By Basim Naim
A few years ago, I read about an American dentist who asked one of his patients about his hobbies.
"Reading," the patient replied.
"What do you read these days?"
"About the State of Israel."
"So you like reading short stories?" the dentist asked.
I recalled this when I read reports that the Jerusalem Post criticized the BBC for a report on Jesus during its program "Heart and Soul, Black Jesus" on 18 December. The Israelis resented the presenter, Robert Beckford, saying that the Messiah was a "Palestinian". The Post claimed that the term "Palestine" was not used until about 100 years after Christ, although historians confirm that it was used during the Greek occupation of the land in the 4th century BC.
This is a small illustration of the fact that the Zionist narrative of the history of the land on which the occupying state of Israel was created, is incoherent and contradictory, and predicts the speed of its demise. For example, the Zionists and their supporters reject the Palestinian claim to historic Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, on the grounds that there was no such thing as "Palestine" on the regional map when the Zionist entity was established. They claim that the area was simply part of the Ottoman Empire, and that the name Palestine is a lie invented by the Arabs; even the term "Palestinian" is rejected. Despite the well-known claim by former Prime Minister Golda Meir that, "There is no such thing as Palestinians", she and other Zionist leaders used the term "Palestine" in their official documents or media statements.
How, then, did the modern Zionist narrative arise? Political Zionism arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a way to solve "the Jewish problem" in Europe. History records that Jews were persecuted, tortured and displaced in most European countries over many centuries, not just by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1215 AD, for example, the Fourth Council of the Lateran was called by Pope Innocent III, during which the Catholic Church made important decisions to stop "suspicious" Jewish activities. Ten years earlier, the pope had ordered that Jews should wear badges to distinguish them from other citizens.
King Edward I expelled the Jews from England in 1290, giving them three months to leave. England was the first European country to expel Jews in such a way. Expulsion was repeated in France in 1306, after the French attacked Jewish neighborhoods and destroyed synagogues and schools. The same happened in Spain during the Inquisition, in Tsarist Russia, and in the lands now known as Austria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Italy. The same happened in what is now Germany at the end of the 14th century, centuries before the Holocaust. At the root of this lies what the rulers of the day believed was the role of the Jews in sabotaging the societies in which they lived.
It is often overlooked that that the Jews who fled persecution in Europe either headed east to the Ottoman Empire, or south across the Mediterranean to the countries of North Africa and Egypt. In both areas, they were welcomed and given refuge by the Muslim rulers and communities. Some went on to hold senior official positions there.
The so-called "Jewish problem", therefore, was a specifically European problem, which is why the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, wrote The Jewish State with the aim of settling Jews out of Europe. And why he turned to the anti-Semitic governments of Europe for help in establishing a "national home" for the Jews; their objective of ridding themselves of their Jewish citizens was the same as Herzl's.
This was opposed by the majority of Jews at the time, especially the rabbis, for religious reasons; the establishment of a Jewish state meant, for them, the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the Jews. It would also mean that the removal of the Jews from the countries of their birth to this new "homeland" would transform the Jewish religion into a nationalist enterprise with a political base.
Nevertheless, this option prevailed among Jewish community leaders, and the search was on for a location for the "national home". Palestine was by no means the first choice: parts of Uganda, Argentina and Alaska were offered and considered, even southern Morocco, given the presence of a large Jewish community with a good relationship with the king. Palestine was eventually chosen in order to utilize the strong pull that Jerusalem had, and still has, for religious Jews. Thus, Jews around the world were lobbied to give up their settled life as citizens of numerous states with rights to education, trade, art and culture, and travel to an unknown future, based on dreams and romantic promises. The "return" to the "Promised Land" was sold to them as part of their religion, which would not be complete otherwise.
To reinforce this myth, they began to create stories about the Jewish presence in Palestine. Archaeologists were dispatched to find evidence of an ancient Jewish presence in order to prove their right to the land. To this day, such evidence has not been found, leaving only their myths to cement the "Biblical" claims. This has been confirmed by many international institutions, including UNICEF (hence Israeli and American animosity towards the organization), so the Zionists resorted to planting fake evidence with Biblical symbols at archaeological locations in Palestine, especially in and around religious sites.
Imagine for the sake of argument that the early Zionists had opted for land in one of the other countries and Jews from all over the world had migrated there. Would the Zionist leadership have invented stories and myths to justify their presence in the new "homeland"? Of course not, because the religious element in the narrative is central, with its metaphysical dimensions and the power to influence individuals to uproot themselves from their roots. Moreover, this mass migration fits in with the Evangelical Christians — who are influential Zionists, particularly in the US — and the "ingathering of the exiles [Jews]" upon which the Second Coming is conditional.
This Christian influence in America has been evident for decades, and is what drove US President Donald Trump to give so much to the current Israeli government, such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. All US presidents back Israel to the hilt in order to get electoral support from Evangelical Christians, even though some Israelis warn that this jeopardizes the future of the state.
The European leaders who backed Zionism in the early twentieth century did so not only to solve their "Jewish problem", but also to have a "rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism". Hence, the Zionists have had to invent a religious/historical narrative to disguise the fact that the creation of the state of Israel was, in fact, a colonial enterprise. Such is the desperate need for this narrative to dominate, that a huge amount of resources and effort have been dedicated to producing, disseminating and maintaining it.
In the end, though, Israel will be a short story, unable to withstand the truth, not least because Zionists expose their own contradictions in their statements and writings. If there is a "Jewish problem" — a claim which is disputed by the many non-Zionist Jews who are very much at home in the countries of their birth — it should not be "solved" at the expense of we Palestinians and our children's future.
Homelands are not built on myths, nor are they created with birth certificates written by force in the corridors of the United Nations. They depend on facts and axioms like the sun needing no evidence of its existence, for it is the evidence. That is what grants legitimacy for anyone to live where they were born after generations before them, not a distorted narrative that has no basis in reality.
- Dr Basim Naim is Head of the Council on International Relations in Gaza. His article appeared in MEMO.