The Middle East Hunger Games
I don’t easily get sucked into the hype around popular young adult novels and their ensuing movies. I tried reading Twilight; the bookmark is still stuck inside somewhere. The story about a weepy, clumsy girl who pines for an unavailable vampire essentially 100 years her senior simply couldn’t grab me. I tried to justify my shallow fixation with the movies, however, with a Jewish interpretation. The European, pale, refined vampire Edward represents the Ashkenazi tradition, and his rival—the rugged, dark, earthy werewolf Jacob—represents the Sephardi tradition. I know, pathetic attempt.
But after multiple recommendations of the next craze, The Hunger Games trilogy, I caved—and I’m hooked. Author Suzanne Collins has presented a feisty, smart, strong heroine who is a welcome contrast to the romantically-addicted Bella Swan of Twilight. Kantiss Everdeen grows as a warrior with an ethical conscience who rises above hunger, poverty, death, and totalitarianism through her wits and skills as an archer.
The novel is set in the nation of Panem in a post-apocalyptic North America. Its people are divided into twelve Districts ruled by the glamorous, scientifically-advanced Capitol that fixes laws to ensure its hegemony. The Hunger Games is a national reality show—think Survivor meets Truman Show meets Gladiator—in which two teenagers, a boy and girl, from each District fight to the death for fame and fortune. A national celebration, the Games are a tool to get the Districts to submit to the Capitol.
In an interview, Collins related how she conjured the premise while surfing TV, and footage of reality shows and the war in Iraq began to blur. She looked to the Greek myth of Theseus as the basis for the story, and this time, I don’t have to force a tie-in to Judaism.
Essentially, The Hunger Games portrays child sacrifice. The children of the Districts are not masters of their own fate; they’re pawns of the state. The elites of Capitol are the “god” they are forced to worship. (This anti-authoritarian theme is much more apparent in the book than in the movie.)
Child sacrifice is a form of idolatry detested by the Hebrew Bible. The God of Israel categorically rejects killing one’s child for His sake when he stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac on the altar. This moment defines the theological thrust of Judaism: the Hebrew God seeks life from his people—not death—and presents a system of laws and statutes meant, in theory, to safeguard life on this earth. This philosophical tradition explains the re-flowering of modern Hebrew society, Israel, as a country that overall respects individual rights, science, and real peace. The longing for Zion—Jerusalem—is the longing for life. Let us call Zion the Jewish “Capitol.”
The majority of Israel’s neighbors, on the other hand, worship a god—Allah—that demands “Islam,” which literally means “submission.” Through a political system adhering to shariah law, subjects are encouraged to sacrifice property and individual self-determination to his glory. The “Palestinian people” have been conceived by Allah’s priests to fight against Zion. They are like Allah’s “chosen people,” the celebrated and exemplary worshippers of this death-loving deity. While Mecca is the traditional capital of Islam, Allah’s “chosen people” have adopted a new capital for the state they desire: al-Quds—the Arab name for Jerusalem—the Islamic “Capitol.”
The “Districts” of al-Quds consist of Palestinian “refugee” camps whose squalor is perpetuated by Arab leaders and the United Nations, just as the squalor of the Districts of Panem are perpetuated by the Capitol to keep them in check. Al-Quds trains the children of these Districts—young men and women—to volunteer as “tribute” to the Islamic Capitol, with terrorist training camps commencing at the pre-school level. But while tributes in The Hunger Games must fight to live, the Palestinian tributes fight to die to achieve honor for their Districts, with arenas, sports teams, and streets named after the fallen. Muslim child sacrifice was at its height during the Second Intifada when Palestinian youth routinely blew themselves up in Israeli busses, cafes, and hotels, shouting “Allah is the Greatest” minutes before the bomb belt exploded. The vocal outcry in the Arab world at these massacres was minimal, if non-existent.
Unfortunately, many Israelis have been dragged into these Hunger Games by believing the lie that Zion is the Capitol oppressing the Palestinians.
In 2005, Israel unwittingly sanctioned the Palestinian “Hunger Games” by expelling 9,000 Jews out of the District of Gaza and destroying their homes. Instead of exposing Palestinian terror for what it is—child sacrifice to al-Quds—and combating it, Israel appeased the Palestinian “cause” and ran away. Some argue that the withdrawal was done for the sake of security—ultimately, for the sake of Zion—but then Israel has essentially used a tactic of Allah, although nowhere nearly as brutal or bloody, by treating the Jews of Gaza as political pawns who are forced to sacrifice their lives, their property, their dignity, for Zion. The immoral means of the withdrawal, we know now, have not achieved the much hoped for peaceful ends.
A year later, Israel responded to Hezbollah’s fatal attacks and kidnapping on the Lebanon border with conventional warfare—at the outset a justifiable act of self-defense. But as a national investigative report revealed, then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent men into battle grossly unprepared. In August of 2006 Olmert proclaimed that a victory would provide momentum for the now defunct “Consolidation Plan” to expel Jews from Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), a move that would hasten a Palestinian state. This implies he sent ill-trained IDF soldiers—18 and 19 year-olds—into battle not to save Jewish lives, but ultimately to sacrifice the Jewish “settlers” to al-Quds.
I just started reading the second book of the trilogy, and thus far Kantiss Everdeen is an admirable character who questions immoral authority, takes risks to save innocent lives, and cleverly outwits an oppressive regime, eventually triggering uprisings against the brutal Capitol. So I’m pleased with the Hunger Games craze. Now if only it would catch on in the Arab world to trigger uprisings to overthrow al Quds and embrace instead the Capitol of life: Zion.
Orit Arfa is the Executive Director of the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America. She holds an MA in Bible and Jewish Thought from the Schechter Institute. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.