Sunday, July 25, 2010

8. Territoriality

The concept of territoriality stems from the study of animal behavior. It refers to a pattern of controlling particular domains, a behavior that entails repelling or expelling competing individuals or groups. For example, in nature a cat requires a certain prey quota in order to survive, and that prey population will be distributed over a certain amount of territory. In claiming that territory the cat assures its ability to eat. Other species, more sociable, resort to similar practices in group terms. Human beings are animals, of course, so the concept applies to them as well. And it has particular poignancy in the Abrahamic worlds.

In fact, a perennial obsession of all three Abrahamic religions has been preoccupation with land. Combining with the “us-them” dynamic, this drive has all too often meant the subjugation or displacement of groups perceived as alien. The Hebrew Bible documents a number of instances of ethnic cleansing, and at least one case, that of the Amalekites, of genocide.

Through a process of sacralizatiion, particular portions of the Middle East have been marked off as Holy Lands. Questionable though it may be, this fetishizing of parts of the planet’s surface has proved a powerful magnet for pilgrimage--not always benign. The Christian Crusades may be regarded as a form of armed pilgrimage. These incursions also rank as precursors of the later imperialist appropriation of foreign lands.


In the Hebrew Bible, the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua purvey the curious notion that Yahweh was in the real-estate business: his choicest property was the Promised Land. And that land was reserved for the Israelites. The promise was first made to Abraham (Genesis 15:18-20),and then renewed to his son Isaac, and to Isaac's son Jacob (Genesis 28:13), Abraham's grandson. Grandly, the promised land encompasses the territory from the River of Egypt (the Nile) to the Euphrates. The promise was implemented after the Exodus (Deuteronomy 1:8).

Several other Scriptural passages are relevant. In Genesis 12:1 it is said: “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (NRSV) Also, Genesis 12:7: “Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” (NRSV) In addition, note Genesis 15:7: “Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” (NRSV)

In reality the land was not given straightaway to Abram, but to his descendents.

Genesis 15:18-20 clarifies the boundary of the promised land in terms of the territory of various ancient peoples, as follows: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the HIttites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (NRSV) The scope of the dispossession that is contemplated is staggering.

Some skepticism is warranted. Was there a tape recorder going when Yahweh made these promises to Abram/Abraham? As such, of course, these texts are obviously later fabrications, adduced to provide a rationale that sought to justify later Israelite expansionism and aggression.

Modern scholarship has established that the story of the Exodus from Egypt is a myth. Yet the story lingers--even in today’s Zionism--as part of the notion of divinely sanctioned territorial entitlement.

Purportedly the migration from Egypt permitted the fulfillment, at least in part, of the Lord’s promise. Deuteronomy 1:8 says: “See, I have set the land before you: go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them.” (NRSV)

Clearly God was in no hurry, even then, to make good on his promise. Subduing the recalcitrant Canaanites was a long and arduous task. Supposedly, the effort was substantially complete with the glorious Kingdom of Israel under David. Yet modern archaeology has established that the actual power and size of this realm were much exaggerated in the biblical accounts.

Traditional Jewish interpretation, and that of most Christian commentators, define Abraham's descendants only along one blood line: Abraham's seed as transmitted to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Yet why should the descendants of Ishmael, who was after all Abraham’s son, not share in this bounty? The descendants of Ishmael are the Arabs. So, even according to the Bible, the land was promised to the Palestinians too.

Of course mainstream Jewish tradition does not treat the matter in this way. It sees the legacy as the possession of Jews only. Yet, illogically enough, that category has been expanded to include converts and their descendants. The traditional view is that a convert becomes a child of Abraham, as shown by the honorific "ben Avraham." Biologically that is an absurdity, for by definition converts are not of the “seed of Abraham.” It seems that Jewish opinion leaves out people who should be included--the Arabs who are descendants of Ishmael--while including people who should be excluded, the converts.


Modern scholarship has raised questions, and rightly so, concerning the historicity of the account of the occupation of the Promised Land that is narrated in the Pentateuch and in the Book of Joshua. It remains the case though, that these events, amounting to a hideous story of ethnic cleansing have been included--even celebrated--in Israel’s holiest writings. What should be considered shameful is accounted a virtue,

In addition to ethnic cleansing there was also outright genocide. The most egregious case is that of the Amalekites. Scripture has it that the Amalekites--originating near Mecca--harassed and killed the Jews as they fled Egypt in the exodus. But the response of the Israelites was "a sacred war of extermination." The Amalekites were deemed so dangerous they had to be annihilated entirely.

Yahweh commanded Saul as follows: “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (1 Samuel 15:3; NRSV)

The command to use horrendous, genocidal force against the Amalekites--to kill every single one of them, including children--was categorical. Failing to be sufficently ruthless against the enemy, Saul was shamed for it.

Some have opined that there was no reason to worry. The commandment was never meant to be carried out.

NOT SO, for according to scripture, it was carried out, by David:

"Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites: for these were the landed settlements from Telam on the way to Shur and on to the land of Egypt. David struck the land, leaving neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing, and camegarments, back to Achish." (Samuel 28:8-9; NRSV)

He spared the farm animals because he stole them. Relentlessly, Yahweh deplored any sign of weakness or moderation in his Chosen People. The historian Josephus writes: "[David] betook himself to slay the women and the children, and thought he did not act therein either barbarously or inhumanly; first, because they were enemies whom he thus treated, and, in the next place, because it was done by the command of God, whom it was dangerous not to obey." (Jewish Antiquities, VI:7).

At first sight, it might seem, Maimonides took a more nuanced approach, explaining that the commandment of killing the nation of Amalek requires the Jewish people to demand that they adopt the the Noachide laws and pay a tax to the Jewish kingdom. Only if they refuse these demands must the full rigor of the commandment be applied.

The Amalekites have a simple choice: submission or genocide.

Nor is this story a merely historical one. An essential feature in any honest investigation is the disclosure of the connection between the ancient texts and the aggressive policies of the state of Israel today. This connection emerges anew in the obsessive preoccupation with the emblematic figure of Amalek. Here is a portion of a recent report by the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg:

“I recently asked one of his [Netanyahu's] advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.” “Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit. If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think.” (Goldberg, op-ed, New York Times, May 16, 2009).

On his blog, The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan, to whom I am indebted for some important insights, commented the following day as follows: “But the story of Amalek is an unfortunate one for Netanyahu. It is unfortunate because the bulk of the literature in the Jewish scriptures points to massive Jewish over-reaction to the Amalekites - to the point of religiously commanded genocide. In fact, the existential threat in legend is from the Israelites against the Amalekites, not the other way round. . .”

What then does Netanyahu intend? Is it beyond the realm of possibility that he is seeking to follow Maimonides? That is, the Arabs and Iranians--the modern Amalekites--can survive only if they accept a state of vassalage, with the state of Israel as their sovereign.

That of course is not a likely scenario. What is possible is that Israel will massively bomb Iran. In the ensuing confusion, the Palestinians, even those who are Israeli citizens, will be driven into Jordan. This is the classic “exchange of populations” scenario advocated by the Ur-Likudnik Vladimir Jabotinsky in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The horror of Gaza happened at the beginning of 2009. And the ethnic cleanser Avigdor Lieberman, currently Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, stood at Netanyahu’s side.

Is all this too apocalyptic? At this point, it is hard to say.


Some 1600 years ago a Spanish lady, whose name was Egeria (or perhaps Aetheria), traveled across the Mediterranean to visit the sacred sites of the Holy Land. She left a diary of her trip, much read over the centuries. She began with Mount Sinai, and followed the route of the Exodus to Palestine. Her aim was personal encounter with the places where Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the Disciples had actually trod.

Etheria is a representative figure of fourth century CE, the first era of the flourishing of Christian pilgrimage, which only became possible on a significant scale with the Peace of the Church (313). She carefully noted her itinerary with observations of notable events and perceptions. Reading such accounts served to fire the enthusiasm of later pilgrims.

The three great goals were Jerusalem (and the Holy Land), Rome, and Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. From East to West, the three dominate the three great sectors of the Mediterranean world-—the East (ex oriente lux), the center (Roma caput mundi), and the far West (finis terrae). The prominence of the last, the Western pilgrimage is at first hard to explain. However, the meteoric spread of Islam in the mid-seventh century complicated the task of getting to the Holy Land. So Western goals came to seem more practical. Still the role of Santiago, the Western pilgrimage par excellence, must always retain something of the inexplicable. At all events, the three examples cited rank as the only "universal" Christian pilgrimages.

In time the pilgrimage to the Holy Land became more problematic as it became intertwined with the Crusades and the establishment of colonial regimes of Western Christians in the Middle East. While most of the original pilgrims were peaceful, it cannot be denied that sometimes such visits are the precursors of military incursions.

In fact the motives for pilgrimage are quite various. At the primary level were simple wanderlust, the longing to see lands different from one’s own, and curiosity. Some enjoyed embarking on pilgrimages as a group experience, whether as a family or an affinity group. A few pilgrims were simply vagrants, on the lam and seeking to blend in with other poor pilgrims. Less sinister were the middle-class traveling merchants, who sought pilgrim status in order to pass free through tolls. Still, these merchants had valuable knowledge of routes and accommodations, useful supplements to the uncertain directions given by locals. While the sources emphasize that these secular wishes were never sufficient motivation for pilgrimage, their importance cannot be
discounted. And there was always the chance that, having embarked on the pilgrimage for non-spiritual reasons, one might nonetheless be converted by the experience.

Most motives were religiously tinged, to a greater or lesser degree. Visitors to the Holy Land, even now, were motivated by a wish to imitatio sanctorum, to tread the very paths of the holy figures of Bible times, and to imaginatively relive their experiences.

Many pilgrims to Palestine counted on bringing back some holy souvenir, not necessarily a relic in the strict sense. A sliver of wood (from the True Cross), a vial of consecrated oil, even a lump of earth could conjure up, in the inner eye of the faithful, a whole world. (Legend had it that a very special pilgrim, St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, originally recovered the True Cross.)

Occasionally, such figures as the Irish St. Brendan set out on a trip with an unknown destination—-a "magical mystery tour." In this way Brendan may have discovered not America, as sometimes supposed, but Greenland.

Finally, reading earlier accounts, especially those emphasizing the fascination of exotic places and peoples, fired imaginations. In addition to travel reports and account embedded in the lives of the saints, there were also pilgrims’ guides, precursors of our Baedekers, Michelins, and Lonely Planet Guides.

In this way pilgrimages were overdetermined. Many motives kept them going. Even the harsh criticisms of some Protestant Reformers could not stop them, though the impulse was blunted in many countries. Some critics of pilgrimage asserted that it was better not to travel, but to experience a spiritual pilgrimage at home. Others said, following the words of the New Testament, that Christians were always "strangers
and pilgrims." Perhaps so, but many continued to believe that such a status required concrete enactment. In their heyday, pilgrimages were a vast quilt of different motives. The emphasis varied from the era to era, but the attractions were enduring.


Pilgrimage ranks as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Hajj is a pilgrimage that usually occurs during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah to the holy city of Mecca. It stems from an ancient Arab practice that flourished before Islamic times. Every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if he or she can afford it. When the pilgrim is around six miles from Mecca, he must dress in Ihram, which consists of two white sheets. Both men and women are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. After a Muslim makes the trip to Mecca, he/she is known as a hajj/hajja (one who made the pilgrimage to Mecca). The main rituals of the Hajj include walking seven times around the Kaaba in a counter-clockwise direction, touching the Black Stone, traveling seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah, and symbolically stoning the Devil in Mina. A visit to Medina is also recommended.

The Kaaba, a cube-shaped building, is the most sacred site in Islam. The building predates Islam, and, according to Islamic tradition, the first structure at the site was built by Abraham. The building is surrounded by a mosque, the Masjid al-Haram. All Muslims around the world face the Kaaba during prayer no matter where they are.

Islamic traditions assert that the Kaaba “reflects” an archetype in heaven called al-Baytu Ma’mur, and that it was originally built by Adam, the first man. It was the first building ever constructed on earth. According to the Qur’an, the Kaaba was rebuilt by Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma’il (Ishmael). In fact, little is known about the history of the Kaaba, and its significance must remain enigmatic.

The four corners of the Kaaba roughly point toward the four cardinal directions of the compass. In the eastern corner of the building is the Ruknu l-Aswad , "the Black Corner"" or al-Hajaru l-Aswad, "The Black Stone.” At the northern corner is the Ruknu l-Īrāqī, "the Iraqi corner." The western corner is the Ruknu sh-Shāmī, "the Levantine corner," and the southern is Ruknu l-Yamanī "the Yemeni corner." The Kaaba is covered by a black silk and gold curtain known as the kiswah, which is replaced yearly. About two-thirds of the way up runs a band of gold-embroidered calligraphy bearing Qur’anic texts, including the Islamic declaration of faith, the Shahada.

In modern times, entry to the Kaaba's interior has not been generally not permitted except for certain rare occasions and for a limited number of guests. The entrance is a door set seven feet above the ground on the northeastern wall of the Kaaba, which acts as the façade. There is a wooden staircase on wheels, usually stored in the mosque between the arch-shaped gate of Banū Shaybah and the well of Zamzam. Inside the Kaaba, there is a marble and limestone floor. The interior walls are clad with marble halfway to the roof; tablets with Qur'anic inscriptions are inset in the marble. The top part of the walls are covered with a green cloth decorated with gold embroidered Qur'anic verses. Caretakers perfume the marble cladding with scented oil, the same oil used to anoint the Black Stone outside.

After returning from the journey to Mecca, the haji, is honored in the community. For some, this is an incentive to perform the Hajj. Islamic teachers say that undertaking the Hajj should be an expression of devotion to God, not a means of gaining social standing. Believers must be self-aware, as a result of examining their intentions in performing the pilgrimage. This commitment should lead to constant striving for self-improvement. A pilgrimage made at any time other than the Hajj season is called an Umrah or “lesser pilgrimage.

As the shared term pilgrimage indicates, there are significant similarities that link Christian and Muslim sacred travel. Yet there are major differences as well. Christian pilgrimage, with its three major goals and many lesser ones, is polycentric. By contrast, Muslim pilgrimage is overwhelmingly focused on Mecca and Medina in Arabia. To be sure, Shi'a pilgrims travel to sacred sites in Iraq, but Sunni Muslims seem to have no equivalent of this type of secondary pilgrimage. For all Muslims alike, the visit to the sacred shrine of the Kaaba is of transcendent importance. Only the accomplishment of this arduous undertaking merits the coveted title of hajj.

The goals of Christian pilgrimage are also more closely tied to history and specific aspects of the faith. In the first instance, one visits the Holy Land to see the site of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Jesus’ earthly existence began and ended. One goes to Rome to visit the churches of St. Peter and Paul, as well as to pay homage to the many other martyrs buried there. At Santiago one visits the shrine of St. James the Apostle.

In Medina, to be sure, a Muslim may see the house of the Prophet Muhammad. But this is not the main reason for traveling to the holy places in Arabia. The Kaaba, the ultimate goal, must always remain elusive and absolute, according perhaps with the inscrutable nature of Allah himself.

All unbelievers are regarded as unclean, For this reason, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are closed to nonbelievers, whose presence would pollute them. The Saudi government supports this ban by citing Sura 9:26 from the Qur’an: “O you who believe! the idolaters are nothing but unclean, so they shall not approach the Sacred Mosque after this year; and if you fear poverty then Allah will enrich you out of His grace if He please; surely Allah is Knowing Wise.”

Not surprisingly, the existence of cities closed to non-Muslims and the mystery of the Hajjis have aroused intense curiosity in non-Muslims. Some have falsely claimed to be Muslims in order to visit the city of Mecca and the Grand Mosque to experience the Hajj for themselves. The first to leave a record was Ludovico di Varthema of Bologna (1503). The most famous account of a foreigner's journey to Mecca is “Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina,” written by Sir Richard Burrton. In 1853 Burton traveled as a Qadirriyah Sufi from Afghanistan. Individuals who use fake certificates of Muslim identity to enter may be arrested and prosecuted by Saudi authorities.

During the Soviet period certain technological cities were closed to outsiders. However, the Mecca-Medina ban, which goes back to the early days of Islam, is the only major example that is known of such exclusion on religious grounds.


The Crusades were a series of religiously sanctioned incursions in the Middle East waged by much of Latin Christian Europe, particularly the Franks of France and the Holy Roman Empire in Central Europe. The major campaigns to restore Christian control of the Holy Land were fought over a period of nearly 200 years, between 1095 and 1291. Other campaigns in Spain and Eastern Europe continued into the fifteenth century.

The Crusades were fought mainly by Roman Catholic forces (taking place after the East-West Schism of 1254 and mostly before the Protestant Reformation had begun in 1517). The target was Islam, which after the death of Muhammad had spread out to control much of the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. However, the concept proved contagious, and other so-called Crusades were waged against the pagan Slavs of the eastern Baltic, Mongols, Cathars, Hussites, and Waldensians.

In some Crusades Orthodox Christians joined in fighting against Muslim forces. Crusaders took vows and as an inducement were granted penance for past sins, sometimes in the form of indulgences.

The original goal of the Crusades originally was to recapture Jerusalem and to free the Holy Places in the Levant from Muslim rule. The event that triggered the movement was a call from the Christian Byzantine Empire centered in Constantinople for help against the encroachments of the Muslim Seljuk Turks in Anatolia. Collectively, the Western-dominated kingdoms that arose on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean were known as Outremer. Rivalries among Christian and Muslim powers led also to alliances between religious factions against their opponents, such as the Christian alliance with the Sultanate of Rum (Anatolia) during the Fifth Crusade.

By extension, the term Crusade was also used to describe contemporaneous and subsequent campaigns conducted as late as the sixteenth century in territories outside the Levant, usually against pagans, heretics, and peoples under the ban of excommunication for an assortment of religious, economic, and political reasons.

The Crusades had far-reaching political, economic, and social effects, some of which have lasted into contemporary times. Because of internal conflicts among Christian kingdoms and political powers, some of the crusade expeditions were diverted from their original aim, such as the Fourth Crusade, which resulted in the sack of Christian Constantinople and the partition of the Byzantine Empire between Venice and the Crusaders. The Sixth Crusade was the first such effort to set out without the official blessing of the Pope. Ingloriously, the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Centuries resulted in Mamluk and Hafsid victories. The Ninth Crusade marked the end of the Crusading effort in the Middle East.

Sir Steven Runciman concluded his monumental three-volume History of the Crusades (1951-54) with these words: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness, and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost.”

Today Muslims in the Middle East compare the American-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan to Crusades. They are not wholly wrong.


The forward movement of the Reconquista had an appalling result: the expulsion of the Jews and Muslims from Christian Spain. The Jews were expelled in 1492. The new Christian hierarchy demanded heavy taxes from non-Christians, while according them some rights, as in the Treaty of Granada (1491). Yet these concession were basically only for Moors in recently Islamic Granada and its environs. In 1496 the Alhambra Decree under Archbishop Hernando de Talavera annulled the Treaty of Granada: now the Muslim population that had lingered in Granada was forced to convert or be expelled. In 1502 Queen Isabella I declared conversion to Catholicism compulsory within the Kingdom of Castile. In 1526 Charles V followed suit in the Kingdom of Aragon, taking advantage of a period of unrest to forced conversions of its Muslim population, These aggressive policies were not only religious but economic, because the Christians appropriated the exiles wealth.

Most of the descendants of those Muslims and Jews who submitted to compulsory conversion to Christianity rather than exile during the early periods of the Inquisition--the Moriscos and Conversos respectively--were later expelled from Spain and Portugal when the Inquisition was at its height. On April 9, 1609, Philip III of Spain decreed the expulsion of the Moriscos. The Moriscos were the descendants of the Muslim population that converted to Christianity under threat of exile from Ferdinand and Isabella in 1502. From 1609 through 1614 the Spanish government pursued an implacable policy of forcing the Moriscos to leave the kingdom for Muslim North Africa.

The exiles were only allowed to keep what money and possessions they could carry; the rest, including their property, was impounded. The expulsion especially affected the former Kingdom of Valencia and the Kingdom of Aragon, hobbling their economies for generations. The severity of the expulsion in Eastern Spain (Valencia and Aragon) reflected local animosity towards Muslims and Moriscos who were seen as economic rivals. There was hostility on both sides, and in fact a major Morisco revolt had occurred in 1568.

Because some Muslims and Jews shared ancestors in common with some Christians, it proved impractical to expel all of those with any non-Christian ancestors from Castile or Aragon. However the Crowns, relying on the techniques of the Inquisition, could take satisfaction in killing, imprisoning, or expelling the members of the suspect groups. Those descended from Muslims or Jews practicing at the time of the Reconquista's close lived in a state of perpetual insecurity, suspected of various crimes against the Spanish state, including the continued practice of Islam or Judaism. And so the expulsions continued.


Zionist ideology was first propounded by people of Jewish heritage—-Theodore Herzl and his associates--but many were not religious at all. In fact, they considered observant Judaism as an impediment in their colonial enterprise. Herzl was a kind of nationalist. He propounded the idea, in the wake of the Dreyfus affair in France, that Jews could not assimilate in Christian European societies; they needed a separate homeland of their own. Even before Herzl announced his particularist program at the first Zionist Conference in Basel, Switzerland (1897), most rabbis had condemned political Zionism.

How then did political Zionism succeed in establishing itself in the heartland of Islam despite strong opposition from leading rabbis and the indigenous population of Palestine? At the turn of the last century, British and French colonialists were busy instigating discontent in the Middle East by buying the loyalty of Arabian tribal chiefs to use them against the Ottoman overlords. The toxic brew of Western colonialism, Arab nationalism, and political Zionism facilitated the implantation of the Zionist designs in Palestine through the Balfour declaration. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, in a letter to Baron de Rothschild, outlined the British government’s favorable view of establishing “in Palestine of a home for the Jewish people . . .” While Balfour stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” he deliberately ignored their political rights. That the overwhelming majority of inhabitants of Palestine were Muslims and Christians whose fundamental rights were being violated was of little consequence. In typical colonial style, Balfour promised the Palestinians’ land to Europeans.

If a pioneering group of Jewish settlers, the vanguard of the Zionist movement, did not occupy a core area of territory, the Zionist enterprise could not succeed. This is what the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling referred to as “territoriality” being at the centre of the Zionist project. Gradually, the Jewish settlers increased their holdings. Three instruments were particularly effective in these appropriations: the Jewish National Fund (set up in 1901), the Land Ordinance Act of 1943 and, the Emergency Laws decreed in 1945, the latter two courtesy of the British colonial occupiers of Palestine. The first stipulated, in typical colonial style, that land acquired under its auspices cannot be resold or even leased to non-Jews. The Land Ordinance Act was applied under the rubric of the “public interest” while under Emergency Law the military governor was given powers to suspend all the rights of citizens. The most convenient pretext used was that of “security” or by declaring certain areas “prohibited.”

Under British rule in Mandate Palestine the Jews formed a tiny minority--7 per cent in 1919. Even at the time of Israel’s creation in May 1948 following a vote in the United Nations General Assembly (November 1947) the then-30 per cent Jewish population owned a mere 6.5 per cent of the land. Yet it was given 56% of Palestinian territory. The rapid increase in Jewish population from 7 per cent to 30 per cent in 29 years (1919–1948) was not the result of natural growth; it was achieved through Jewish immigration into Palestine. Yet even Hitler’s holocaust did not convince the overwhelming majority of Jewish people to settle in Palestine. But Zionist leaders missed no opportunity to emphasize the importance of Jewish immigration to Palestine and lamented the lack of interest among European and North American Jews.


Several recent books have treated ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. Those horrors, at least, are over, and some of the war criminals who were responsible have been prosecuted. Not so with another instance of ethnic cleansing, which began sixty years ago and is still going on, with the unwavering support of the American government. Let me begin with a brief case study.

Al-Tantura was a prosperous Arab fishing village of some 1200 inhabitants, located on the Mediterranean 28 kilometers south of Haifa. In 1948 Tantura lay within the area the United Nations had allocated to the Jewish State in its ill-advised Partition Plan.

It was Tantura’s fate to be singled out as the starting point of the “Coastal Clearing Operation” to be carried out by a Hagana force. Code named Namal, the incursion took place on the night of May 22-23. That night Tantura was attacked and occupied by the the Alexandroni Brigade, which launched its assault under cover of darkness. There was no prior expression of readiness to suspend the operation in exchange for surrender.

The night attack started with heavy machine-gun fire, and was followed by an infantry attack from all three landward sides, even as an Israeli naval vessel blocked off any chance of escape by sea. By 0800 hours on May 23 the battle was over. The village had offered little resistance.

While the number is disputed, many adult males of Tantura were simply killed by the Israeli attackers. The rest of the inhabitants were driven away, and the village was ethnically cleansed.

A Ministry official, Ya’akov Epstein, who submitted a report after visiting Tantura shortly after the operation, reported seeing bodies '”in the [village] outskirts, in the streets, in the alleys, in village houses.” In 1998 a former resident of the village, Mahmoud Yihiya Yihiya, published a book on Tantura recording the names of 52 dead.

The occupation of the village was followed by looting. Some of the items the Hagana recovered included “one carpet, one gramophone ... one basket with cucumbers .... one goat.” Because of the number of rotting human and animal corpses, the area became a health hazard.

In 1964 the IDF (the Israeli Army) released an official history of "The Alexandroni Brigade in the War of Independence" in which eleven pages were devoted to Tantura; it makes no mention of any expulsion. However, in 2004 Alexandroni veterans finally acknowledged the forced expulsion.

The name Tantura was erased, replaced by the Hebraic name Dor; the old Arab village was bulldozed. This obliteration of the historical memory of Arab history is commonplace, and indeed ubiquitous. Today the Jewish residents are vehemently opposed to any exhumation of a possible mass-grave site.

This assault on Tantura was not an isolated event, but faithfully reflected a policy determined by a command group known as the Consultancy, headed by David Ben-Gurion. On May 11, 1948 this group decided to "expel or subdue" the villages of Kafr Saba, al-Tira, Qaqun, Qalansura and Tantura. The decision taken at the meeting was confirmed in a letter to commanders of the Hagana brigades telling them that they must not be distracted from their principal task. According to an entry in Ben-Gurion's diary: “the cleansing of Palestine remained the prime objective of Plan Dalet.” More on the Plan later.

Over the decades it has been difficult to establish the truth regarding the Tantura attack and expulsion--essentially because of official Israeli obfuscation.

Long consigned to the Orwellian memory hole, the devastation of Tantura became visible as the result of the research of a courageous Israeli graduate student, Theodore Katz. In his master’s thesis for the University of Haifa, Katz alleged that Israeli forces had killed 240 Arab civilians from the village of Tantura in 1948. Katz himself did not use the word massacre, although other scholars have concluded that that was what it was. Faced with a libel suit, Katz initially withdrew his allegation, However, he retracted his statement almost immediately. His mentor Ilan Pappe continues to stand by Katz and his thesis. The well-known historian Benny Morris acknowledged that while he is unsure whether what happened in Tantura was actually a massacre, he is now convinced that atrocities, rapes, and killings were committed by the troops.

Proposals in 2004 to exhume bodies from a site believed to be a mass grave never materialized. Local residents are opposed to an exhumation, an exhumation that is jointly supported by Katz, the Tantura refugees, and the Alexandroni veterans. The Alexandroni veterans contend that the grave holds only 70-75 bodies, while Katz believes that 200-260 bodies lie under the car park. Even if we accept the low figure of 70-75, it is clear that a mass execution took place.

At all events the destruction of Tantura was part of a larger pattern. Devised by Ben-Gurion’s Consultancy, Plan Dalet was a comprehensive blueprint for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In keeping with this Plan, hundreds of Arab villages were erased. These occurrences were premeditated.

In his recent book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” (2006), the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe pulls no punches. Pappe was born in Haifa in 1954 to German-Jewish parents who fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s. Author or editor of ten books, he was a professor at the University of Haifa for a number of years. In the face of threats and unremitting hostility, he found it prudent to exile himself to Britain, where he now serves as a professor at the University of Exeter.

In his new book Pappe flatly accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity beginning with the 1948 war for independence, and continuing through the present. Focusing primarily on Plan Dalet, finalized on March 10, 1948, Pappe demonstrates how ethnic cleansing was not a circumstance of war, but rather a deliberate goal of combat for early Israeli military units led by David Ben-Gurion, whom Pappe labels the "architect of ethnic cleansing." The forced expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians between 1948-49, Pappe maintains, was part of a long-standing Zionist plan to manufacture an ethnically pure Jewish state. Framing his argument with accepted international and UN definitions of ethnic cleansing, Pappe follows suit with an excruciatingly detailed account of Israeli military involvement in the demolition and depopulation of hundreds of villages, and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arab inhabitants.

With its graphic detail and blunt phrasing, this book is sometimes stomach-turning. Yet the history that Pappe has doggedly and expertly recovered is an essential one.

In his preface, Ilan Pappe describes the "Red House" in Tel-Aviv that became headquarters for the Hagana, the dominant Zionist paramilitary organization during the British Mandate period in Palestine between 1920 and 1948 (when the Jewish state came into being). He shows how David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, met with leading Zionists and young Jewish military officers on March 10, 1948 to complete their plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine. This undertaking unfolded in the months that followed, featuring "large-scale (deadly serious) intimidation; laying siege to and bombarding villages and population centers; setting fire to homes, properties and goods; expulsion; demolition; and finally, planting mines among the rubble to prevent any of the expelled inhabitants from returning."

The final master plan was called Plan D (Dalet in Hebrew) following plans A, B, and C preceding it. It was to be a war without mercy complying with what Ben-Gurion stated in June 1938 to the Jewish Agency Executive: "I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it." Plan Dalet became the blueprint of how to do this. The goal was simple and straightforward: to create by any means necessary an exclusively Jewish state devoid of any significant Arab presence.

Once begun, the whole ugly business took six months to complete. The steamroller expelled about 800,000 people, killed many others, and destroyed at least 531 villages, as well as eleven urban neighborhoods in cities like Tel-Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.

Even with the British still in charge of law and order before the Mandate ended, Jewish forces managed to expel about 250,000 Palestinians, using tactics that the occupying power did nothing to stop. The devastation continued unabated because when neighboring Arab states finally did decide to intervene, they did so without conviction. They came belatedly and with only small, ill-equipped forces--no match for a superior, well-armed Israeli military that easily prevailed.

Nonetheless, Ben-Gurion manipulated world opinion by suggesting that a “Second Holocaust” was about to occur. One should be cautious about casual use of the term holocaust, yet it would seem that in this case the Israelis were the perpetrators, not the victims--whatever the process may be termed.

David Ben-Gurion’s goal was Jewish sovereignty over as much of ancient Palestine as possible, achieved the only way he thought feasible--by forcible removal of Palestinians from their land so that Jews could resettle it. He wanted the maximum of territory with the fewest possible Arabs. To attain this aim, he and other Zionist leaders needed a systematic plan to cleanse the land for Jewish habitation. Their efforts began with a detailed registry or inventory of Arab villages that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was assigned to compile. The JNF was founded in 1901 as the main Zionist tool for the colonization of Palestine. Its original purpose was to buy land used to settle Jewish immigrants that by the end of the British Mandate in 1948 amounted to 5.8% of Palestine or a small fraction of what Zionists wanted for a Jewish state. Early on, Ben-Gurion and others understood that a more aggressive approach was needed for their colonization plan to succeed.

An essential tool was the Arab-village inventory completed by the late 1930s. This inventory included the topographic location of each village with detailed information including husbandry, cultivated land, number of trees, quality of fruit, average amount of land per family, number of cars, shop owners, Palestinian clans and their political affiliation, descriptions of village mosques and names of their imams, civil servants, and more. The final update culminated in 1947 with lists of "wanted" persons in each village targeted in 1948 for search-and-arrest operations, with those seized summarily shot on the spot.

Ben-Gurion was determined to make Jerusalem the Jewish capital. He intended the final borders of the Jewish state to remain flexible, so as to include within them as much future territory as possible. Ben-Gurion decreed that the borders would "be determined by force and not by partition resolution [of the United Nations]."

The Zionist leaders wanted 80% of Mandatory Palestine, that is, over 40% more land than the UN allotted. This land was to be taken forcibly from the Palestinians. To obtain the territory they coveted, the Zionists colluded tacitly with the Jordanians, effectively neutralizing the strongest Arab army by buying them off with the remaining 20% of the territory.

In December 1947, the Palestinian population numbered 1.3 million of which one million lived in the domain of the future Jewish state. The Jewish minority stood at 600,000. Zionist leaders needed a way to dispose of this huge mass of undesirables. They wished to clear the land for Jewish habitation only. To this end, the Israelis began a campaign of state-sponsored terror against a near-defenseless population unable to withstand the onslaught unleashed against it. Tactics of choice included threats and intimidation, attacking villages while their inhabitants slept, shooting anything that moved, and blowing up homes with their residents inside. Especially at risk were fighting-age men and boys who might pose a combat or resistance threat.

As the events unfolded, Ben-Gurion exulted with comments like this. "We are told the army had the ability of destroying a whole village and taking out all its inhabitants; let's do it." On another occasion, he explained: "Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion." He meant that the entire population of a village had to be removed, everything in it leveled to the ground, and its history erased. In its place, a new Jewish community would be established as part of the new Jewish state he and others in the Consultancy believed required a mass ethnic cleansing involving the relocation of the Palestinians living there. This aim was achieved by terrorism, intimidation, and selective killings.

Pappe details what he calls the "urbicide of Palestine" that included attacking and cleansing the major urban centers in the country. They included Tiberias, Haifa, Tel-Aviv, Safad, and what Pappe calls the "Phantom City of Jerusalem" changed from the "Eternal City" once Jewish troops shelled, attacked, and occupied its western Arab neighborhoods in April 1948.

The urbicide continued into May with the occupation of Acre on the coast and Baysan in the East on May 6. On May 13, Jaffa was the last city taken two days before the Mandate ended. The city had 1500 volunteers against 5000 Jewish troops. It survived a three-week siege and attack through mid-May, but when it fell its entire population of 50,000 was expelled. With its fall, Jewish occupying forces had emptied and depopulated most of the major cities and towns of Palestine. Ilan Pappe shows that all this happened between March 30 and May 15, 1948 "before a single regular Arab soldier had entered Palestine (to help Palestinians which they did ineffectively when they finally came)." His account demolishes the Israeli myth that Palestinians left voluntarily before or after Arab forces intervened. Nearly half their villages were attacked and destroyed before Arab countries sent in any forces, and another 90 villages were wiped out from May 15 (when the Mandate ended) untill June 11 when the first of two short-lived truces took effect.

Other sources deal with the ongoing Israeli attempts to demoralize, restrict, and humiliate the Palestinians. Today all Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are subject to a harsh regime of control There are roadblocks that include checkpoints and curfews, with violators shot on sight.

In many West Bank villages the residents are prevented from building on their own land, or from grazing their flocks in the pastures nearby, due to the severe restrictions imposed on them by the Israeli army and police. In order to succor the ever-expanding network of Jewish settlements, more and more land is annexed under the guise of erecting "security zones," effectively strangling the natural growth of the Palestinian communities, and destroying their livelihoods at the same time.

The current policy has been aptly described as "ethnic cleansing by stealth," the ultimate aim being to make life so tough for the Palestinians that they hold their hands up in despair and relocate elsewhere. For those holding the reigns of power, where the hapless victims go is immaterial--just so it's far enough away for the vacated land to be redistributed to a new generation of settlers. This kind of low-level bullying is neither sensational nor violent enough to merit regular headlines in the media, but its effects are no less harshly felt just because the methods employed are less extreme than the deployment of all-out brute force. Erecting roadblocks at the entrance of villages to force the residents to take long detours; taking no action against settlers who routinely beat and harass Palestinian children on their way to school; demolishing shelters built in the middle of the desert on the pretext of curbing security risks--in all these ways the army's actions play a huge part in making the impoverished Palestinians' difficult lives ever harder.

Once the unwanted Arabs are gone, further steps are taken. Places under Israeli control must undergo campaigns to rename them so as to obliterate the centuries of history they signified. Archaeologists and biblical experts have volunteered to serve on an official Naming Committee to "Hebraicize" Palestine's geography. The goal is to de-Arabize the lands, erase their history, and use the territory for new Jewish colonization and development, as well as to create European-looking national parks with recreational facilities including picnic sites and children's playgrounds for Jews only. Hidden beneath the surface are the remains of destroyed Palestinian villages deleted from the public memory but not from that of people who once lived there. This is the process that Pappe aptly terms “memoricide.”

In all likelihood this hideous story is not yet over. According to a recent poll, sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews favor the expulsion of the million or so Palestinians who are actually citizens of the state of Israel.

The Zionists have not only expropriated Palestinian lands — today the Zionists control more than 93% of the original land of Palestine through theft, forcible occupation and other illegal means — they have also built roads, neighborhoods, communities and settlements reserved exclusively for the Jews. This is what apartheid South Africa had done, hence the designation of Israel as an apartheid state. The apartheid wall through which the Zionists have cut off Palestinian families and villages, stealing in the process more Palestinian land, caps it all. In a ruling handed down in July 2004, the International Court of Justice described Israel’s apartheid wall illegal.

Still prevailing, of course, is the Law of Return. Under this law, any Jew living anywhere in the world is automatically entitled to Israeli citizenship upon setting foot there (a process sometimes termed “making aliya”). That the overwhelming majority of Jewish people who occupy Palestine today have no links with the land whatsoever is of little consequence. By contrast, Palestinians who have lived there for centuries, perhaps for millennia, are obliged to prove their ownership to land or property. The situation is particularly critical for Palestinians residing in Jerusalem; if they are away from the city for more than three months, they lose the right of return. Every effort is made, fair or foul, to pressure them to leave. Palestinians are denied building permits not only for new homes but are also refused permission to rebuild. Palestinian home demolitions are a common practice to target Palestinians involved in resistance activity.

Recent years have witnessed a growing participation of Evangelical Christian organizations in abetting, with money and psychological support, Israeli policies of expansion in the Occupied Territories. At least forty such Christian groups are active in intervention of this kind. As a front-page story in the New York Times (“Tax-Exempt Funds Aiding Settlements in West Bank,” July 6, 2010) has documented in some detail, a solid alliance now joins expansionist Zionism and Christian Evangelicalism. In the past these two groups have been at loggerheads. No longer. The money quote from the Times story is this: “they are united in their belief that returning the West Bank--site of the ancient Jewish kingdoms--to full Jewish control is critical to Israeli security and fulfillment of biblical prophecies.”


By way of a brief conclusion one may note some pilgrimage-like undertakings observed by contemporary Jews of North America and Western Europe. From these groups, the Israeli government encourages short-term visits to Israel, especially by young people (who are indoctrinated there in the principles of Zionism).

Many tourists, both Jews and gentiles, visit the House of Anne Frank in Amsterdam. More somber visits occur to Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps.

There are prominent Jewish Museums in Berlin, Washington DC, and New York City. Other such museums have sprung up elsewhere.


Anderson, Irvine. Biblical Interpretation and Middle East Policy: The Promised Land, America, and Israel, 1917-2002. Tallahassee: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. New York: Ecco Press, 2010.

Beinart, Haim. The Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2002.

Burge, Gary M. Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Carr, Matthew. Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. New York: New Press, 2009.

Davies, W D. The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

Dever, William G. Who Were the Israelites and Where Did They Come From? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Elsner, Jas, and Ian Rutherford, eds. Pilgrimage in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity: Seeing the Gods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Runciman, Sir Steven. A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951-54.

Stavrakopoulou, Francesca. Land of Our Fathers: The Roles of Ancestor Veneration in Biblical Land Claims (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies). Edinburgh: T and T. Clark, 2010.

Webb, Diana. Medieval European Pilgrimage, C.700 - C.1500. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

No comments:

Post a Comment