For the People of Israel

Translation / Interpretation / Caption Text

Excerpt from "In Search of the Jewish People" a review by Shmuel Amir of the book "The Invention of the Jewish People" by Shlomo Sands:

The Zionist story – or what they want us to believe

Sand describes the Zionist story that has acquired nearly total hegemony in the Israeli consciousness thusly:

Israelis believe that their own history rests on firm and precise truths. They know for a certainty that a Jewish nation has been in existence since Moses received the tablets of the law on Mount Sinai, and that they are its direct and exclusive descendants (except for the ten tribes, who are yet to be located). They are convinced that this nation “came out” of Egypt; conquered and settled "the Land of Israel," which had been famously promised it by the deity; created the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon, which then split into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They are also convinced that this nation was exiled, not once but twice, after its periods of glory – after the fall of the First Temple in the sixth century BCE, and again after the fall of the Second Temple, in 70 CE. Yet even before that second exile, this unique nation had created the Hebrew Hasmonean kingdom, which revolted against the wicked influence of Hellenization.

They believe that these people – their "nation," which must be the most ancient – wandered in exile for nearly two thousand years and yet, despite this prolonged stay among the gentiles, managed to avoid integration with, or assimilation into, them. The nation scattered widely, its bitter wanderings taking it to Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Poland and distant Russia. But it always managed to maintain close blood relations among the far-flung communities and to preserve its distinctiveness.

Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, they contend, rare circumstances combined to wake the ancient people from its long slumber and to prepare it for rejuvenation and for the return to its ancient homeland. And the nation began to return, joyfully, in vast numbers. Many Israelis still believe that, but for Hitler’s horrible massacre, "Eretz Israel" would soon have been filled with millions of Jews making "aliyah" by their own free will, because they had dreamed of it for thousands of years.

And while the wandering people needed a territory of its own, the empty and virgin land longed for a nation to come and make it bloom. Some uninvited guests had, it is true, settled in this homeland, but since "the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion" for two millennia, the land belonged only to that people, and not to that handful without history who had merely stumbled upon it. Therefore the wars waged by the wandering nation in its conquest of the country were justified; the violent resistance of the local population was criminal […].

The purpose of that historiography, according to Sand, is to establish “the justice of our path” and to prove yet again our right to the Land as against our enemies (Palestinians and Arabs in general). But its purpose is also, and maybe principally: to convince the Israeli public again and again.

Shlomo Sand’s book is a fascinating journey in which he refutes all those “facts” one by one and in their place sets out the history of the Jews along lines that are based on historical sources and his historical interpretation and understanding.

Many good Zionists, especially those in the Academy who have worked so hard to establish Zionist historiography, are understandably angry and frustrated to see the building-blocks of the Zionist myth pulverized one after the other. Abraham did not come from Ur of the Chaldees, nor was there an exodus from Egypt, the waters of the Red Sea apparently were not parted and no horses and chariots were submerged in them; the forced exile of the Jews from their land never happened, there is no evidence of the glorious kingdoms of David and Solomon despite the best efforts of an army of Jewish and Christian archaeologists who turned over every stone in Jerusalem in the hopes of proving the historicity of the Bible. There was no yearning for the Land of the Fathers for over two thousand years, nor is there a global Jewish People. What remains is a simple and not particularly exciting fact: the establishment of a state with the help of British colonialism and its continued existence under the American imperial aegis. Even the role of ideology in its establishment was minor: the masses of Jewish immigrants to Israel came for lack of any alternative. Given a free choice, Jews have always preferred to immigrate to America and Western Europe.

Israel is not unique in this respect. Many colonies have engendered peoples and nations without ideological help. Thus were created nations like the USA, Canada, many countries in Latin America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, part of South Africa and others.

Shlomo Sand weaves a strong narrative, with strong evidence to prove his interpretation. There is insufficient space here to reiterate the wealth of his claims and the abundance of his examples. We will therefore restrict ourselves to an examination of one subject that is central to the book: the provocative concept of the “invention” of the Jewish People. When Hobsbawm explains the concept in the introduction to his above-mentioned book (The Invention of Tradition), he explains that the invention of tradition is an attempt to create continuity with the past, and wherever possible to create a "suitable" historical past. Hobsbawm goes on to say that what is remarkable about the attempt to create a link with an historical past is that that past did not exist at all in most cases.

In our case what did not exist was the Jewish People, and so there was a need to invent it in such a way as to fit in with the historiography of the new Zionist movement.