Saturday, 2 October 2010

Israeli Best-seller Breaks National Taboo: Nation, what nation?

by Jonathan Cook / October 9th, 2008

Contibuted by Michael
No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has spent 19 weeks on Israel’s bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo.

Dr Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is a myth invented little more than a century ago.

An expert on European history at Tel Aviv University, Dr Sand drew on extensive historical and archaeological research to support not only this claim but several more – all equally controversial.

In addition, he argues that the Jews were never exiled from the Holy Land, that most of today’s Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel and that the only political solution to the country’s conflict with the Palestinians is to abolish the Jewish state.

The success of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? looks likely to be repeated around the world. A French edition, launched last month, is selling so fast that it has already had three print runs.

Translations are under way into a dozen languages, including Arabic and English. But he predicted a rough ride from the pro-Israel lobby when the book is launched by his English publisher, Verso, in the United States next year.

In contrast, he said Israelis had been, if not exactly supportive, at least curious about his argument. Tom Segev, one of the country’s leading journalists, has called the book “fascinating and challenging”.

Surprisingly, Dr Sand said, most of his academic colleagues in Israel have shied away from tackling his arguments. One exception is Israel Bartal, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Dr Bartal made little effort to rebut Dr Sand’s claims. He dedicated much of his article instead to defending his profession, suggesting that Israeli historians were not as ignorant about the invented nature of Jewish history as Dr Sand contends.

The idea for the book came to him many years ago, Dr Sand said, but he waited until recently to start working on it. “I cannot claim to be particularly courageous in publishing the book now,” he said. “I waited until I was a full professor. There is a price to be paid in Israeli academia for expressing views of this sort.”
Dr Sand’s main argument is that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews only because they shared a common religion. At the turn of the 20th century, he said, Zionist Jews challenged this idea and started creating a national history by inventing the idea that Jews existed as a people separate from their religion.
Equally, the modern Zionist idea of Jews being obligated to return from exile to the Promised Land was entirely alien to Judaism, he added.

“Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2,000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came.”

The biggest surprise during his research came when he started looking at the archaeological evidence from the biblical era.
“I was not raised as a Zionist, but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70AD.
“But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends.

“Similarly with the exile. In fact, you can’t explain Jewishness without exile. But when I started to look for history books describing the events of this exile, I couldn’t find any. Not one.
“That was because the Romans did not exile people. In fact, Jews in Palestine were overwhelming peasants and all the evidence suggests they stayed on their lands.”

Instead, he believes an alternative theory is more plausible: the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. “Christians wanted later generations of Jews to believe that their ancestors had been exiled as a punishment from God.”
So if there was no exile, how is it that so many Jews ended up scattered around the globe before the modern state of Israel began encouraging them to “return”?
Dr Sand said that, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, Judaism was a proselytising religion, desperate for converts. “This is mentioned in the Roman literature of the time.”

Jews travelled to other regions seeking converts, particularly in Yemen and among the Berber tribes of North Africa. Centuries later, the people of the Khazar kingdom in what is today south Russia, would convert en masse to Judaism, becoming the genesis of the Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe.
Dr Sand pointed to the strange state of denial in which most Israelis live, noting that papers offered extensive coverage recently to the discovery of the capital of the Khazar kingdom next to the Caspian Sea.

Ynet, the website of Israel’s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined the story: “Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital.” And yet none of the papers, he added, had considered the significance of this find to standard accounts of Jewish history.

One further question is prompted by Dr Sand’s account, as he himself notes: if most Jews never left the Holy Land, what became of them?
“It is not taught in Israeli schools but most of the early Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion [Israel’s first prime minister], believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area’s original Jews. They believed the Jews had later converted to Islam.”

Dr Sand attributed his colleagues’ reticence to engage with him to an implicit acknowledgement by many that the whole edifice of “Jewish history” taught at Israeli universities is built like a house of cards.

The problem with the teaching of history in Israel, Dr Sand said, dates to a decision in the 1930s to separate history into two disciplines: general history and Jewish history. Jewish history was assumed to need its own field of study because Jewish experience was considered unique.
“There’s no Jewish department of politics or sociology at the universities. Only history is taught in this way, and it has allowed specialists in Jewish history to live in a very insular and conservative world where they are not touched by modern developments in historical research.

“I’ve been criticised in Israel for writing about Jewish history when European history is my specialty. But a book like this needed a historian who is familiar with the standard concepts of historical inquiry used by academia in the rest of the world.”
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

Zionism at 100: The Myth of Palestine as "A Land Without People", by Allan C. Brownfeld

'Because We Are Jews' A Rabbi Speaks From The Heart Of The Torah By Rabbi Mordechi Weberman


Infensus Mentis said...

This is a great site, good work.

uprooted Palestinian said...

Welcome, and thank you, its only one month old

uprooted Palestinian said...

A Nation? What Nation?
by Uri Avnery
(Friday, September 24, 2004)

Gush Shalom, September 25, 2004

It sounds like a joke, but it is quite serious.

The government of Israel does not recognize the Israeli nation. It says that there is no such thing.

Could you imagine the French government denying the existence of the French Nation? Or the government of the United States of America not recognizing the (US) American nation? But then, Israel is the land of unlimited possibilities.

Every person in Israel is recorded in the Interior Ministry’s “registry of inhabitants”. The registration includes the item “nation”. This entry also appears on the Identity Card that every person in Israel is legally obliged to carry with them at all times or risk criminal prosecution.

The Interior Ministry lists 140 recognized nations which its officers can register. This includes not only established nations (“Russian”, “German”, French” etc.) but also “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Druze” and more. The “nation” of an Arab citizen of Israel, for example, may be recorded as “Arab”, “Christian” or “Catholic” (but not “Palestinian” – the Interior Ministry is not yet aware of the existence of such a nation.)

Most Israeli inhabitants carry, of course, identity cards saying “Nation: Jewish”. This has now become a subject of debate.

A group of 38 Israelis have asked for the cancellation of their registration as “Jewish” and its replacement with “Israeli”. The Interior Ministry refuses, saying that no such nation appears on its list. The group has petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the ministry to register them as belonging to the “Israeli” nation. This week, the case came before the court.

The 38 include some of the most eminent professors in Israel (historians, philosophers, sociologists and the like), well-known public figures and others (including my humble self). One of the initiators is a Druze. The 38 are far from belonging to one political camp – indeed, they include both leftists and rightists. One of them is Benny Peled, former commander of the Air Force, a very right-wing person, who died after the petition was submitted.

The Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) handled the case like a hot potato. (Even though Justice Mishal Heshin was delighted to find in the ministry’s list the “Assyrian” nation – actually a small religious community, a remnant of antiquity which still speaks an Aramaic dialect.)

On the main point, the judges said that the High Court – dealing generally with administrative matters – is not equipped to rule on such a profound question. It advised the petitioners to apply to the District Court, where a wide discussion is possible and expert witnesses can be called. The petitioners accepted this advice, and so the battle will be transferred to another judicial forum that will have to devote to it many hearings.

Why does the Israeli government refuse to recognize the Israeli nation?

According to the official doctrine, there exists a “Jewish” nation, and the state belongs to it. After all, it is a “Jewish State”, or, in the words of one of the laws, “the state of the Jewish people”. According to the same doctrine, it is also a democratic state, and all its citizens are supposed to be equal, irrespective of their national affinity. But basically the state is “Jewish”.

According to this doctrine, Jewry is both a nation and a religion. In the first years of Israel, it was still the rule that if a person declared, bona fide , that he is a Jew, he was registered as such. But when the religious camp attained more power, the law was amended and from then on a person was registered as a Jew only if his mother was Jewish or he had converted to the Jewish faith and not adopted another religion. This is, of course, a purely religious definition (according to Jewish religious law, a person is Jewish if his mother is. The father is irrelevant in this context.)

This situation has created another problem. In Israel, the orthodox rabbinate enjoys a monopoly on Jewish religious affairs. Two other Jewish religious factions that are very important in the United States, Conservative and Reform, are discriminated against in Israel and conversions conducted by them are not recognized by the government. Some years ago, the High Court decided that persons converted to Judaism in Israel by these two communities must also be registered under “Nation: Jewish”. Whereupon the Interior Minister at that time, a religious politician, peremptorily decreed that all future identity cards will show, under the item “nation”, only five stars. But in the Ministry’s “registry of inhabitants”, it still says “Nation: Jewish”.

The roots of the confusion go back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement. Until then, Jews throughout the world were a religious-ethnic community.

This was abnormal in contemporary Europe, but quite normal 2000 years ago, when such communities – Hellenic, Jewish, Christian and many more – were the norm. Each was autonomous in the Byzantine Empire and had its own laws and jurisdiction. A Jewish man in Alexandria could marry a Jewish woman in Antioch, but not his Christian neighbor. The Ottoman empire continued this tradition, calling the communities millets (from an Arabic word for nation). Al-Jazeerah Note on the translation*

But when the modern national movements arose in Europe, and it appeared that the Jews had no place in them, the founders of the Zionist movement decided that the Jews should constitute themselves as an independent nation and create a national state of their own. The religious-ethnic community was simply redefined as a nation, and thus a nation came into being that was also a religion, and a religion that was also a nation.

That was, of course, a fiction, but a necessary one for Zionism, which claimed Palestine for the Jewish “nation”. In order to conduct a national struggle, there must be a nation.

However, two generations later, the fiction became reality. In Palestine a real nation, with a national reality and a national culture developed. Members of this nation considered themselves Jews, but Jews who are different in many respects from the other Jews in the world.

Before the creation of the State of Israel, and without a conscious decision being made, in everyday Hebrew parlance a distinction was made between “Hebrew” and “Jewish”. One spoke of the “Hebrew Yishuv” (the new society in Palestine) and “Jewish religion”, “Hebrew” agriculture and “Jewish tradition”, “Hebrew” worker” and “Jewish diaspora”, “Hebrew underground” and “Jewish” Holocaust. When I was a boy, we demonstrated for Jewish immigration and a Hebrew state.

When Israel came into being, things became simpler. Every Israeli who is asked abroad about his national identity, answers automatically: “I am an Israeli”. It would not enter his head to say “I am a Jew”, unless specifically asked about his religion.

There is no contradiction between our being Israelis and Jews. Modern man is composed of different layers that do not cancel each other out. A person can be a man by gender, a vegetarian by inclination, a Jew by religion and an Israeli by national group. A woman in Brooklyn can be Jewish and American at one and the same time – Jewish by origin and religion, belonging to the (US) American nation.

According to modern Western norms, a nation is defined by citizenship, indeed in many languages “nationality” does denote citizenship. Every American citizen belongs to the (US) American nation, whether he is by origin Scottish, Mexican, African or Jewish. By religion, an American can be Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist or Evangelical. That has no bearing on his belonging to the nation, which is a political collective.

European nations, too, adapt themselves slowly to these norms. Only Fascists demand “total” conformity of race, nation and language.

Why is this important? Contrary to the now defunct Fascist doctrine, belonging to a nation is a matter of autonomous decision. The hundreds of thousands of Russians who came to Israel legally (as close relatives of Jews), who serve in the Israeli army and pay Israeli taxes – if they want to belong to the Israeli nation, they do indeed belong to it. Arab citizens who want to belong to the Israeli nation are indeed Israelis – without giving up their Palestinian identity and their Muslim, Christian or Druze religion.

For many people it is difficult to give up the Zionist myths with which they grew up. They try to evade any discussion on this subject – and indeed, it is hardly ever mentioned in our media. Our petition to the High Court of Justice, and soon to the District court, is designed to provoke, at long last, such debate.

Two thousand years ago, the Prophet Jonah found himself on a ship tossed by a storm. The frightened seamen, looking for someone to blame, asked him (Jonah, 1,8): “What is thy country? And of what people art thou?” To which Jonah replied: “I am Hebrew!”

In response to the same question we declare: “We are Israelis!”

Al-Jazeerah Editorial Note:

The Arabic word, millah, and its conjugated forms millatun, millatan, or millatin, from which the anglicized word millet has been created, means a religion or a sect of a religion or one of the thought schools of a given religion. It does not mean a nation, as the author mentioned.

Anonymous said...

The Synagogues of Gaza and the Modern-day-David

One Synagogue was burned down
in a deserted Israeli-settlement in Gaza,
several other similar cases will follow.....

This Synagogue was abandoned by its worshippers
empty of furniture's and empty even from any religious attributes.

It was a-non-functioning-Synagogue
whose users have abandoned it
and shall never come back , hopefully !!

Archaeologist and historians agree that even during
the era of the Kingdom of Judea and/or the Kingdom of Samaria
there were no Jews in Gaza, which means that logically
there would be no Synagogues in Gaza , then.
None was ever found there , nor any piece of architecture
or ruins which would prove that in any period of time ,
Jews/Israelis/Hebrews ever lived in Gaza.

The Synagogues of Gaza were build very recently since and during
the occupation (1967) of Gaza by the Israeli settlers who, in a way ,
have build Synagogues where synagogues never ever were before them.
Which means that the modern-day-Israelites were inventing history, in Gaza,
like they do every where else in Palestine , too .

I have nothing against Synagogues , except that they do not
recognise my Jesus nor my Mohammad , but I see no use ,
no necessity , to having them standing when they would have no function ,anymore.
Ironically , they would be a constant reminder of oppressions ,
of land-theft and of colonial-savagery .

Symbolically , and after this disengagement ,
Gaza offers ,as of today , the best example of the
absurdity of Zionism and its daughter, the State of Israel.
Where we have a Synagogue built were never synagogues existed
and settlers leaving a place where they never have had the right to be.
Where any foreign-occupation will (or can) end , and better , must end .

Gaza ,
is the witness that Zionism is sterile ,
that Zionism is evil and is only temporary.

Is this a victory ?? and to whom is it ??
"Success has many fathers........" says the famous proverb .

And I personally would like to praise the
11 years old child throwing a stone on a 35 tons Israeli-Tank
and praise his mother who thought him that:
"weakness plus courage is no more a weakness "

This boy reminds me of David facing Goliath
but the difference here is that, this modern-day-David, does not pray
in a Synagogue nor would this David burn a Synagogue , neither,
unless , it will be abandoned and it has served his oppressors.

Raja Chemayel
13th of September 2005