on 29 November 2012
In 'The Invention of the Land of Israel', Sand follows up from the
earlier 'The Invention of the Jewish People' and responds to the
challenge of critics to that book who charged Sand with trying to break
the bond of the 'Jewish People' with the 'Land of Israel'. Sand here
sets out to demonstrate that that bond is not of the nature that
Zionists maintain and that the concept of the 'Land of Israel' is itself
a modern creation not of Jewish making.
The book is a good example of an exercise in analysing the creation of a
nationalism via the imaginings and mythologising of politicians and the
reflecting of this mythology back into history in order to,
anachronistically, justify modern belief and practice.
Sand examines the concept of the 'Land of Israel' through history by
examining the Bible, where the 'Land of Israel' appears only once and that is in the
Book of Matthew. In Rabbinical Judasim the Land of Israel begins to be mentioned but, in the Talmud, among medieval philosophers like Maimonides all of whom regarded Jerusalem as holy and special but for whom there there is only a spiritual yearning. Many Jews had the chance to live in the 'Holy Land' and yet chose not to and argued against the small minority who desired to do so such as the Karaites.
Sand demonstrates that the idea of 'The Land of Israel' only really takes off among Protestant Anglicans in the nineteenth century and becomes mixed up with hostility to Jews and to Jewish immigration, with imperialism and with colonial projects to assert ethnic domination and that this is where the origin of both Zionism and of the notion that there ever was a 'Land of Israel' and that it is the home of the Jews lies.
It's a good read. Sand deals with topics clearly. I am not sure there is much new here, but Sand is a good synthesizer of a variety of themes from history, religion, politics and the history and theory of the development of nationalism.
In 2008 the Israeli historian Sand published “The Invention of the Jewish People” (see my Amazon review). Four years later he has followed it up with this volume which has much the same agenda: to destroy a myth which has been fostered by the State of Israel to give itself a legitimacy based on history. Whatever reasons there are for supporting the existence of the State of Israel, but historical legitimacy, according to this book, is not one of them:
He begins by pointing out that there is no reference in the Hebrew Bible to the Land of Israel: God promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants; the kingdom of Israel referred to the northern kingdom and excluded Jerusalem; the title of the Hasmonean kings and of Herod when they ruled over the two old kingdoms and other lands was King of Judea; the New Testament refers to the area as Judea (except for one exception in Matthew 2:19-21 where Joseph is bidden to take his family from Egypt to the Land of Israel); later the area between the sea and the Jordan was referred to, even by Jews, as Palestine. Sand goes on to stress that Abraham, the four matriarchs, Moses and the Israelites who conquered and depopulated Canaan were all born outside the Promised Land.
The motives of the Jewish revolts in Judea and in Egypt were religious, not territorial. So was the spiritual attachment to Jerusalem of the diaspora Jews in the ancient world, and the same is true of the expression “the land of Israel” which we begin to find in the Talmud. One passage in the Talmud specifically warns Jews against collective migration to the Land of Israel, though another passage urges Jews to live there, and so did the Karaites. Those Jews who did go there - especially with the intention of being buried there - did so for spiritual, not territorial reasons. After Jerusalem had been conquered by the Muslims who put no obstacles in their way, Jewish pilgrims to the city were very few in number, nothing like as many as Christian or Muslim ones. “Next year in Jerusalem” was not “a call to action”.
The first territorial “Zionists”, calling for the return of the Jews to their Land, were not Jews, but 17th century English Protestants - not as refuge for oppressed Jews of the diaspora, but because of the curious belief that the Second Coming of Jesus would happen only after the return of the Jews to their Land and their eventual conversion there to Christianity - a belief that grew in strength among certain 19th century Evangelicals in Britain, led by the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, and which is still held today by some Evangelical Christians in the United States.
According to Sand, the first Jewish figures who promoted Jewish immigration to the Land were Montefiore. The persecution of the Jews in Russia led to the advocacy of Zionist territorialism (Kalischer, Smolenskin, Lilienblum, Pinsker and then Herzl) and to the first Jewish settlements in Palestine. Herzl had to give up the idea of accepting the offer of Uganda because the majority of his followers would settle for nothing other than the Land. That this “invention of the Land Of Israel” became a reality was due to the Balfour Declaration, whose motives were, as Sand describes it, a mixture, to a small extent, of Christian Evangelicanism and, to a much larger extent, of Imperialism and of a wish to divert Jewish immigration away from Britain and towards Palestine.
Even then, in 1917, a very small minority of world Jewry saw Palestine as a territorial homeland which they were willing to support, let alone to which they felt the longing to “return”. (Many of the refugees who did go to Palestine and, later, to Israel did so because other countries would not receive them.) In Western Europe and the United States Haskalah and Reform Jews had insisted that their territorial home was the land of their birth. And the majority of orthodox Jews, from the Middle Ages until the second half of the 19th century, rejected the creation by human hands of territorial Zionism. For them the coming of the Messiah should precede rather than follow the establishment of a Jewish state in the Promised Land. They opposed territorial Zionism in its early days, and some of them still exist today even in Israel itself, although they are now a small minority among orthodox Jews. The rabbis of Tsarist Russia, despite their congregations suffering so much from persecution, also firmly rejected territorial Zionism. All this makes Sand describe Zionism as the negation of Judaism. And he writes that territorial Zionism would never have won so many adherents if Western European countries and the United States had not, from the early 20th century onwards, put such serious obstacles in the way of the immigration of persecuted Jews. Many of these HAD to go to Palestine and Israel, and it is not surprising that they should have constructed for themselves a right to that Land (and to ignore the rights of the people who were living there).
The invention of territorial Zionism required also the invention that all Jews are the descendants of those Jews who were forcibly exiled from the Land (it was also important to stress that some Jews always remained in their Land under the foreign occupation of the Arabs) and that they are now returning to it - a myth which Sand has thoroughly exposed in his previous book. Zionist historians now produced histories based on these ideas, establishing the right of the Jews to the Land. Some Zionists adopted Biblical texts, like Genesis 15:8, that make the Promised Land stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates, and they regarded any borders less than that - such as those that the State of Israel had to accept in 1949 - as a necessary, but temporary compromise.
The Suez War of 1956 gave them the opportunity to seize the Sinai peninsula, though under American pressure they had to withdraw from it. They seized it again in the Six Day War of 1967, but again had to give it up after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. But they were able to keep the other gains they made in the Six Day War: the Gaza Strip (which they kept for 33 years), East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The West Bank was not formally annexed, but many Zionists regretted that, feeling they had the right to annex what they called Judaea and Samaria. Short of that, ardent Zionists built settlements in the West Bank in pursuance of that same right which they invoked against those Israeli governments which initially vainly tried to restrain them, but which governments from 1977 onwards have supported. All this, of course, at the expense of the right of the Arabs.
There cannot be any doubt about Sand’s attitude to all this - but his Afterword drives it home by narrating the fate of the peaceful Arab village of just over 2,000 inhabitants, on whose obliterated site now stand Sand’s Tel Aviv University and the four museums on its campus which are devoted to the Zionist narrative of the Land of Israel.
on 13 February 2013
This book is not the easiest of reads. It is densely academic in places, repetitive in others, and dwells for too long (chapter 1) on the theory of national homelands. But at its heart this book has a controversial truth which, on the basis of Professor Sand's compelling analysis, is difficult to dispute: that "the mythos of a wandering Jewish people that was uprooted from its homeland two thousand years ago...is based entirely on historical fabrications" (p255).
One-by-one Sand demolishes the pillars upon which the "demon of mythic territoriality" has been built by modern-day Zionists. He notes the Zionists' misuse of the Bible as a "title deed for Palestine", the anachronistic use of the term Israel by Zionists (in fact the land was called Canaan and Jerusalem itself was in Judea), the opposition of most of the pre-1939 rabbinate to Zionism, and the fact that until the US and European nations closed their doors to Jewish immigration in the early 20th century, there were hardly any Jewish immigrants who actually wanted to move to "the land of Israel". This was because few saw it as their 'home'. Indeed, there were few Jews who even wished to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land; it was the Christians whose religious zeal caused them to flock to Jerusalem. The founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, would actually have been happy with Argentina or Uganda as a Jewish national home (p197). But the rise of 20th century nationalism combined with anti-Semitism in Europe and restrictive immigration policies in the US to create "a dangerous ethnoterritorial policy" (p252) which led to the creation of the state of Israel, the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians (which Professor Sand documents in a powerful Afterword section) and the brutality of occupation, dispossession and displacement.
This book is not without its flaws (inexplicably, for a revisionist historian, Professor Sand seems to attribute no responsibility to Israel for the annexationist war in 1967), but even allowing for these, this is a powerful book which deserves a wide audience. The Zionists will condemn Professor Sand as a "self-hating Jew", but I doubt they will be able to counter his inexorable logic.
on 24 September 2013
As a Muslim, there is a great lesson of self reflection to be learnt from this critical analysis for creation of the 'myth' of land of Israel, conjured up by Zionists in order to justify forced annexation of Palestine. I have to give credit to Jewish culture for relatively more accepting alternate views instead of rejecting any criticism like my own Islamic culture. This way all the positive and negative aspects of any contentious issue can be very effectively ring fenced within, instead of leaving voids for outsiders to take shots at, like Islam has to go through repeatability.
Sholomo makes a very convincing case against the whole legality of Israel especially when he points out that there was no tradition of pilgrimage in Jews unlike Christianity and Islam. He calls this shift towards pilgrimage 'Christian Zionism'. But I don't really see his objective, for even if Jewish traditions were relatively late in adopting pilgrimage aping Christians, Jewish pilgrimage is here to stay. For I know that in Islam pilgrimage to Kaaba made prominence after the death of the Prophet, for during his life he only made one proper pilgrimage. His first attempt to get to Kaaba was thwarted and he had to make the pilgrimage away from Kaaba, a tradition never really adopted by popular Islam. In this regards I do agree with the author when he suggests that history is directed by a select few writers and scholars of that time who may not be reflecting the view of ordinary masses of that era. I guess the author is attempting to convey his alternate fringe point of view so that future generations can objectify. I don't seriously believe that public opinion will ever change in Israel due to his work though. Because at the moment, the Jews have managed to acquire majority in Israel and successfully ousted Arabs from the land of their forefathers. World opinion was partly responsible for creation of Israel but mainly Jews after years of being on the run in Europe were finally given a golden opportunity to finally settle down, which they accepted with a lot of rigour. State propaganda based on selective reading of history occurs in almost every country. In the country of my birth Pakistan, we have similar trend in education where Pakistan is directly linked with the advent of a distant Islamic culture, blatantly ignoring the strong cultural ties with the local Hindu culture, which seems far more plausible in my opinion. I guess this strong need to forge an identity is required to cover atrocities against minorities which both Pakistan and Israel are sort of known for.
Sholomo after a slowish start makes a very powerful case in favour of his primary argument (Holy-land to Homeland). His analysis considers the personal religious inclinations of the primary movers for a Jewish homeland in Britain. I think he has very successfully demonstrated the influence of religion on politics in the book as in my opinion religion may not be the primary motive, but is very useful for justification and motivational purposes when making convincing arguments. Sholomo has demonstrated the urgent need for a Jewish homeland in the wake of the huge number of immigrants in mainland Britain after the Bolshevik revolution. The threat of the new immigrant coupled with religious justification that Jews have to installed in the Holy-land (as per the Bible) created huge supporters of Zionism in Britain.
This is an extremely important book and should be required reading for all who choose to comment on the present problems in the Middle East. Having said that, this is not an easy book to read. Shlomo Sand, the author, realises only too well that his text will be closely scrutinised for errors. To that end Sand’s research into the Old Testament and related Rabbinical works, not to mention actual archaeological and ethnological evidence, is meticulous and can make reading quite demanding at times particularly in the early chapters.
Sand attempts no less than to examine, and find wanting, the fundamental propositions of the modern Zionist movement. The author demonstrates that the Testament does not mention the ‘Land of Israel’ nor is there any historical evidence for such a place. He also demonstrates that the Jews were not dispersed from the Middle East but that the Diaspora are descended from conversions that took place in various early Jewish kingdoms in Africa, India and eastern Europe. Hence there can be no return of Jews who never left, to a land that never existed, thus undermining the basic premise of modern Zionism and the original justification for the occupation of Palestine. Sand acknowledges the deep religious attachment of Jews to the Holy Land, and Jerusalem in particular, but this in no way can establish a right of ownership or return.
Sand, like a number of other modern Israeli scholars, acknowledges the forced expulsion of the indigenous Arab population during the creation of the state of Israel and the ongoing system of Apartheid for Israeli Arabs. He gives a very moving account of the history of the Arab village of al-Sheikh Muwannis on top of which has been built the University of Tel Aviv where the author works.
It is inevitable that anyone who undermines the political mythmaking of the Zionist movement, perpetrated by both the early Left settlers and the present nationalist Right, in Israel will attract the convenient epithet of being an anti-Semite. However, Sand is definitely not anti-Semitic but demonstrates a deep concern for the state of Israel and its future but refuses to acquiesce in lies in order to justify its existence. At no time does he advocate the dismemberment of Israel.
A vitally important book but one which I confidently predict will be ignored by Western leaders and media commentators. However, concerned individuals now have access to a totally convincing analysis of the mythmaking of the Zionist project. I commend this book to all concerned about the current problems of the Middle East.