Julian Assange – a Christmas story
Some years go I decided to stop subjecting myself to the propaganda I received from daily news programmes. My knowledge of politics was poor, but the internet enabled me to educate myself and I was especially keen to learn about British involvement in the Middle East.
I have a Christian background, but I knew very little about Israel and Palestine. In my youth, working on a kibbutz seemed a laudable aim, although I’m relieved now that I didn’t ever get around to it. Like the majority in the West, I did not know that the country now called “Israel” had recently been Palestine.
The Old Testament did not mean a great deal to me. There was lot about Jews smiting their enemies, but it was the story of Samson and Delilah that brought home to me that the ethnic groups mentioned were comprised of real people living in Canaan at that time. The story of Samson slaughtering his wife’s Philistine kinsmen at their wedding feast is shocking, yet the Old Testament contains much more graphic material than this, despite the fact that there has been plenty of editing of the Bible, both Old Testament and New. Committees have chosen which bits to leave out and added parts where necessary to ensure readers receive the authorized version. Thousands of people who found themselves unable to accept the authorized version of the Bible promoted by their government at any particular time in history were tortured, burned alive (being buried alive was reserved for women only) or met other hideous deaths. Nevertheless, there is still plenty one can learn from the Old Testament and this article attempts to draw parallels between Biblical and modern times.
The patriarch Abraham came from Ur, in the area that is now modern Iraq. Descended from the nomadic tribe from the north that had conquered the Old Babylonian Empire, Abraham felt moved to leave Ur and find fertile land to settle on. His journey took him through the “fertile crescent” of Mesopotamia and he eventually settled in Egypt. Abraham’s descendants and others who came to believe in his sense of a personal God for their chosen few, later left Egypt and reached the River Jordan. Looking across to the far bank they saw the lush farmland of Canaan, supporting a variety of ethnic groups such as Philistines, Hittites and Amorites. The Lord God told his chosen people (now known as the Israelites) that they must “destroy the inhabitants totally, making no treaty with them and not leaving alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:16), so that the Israelites could then take “land with large, fine cities you did not build, houses filled with good things, hewn cisterns you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees you did not plant – and eat your fill.” (Deuteronomy 6:11)
The Israelites did not find it easy to take the land, but after rape, pillage and the slaughter of babes in their mothers wombs (Isaiah 13:16) over a period of years they succeeded in settling in an area in Canaan (modern Palestine) centred on the old town of Jerusalem. The area became known as Judah, after one of Abraham‘s descendants, and the related tribes that settled there were known as Jews. The name Zionist comes from Mount Zion, where – at the time the Jews attacked the ancient town of Jerusalem “setting fire to it and killing all its people” (Judges 1:8) – there was a Canaanite fort.
Learning about Israel – and, indeed, the Bible – has affected my view of Christmas. The words to carols such as “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Once In Royal David’s City” now more than grate on my nerves and I am disgusted by the failure of most leaders of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to stand up to Israel to any significant degree, as well as by the blind support for the Israeli government shown by many church members. Nevertheless, the message of Christmas is love, which is perennial and not tied to any particular religion. The symbolism of Christmas is that of a new beginning and a redeeming factor entering the world to inspire others to abandon self interest.
When someone is accused of having done something wrong, the reply offered usually is something like, “what was done complied with all legal requirements”. But “right” has never been defined as “conforms to law”, because thoughtful people have long noticed that the law itself can be a great crime and the worst criminals in a culture can be its lawgivers.
Should Israeli war criminals be allowed to visit Britain without fear of arrest? Forget any moral considerations – it’s just a matter of tweaking the current law. As we are all now well aware, anything goes as long as it is perpetrated by the rich and powerful.
Julian Assange has knowingly sacrificed his freedom and possibly his life by standing with the poor and dispossessed. His imprisonment confirms our fears about the aims and methods of the US government and their vassals. However, Assange himself has demonstrated at this special time of year that there are still those who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the good of others. The USA then plays the part of Herod – the cruel, unbalanced slaughterer of children. Most of our representatives in the British government take the role of Pontius Pilate, desperately keen to ingratiate themselves with their masters – the USA and Israel. And what of us? Will we play the part of Christ’s disciple Peter and, from cowardice, deny our interest in and support for the unimaginably courageous Julian Assange – afraid even to send cash for his legal fund, (via his solicitor, Paul Millett, Managing Director of the law firm Finers Stephens Innocent, in case we attract unwanted attention?
This Christmas let us celebrate the continuing tradition of Christ, who railed against the law makers of his time in an attempt to bring love, hope and justice to the world. Let us vow to do all that is in our power to spread the truth and to work against the tendency in governments towards evil which, with the assistance of an apathetic and reactionary public, aims to extinguish the light that is Julian Assange. Despite the prospect of appalling deprivations, Julian is demonstrating miraculous strength, hanging on to the hope of a better world in which people are mobilized by compassion to care for humankind and the earth as a whole. I would like to thank Julian from the depths of my heart for keeping alive the faith I have that incredibly courageous individuals like him will continue to stand against evil. Julian Assange, his colleagues and Bradley Manning will appear as beacons of light in the history books covering this dark era.
As Plato wrote, around 400 BC: “What will happen to the just man should he enter this world? The just man will be scourged, racked, chained and, after every kind of misery, will be crucified on a pole for all to see.” Plato wrote this not as a premonition of the death of Jesus, but as an expression of his own experience of human nature.