“What’s happening in Palestine is not complicated. It’s apartheid/settler-colonialism/genocide.” If you’ve been on social media for more than a few minutes, I’m sure you’ve heard this. I have, too, and I’m sick of it. So I decided to create a post series specifically highlighting how very complicated it actually all is.
The conflict and violence in Israel/Palestine/whatever-else-you-want-to-call-it between the Jews and the Arabs has been given disproportionate attention for at least the past 100 years. To put it into perspective, since May 20, 2021, for example, the New York Times Middle East video section has covered Israel 51 times. The next highest country is Turkey, with 12 features and Iran with 11. Since Jina (Mahsa) Amini’s murder in September 2022, the Iranian regime has slaughtered over 500 of its own civilians. A similar number of Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire over a much longer period of time — January 2021 to May 2023 — and the vast majority were claimed as combatants by Palestinian armed groups. Yet Israel-Palestine was covered over five times more than Iran.
To further prove this point: in 2020, alone, Israel was condemned in 17 United Nations resolutions, compared to 6 resolutions for the rest of the world combined.
This disproportionate attention also means that the world has dedicated a disproportionate amount of time to solving the conflict over the past 100 years. Since the 1930s, there have been over 10 serious proposals to solve the issue. Yet, despite these many, many efforts, the conflict remains unsolvable. If it was “not that complicated,” it would’ve been solved by now.
Anti-Israel propagandists are quite blatant in their removal of important context. For example, Al Jazeera, which is Qatari state media (of note: Qatar is the biggest donor to Hamas, the terrorist militia that rules the Gaza Strip), chooses an extremely arbitrary date to begin their Israel-Palestine timeline: 1799. They chose this date because Napoleon may have allegedly written a letter in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. They, of course, never mention that the letter is likely a hoax and most historians disprove it. Anything to make Israel appear like a European colonial outpost in the Middle East. This is all absurd, of course. Jewish history did not start in 1799, and neither did the history of the Land of Israel.
PART ONE: WHY ERETZ ISRAEL?
When you are “in the right,” you are not afraid of providing more context, because more context would only support your point. Context is important because nothing happens in a vacuum. Be weary of those who claim otherwise.
Part One of this context feature is “Why Eretz Israel?” Out of the entire globe, the Zionists chose this tiny sliver of arid, low-in-resources land — roughly equivalent to the size of New Jersey — in which to exercise Jewish self-determination. Should they have chosen somewhere else, given that others were living there at the time? Let’s discuss.
I recommend reading this series in order.
A group of Ethiopian Jews kiss the ground after surviving war and famine and making Aliyah to Israel.
OUR ETHNOGENESIS & NATIONAL IDENTITY
The term “ethnogenesis” refers to “the formation and development of an ethnic group,” either through self-identification or outsider identification. The People of Israel — and more specifically, Jews — became a people in the Land of Israel, evolving from semi-nomadic Hebrew tribes. In other words, our peoplehood and national identity is inextricably rooted in the Land of Israel.
Sometime around the second millenium BCE, a number of Hebrew tribes formed a loose confederation. In 1047 BCE, this confederation organized into the first ever unified state in the Land of Israel, the Kingdom of Israel. In 930 BCE, the Kingdom of Israel split into two: the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) to the north, which is where Samaritans come from, and the Kingdom of Judah to the south, where Jews come from.
The Israelites — that is, Jews and Samaritans — are the only people to have ever established nation states in the Land of Israel. To quote the former Chief Rabbi of England Jonathan Sacks (1948-2020):
“Jews are the only people who ever created a nation state there. At all other times in the past 3000 years it was merely an administrative district in an empire whose centre was elsewhere: the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Alexandrian, Roman and Byzantine empires, the Crusaders of the Holy Roman Empire, the various Muslim empires such as the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Mamluks and Ottomans, and finally the British. Jews* are the only people who have maintained a continuous presence in the land. They are its Indigenous, original inhabitants.”
*and Samaritans, our closest ethnoreligious cousins.
For the past 3000 years, Jews never once forfeited or relinquished our claim to our homeland. Nor did we leave by choice.
722 BCE - the neo-Assyrian Empire conquers the northern Kingdom of Israel and exiles many of the Israelites to the Assyrian Empire
587 BCE - the Babylonian Empire conquers the southern Kingdom of Judah and exile about 25 percent of its residents to Babylon. This marks the beginning of the Persian Jewish, Iraqi Jewish, Baghdadi Jewish, Bukharian Jewish, and many other Diaspora Jewish groups
70-135 CE - as a punishment for the Jewish revolts against the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel, the Romans massacre and enslave over one million Jews. Many of those enslaved are then exiled to Rome. This likely marks the beginning of the Ashkenazi Jewish Diaspora and at least part of the Sephardic Jewish Diaspora
1012 - Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah enacts the Hakim Edict, which forces all Jews in the Land of Israel to either convert to Islam or leave. This fundamentally shifts the demographics of Palestine, making Jews a minority
SPIRITUAL & CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
Judaism and Jewish culture cannot be practiced in their entirety outside of the Land of Israel. This is because we not only originate from the Land of Israel, but we also never in history “forfeited” or “relinquished” our claim to it. Throughout 2500 years of colonial subjugation and 2000 years of forced displacement, we always, always hoped to recover our sovereignty in the Land of Israel. In fact, you’ll start noticing that anti-Zionist Jews often end up “changing” Judaism (e.g. holidays, prayers, etc) to align with their anti-Zionist worldview, because Jewishness and the Land of Israel are objectively inextricable from one another. This has been the case for the past 3000 years.
The two main pillars of Jewish identity are the following: (1) reverence for the Land of Israel, and (2) monotheism. But around 20 percent of Jews are atheist or agnostic. On the other hand, the term “Jew” quite literally translates to “someone from the Kingdom of Judah,” one of the two Israelite kingdoms.
The centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish culture is everywhere: most of our holidays celebrate the harvest of the land in one form or another, the Hebrew calendar follows the agricultural cycle of the Land of Israel, our spiritual and cultural symbolism is very intrinsically tied to the harvest of the land, agricultural practices such as Shmita apply to Israel and to Israel alone, many of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) can only be fulfilled in the Land of Israel, we pray facing Jerusalem, and many more.
The Land of Israel is not only central to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood; it’s its very lifeline.
A couple of other examples of the unshakable, unbreakable bond between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel include the yearly prayer known as “Geshem” (“rain” in Hebrew), which asks God for rainfall in the Land of Israel, and the holiday of Passover, which derived from an ancient Canaanite harvest festival. Of course, there are many, many other examples.
CONTINUED DESIRE FOR SOVEREIGNTY
As mentioned in prior slides, Jews never once relinquished or forfeited our claim to our homeland. This has not changed for the past 3000 years. In just about every generation, Jews rose up — or attempted to rise up — to fight for our autonomy and independence in our ancestral homeland.
539 BCE - the “Return to Zion,” where the term “Zionism” comes from, when the Jews exiled to Babylon returned to the Land of Israel
167-141 BCE - the Maccabean Revolt, when the Jews revolted against the occupation of the Seleucid Greek Empire
66-73 CE - the First Jewish Revolt against the occupation of the Roman Empire
132-135 - the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the third Jewish revolt against the occupation of the Roman Empire
351-352 - Jewish Revolt Against Gallus, when Jews revolted against the occupation of the Roman Empire
614-617 - Jewish Revolt Against Heraclius, when Jews revolted against the Byzantine occupation and briefly retained sovereignty over Jerusalem
Middle Ages-1880 - at least 50 serious attempts made by different Diasporic Jewish communities to resettle and revive their communities in the Land of Israel
Between 1517-1917, Palestine was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. In order to make his vision for Jewish sovereignty come true, Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, personally tried to appeal to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdulhamid II. Abdulhamid II, however, was concerned with his weakening empire and was determined to suppress virtually all forms of non-Turkish nationalism (e.g. Armenian nationalism, pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism, and later, Kurdish nationalism). Unfortunately for Jews, Jewish nationalism — that is, Zionism — also fell under that category.
In June of 1882, the Ottomans prohibited the entry of Jews to any part of Ottoman territory. Just a month later, in July of 1882, the Ottomans allowed Jews to resettle anywhere in the Ottoman Empire except for Palestine. In 1893, the Ottomans prohibited ALL Jews from purchasing land in Palestine, even those whose families had lived there for millennia. Meanwhile, the Jews living in Eastern Europe were experiencing yet another genocidal wave of pogroms (anti-Jewish massacres). Herzl realized the negotiations with Sultan Abdulhamid II were going nowhere, so he thought of other solutions to save European Jewry.
Since the negotiations with the Ottomans were a complete failure, Herzl appealed to other powers to save European Jewry. Among them was the British Empire, who did not occupy Palestine until after World War I. In response to Herzl’s pleas for help, British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain suggested that Jews settle in a piece of land in East Africa (in modern day Kenya, despite the fact that this plan is known as the “Uganda Plan”), which the British did control at the time.
At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, Herzl suggested that the Jews should accept the British offer — but only temporarily. The ultimate goal was always for Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. In fact, 5 days after the congress, he stated emphatically: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.” Even so, the proposal was met with great controversy among the Jewish delegates, so much so that one of Herzl’s supporters, Max Nordau, was almost murdered at a Hanukkah party.
In other words: unlike actual colonizers, Zionists never set their sights on “colonizing” any territory, and certainly never any territory outside of Palestine; recovering autonomy in the Land of Israel, our ancestral homeland, was always the goal.
The Uganda Plan was met with an uproar. After all, Zionism was a movement for the self-determination of the Jewish People in our ancestral homeland (so yes, an Indigenous sovereignty movement). Some delegates claimed that if Jews resettled in Uganda, they wouldn’t want to then have to move again, this time to the Land of Israel; in other words, they worried that the goal for Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish ancestral homeland would be forgotten. Others believed that settling anywhere outside of the ancient Jewish homeland would be a betrayal of Jewish values. Even secular Zionists stated: “Giving up Zion for even an hour seemed like a severe and elemental ideological heresy.”
Notably, the Jewish delegates from Russia even walked out of the congress in protest.
However, due to the desperate situation for European Jewry, when the delegates at the congress held a vote regarding the Uganda Plan, the results were as follows: 295 in favor, 178 against, and 98 abstentions. Not for one moment, however, did any of these delegates see Uganda as a replacement for Palestine. Some religious Zionists considered the Uganda Plan an instant of the Jewish value of “pikuach nefesh” — that is, that preserving life overrides virtually all other Jewish laws. Others stated that there was no way Jews could ever forget the desire to return to the Land of Israel; after all, the desire to return to our ancestral homeland is imprinted all throughout our culture.
Nevertheless, the Uganda Plan created a deep schism in the Zionist movement. Herzl realized his mistake, and in 1904, he stated: “For us, a solution can only be found in Palestine.” By the next Zionist congress — which came in 1905, after Herzl’s death — the Uganda Plan was rejected.
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