Monday, April 22, 2013

the invention of the land of israel

guardian | In this second volume of his trilogy of Jewish studies, Sand explores how the 'Land of Israel' was invented, and debunks popular nationalist mythology. In 2009, Shlomo Sand published The Invention of the Jewish People, in which he claimed that Jews have little in common with each other. They had no common "ethnic" lineage owing to the high level of conversion in antiquity. They had no common language, since Hebrew was used only for prayer and was not even spoken at the time of Jesus. Yiddish was, at most, the language of Ashkenazi Jews. So what is left to unite them? Religion? But religion does not make a people – think of Muslims and Catholics. And most Jews are not religious. Zionism? But that is a political position: one can be a Scot and not a Scottish nationalist. Besides, the majority of Jews, including many Zionists, have not the slightest intention of going "back" to the Holy Land, much preferring, and who can blame them, to stay put in north London, or Brooklyn or wherever. In other words, "Jewish People" is a political construct, an invention. Now Sand tells us, in this second volume of what will be a trilogy, that even the "Land of Israel" was invented. Guardian readers who happen to be Jewish should brace themselves for the third volume: The Invention of the Secular Jew. All this takes considerable chutzpah.

The "Land of Israel" is barely mentioned in the Old Testament: the more common expression is the Land of Canaan. When it is mentioned, it does not include Jerusalem, Hebron, or Bethlehem. Biblical "Israel" is only northern Israel (Samaria) and there never was a united kingdom including both ancient Judea and Samaria.

Even had such a kingdom ever existed and been promised by God to the Jews, it is hardly a clinching argument for claiming statehood after more than 2,000 years. It is an irony of history that so many past Zionists, most of whom were secular Jews, often socialist, used religious arguments to buttress their case. Besides, the biblical account makes it quite clear (insofar as such accounts are ever clear) that the Jews, led by Moses and then by Joshua, were colonisers themselves and were commanded by God to exterminate "anything that breathes". "Completely destroy them – the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – as the Lord your God has commanded you." Imagine if the Amorites came back and claimed their ancient land. If they did, this is what Deuteronomy 20 has to say: "Put to the sword all the men ... As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else ... you may take these as plunder for yourselves." Today, such an injunction would take you straight to the international criminal court.