Judaism” which threatens to undermine the Jewish prophetic voice from exile. Noting that “the assimilation to the state and power itself creates a wave of dissent,” and that “there are Jews in Israel and the United States who oppose injustice and therefore refuse this assimilation,” Ellis envisions a community choosing exile from structures of power in order to stand in solidarity with those marginalized and excluded by power. Those in the exilic community then work together for a “return” which means justice for all, not simply landedness for some at the expense of others.68
A recovery of exile as a critical concept for political theory or for a theology of the people of God seeking shalom for all will be critical not only of exclusivist Zionist practice but also of any narrow nationalism, including Palestinian nationalism, which would threaten to exclude others from sharing in God’s gift of landed security. In this critique Edward Said would again be an ally. While typically viewed as a champion of Palestinian nationalism, Said does not view Palestinian statehood as an end in itself, but rather as one potential way for bringing landed security to all in Palestine/Israel. In recent years, in fact, Said has become increasingly critical of political arrangements in Palestine/Israel based on separation. “The idea of separation is an idea that I’m just sort of terminally opposed to,” Said explains, “just as I’m opposed to most forms of nationalism, just as I’m opposed to secession, to isolation, to separatism of one sort or another.”69 Politics of separation too easily become a politics of apartheid, with one group enjoying benefits and privileges denied to the other.70 As an alternative to the politics of separation, Said offers the model of the bi-national state in all of Mandate Palestine, a state in which Jews and Palestinians live as equal citizens. In a fascinating interview with Ari Shavit of the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Said connects his appropriation of Adorno’s critique of the home with his support for a bi-national state. “Adorno says that in the twentieth century the idea of home has been superseded,” Said begins.
Shavit replies to Said, “You sound very Jewish,” to which
Said playfully and somewhat provocatively responds, “Of course. I’m
the last Jewish intellectual. . . .
Said, Ellis, and Raz-Krakotzkin, I believe, all articulate in similar ways an exilic politics of land and return, a politics which embraces the challenge of living rightly in the land and nonviolently struggles for a return to the land of the dispossessed but which maintains an enduring tension with landedness. The late Palestinian-Israeli writer, Emile Habiby, summed up the necessary tensions of an exilic politics of land when he spoke of a “freedom of longing for the land within the land.”72 This “longing for the land within the land,” suggests Raz- Krakotzkin, can be “a new starting point of all who dwell in the land, a basis for their partnership.”73
John Howard Yoder, focused as he was on the church’s calling to embody a nonviolent politics amidst the Babylons of the worlds, was wary of attempts to theorize the shape of the ideal state, deeming such efforts as surreptitiously “Constantinian” attempts to identify the state rather than the church as the primary bearer of the gospel of reconciliation, renewal and redemption.74 Yoder probably would have therefore been skeptical of the enthusiasm with which Said promotes the bi-national state. That said, Yoder did not shy away from ad hoc engagements with the state, encouraging Christians to target particular abuses rather than offering up grand political schemes. Yoder’s understanding of the people of God as a political body living nonviolently amidst empires while seeking their peace and welfare is, moreover, compatible with the exilic politics of land and return articulated by Ellis, Raz-Krakotzkin, and Said, even as it also operates within an eschatological horizon which animates Yoder’s vision with more reasons for hope than can be provided by the secular proponents of an exilic politics like Said and Raz-Krakotzkin. Christians, together with others, must embrace the challenge of living rightly in the land: this can include calling for just distribution of land (see, for example, Yoder’s treatment of the Jubilee), and working nonviolently for landed security for refugees.75 Part of living rightly in the land, however, will mean living lightly: Christians, as citizens of the heavenly city on pilgrimage in the Babylons of the world, will not use violence to establish justice in the land or to bring about a return to the land. Rather than pursue the sovereignty of the sword, they will pray unceasingly and work nonviolently, impelled by a “longing for the land within the land,” for the day when all of God’s children will dwell securely within the land which God so graciously gives.
1. Mahmoud Darwish, “We Travel Like Other People,” included
in Larry Towell, Then Palestine (New York: Aperture, 1998), 32.
This paper was presented at the Believers Church Conference in South Bend, Indiana on March 7–9, 2002. It will appear in a forthcoming volume of essays from the conference being edited by Gayle Gerber Koontz and Ben C. Ollenburger. (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Press, forthcoming 2004.)
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