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Idling on the Road to Jericho

I recently traveled through Israel and the West Bank. This trip was an enriching experience on numerous levels, including the opportunity to see many of the ancient biblical sites and the opportunity to see firsthand the contemporary social and political climate. Perhaps most eye opening was the intersection between these two dimensions of my trip. In this regard, one particularly striking moment occurred on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Remember that on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho a man is attacked by robbers, stripped of his clothes, beaten, and left to die. It is on this road that both a priest and a Levite, on seeing the dying man, proceed to the other side of the road so as to pass him idly by. But, it is also on this road that a Samaritan takes pity on the dying man, bandages his wounds, places him on a donkey, escorts him to an inn, cares for him, and pays the innkeeper to look after him until the Samaritan can return. On this road is thus exemplified what it means to be a neighbour. On this road is enacted the heart of the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’” (Lk. 10:27; see also Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18). On this road emerges a glimpse of shalom, a flash of the in-breaking kingdom, a moment of kairos in chronos time.

Now envision the road from Jerusalem to Jericho on which I find myself. It differs in many respects. Rather than a dusty path, a four-lane highway. In place of donkeys plodding along, cars and trucks whizz by at 100km/h. No doubt the route itself diverges slightly as it meanders through the hills of the wilderness. These differences aside, however, the road to Jericho beckons me in much the same way as it beckons the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the expert in the law to whom Jesus speaks. It begs the question: “Who is my neighbour?” (Lk. 10:29). It relays the response: “The one who had mercy on him” is a neighbour (Lk. 10:37). And, it echoes the instruction: “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37).

The road to Jericho on which I find myself, after all, snakes past settlements dotting the surrounding hills of the West Bank. These settlements range in size, with one of the largest, Ma’ale Adumim, numbering over 30,000 inhabitants. Many have emerged in a similar way. One evening the golden rays of the setting sun blanket an “empty” hillside; the next morning the rising sun reveals a hillside covered with a cluster of mobile homes powered by portable generators. Automatic weapons hang from the shoulders of those scurrying from one mobile home to another.

The pattern becomes quite familiar. Barbed wire and electric fencing soon demarcate the border of the emerging settlement. Guard towers spring up. Military personnel arrive to patrol the perimeter in armoured vehicles and to monitor who can enter. Electrical wires eventually drape from newly constructed hydro towers, connecting the new settlement to the main power grid far removed. Mobile homes give way to permanent, multi-story dwellings. With the increase in the number of dwellings, the perimeter fencing grows in circumference, gradually engulfing more and more of the surrounding countryside.

What distinguishes these settlements is their human geography—Israeli settlers on the inside, separated from Palestinians (and Bedouin) on the outside. This road to Jericho, it soon strikes me, bears witness to settler colonialism in real-time. The purpose of the strategy is evident—the claiming of land for one group at the expense of the other.

As I ponder what I see, I find myself on a road to Jericho of an altogether different kind. This road to Jericho also snakes past enclosures. In this case, though, the settlers live on the outside. Along this road, settler strategy has proven all too successful.

I have been on this road to Jericho many times before. I have also read about the history of settlement activities on this road from the 17th century onwards. Sometimes the settler strategy along this road has involved negotiating treaties from a position of power, with overwhelmingly favourable benefits accrued for one side as a result. At other times the strategy has involved outright land grabs pure and simple. Along this road, settler strategy extracts yet further benefits through the exploitation of legal loopholes, or even by ignoring the treaties altogether. All the methods employed along this road work to achieve the same end—the pushing of a people off the land by slowly reducing their area of movement.

Notwithstanding the many times I have been on this road to Jericho previously, this time is different. I can see the raw realities of settler colonialism to an extent that I never have before. The stories in the historical documentation take on new life. As I find myself on this road at this moment, the haunting thought arises: I am outside the enclosures, and, as a result, I have benefited greatly. At the same time, the echoes of the command regarding that dusty road to Jericho reverberate in my ear: “Go and do likewise”. It’s time to stop idling on the road to Jericho.


[Photo: Mariano Avila]

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