The far-left, pro-Palestinian Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz recently reported on an extensive survey of Palestinian school textbooks. The books are bizarre. They all but expunge Israel from the map of the region, referring to the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as “Palestine.” There’s no mention of “Israel,” much less the promise of “peace” in exchange for Israel’s retreat to the pre-1967 borders.
The books also teach that the Palestinians have first rights to the country. Accordingly, the “Arab Canaanites were there before the Jews, therefore the Zionistic claim of rights to the land by virtue of forefathers is a lie.”
Other than among its Arab adherents, one would expect such loony-tune historical revisionism from crackpots like members of the Institute for Historical Review. (The IHR is a motley of discredited oddballs, poseurs and pseudo-historians, whose members are dedicated to proving that Jews lied about the Holocaust. Intellectually, the IHR is a sort of malevolent version of the Flat Earth Society.)
The Palestinian textbooks also describe Zionism as “a movement of which the seizing of land is foremost among its tenets.” This is a strand that sadly runs through many libertarian sophomoric scripts about “Zionist imperialism.” Once again, this level of sophistry is rare even among the left. When it’s forthcoming, it hails from the Noam Chomsky crazed-clown corner.
Why so many libertarians share the Arab world’s unstinting commitment to fabrication is a puzzle. The defensive wars Israel has been forced into belie this sloganeering. A glance at a map of the region – a speck of Israel surrounded by a sea of Arabs – renders the “imperialism” shibboleth positively hollow.
Libertarians err in mistaking the 2,000-year-old Jewish right to the land for a biblically-based, religious claim. The claim is first and foremost historical, although naturally, the Hebrew community’s claim to its ancient homeland can’t be reduced to a title search at the deeds office. Jewish rights to Israel proceed from the original ownership of the land: The original and rightful owners were Jews. The fact that the original owners were killed and exiled by the Romans doesn’t nullify their ownership.
Despite their dispossession 2,000 years ago, Jews clung to life in Israel throughout the centuries, never relinquishing their claim to the occupied territory. Enduring the ruthlessness of the Byzantines, the massacres of the Muslim dynasties, and the onslaught of the Crusaders, the Mongols, and the Ottoman Turks, Jews struggled to maintain a continuous presence in Israel since the exile.
Theirs is a tie that has never been severed. If anything, by maintaining over the centuries a purposeful, continuous and heroic presence in the conquered land, the Jews’ claim to Israel has been affirmed and seared in the annals of time. No subsequent hegemonic regional power, like the Ottomans, ever had the right to deny Jews a right to re-enter or to repurchase land titles from those willing to sell them (a point made to me by the British philosopher, David Conway).
Israel is omnipresent in every facet of the Jewish identity and culture; it has been since time immemorial. Clearly, the right to the land can’t be understood without reference to the concept of nationhood and national identity, something libertarians often dismiss or confuse with statism.
By comparison, the Palestinian project is a recent project. It’s a pan-Arabic undertaking, candidly discussed in the Arab world during the crucial years of propaganda shaping. Not wanting to leave the international community with the (true) impression that a hundred million or so Arabs aimed to destroy the tiny state of Israel, Arab leaders deployed the Palestinians’ cause to achieve the same end. One of the coups in this strategy was the introduction of the Palestinians’ “Right of Return” to Israel proper, now a staple in the Bush administration’s rhetoric.
When it begrudgingly granted Jews the permission to rebuild their despoiled homeland, the international community was thus only recognizing the Jews’ natural right to the land – recognizing that Jews have a right to self-determination and political autonomy in their national homeland, and that that homeland was Israel.
When Jews commenced what must be the most remarkable modern-day national revival, Israel was a wasteland. Palestinians had done precious little for the land they purport to so love. In fact, in 1948, the invading Arab armies instructed Palestinians to vacate their holdings in Israel until the Jews were exterminated, after which Palestinians would return to inherit the land. Palestinians duly scuttled, abandoning the land with nomadic ease.
Contrast that with the Jews: 580,000 ferocious Jewish soldiers gave their lives to defend the land against the conquering Romans, who also obliterated 985 Jewish villages. The Jews were forced to give up their homeland then … but will never again.