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Biblical myths justifying conquest of Palestine belong in dustbin of history

Zionist claims regards the colonisation of Palestine have been comprehensively debunked, but they are still deployed to convince Christians and liberals
A woman raises a banner saying "No to the occupation" during a rally organised by foreign, Palestinian and Israeli activists in the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, on 14 October 2022 (AFP)

The recent vote by the United Nations General Assembly to merely “ask” the International Court of Justice for an “opinion” on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories changes nothing in the ongoing Zionist settler-colonisation of Palestine

It also changes nothing in the World Zionist Organisation’s commitment to Jewish supremacy, which it bequeathed to the Israeli regime once the Zionist colonists conquered most of Palestine and declared their settler colony as a “Jewish state” in 1948. 

These alleged 'historical' and Biblical ties to the land are indeed the crux of the Zionist claim to the homeland of the Palestinians

It will also have no impact to nullify the series of Jewish-supremacist laws that Israel issued since its establishment, which have continued to oppress Palestinians inside and outside Israeli military control. 

The countries that voted against the UN resolution or abstained are largely European former and current colonising countries, including settler colonies in the Americas, with a smattering of western client regimes. 

Significantly, the United Kingdom which sponsored and facilitated Zionist colonisation of Palestine and is held responsible by most Palestinians for their historic and ongoing Nakba, had the temerity to vote against the resolution. 

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So did Germany, whose post-Nazi expression of repentance for its genocidal crimes against Jews manifests in its support of Zionist colonisation and oppression of the Palestinians. 

It also goes without saying that the most powerful settler colony in the world, the United States, which has been Israel’s main imperial sponsor all along, also opposed the resolution. 

Conflating Judaism with Zionism

Israel’s newly coronated king, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded to the UN vote swiftly: "The Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land nor occupiers in our eternal capital Jerusalem and no UN resolution can distort that historical truth." 

Netanyahu is absolutely correct in that “the Jewish people are not occupiers” of the land of the Palestinians. 

It is the Zionist movement, the Israeli government, and Israeli colonists who are the occupiers, not the Jewish people with whom Netanyahu wishes to conflate them in a standard antisemitic move that lays Zionist crimes at the feet of the Jewish people.

In a statement preempting the UN vote, Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, declared that “No international body can decide that the Jewish people are ‘occupiers’ in their own homeland.

"Any decision from a judicial body which receives its mandate from the morally bankrupt and politicised UN is completely illegitimate,” he added.

A ‘major fiction’

In covering the UN vote, Reuters notes: “Along with Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Palestinians seek the occupied West Bank for a state. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal, a view Israel disputes citing historical and Biblical ties to the land.”

These alleged "historical and Biblical ties to the land" are indeed the crux of the Zionist claim to the homeland of the Palestinians and include the primary assertion that "the Jewish people” lived in Palestine two millennia ago and were its sole occupants. 

But the people who lived in Palestine two millennia ago were the Hebrews and not “the Jewish people” (a concept of much later coinage) and the Hebrews never lived there alone. 

Indeed, in the Jewish Biblical narrative, as described in the Book of Joshua, the Hebrews were not native to Palestine but had in fact conquered the Land of Canaan from the Canaanites and occupied it, claiming that their God had "promised" it to them. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. Atef SAFADI / POOL / AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on 3 January 2023 (AFP)

The more significant fiction that persists is that modern Jews are, fantastically, the direct and only descendants of the ancient Hebrews. 

This claim is based on the Catholic Church’s historic enmity to European Jews, whom it linked to the ancient Hebrews as the “killers of Christ”, but more emphatically on the Protestant Reformation’s millenarian ambitions to expel Europe’s Jews to Palestine, which the Protestants claimed would expedite the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  

That many religious Jews had historically believed that they came from Palestine is tantamount to Indian, Chinese, Indonesia, Nigerian, or Malaysian Muslims claiming that they came from the Arabian Peninsula simply because it was the birthplace of their faith. 

The Zionists reject such analogies, insisting on yet another fictitious claim that while Islam and Christianity were missionary religions, Judaism allegedly was not. 

This false claim has been debunked by scholars, who with clear historical evidence have shown incontrovertibly that Judaism had indeed been a missionary religion, with mass conversions continuing through at least the ninth century. 

Zionist claims

Another Zionist claim is that Palestinian Arabs are the descendants of seventh-century Arab Muslim conquerors. But that, too, is false; the Arab conquest was not a settler-colonial one, but rather a missionising and territorially expansionist one. 

How Zionists use racial myths to deny Palestinians the right to go home
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Most of the indigenous peoples of the Byzantine-ruled Syrian territory, including the native Syrian-Arab Christian Ghassanids, remained the majority after the Muslim-Arab conquest.

It would take as many as five centuries, whether in Palestine and Greater Syria, or in Egypt (where it would take even longer), for the majority of the people who had been Christian to convert to Islam - even as they adopted the Arabic language and culture much earlier - including most of the native Christian churches in the conquered regions. 

Indeed, very few Arabians moved to the conquered territories in Syria and the few who did settled in the cities

When the Crusaders conquered Palestine in the 11th century, most of Palestine’s population who fell victim to Crusader carnage and pillage were Arabic-speaking Christians (along with the minority of Arabic-speaking Muslims). 

This is what led the founding fathers of the Jewish settler colony, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, in perhaps a moment of rare sobriety, to claim in a 1919 book they co-authored that the majority of the indigenous Palestinians were in fact descendants of the ancient Hebrews who had converted to Christianity and then to Islam – a claim, which today, the Zionists wish to bury completely.

Mistaking Arabness for a racial category rather than a linguistic and cultural identity, the racialised European colonial powers aimed to divide the Arabs, claiming that the Egyptians, the Iraqis, the North Africans, the Maronites, et al, are not actually Arab but people conquered by Arabs, meaning that they had been Arabised.

This claim is not contested by Arab nationalism, which insists however that Arabs are in fact those whose mother tongue is Arabic.  

Indigenous claims

Another Zionist colonial claim at the closing of the 19th century that European Jews had the "right" to "return" to their alleged ancient homeland was hardly an innovation. 

This was already a claim made by the French when they colonised Algeria, and the Italians when they colonised Libya - namely, that they were "returning" to the lands of the ancient Roman Empire, and therefore they were not foreign colonisers. 

However, even when the British colonised India, they never claimed they were “returning” to it. “Aryan” Europeans who claim descent from Indo-European tribes originating from northern India have still not advanced a claim to “return” to their ancient homeland and colonise the Indian subcontinent on that basis. 

But even if we discount all of the above fictions and grant them validity against all reasonable argument as historical facts, this will not lead us to the conclusion that modern Jews, as the alleged and sole descendants of the ancient Hebrews, have the right to conquer their alleged ancient homeland and expel the Palestinian natives, with the claim that the colonising Jews are the natives and that the native Palestinians are the colonisers. 

Nonetheless, the fictional claims of modern Jews as originating in Palestine and that they are the sole descendants of the ancient Hebrews with an exclusive “right” to Palestine remain central to Zionist claims of “historical and Biblical ties”. 

The Zionist movement and the Israeli regime understand that these are the main persuasive arguments to Christian Europe and the very Christian United States and to the Jewish diaspora justifying Zionist colonisation. 

These bogus claims are indeed so entrenched in the Western religious and secular traditions that some supporters of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle accept them as facts even if they reject the Zionist argument that they justify the modern Zionist Jews’ colonial conquest of Palestine.

David Ben-Gurion understood well that the Zionist religious claim does not and should not be persuasive to the Palestinians. After he led the conquest of Palestine, he seemed bewildered that the Jewish colonists expected the Palestinians to make peace with their colonisers. 

Ben-Gurion retorted:

"Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader, I would never make terms
with Israel. That is natural: We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it's true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?"

Real and imagined origins

As for the outrageous claim by some Western geneticists of the existence of a "Jewish gene" that links some modern Jews to the ancient Hebrews, it is no more than an antisemitic canard that is the latest link in the chain of US and European racial science since the 19th century. 

Most Palestinians, however, have had enough of the parochialism of Western Christian and Jewish religious and secular claims which seek to impose antisemitic myths on the Palestinian people to justify the colonisation of Palestine because their scriptures endowed their adherents with that right. 

Here, we must remember that these same scriptures, and later the same racial science, justified not only the conquest of the Americas and the genocide committed against Native Americans, but also the enslavement and murder of millions of Africans, and the conquest of Africa and the other parts of the world. 

Supporters of the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle should not grant any legitimacy to these Zionist fictions: they remain the cornerstone of Israeli colonial claims aimed at convincing Western Christians and Jews, and secular liberals more generally, that their God and their racial scientists are the ones who authorised the Zionists to conquer and steal the homeland of the Palestinians. 

This drivel has no place in anti-colonial ranks, for its proper place must and should be the dustbin of colonial history.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
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