The satirical collective The Onion describes in what many would call poor taste, Judaism as the “world religion whose central tenet implores believers to stick together because someone is currently trying to kill them.” This horrifyingly true statement reflects on the excesses committed during the genocide carried out in Germany by Adolf Hitler, as well as the anti-Semitism faced by Jews globally throughout history. The satirical encyclopedia The Onion Book of Known Knowledge (which if I may add, is a must-read) also goes on to describe a fictional animated Israeli children’s show called Zibby; about a squirrel doctor who performs the same no-anesthesia human experiments on German kids that Nazi physician Josef Mengele performed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. While this show doesn’t actually exist, it also reflects on a reality closer to the modern day, which is the revenge-hungry mentality of the Zionists in doing the same to their victims that their ancestors suffered during the Holocaust. It all fits with the Israeli occupation of Palestine save for one crucial detail – the victims aren’t white German children. These are Arab children in Palestine, unarmed, helpless and on the brink of starvation. Ever since the end of the Second World War, oppression has been the reality they have had to face on a daily basis, and there seems to be no end in sight for this suffering.
In her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Hanna Arendt, a Jewish woman who escaped persecution from Nazi Germany, talks about the terrifying truth of those in power who tend to oppress. She says at the beginning of the book about Adolf Eichmann – a card-carrying Nazi who was brought before justice in Palestine’s Jerusalem – the trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that many were neither perverted nor sadistic, they were and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.
In an ideal world, we tend to draw horns over faces of evil to identify them better, but the bitter truth is that evil lies in every corner within the normal, and it lies in the indifference to crimes committed at large in the surroundings.
Hannah Arendt’s book, which once spoke to the Nazis and the excesses committed by them, now is something that the Zionists themselves need to learn a thing or two from, because today in Jerusalem, it is them who have become the oppressors.
But before we begin today’s article, we need to ask ourselves what Zionism actually is, and what its relation to Judaism is.
Zionism: An Analysis and History
To start with the words ‘Judaism’ and ‘Zionism’ must not be used interchangeably as they mean two different things altogether.
Where Judaism is a religion practiced by Jewish people, Zionism is a political ideology that seeks to provide a space for Jews to live in the ancient land of Palestine. While it gained force in the 19th century in eastern and central Europe, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, it is in many ways a continuation of an ancient attachment of the Jews to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills in ancient Jerusalem was called Zion.
As said before, the ideology found force in the 19th Century, but predating it were two conflicting forces in Europe where a large number of Jews were settled. These were the orthodox Jew Messiahs and the followers of the Haskala movement.
Whereas the former wanted the Jews in Europe to migrate to (or “return” to) the ancient homeland of Palestine, the Haskala sought integration with the secular Western culture of Europe.
This gave way to a difference in opinion that continues to this day, in which Orthodox Jews argue that one must be rooted to the fundamentals of the thousands of years old faith, whereas the Halakhik or modernist Jews argue that eating kosher and dressing in modest clothing is not a necessity, and the Western influences that modern Jews have inherited can be allowed to continue.
Despite the unorthodox forces attempting to assimilate into European culture, the anti-Semitism prevailing in Europe acted as an adversity to the Haskala movement, and the need for a land specifically for the Jews, particularly in Palestine became an even more urgent need.
An Austrian journalist by the name of Theodor Herzl gave a political spin to the desire to “return” to Palestine in view of the ever-increasing anti-Semitism in his country and beyond. As a result of Herzl’s efforts, the first Zionist Congress was organized in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Initially, when Palestine was under Ottoman rule, the Zionists sought their help in colonizing Palestine but their plea was rejected. So they joined hands with Great Britain which promised them the ancient land once the First World War would be over.
In the decades that followed this decision, the newly built settlements in the heart of Middle East saw a population explosion of Jews, especially during the time of the Holocaust when many Jews in fear of extermination escaped to America or Israel and embraced Zionism. The Zionists had another adversary however, as they faced animosity from all sides by the Arabs who feared a full-blown Jewish state would be born in their midst. Palestinian Arabs carried out attacks and uprisings in the 1930s which led Britain to impose restrictions on Jewish immigration to Israel. This was met by widespread opposition in Zionist circles and even terrorism from the more extremist sections.
Hence Zionism, once an ancient idea of a promised land as written in Jewish scriptures tens of centuries ago, gave birth to the modern nation for the Jews in Israel through a blend of religion and politics.
History of the “Promised Land”
Before the formation of Israel officially in 1948, Jews had started arriving in Palestine and forming settlements which was met with animosity from the Arab World. Before this, Palestine was under Ottoman rule, and essentially had the status of a subjugated colony. During this particular time, Palestinian Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony and did not have conflict for the most part. There were even reports of Jews and Christians sharing the Iftaar with their Muslim brothers. All was well.
Then Zionism hit the nation like an atom bomb. Everything changed for the worse for communal harmony, and Jews and Muslims in the region, once allies, became bitter rivals. However it is to be noted this wasn’t a conflict based on religion, as the role of religion in it might indicate, but a land dispute between two parties, one of which forcibly imposed itself on the other.
But what was there in Palestine before the Ottomans? To whom did the Promised Land initially belong?
The term Palestine, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, has been associated variously and sometimes controversially with the small region of West Banks and the Gaza Strip along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea along with parts of modern Israel. Both the geographical area and the political status of Palestine have changed over a period of 3 millennia.
Before the Ottomans, the region was simply known as the Arabian Peninsula. Within it, an area which is very different from modern Palestine, was known to be what we call Palestine today.
In the 12th Century BCE, during the Iron Age, the Children of Israel or the Israelites came to establish their home in Palestine. At a much later time, the Romans referred to it as Syria Palestinia and it was called Filestin in Arabic.
This was the land where Moses – believed to be a prophet by Muslims and central figure of Judaism – received his revelation from God and settled after the escape from the Egyptian Pharoah in Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. This was also the land of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the central figure in Christianity and also a prophet in Islam. In addition to being a relic of the first two faiths, this was also where the Prophet Muhammad visited during his night journey of Meraaj on the flying horse Bur’aq. It is also where the Dome of the Rock, built by Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in the late 7th century is located. The rock above which the dome is built is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, as it was the first Qiblah or direction for prayer for the Muslims before God changed it to the Ka’abah, and it was the site where the Prophet Abraham is believed to have had prepared to sacrifice his son who is variously believed to either be Isaac or Ishmael depending on Jewish and Christian or Muslim tradition.
So there is little doubt that this land is holy and important to people of all three Abrahamic faiths. And while it did belong to the Israelites in the beginning, it was conquered first by Christian forces and then by Muslims during the time of Caliph Umar in 636 CE. It was after this that the Al Aqsa Mosque was built during the rule of Caliph Umar itself.
Various crusades, conquests and jihads later, the land was inevitably gobbled up by the Ottomans, who after losing the First World War, relinquished it to the British, giving the modern day Zionists an opportunity to migrate there despite being surrounded by their ancient enemy – the Arabs.