You must have heard the claim that modern-day ‘Israel’ is a country with another people’s language and religion? If you haven’t, you’re probably living in some idyllic wilderness (that’s a good thing), and you can skip this post.
If you have, anti-semitic propaganda has become so common these days (I’m speaking of hatred against ordinary Jews, and not criticism against the ‘State of Israel’), that you’ve probably come across multiple versions of the claim. The idea is a simple one; our contemporaries – Jewish Israelis from eastern Europe – are squatting on another people’s land, the ‘Palestinians’ who’ve been living in Palestine for centuries. What’s worse, the actual biblical heritage these intruders claim, thousands of years in the past, is not even theirs! Imagine, a people with no actual ancestral ties to the original progenitors of the ‘Jewish’ ‘identity‘, the so-called ‘original tribes’ of Israel, claiming the territory of modern-day Israel as their ‘divine’ birthright!
Can anything be more perverse?
Like I said, I’m not speaking of ‘rights and wrongs’ of the modern-day conflict to thereby apportion blame. Whatever your take on the conflict, and it seems that most of us have picked our side because of the tribal identities we espouse, I’m actually speaking of ‘nationalistic claims’, and the attempts made by some people to write others out of history to further their own political agendas. In this respect, Israeli Jews, however powerful in Israel, are being subjected to ahistorical claims to counteract their military and political power. The votaries opposed to them are thus prepared to accept any number of historical insights, howsoever dubious, to challenge them. Because we’ve picked our sides, we’re invested in the supposed truth claims we parrot when airing our grievances, even as we’ve never once probed the actual propositions.
So let’s look at the actual claim within the wider context of the conflict and history.
Crudely, it goes something like this…
In the not so distant past outside the lands of present-day Israel, some pagan tribes of diverse ethnic origins, probably Turkic, converted en mass to Judaism around the middle of the 8th century CE. As time progressed they wandered off from their original location in the northern Caucasus region into the rest of Central Asia, and further afield into eastern Europe. There, they became a persecuted people because of their foreign roots and alien religion. Had it not been for their professed faith in Judaism, they would have gradually morphed into the population, and forgotten about their distant origin. But that’s not what happened. These areas had been successfully and almost entirely converted to Christianity. The ‘converted’ Christians, when not fighting with one another, had serious beaf with the ‘Jews’. The priests and their rabble rousers blamed the Jews for the death of the Messiah who oddly had been destined to die for the salvation of humanity per Church doctrines. But this did not matter. Christians blamed the ‘foreign’ Jews for every transgression under the sun, which had all the hallmarks of the typical persecution powerless minorities experience when they are actively demonised. The ‘Jews’ gradually became a persecuted ‘minority’ in almost every part of Europe occasionally expelled from ‘ghettos’ they were forced into, and subjected to the random but deadly pogrom. The actual word ‘ghetto’ is intimately tied with the Jewish experience.
Being a ‘Jew’ in Europe had serious implications for the quality of your life. Inane slurs that you had a big nose or was a stingy miser were the least of your worries. Affirming your Jewishness wasn’t something you would want to voice publicly, but the Christians around you, probably with equally large noses and the same propensity for frugalness, didn’t want you to forget who you were and where you came from.
So you were quite literally screwed!
I want my readers to hear me when I say this given how fastidious members of my own community have become to the ‘Muslim-Ummah Syndrome‘ and their own sense of ‘victimhood’. When ‘Jews’ speak of their forbears’ suffering, they are not imagining the crimes that were committed against ‘Jewish communities’. This is borne out by the historical record, and the timeline in question is sadly a long one. We are talking about 2000 years of persecution, prejudice and scapegoating. In the overwhelming majority of instances, they were not aggressors but victims lest we distort our moral compass for contemporary causes, partisan or otherwise.
This may not be a popular thing to say when you see the IDF bulldozing Palestinian homes and shooting live ammunition into crowds of stone pelters, some young as ten, but tribal loyalties do not automatically give birth to historical truths. Neither do they give succour to the perverse claim that 6 million or so innocent Jews did not die in the concentration camps because “there weren’t even that many Jews in Europe!” The detractors that have a penchant for this particular remark like to cite population numbers unaware of the real reasons behind the false ‘controversy’.
I always find it strange how so many of us quickly become experts, or in this case demographers of a subject-matter that wouldn’t ordinarily excite us! But that’s just the nature of apocryphal ‘facts’. They’re convenient ‘grenades’ for people who prefer playing video games to probing the pages of books written by scholars, or visiting the eerie but sombre environ of Auschwitz.
The modern State of Israel is indeed an anomaly to how Jews were treated in Europe historically. But, you can’t understand what’s happening in Israel without resorting back to that much older timeline. Present day events are connected with their historical antecedents, and a lot of the anxieties that emerge from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have roots in past events.
In medieval Europe, life was really hard for Jews. It grinded on with little hope for change. The pitiable status accorded to Jewish minorities didn’t change much for hundreds of years until some enlightened rulers took pity on them. They lifted social and economic restrictions that prohibited ‘Jews’ from full participation in their societies, and they prospered. Out of huge dispossession arose a people justly proud of their many contributions to science, art and literature. They were a hardworking bunch of ‘go-getters’ and they excelled in almost every academic discipline, trade and professional vocation. They were loyal to their adopted homelands anxious that their new found prosperity could be jeopardised by asserting too loudly their Jewish roots. Others got involved in their political struggles and sought to challenge their ‘people’s’ perceived ‘meekness’ as widespread antisemitism continued to linger on in many parts of Europe. The ideologues of Zionism, an ideological movement that sought to protect the Jewish Diaspora from persecution, advocated for a ‘homeland’ of their own, perhaps somewhere in Africa where they would be safe. This was around the same time that attitudes against Jews were hardening in Europe from which pool we had the emergence of Hitler and his henchmen. Eventually the Nazis succeeded in exterminating a lot of Jews in their concentration camps, the writing was however on the wall as Jewish refugees poured out of Europe.
The Nazis were not however selective in their hatred for ‘lessor humans’. The Nordic champions of the perfect human race murdered non-Jews too. They had a ‘race hierarchy’, plonking themselves at the top of it barring their own kith and kin with physical and mental disabilities, they located the ‘Slavs’, ‘Gypsies’ and ‘Jews’ right at the bottom. But even these sad realities become ‘contested’ as ‘victimhood’ is ascribed or denied for essentially political reasons. Once you’ve joined a ‘tribe’, you become blind, or desensitised to the ‘truth claims’ of the other side, and this is what is happening as people argue for, or against Israel, with the unlikeliest of bedfellows joining each other’s ranks.
As the Allied Powers failed to intervene to stop the genocide of European Jews, they were fully aware of the concentration camps, Zionist organisations rallied and managed to relocate tens of thousands of Jews to British controlled ‘Palestine’ with the duplicitous support of Britain that had promised ‘Palestine’ to the ‘Palestinians’. The ‘Palestinians’ had only recently been liberated from the yoke of fellow Muslim rule, namely the Ottoman Turks, thanks to colonial intervention and instigation. The Arab nationalists, a new breed of activists at the time, now viewed the Ottoman Turks as foreign invaders and not co-religionists. They were more than happy to side with the British Imperialists to create their own homelands. Religion, seemed to have lost its appeal to bind diverse peoples together, as the intellectuals of the age excitedly welcomed a new dawn free of superstition and atavistic anxieties. Nationalism now seemed the way forward even as the newly constituted ‘citizens’ of the new nation-states didn’t feel that they belonged within their designated ‘borders’ courtesy of the outside powers. The Brits were parading themselves as the Saviour of the indigenous nations, even as they struck deals with autocratic tribal elders to create their own Kingdoms.
They promised the Palestinians a homeland of their own.
They also promised the Jews a homeland of their own in the same place as the Palestinians.
They were in a real pickle with all their double-dealing, and conflict ensued between the “Arabs” and the “Jews”. They arrested both Arab and Jewish agitators, tried to placate the Palestinians by reducing the numbers of Jews fleeing to Israel, even as Jews were being butchered in Europe, whilst unintentionally laying down the foundations of our present day conflict in the Middle East. The architects of this mess were not ‘evil’ and neither did they deliberately seek to create chaos. These were the end days of European colonialism, and its twilight years were messy. Those at the helm of this sinking ship were way over their heads. Eventually, they picked up their bags and left.
British Imperialism was too costly now and a huge liability.
‘Palestine’ was partitioned and the new State of Israel came into existence. Internationally, most countries recognised its existence, a lot of ‘Muslim’ countries refused, and even to this day, most of them prohibit their citizens from visiting Israel even for a holiday. At first the Israelis were overjoyed hoping to come to some sort of settlement with the Palestinian Arabs now that both ‘parties’ to the conflict had their respective territories. The Palestinians felt betrayed, having lost so much of their homeland to the new occupants from Europe. Colonial promises had been a lie, and they felt duped to have fought the ‘Ottomans’ with the help of the British. Worse, their supporters from the neighbouring Arab Kingdoms had their own vested interests whatever their official pronouncements of ‘Arab’ unity.
All out war ensued between the ‘Arabs’ and the Israelis. Outnumbered, outgunned, the Israelis were victorious and succeeded in taking more land than had been originally allocated to them. For the Jews, this was a fight for their lives, and they convinced themselves that they would never fall prey to the butchery their ancestors had grown accustomed to for centuries. Gradually, they managed to squeeze the Palestinians into an even smaller part of Palestine where they’ve been lingering for more than half a century demanding their own country amidst all sorts of anti-Semitic rhetoric, reciprocal violence and the not so infrequent ‘turf war’.
Wherever the Palestinians turn, they see a mangled future ‘State’ with Jewish settlements dotted everywhere. They see prosperity in Israel as they continue to live as Refugees in and outside the Promised Land. Their leaders offer them nothing by way of normality and prosperity but the rhetoric of resistence and suicide bombings. The death count for ordinary Palestinians grows exponentially higher every year as they actively resist the Israeli Occupation, ever the more distant to their dream of creating a Palestinian State. For the fortunate few, they manage to get asylum in western countries where they proudly fly their Palestinian flags, as others find work in the Gulf Monarchies.
Bastions of the international ‘Muslim Fraternity’ seem aggrieved at this state of affairs and they have consistently made their upset known in very provocative language, flag burning and the odd clash with law enforcement agencies in their own countries. The Islamic Republic of Iran positively bathes in anti-Isreal hate-speech as most Iranians grow tired of their own Ayatollahs’ incessant demands of pushing Israel into the Sea. Iran, for the ordinary Iranian feels like a prison, a security state that does not tolerate any form of dissent. It is tyranny orchestrated by the Mullahs, and yet ordinary Muslims seem oblivious to this particular form of suffering.
Similar atrocities and inequalities are being committed against numerous ‘Muslim’ peoples in their own homelands by ‘Muslim’ States, and not even a peep of disquiet. Think of the ‘Kurds’, the ‘Baluch’, the ‘Kashmiris‘ in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, Shias in Saudi Arabia, Sunnis in Iran, “Ahmedis” in Pakistan, and countless others. There are of course others like the Rohingya in Burma whose plight only now seems to be registering with Muslims, despite their persecution being decades old. Bangladesh for its part, recently closed the Myanmar-Bangladesh border to impede fleeing Rohinga from reaching safety in Bangladesh. Very rarely will you hear Muslims speak out against the plight of the Kurds whose lands have been parcelled out between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran all the while they complain about non-Muslim violence against Muslims.
In preceding decades, as Islamic fanatics went about their business slitting the throats of Muslim Algerians, and West-Pakistani soldiers fought to keep east-Pakistan within the fold of its unequal power-structure by raping tens of thousands of Bengali women, none of this mattered. Muslim-on-Muslim violence is a non-consideration, it is a less fashionable cause that doesn’t tickle the fancy of tribal Muslims who want to be outraged at anti-Muslim ‘injustice’ and ‘oppression’ at whim. It is an inconvenient irony for the ideological polemicists who want to bind all Muslims together in a perennial war against the non-Muslims even as they offer nothing of material substance to their own societies.
And so they have their favourite villains, the Israeli ‘reprobates’ sit at the top of this list.
But prior to Israel’s triumphant moment against the Palestinians and their hundreds of millions of Muslim supporters, the ‘victors’ in their heavily accented ‘Hebrew’, an ironic charge given none of us has ever heard what ancient Hebrew sounded like, did not speak Hebrew as a native tongue. The converted Jews resurrected the old language that had died with the old biblical Jews. In this sense, modern-day Israelis are not imagined as a genuine ‘people’ in the ethnolinguistic sense of the term. If the logic is to believed, they therefore have no corresponding ancestral claim to Israel, thus the popular charge “modern-day Israel is a country with an extinct people’s language and religious traditions”.
But let’s understand the real motives behind the claim.
Brute power has failed spectacularly to kick out the Israelis from the ‘Promised Land’, and so the defenders of Palestinian ‘victimhood’ increasingly resort to propaganda. All conflicts are fought on different fronts, military battles aren’t necessarily always decisive. Influencing how outsiders think about a particular conflict is an essential ingredient in the arsenal of war. But according to the claim we’re still only talking about a particular group of Jews known as the Ashkenazi or European Jews from eastern Europe. We’re not talking about the Sephardic Jews, evicted from the Iberian Peninsula after the ‘Christian’ conquest of Spain. The victorious Christians kicked out the Muslims and ‘recovered’ their lands for Christianity. The Jews became casualties and accompanied the vanquished Muslims to ‘Islamic’ lands where they settled and co-existed peacefully. So things weren’t all that bad for Jews outside Europe. In fact, a number of historians tell us that in Muslim Spain, Jews enjoyed a golden age and were persecuted a lot less than their counterparts in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. Apparently the Iberian Muslims were very tolerant of religious diversity even as they weren’t very religious themselves which is an interesting point if you think about it.
Just ponder this thought for a brief moment.
Devout Muslims, then and now, have blamed the loss of Muslim Spain to the loss of divine favour. If only the Muslims had been more religious, genuinely ‘devout’, adhered to the ‘sharia’ (‘Islamic Law’), the Lord of Mohammed would have saved their ‘dynastic’ ‘Kingdoms’! And yet moderate Muslims applaud this period of religious tolerance and scientific progress. It was during this epoch that Christian Europeans travelled to Muslim Spain to learn the sciences and academic disciplines of the time. Of course, these good old days did not last. The Muslims were booted out of Spain because of divine punishment, our religious folk tell us. And so they moved into the neighbouring Muslim heartlands. The fate of the Jews, ‘Sephardic’ including later, the ‘Mizrahi’ (the eastern Jews) from areas around modern-day Iraq/Iran and afar had been intimately tied with that of the defeated Muslims. These are your ‘proper’ Jews and they shared the language and culture of the peoples they lived amongst. For all intents and purposes, they were undistinguishable from the populations that had absorbed them.
Centuries later, the Mizrahi packed up their bags in the cover of night and left for the new State of Israel when it was founded. With the creation of the Jewish State, Muslims in Arab countries turned vindictive to their Jewish populations who played no part in the creation of Israel but it didn’t matter, they were ‘guilty by association’. And so the Ashkenazi Jews threw the doors open to their non-Ashkenazi brethren as the ‘Ashkenazi’ settlers occupied more and more Palestinian land. The fate of the new State now rested on ‘Jewish’ numbers, a perennial problem for the defenders of the State, given that Israeli Jews are not having enough babies. In fact Israeli Arabs seem to be outbreeding their Jewish counterparts, which might explain some of the anxieties in Israel.
But that’s the background to the basic gist of the claim as simplistically as possible with all the background noises, sighs and ruffles. It’s an emotive claim, skewed with all sorts of historical inaccuracies, contrived facts imbued with curious religious claims. It doesn’t take into account the fact that Israel is now home to a diverse ‘nation’ of Israeli Jews from all over the world who absolutely exist as a ‘people’ whatever the internal ethnic or political fault-lines.
‘Identities’ have never been fixed, they’re fluid and people can be oppressed on account of their identities even if the status is claimed to be an ‘imagined’ one.
But here’s the thing, not all Israeli Jews are ‘Ashkenazis’!
Prior to the hypothetical theory of Khazar pagans converting in large numbers to Judaism, there had always been small groups of Jews living in Europe, many of whom trickled into Europe when the Romans occupied Judea and surrounding areas whilst reconfiguring and renaming their territories. The actual Province of Palaestina comes into existence during this period whatever its earlier etymological roots in the Bible. So there have always been small pockets of Jews outside Israel, in Europe, the Middle East, even in distant places like India, and it has nothing to do with some mass conversion of Jews conspiracy-style.
Let me be crystal clear, I’m not weighing in on the truth or falsehood of the claim, although it would appear that Israelis themselves are on opposite sides of this divide. A lot of tribally-minded Muslims are simply unaware of how diverse Israeli popular opinion actually is. Ordinary Israelis, for their part, are not perturbed by claims of their non-Jewish origins, why should they care?
They’re physically occupying the biblical lands, and Muslim public opinion is of no consequence to them as it lacks any credible threat to their regime. The Muslim World is in decline, and has been in decline for centuries. This curious fact, known by every historian out there, seems to be lost on the bastions of a tribal Muslim identity who take great delight in their numbers and their propensity to breed.
The defenders of Israel have their laws upheld in their own legal system that protects their interests, further entrenched by the ‘impartial’ constitutionality of the ‘Jewish’ State, a homeland and refuge for Jews everywhere. As far as they are concerned they are not breaking any laws when Palestinians are forcibly cleared from their orchards, or refused permits to build their own properties, and even denied building materials in the ‘occupied territories’. Clearly, the Israelis are not going to countenance moves that, in their mind at least, undermine their security considerations even if these ‘regulations’ seem to the outside world ‘discriminatory’, ‘cruel’ and ‘vindictive’.
Unfettered Human rights conterminous with the right that allows people to hate you peacefully is a luxury when someone is not pointing a gun at you whilst wearing a suicide-belt, they would say.
After all, every Jewish Israeli, able-bodied, is required by law to lay down his or her life for the Jewish State. Israelis that are now confident about their future, although perturbed by the conflict, have not forgotten how they were treated historically by people who relegated them to the fringe. Some Israelis become a little ambivalent about the Palestinians as they have to deal with the chorus of non-Muslim noises telling them how bad they are. In Israel, this means hating ‘the Left’ where the word has become a slur, as if there were some international conspiracy against Israel that doesn’t quite understand how complex the Isreali-Palestinian conflict actually is.
It really isn’t that complex. The conflict is territorial, the victors want more land, and the losers want to retain the lands they are losing. This conflict is much about resources as it is about landmass; States need natural resources to survive, and the Israelis are encroaching upon the resources of the Palestinians. They do this by building settlements in Palestinian lands, and then affirm their right to protect their ‘citizens’ from Palestinian violence. The end result is to clear the land of the Palestinians. Historical memories of persecution, and narratives of the Zionist movement are then deployed with fierce precision. The naive or impressionable amongst us, usually tribally-minded, fall for the propaganda.
As the international ‘Left’ watches this facade from the comfort of their armchairs, they leap into action to expose the apartheid Israeli State. Some of them jump on a plain and head for Tel Aviv with their cameras, travelling into the occupied territories, waving their microphones in the faces of the settlers who are more than happy to curse the “dirty filthy Arabs who need to go back to where they came from!” Rightwing Parties in Israel then go on the attack, blaming treacherous ‘lefties’ in their own midst who seem to be colluding with the international order in exposing Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians. From this perspective, the only credible defence against such threats is the tribal march of rightwing parties in Israel as they seek the unlikeliest of bedfellows in Europe condemning immigrants and Muslims. These far-right extremists used to hate the Jews, but now they’ve become champions and defenders of the indigenous minorities from the foreign threat; Jews are now indigenous, Muslims are still foreigners.
Whatever you make of Israeli politics, the expanding nature of the Israeli State, or whether you think Israelis ‘are’ or ‘aren’t’ related to their ‘Jewish’ forbears, as rabbinical laws demand, Israelis will point out that none of this stops deranged people from trying to kill them! If indeed they weren’t ‘proper’ Jews historically, why then were they being hounded to death in Europe because of their ‘Jewish’ identity?
Israel is their only option to stay safe. It is a homeland for the Jews.
Howsoever you feel about the ‘Jewish State’ and the pitiable ‘statelessness of the Palestinians,’ you have to respect the Israelis for standing firm in their hotly contested piece of real estate notwithstanding the unjust treatment meted out to the Palestinians. And let’s be fair to the Palestinians, the ‘occupation’ is outright ‘unjust’. How anyone can say otherwise, is just nuts. I’m merely stating that if you were born into the Israeli side of this conflict, you wouldn’t necessarily see the world through Palestinian eyes. You would insist on the Israeli State being top-dog in a neighbourhood of crazed lunatics.
Failing their own military superiority over the Arabs, the Israelis have the support of America, the world’s only existing Super Power, perhaps for a time, but crucially a country with a colossal military budget that has a seat on the UN Security Council. America is committed to protecting Israel from any ‘infractions’ courtesy of the international political order, even if some Israelis within Israel are perturbed by this prospect.
A lot of Israelis in Israel want the conflict to end, they want normalcy for their children and the children of the Palestinians. Many are vociferously opposed to settlements in Palestinian Territories because in their minds this undermines peace with the Palestinians, but sadly they’re not calling the shots.
So you see conflicts are a lot more nuanced than just two sides fighting each other tribally. There are others in the midst completely opposed to the status quo that demands tribal loyalty as the price of a shared belonging. They are not cowed into accepting the ‘fashionable’ position because it carries official weight or is backed by popular appeal. If the status quo doesn’t sit well with their conscious, they speak out!
Although they are summarily dismissed as ‘traitors’.
For my own part as someone trying to make sense of identities wedded to fabricated territories within the context of conflict, I doubt very much that the ‘Khazars’ converted en mass to Judaism. It is absolutely the case, that the ruling class of the Khazars converted, surprisingly, to Judaism around 740 CE following contact with the ascendant Arab Muslims of the time. But the claim that they are the remote ancestors of every Ashkenazi Jew out there seems far fetched. This claim has all the hallmarks of a propogandist theory, a bit like mythic claims used by political nationalists to justify their ethnic group’s exclusive possession of contested territories. From my readings ancestral ‘nations’ do not evolve like this, and no ‘people’ can claim conclusively ancestral belonging to tribal groups that have long perished howsoever we want to imagine their ‘everlasting’ identities hundreds and thousands of years later.
If you’re really committed to this ‘romantic’ idea, do some ‘skull and bone’ excavations of your own. Locate your ancient but decaying ancestors first, if their bodies are preserved, do some DNA tests. Extract their DNA from their bones and see if it matches with your own DNA to determine whether you descend from them, or to a shared ancestor, some thousands of years earlier.
You’ll be surprised to learn that remote populations in different parts of our modern world are also related to your imagined ancestors. You’ll probably discover to your horror that your less-related to your celebrated ancestor than some random dude in some foreign wilderness who knows nothing about your political claims. It’s usually dimwits who extoll these exclusive identities unaware of how modern science has demolished the idea that ‘pure’ ‘bloodlines’ lead naturally to specific ancestral groups simply because you now feel empowered to adopt that particular ‘status’. You may belong to a particular breeding population and physically look like your peers, but it doesn’t follow that you descend from the same ancestors. Even if you look different, and you have a particular penchant of always pointing this out, you may actually be more closely related to your breeding population than someone without your distinct facial features (albeit imagined) who looks like everyone else. Your statements merely expose you for what is really exercising your mind, even as you might claim otherwise. But, even then we’re not talking about some remote past, as in all likelihood we’re all related to the same distant ancestors.
Yes, I literally mean that, all of us are the probable descendants of ancient ‘Kings’, believe it or not!
Pure bloodlines are fictions because all human beings descend from the same ancestors. The further back you go into time, the pool of ancestors becomes smaller and I mean a lot smaller. Human population numbers for the greater part of our shared history have been minuscule when compared to our current numbers. There was also a catastrophic natural event some 70 thousand years ago that reduced human numbers outside Africa drastically. Most of us descend from this tiny bottleneck population who went on to populate the rest of the world as the earth’s conditions improved for migration. We have no sense of how life seemed back then and the priorities that came with grazing livestock and fighting over grazing rights.
The idea of sovereign peoples and their eternal ‘territories’ did not exist in the way we imagine them today. It was Kings and rulers that had claims to ‘territories’ and not their subjects, the likes of you and me, arguing about ‘ethnic’ identities and our exclusive ancestral populations. In most cases, the religious elite validated the claims of their overlords creating the interdependence we see between religious and political elites everywhere. The religious elite grew rich off the backs of the secular elites, and not the other way round, which should give you an idea of power dynamics. The vast majority of people were excluded from this class of people, and most of us descend from this stock.
It’s that straightforward and it really isn’t rocket science.
Ancestral claims to ancient ‘ethnicities’, especially through the mist and fog of mythic claims, do not lead to imagined identities millennia years old. This absolutely holds true for the Khazars if indeed they existed in the manner described by those challenging the right of Israelis to claim ‘Israel’ – a ‘territory’ and not an ‘identity’. And what about the biblical Jews? Similarly there is no proof that they existed in the manner described by the Old Testament.
New archaeological finds in the ‘places’ described in biblical accounts call into question a lot of what we’ve taken for granted about the older social and political landscapes; these accounts were written centuries after the imagined events by writers projecting backwards because of their own anxieties. This is a bit like me, someone who lives in the early part of the 21st century writing about events that supposedly took place in the 1600s CE. You come along, say, 2000 years from the date of my death and take my ‘historical’ account as ‘gospel truth‘ because it survived the ravages of time on account of power-dynamics you don’t understand.
Because ‘God’ inspired my accounts, I said as much 2000 years earlier or at least you think I did, you accept my ‘English’ descriptions of Iceland without ever realising that in the 400 years prior to my life, ‘cars’ did not exist in the manner I described. Worse, no ‘nation’ of exactly 147 thousand ‘Chinese-looking’ men drove through my part of the world in armoured Humvees to steal ‘petrol’ in barren lands that were empty of human populations to defend such lucrative assets. There was no bridge between Iceland and Britain either, the bridge was built by the Chinese 500 years after my death. In fact no one, in my part of the world, 400 years before my death spoke ‘English’.
But even if these historical claims were true for entirely different reasons from the ones cited above, there’s no getting around their chief purpose today – propaganda. From this perspective, claims of some distant origin are less historical, or mythic but almost entirely political.
The people making these claims today aren’t engaged in an intellectual pursuit for the sake of validating one or another proposition, far from it. Opponents of Israel employ their claims because they are unhappy with what’s happening in Israel. From this perspective, it’s about either redressing a grievance built on the idea of automatic ownership of land (benefiting Israelis) or its concrete denial (benefiting Palestinians). ‘Historical accounts’ are thus deployed to bolster political claims.
The nature of the Palestinian Conflict is such that even Israelis have sought to re-write Palestinians out of history. Israelis have their own claims! They’ll argue that there is no Palestinian people in the historical record. The Kingdom of Judah had always been Jewish, and the mass exodus of its traditional inhabitants out of the biblical lands was because of Roman persecution, there were similarly other dispersals that depopulated the very place promised to Jews by God himself.
I mean, how do you argue with God especially when that God has vouchsafed his demands to his most beloved people, the ‘Jews’? Failing these ‘historical’ arguments, the Israeli Jews can rely on their non-Jewish cohorts from the bible belt in America, bible-thumping Christians prepared to listen to the God of Israel as his self-appointed ‘spokesman’ speaks in an Israeli accent in the holy lands.
And so the logic is unfaltering, the Palestinians are merely ‘Arabs’ from other parts of the world, a claim that simultaneously evokes the myth of an Arab primordiality. Of course, not all ‘Arabs’ are Arabs in the way we imagine an Arab identity today!
Those who make such claims are essentially arguing that the ‘Arabs’ of Palestine have no historical claims to Palestine unlike the Israelis who have an incontestable claim to Israel. As I’ve said all along, this is not a religious or an historical claim but a political one. Religion merely gives succour to the political claim, and it’s very difficult to argue with people who think the bible is god’s word and it must be followed at all costs.
These claims are rooted in a profound sense of confirmation bias; historical truths are not important, their political outcomes are.
And so it doesn’t even bother the pro-Israeli lobby making these claims that many in their midst are self-professed ‘atheists’ and ‘secularists’! The overlapping nuances between the two positions are by no means incidental. How do you separate religion from politics if you then go on to make the contradictory claim that the Israeli State belongs to the Jewish people because the God of ‘Moses‘ wanted it so? And yet apparently Israel is like every other ‘western’, ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ State where the ‘rule of law’ reigns supreme and minorities are protected, all the while human rights organisations decry the treatment of the Palestinians.
I guess if you asked Ethiopian Jews, or African Refugees, and even Jews of Arab descent, they would tell you otherwise. I mean who are we kidding. But then again, if you’re an ‘Israeli Jew’ carrying the burden of historical memories as you battle your unrelenting foes, what would you do? Some European Jews in Israel will argue that the enmity between Israelis and Palestinians owes its origin to deep-seated bitterness between Israel’s former ‘Arab’ Jews and the Palestinians. It is as if the former are over-compensating to prove their loyalty to the Israeli State, perhaps not forgetting how their grandparents left their former lands under the cover of night leaving all their worldly possessions and memories behind.
Bitterness does indeed breed contempt, and its outcomes are being relayed on our TV screens with CNN, Fox News and Al-Jazeera offering their commentary courtesy of the people funding them.
But, like I said, whatever the exterior of these emotive claims couched as historical truths, they are nothing more than ‘political’ claims. And they become expedient like the claim, “look how vast the ‘Arab’ world is, if the Arabs care for the Palestinians they should resettle them elsewhere!”
As if the ‘Arabs’ ever comprised one nation ethno-linguistically, united and following a preordained course of ‘pan-Arab’ nationalism like their Jewish counterparts in the ‘Zionist’ movements!
But of course “Israel belongs to the Israelis”! That’s the end of the matter. Argument over.
But, where else have you heard similar claims?
I’ll tell you.
‘Kashmiri’ Pandits claiming ‘Kashmir’ for all the wrong reasons.
Yup, I’m talking about our backyard, that paradise on heaven of the Mughal imagination minus her undeserving peoples!