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FIRST PERSON: Palestine and the Stanley Cup

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–When I think of Palestine, I think of the Stanley Cup, the National Hockey League championship trophy. At present, the Colorado Avalanche holds the Cup, but the winners of decades past are recorded on the base, with all the players’ names inscribed, a total of 2,000 names.

Israel now controls the West Bank of the Jordan River, land they seized from Jordan during the Six-Day War in 1967. In that same week, they took the Sinai from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria. Six years later, they were once again at war, first losing and then regaining Sinai and defending the Golan Heights in an epic tank battle.

Before the 1967 war, Israel was only nine miles wide at one point. [As President Bush observed, “In Texas, some driveways are longer than that.”] And before that war, Jewish farmers in the Jezreel Valley suffered shelling from the Golan across Galilee. Now the kibbutzim don’t need bunkers.

Yes, there have been concessions from the Israelis. Sinai is back in Egyptian hands. The Palestinian Authority has been given administrative power in such places as Ramallah, Hebron, Jericho, and Gaza. But there is no question who is ultimately in charge. Indeed, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is under virtual house arrest with Israeli armor just up the road.

Intifada rages throughout the land. Suicide bombers do their worst on Israeli buses and in Israeli marketplaces and restaurants. Bin Laden enthusiasts blame America for their support of Israeli occupation and settlement of the West Bank. What’s the answer?

Let me suggest that you don’t start by asking when Israel is going end its occupation of the West Bank and give it back to its rightful owners. That would be like asking when the Avalanche will give the Stanley Cup back to its rightful owners, the 2000 champs, the New Jersey Devils. Yes, we can see the Devils’ names on the trophy, but while history is interesting, it’s not ownership. They lost the Cup to the Avalanche, and they have to win it back if they want to legitimately call it theirs again.

Am I saying that war over land is just a game? No. This is analogy, not moral equivalency. Am I saying might makes right? No. Might makes government, and government defines property rights within its realm. If they want to put a freeway through your neighborhood, they have a way to do it by eminent domain. Yes, it takes a lot of huffing and puffing to do it in America, but in the end, government at some level makes land rules, including whether you can open a bait shop on your parcel.

If the New Jersey Devils argue their rightful ownership of the Cup, the Colorado Avalanche could draw their attention to the Dallas Stars from whose hands they tore the trophy in 2000. Why not give it them instead? Oh, but wait, what about the Detroit Red Wings. They were “robbed” of it back in 1999. And then there are the Montreal Canadiens. They held it 18 of the past 50 years. And so on it goes.

By analogy, the Israelis could ask, “Why not the British? They helped win it from the Ottoman Turks in 1917 and were given a governing mandate by the League of Nations in 1922? Too bad those Ottoman brothers sided with the Germans in WWI.” And if we look farther down the trophy, we find that Richard the Lionhearted regained a chunk of the Levant in 1192. Sure, your guys had it for a long time before him, but we see King David’s name even earlier. Or should we run DNA testing to find the offspring of Jebusites? Where does it stop?

Actually it stops at modern day Israel, for a genealogical approach to property will tie you in knots. You get the same sort of confusion in North America. The Sioux are upset that we stole their land. But from whom did they “steal” it? The Crees, Assiniboines, and Hidatsas? Whatever the Romanticists may say, it was no Eden before we got here. Men were men, and they took land from each other. Just read accounts of the Crow Creek Massacre (and atrocities) in 1325, more than a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Sometimes it’s a good taking. I’m glad Hitler’s family doesn’t own Berchtesgaden anymore. Sometimes it’s a bad taking. Saddam Hussein was ill suited to run Kuwait in 1989. But a taking is a taking, and the current government says what’s what.

How do you justify a taking? Review our Declaration of Independence — “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them … Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes … But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations … .”

So we took up arms and beat the British, and today we don’t have to check in with Parliament before we open a new National Park or drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Some nations are irresponsible. Some Stanley Cup owners are irresponsible. Ever hear about the drunken member of the Ottawa Silver Seven who drop kicked the Cup onto the frozen Rideau Canal near Ottawa in 1905? Others are admirable. Last August Colorado Avalanche Chris Drury took it to the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

So Mr. Arafat, you might begin by detailing the salubrious prospects for the West Bank and East Jerusalem under your control. Explain how they will escape the tyranny and squalor characteristic of the nations who fund, arm, and cheer your terrorists. Why should the Solomon’s of this world desire that you get the baby? Explain how your PLO is the responsible answer when it’s been expelled or barred from Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Egypt by “allies.” Explain how the Holy Land will flower more splendidly under your leadership than under that of Israel.

Perhaps then the lovers of democracy and freedom will fill the stands and cheer as your team takes the ice.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.comeletusreason.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger