Term Paper: Source and Future of National Identity in Israel

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Israel and Palestine

Zionist Movement

The Zionist movement began in the late 19th century. It reflected the idea that, after centuries of persecution and Diaspora, which began in the 6th century B.C., when the Jews were forced out of Israel and exiled to Babylonia; Jews should rebuild their original homeland in Israel (Ram, 1998). Only when Jews had a state, a country, would there be an end to Jewish Diaspora. As well as a Jewish state where all Jews would be welcome to be free of the racial prejudices and hate that had followed them since the 6th century Diaspora. Zionism was born out of the natural human need for the Jews to have a state where they could collectively pursue their religious faith and traditions without fear of persecution for their beliefs and traditions. That the Jewish state had to be geographically located where the state of Israel now stands, goes back to Biblical times, and is deeply rooted in Jewish religion (Anderson, 2005). Whether or not one is a defender of Zionism, or anti-Zionism, and there have been and continue to be many Jewish anti-Zionists; is irrelevant at this time in history. Israel stands where it is, and it is a legitimately recognized sovereign nation by the United Nations. Israel, as a Jewish state, exists and has a right to continue existing, and as such must be recognized by the Arab community, Iran, and Muslims in general.

Tantamount to Israel's right to exist is the need to reconcile the conflicts that exist between Israel and the Palestinians. As much as Israel has a right to exist, so does, too, Palestine and the Palestinian people. The perceived threats that exist between them must be reconciled (Sullivan, 1985). There must be peace in the region, and, if there can be peace between Israel and the Palestine, it is possible that peace may come to the Middleast. Without peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the future of Israel remains uncertain.

This essay explores the relationship between Israel and Palestine, the Jews, their national identity, and the Palestinians and their national identity. An effort is made here to breakdown the complexities of Zionism, and to understand how the idea of Zionism manifested itself into the Zionist state of Israel. It explains, too, the modern concept of Zionism. This essay will demonstrate that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the key to Israel's survival as an independent and sovereign state.

The State of Israel

The State of Israel came about only after much controversy and debate within the Jewish community (Halpern and Reinharz, 1998).

Ben Halpern and Jehuda Reinharz (1998) say that Israel is a modern society whose early institutions were shaped by ideological inspired events and leaders. Israel declared independence in 1948, but the ideological wheels that put it into motion began much earlier, in the mid 19th century (Edelheit and Edelheit, 2000). The notion of Zionism precludes a religious, national, racial, or ethnic identity, say scholars Herschel Edelheit and Abfaham Edelheit. Understanding the ideology behind the state requires a deep examination into the complexities of Zionism at religious, cultural, and intellectual levels that lead to the Zionist idea (Edelheit and Edelheit). However, that ideology, which was being formulated and contemplated from the mid 19th century, was acted on following the World War II holocaust that resulted in the murder of five million Jews. Adolf Hitler had targeted the Jewish people based on their religious and cultural differences. He played to the fears, ignorance, and nationalistic tendencies of the German people who either helped bring about the destruction of the Jewish people in Germany, or turned a blind eye to it and feigned ignorance of what was going on in places like Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and other camps in Germany and throughout Europe.

Buchenwald Camp at Weimar, Germany, National Archives, Washington, DC, found online at: http://www.archives.gov/research/ww2/photos/#holocaust

It was the Holocaust that served as the force behind moving Zionism from an idea, to a movement with momentum that, in 1948, resulted in the State of Israel as it stands today; and all the controversy that surrounds it.

The new State of Israel, born to independence on May 14, 1948, arose upon the foundation of a society that was itself young and incomplete. In the first years of its existence, Israel absorbed a mass of immigrations equal in number to its original population but sharply different in many significant social, economic, and cultural traits (Halpern and Reinharz, 262)."

While Halpern and Reinharz asked the question: What does it mean, then, if under these circumstances one speaks of the social structure of the new Jewish state? They suggest the answer is rests with the future; today, we know some of that future by way of history of Israel since its inception, its history of war with the Arabs, and, today, since 2005, its efforts to bring peace to the region by making concessions to the Palestinians.

Palestine

Palestine existed by the time the world recognized that Jews were entitled to a homeland, and that their homeland was what is identified as the State of Israel today. However, much of the lack of understanding surrounding the birth of Israel as a nation has to do with the idea held by many uninformed persons that Israel went in and evicted Palestinians from their property. Halpern and Reinharz describe the geographical identity of Israel this way:

Zionists initially planned to extend the Jewish national home by settling Jews on Palestinian State lands. However, in spite of Britain's commitment under Article 6 of the mandate to "encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish agency...close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes," no significant areas were made available from these sources for Zionist settlement. The Palestine government proceeded very cautiously in settling title to state lands. No more than 660 out of over 20,000 square kilometers (including 11,000 in the and Negev) that might be public lands had been finally demarcated by 1945, and most of this was used, if at all, "for public purposes": roads, railways, and riverbeds, antiquities, forests, army sites, and the like. The government also gave priority to the needs of local Arab cultivators, including future generations, so that some public lands that were sought for Jewish settlement came into the hands of the WZO only after Arabs to whom the government transferred title later sold them to the JNF (202)."

Some private transactions took place in acquiring private Palestinian land from owners, transferring title to Jewish ownership (Halpern and Rheinharz). These farms were in Palestine's orange growing area, where, say Halpern and Rheinharz, populations were the highest.

So while Palestine has existed since before the creation of Israel, after the 1967 war between Israel, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, Israel took control, geographical and military, of the West Bank and the Gaza strip. This action, though in response to Arab aggression, left thousands of Palestinians displaced (Mitnick, 2005). Today, the process of returning those lands to the Palestinians is just beginning. It has, of course, been the source of contention and separation between the Israelis and the Palestinians for more than thirty years.

The Fears

For Jewish leaders, one of the points of debate, even contention, was the fear that the creation of a Zionist state would give rise to a destructive nationalistic self-perception amongst Jews (Kolsky, 1990). Sholmo Avineri said:

This, then, is the paradox: on the one hand a deep feeling of attachment to the Land of Israel, becoming perhaps the most distinctive feature of Jewish self-identity; on the other hand, a quietistic attitude toward any practical or operational consequences of this commitment (1981:4)."

Since its inception, Israel has proven itself the capable of withstanding the forces of Arab aggression. It has staunchly defended itself against Arab insurgency, and has, with its military campaigns and successes, expanded its settlements - as was the fear of the Arabs in the region since inception of the country.

Shamir and Sullivan say "Arab-Israeli conflict defines the major issue dimensions in Israeli domestic politics (284)." This is much to the fear of the anti-Zionists groups opposed to creating a Jewish military that would manifest itself in the expansion of settlements and control of the region. For those anti-Zionists who advocated an Arab dialogue even prior to the creation of the state of Israel, the continued violence and expansion of Israeli settlements represented the manifestation of their fears. For the Arabs, it, too, was manifestation of their fears.

Israeli Nationalism

Zionism had been an ideological concept for so long, that transforming it into a political reality posed a threat not just to Arabs in the region, but Jews as well (Kolsky, 1990). It was not the presence of Jews in Palestine that created the fears. Jews, Kolsky says, have always been in Israel. It was the creation of an Israeli military that caused both Jews and Arabs to develop fears about an increasing Jewish power and presence in the region… [END OF PREVIEW]

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