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Hagar: Palestinian Heroine or Israeli sister?

January 28, 2009

Hagar’s not dead and gone. She is alive and well and her cause is a matter of debate in Israel. Four thousand years ago, according to the Bible, her husband exiled her into the desert. Hagar was his second wife and mother of his eldest son. His first wife, Sarah, became jealous and demanded that Hagar be sent away. Abraham resisted her demands, but God intervened and told him to listen to Sarah.

To leftist Israelis, Hagar’s expulsion from Abraham’s campsite, was a terrible event and represents the sufferings of Palestinians. Abraham should have stood up to his wife and to God. Her exile is linked to the Palestinian exodus in 1948. Recently, there was a peace movement to name all Israeli new born girls, Hagar, to commemorate the suffering of Palestinians. To right wing Israelis, on the other hand, Hagar is a symbol of the stranger, the second wife who has no claims on Israel. She is not included in God’s covenant.

If exiling her was the hardest thing her husband Abraham had to do– the act that caused him the most pain in his eventful life– it seems no coincidence that her story would divide modern Israelis. The Knesset has debated Hagar’s case: Is she a suffering victim? Or, the slave who won her freedom? Should Abraham have cast her out?

Funny to think a story that took place 4,000 years ago, would still command so much attention. What other country, war-torn and embattled as it is, would pause to debate the Bible and seek to apply its teachings to modern politics? What other country would allow so many different opinions to be voiced? Only Israelis would argue about the interpretation of a text from the Bible, asking how many Hagars are alive and struggling in Gaza. The Jewish nation is a democratic one. And, as such, it makes mistakes and causes harm, not unlike the United States. But that does not mean that Israel should not exist, or be “wiped from the face of the earth.” Certainly, it does not mean that Israel is “a terrorist nation.”

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