Jewish nationalism, Zionism, the reestablishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, the homeland of the Jewish people, rooted in Torah, the Bible and Jewish history, echoed in prophetic and rabbinic writing and in prayer, is the most invigorating dynamic in Jewish life in modern times. The uniqueness of Israel as a Jewish state is not only that it is connected to the Bible, documented history going back four millennia, but that it is the vehicle for the third Jewish commonwealth, a modern expression of Jewish civilization.
It is no coincidence that the rebuilding of Jewish life in Judea and Samaria, the heartland of former Jewish civilizations and where, by definition, all “settlements” exist, is contended. And it is no wonder that it is in this area, filled with religious Zionists, that Jewish nationalism is strongest, most vivid and unequivocal. Until 2005, the area of Gush Katif would also have been included in this panorama, and it is for that reason that the 2005 evacuation of Jews from the Gush, known as “the Gaza disengagement,” is correctly seen as an attack on religious Zionism. The link between Jewish nationalism and Jewish settlements is crucial.
Calls to “end the occupation,” therefore, attack not only the link between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael territoriality, but Zionism itself, the purpose and meaning of the Jewish state. Those attacks have been a source of controversy and confusion from Israel’s inception.
Obscured by nation-building after the State of Israel was established, the question of what constitutes that state is the focus of world attention – and a source of condemnation.
Although building the state before 1948 was imperative, it was not without opposition and controversy, even among some Diaspora Jews. After 1948, and especially after the war in 1967, the state became an inspiration for many Jews not only to make aliya, but to return to Judaism. Jewish settlement of Eretz Yisrael is the point, and Jewish nationalism is its core.
But Jewish nationalism does not stand alone; it has a sister, Israeli nationalism.
And, since the mid-1960s an opposing, so-called nationalism, Palestinianism, which seeks to eradicate the Jewish state in any form.
Although as a Jewish and democratic state Israel became part of the community of nations in May 1949, based on armistice lines, the struggle over the nature and character of the state between secular and religious Jews remains unresolved. In addition, two replacement ideologies have arisen: post/anti-Zionism and Arab Palestinian demands for self-determination in a sovereign state.
There is no question that the State of Israel is dedicated to preserving, in gathering and protecting the Jewish people and is committed to Western values. But what is and will be its Jewish content? For the ultra-Orthodox, primarily Hassidim whose roots are European, Israel is not Jewish enough; for secular Jews, it’s too much. For the rest of Israeli Jews, it’s a work in progress.
That fault line continues to be a source of psychic tectonic instability. It underlies fundamental questions: What is the role of a Jewish state in Jewish history and what is its raison d’etre? Judaism’s central importance in Israel’s national ethos is noted by nearly all Zionist writers and leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, and most Israeli Jews feel a deep connection with Eretz Yisrael, Jewish heritage and the Jewish people. This intimate, subtle belief, often taken for granted, provides social cohesion and the ability to withstand physical and ideological attack.
Arguments over territory, therefore, over what belongs to Israel and the Jewish people, are not only legal and historical; they are fundamentally ideological.
With rising anti-Semitism, attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and Zionism are increasing.
For Arab and Muslim states, any non-Muslim state in what is called Palestine is anathema because it violates Islamic law. Proposals for a political “two state” solution, therefore – the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state – seek a return to failed attempts to set borders intended to resolve the conflict.
Recognition of the State of Israel by US President Harry Truman in 1948 was based on suggested borders outlined by the UN Partition Plan of 1947. That was rejected by Arabs. Acceptance of the State of Israel by the UN was also rejected and Arab countries and terrorist groups continued to attack Israel. After the war in 1967, the State of Israel extended its authority to territories previously occupied by Syria (Golan Heights), Egypt (Gaza Strip), and Jordan (Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem).
According to the international community, these areas are considered “occupied Palestinian territory” which belong to the “State of Palestine.”
But what constitutes “Palestine”? The word and its designation have a multi-millennial history. In the pre-biblical period it was known as “the land of Canaan.” In the biblical period it became Eretz Yisrael, and during the reign of Jewish kings and later, from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, it was known as “Judea.” After the destruction of the Temple and the second Jewish commonwealth, the hurban under Roman rule, the name was changed to Palestine in honor of the Philistines, and to signify the end of Jewish sovereignty.
Jerusalem was turned into a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina; Jews were banned on pain of death.
During and after World War I, the international community acknowledged Palestine as the “Jewish national home,” which included the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan in eastern Palestine, established by the British in 1921. The British also arbitrarily transferred the Golan Heights to the French Mandate and what became Syria.
Opposition to “the occupation” – Israeli control of and settlement in areas won in the 1967 Six Day War – has become a standard of the international community.
Although the Israeli government offered to return most of these territories to the Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian governments in exchange for peace, these offers were rejected since it meant accepting a Jewish state and ending hostilities.
Demands to “end the occupation” and relinquish “the territories” come not only from the international community, but from the Reform Movement and political movements and individuals in Israel as well. This became the defining feature of the Israeli Left. And, “land for peace” became Israeli policy as well.
At first, opposition to Israeli settlements seemed logical, since there were few Jews living in the newly acquired territories.
But, during the 1970s and 1980s massive numbers of Jews built communities throughout these areas and were supported by all Israeli governments. Although Israel incorporated the Old City, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, it resisted exercising sovereignty and applying Israeli law to other disputed areas because of international opposition. This created confusion about what legally and historically belongs to the Jewish people and what constitutes Israeli sovereignty.
The Oslo Agreements changed Israel’s legal position and ideological narrative by establishing the Palestinian Authority, providing it with resources and placing Areas A and B (and Gaza) – in which nearly all Arab Palestinians reside – under its control.
All Jewish settlements are in Area C under Israeli civilian and military control.
Although the international community opposes Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, Arabs do not accept any proposal which would negate “the Nakba” – the establishment of the State of Israel and land which Israel acquired as a result of the war in 1948-9 – the return of Arab refugees and their descendants who live outside of Israel, and their claims to eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount.
“Ending the occupation,” according to the Muslim and Arab world, is not about creating a “two-state solution,” but the destruction of the State of Israel itself.
Rooted in Jew-hatred, vengeance and violence, Palestinian nationalism, moreover, is promoted as “self-determination” and “two states for two peoples.” Although appealing to humanitarian values, it is a subterfuge.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not Arab Palestinians are a “people,” the problem is that their idea of a state includes all of the land west of the Jordan River, which means the end of the State of Israel. This reality explains Israel’s refusal to accept Palestinian demands for statehood.
Presenting the conflict as one between contending nationalities seeks to create symmetry but does not meet the basic demands of Palestinianism, or Jewish nationalism; it is inherently contradictory and self-defeating. Since Jordan is a de facto Palestinian state, albeit ruled by a non-Palestinian Hashemite monarchy, and Arab Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria hold Jordanian passports, establishing another Arab Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), and yet another in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will not solve the problem; it will exacerbate it.
That many countries and international bodies recognize a Palestinian state does not diminish the dangers inherent in that presumptive state. The Islamic State’s formidable presence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula allied with other terrorist groups, the growing threat of Iran and Hezbollah and the spread of Islamic terrorism throughout the Middle East and Africa cannot be ignored.
Since the dangers and threats are obvious, what motivates those who oppose “settlements” and call for an “end to the occupation?” Does “Palestinian self-determination” trump Israel’s security? What moral absurdity justifies placing Jews in danger? Israeli nationalism reflects the sovereignty of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael; Jewish nationalism is its soul. Israeli nationalism is concerned with how to survive; Jewish nationalism asks why.
Jewish nationalism envisions the mission of the Jewish people; Israeli nationalism offers the potential for its realization.
Jewish nationalism is the promise; Israeli nationalism makes it possible. Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria not only embody Jewish and Israeli nationalism, they are essential to Israel’s physical and spiritual survival.
Jewish nationalism and Israeli sovereignty are the social contract of the Jewish people with Eretz Yisrael. Jewish “settlers,” then and now, are the expression of that connection.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.