Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Gentile Project

OUR BUS TURNED LEFT PAST HAIFA’S headland. A ship steamed towards its harbour, its decks weighed down with containers. Decades ago they would have been crammed with immigrants in search of a promised land.

But now, as I saw modern condominiums lining the shore, I could have been anywhere in the world. How had it come to this? How had a community, scattered across the world in a Diaspora, been able to colonise and create Israel, a modern state named after the prophet Jacob?

I remembered a book, Islam and its Discontents, written by the Franco-Arab scholar, Professor Abdelwahab Meddeb. Modern Zionism initially had nothing to do with Judaism, he said. The first notions of a Jewish homeland had originated in Protestant circles.

I remembered too the writings in Bitter Harvest by the Christian Palestinian historian, Sami Hadawi. He had argued that a Christian fundamentalist misinterpretation of the Old Testament was the source. He had questioned the premise that Abraham had been bequeathed a homeland exclusive to the sons of Isaac.

Hadawi had pointed out what he felt were its contradictions. God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis could never have been made to Jews alone. Ishmael was also the seed of Abraham, and God’s undertaking had to apply as equally to Christians and Muslims, as it did to Jews.

Had not the Hebrew Revelation said in Genesis?

…and in thee (Abraham) shall all families of the earth be blessed.

He had also argued that Israelite tenure of the Holy Land had never been unconditional. The covenant between God and the Israelites had been strictly dependent upon their obedience. Had Moses not warned the Israelites that if they did not obey Divine Law, a Diaspora would befall them?

There were no mentions in scripture anywhere of a third Israelite return to Judea. There was no basis in Old Testament or New Testament sources to justify a modern, ethnic Jewish state in Palestine, Hadawi had argued.

He had also added that Israel itself was a metaphor; there was an Israel ‘of the spirit’ and there was an Israel ‘of the flesh’.

I could not help but note that this view corresponded to voices within Orthodox Judaism, such as the Neturei Karta, a grouping that has largely been marginalised by the sweep of contemporary political Zionism.

These anti-Zionist Jews believe that their Creator, and not man, has the final say in the status of Israel: in other words, the present Jewish state has not come into being by fulfilling any injunctions of the Holy Books.

Three Oaths

I was told that the Haredim, the biggest Orthodox group within Israel, had had to do some nifty egg-dancing between the contradictions of classical Judaism and political Zionism. And this was best illustrated, I soon discovered, through the Three Talmudic Oaths located in the Tractate Ketuvot.

Derived from the angst and melancholy of the Babylonian exile in 587 BCE, and a message sent by Jeremiah to the elders, the Three Oaths were said to be the result of three divine vows between Heaven and Earth, and between the Creator and the Jew.

The first was that Jews should not descend upon the Holy Land by force; the second was that they should not rebel against host governments; and the third was that they should not prolong the coming of the Messiah by their sins.

When I researched the Three Oaths, I walked ingenuously into a theological firestorm.

In one reading I was informed that the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust had fully abrogated the Three Oaths. The modern state of Israel, I was hotly told, had not come into being by a Jewish betrayal of the Oaths, but rather, by a non-Jewish complicity.

On the other hand, Neturei Karta had said that the Three Oaths, and the Diaspora, were obligations intended to expiate Jews from the sins that had caused the Creator to exile them in the first place. Only when the Shekhina, the Divine Presence, descended upon Zion would the Diaspora end.

This view, of course, clashed with another one I encountered in the halls of Judaism. The Messiah would only come once Jews had lifted their own hands in the creation of a Jewish state, and the reconstruction of the Third Temple.

I retreated to the calmer realms of Professor Abdelwahab Meddeb where, according to him, the contemporary Jewish Zionist thesis had only gained momentum at the beginning of the 19th century after it had circulated in Protestant circles.

Shalom Goldman, professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University, is a Jew who agrees with Meddeb. Zionism, he writes, is the Jewish implementation of an idea that had been developing in Christian quarters for over 300 years.

The Egyptian scholar, Professor Adelwahab Elmessiri, corroborates Meddeb’s findings. He identifies Lord Shaftesbury and Laurence Oliphant, both early British Zionists, as being pioneers of the modern discourse.

Country without a nation

Shaftesbury was an Evangelist who had actively promoted the idea of an ethnic Jewish homeland. In July 1853 he had declared: “There is a country without a nation; and now God in his wisdom and mercy directs us to a nation without a country.”

Laurence Oliphant, who supported Shaftesbury’s views, authored The Land of Gilead in 1880. His book, which encourages Jewish settlement, often reads like a blueprint for the Nakba.

Other 19th century British personalities to support a Jewish homeland were Lord Lindsay, Sir George Gawlor, John Derby, Alexander Keith, Charles Henry Churchill and the author, George Eliot.

My own research led me to the 12th century and to the cell of the Calabrian mystic, Joachim of Fiore. His reading of the Book of Revelation had him claiming that the earth would experience three epochs, or dispensations. The return of the Jews to Zion would set the table for the coming of the final dispensation, and the rule of the Messiah.

This would see Jews being peacefully converted to Christianity instead of being damned. His motif of Jewish ‘salvation’ – one that would come to characterise modern Evangelism – contradicted the mainstream church’s view that Jews had been condemned to eternal exile.

I also arrived at the door of Martin Luther, the 16th century Protestant reformer. Salvation was by faith – his faith – and when Jews had politely declined to fall at his feet, a disillusioned Luther had condemned them to hellfire.

His strident views are the first mass stirrings of modern evangelism, and an ominous harbinger of the Nazi Holocaust.

The 17th and 18th centuries had their voices for a Jewish homeland too. Amongst them was the British MP, Sir Henry Finch, who spoke about ‘the world’s greatest restoration’. Napoleon Bonaparte was another who supported the idea.

But behind all the apocalyptic verbiage of those rooting for the creation of a Jewish homeland, there lurked a world view that implied Jews did not belong in Europe.

It was a jingoistic kind of Orientalism derived from the Middle Ages. It was the same outlook that had perceived the Saracen, or the Arab, as much of an unwelcome resident of the Holy Land as the Jew was of Europe.

I might be accused of cynicism. But it has to be noted that historians such as Robert the Monk, Guibert of Nogent and Baldrick of Bourgeuil – who recorded events of the First Crusade – felt that Arabs were a ‘vile and abominable race’ fit only for ‘extermination’.

This European anti-Semitism, extending to Jewish communities as well, had been preceded by a band of Crusaders massacring Jews living along the Rhine.


In the winter of 1097 famished Crusaders had roasted and eaten the flesh of the townsfolk of Mara’rat al-Numan on the Orontes River. They had reported that the children were particularly delicious. This group had believed that Arabs and Jews were the natural enemies of Jesus Christ.

Both Arabs and Jews were massacred in Jerusalem in 1099. Jerusalem was re-conquered by Saladin in 1187, and while Jews were sheltered by the Caliphs of the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman dynasties, Diasporic communities living outside the Islamic realm were often persecuted.

Yet in spite of this, the Rabbis clung to their traditional beliefs. The Diaspora was by Divine Decree. It took the Dreyfus affair in France to inspire a secularist Theodore Herzl to write Der Judenstat in 1896, and to found the World Zionist Congress in 1897.

The British Balfour Declaration of 1917, supporting the idea of Jewish state in Palestine, and colonial opportunities afforded by the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1923, were to open the political door further.

The Ottoman Empire, which was regarded as the ‘sick old man of Europe’ at the start of the 20th century, had caught the attention of Britain, France and the Russian Czar. Turkey was at the juncture of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

At stake were new colonies, lucrative trade routes, oil deals and control of the Suez Canal. To keep her Russian and French rivals at bay, the British had supported Istanbul. However, after the Ottomans had sided with Germany in the 1914-18 war and the Armenian genocide had reared its ugly head, the British Foreign Office had been forced to change tack.

Max Dimont, author of Jews, God and History, writes that this brief Ottoman dalliance with Germany had nearly derailed the Zionists. The Turks had declared Zionism illegal, had hung ‘allied (war) sympathizers’ for treason, and had deported 12, 000 Jews from Palestine for not being Turkish citizens.

Ironically, the Arab world was destined to be an unwitting tool of Zionism’s survival. The pan-Arabist camp had long hankered to topple the Turkish Caliphate. In 1917 a young British army officer, T.E. Lawrence, was directed to co-ordinate the Arab Revolt.

For putting the Turks to flight in Syria, Jordan and Palestine, the sponsor of the uprising, the Meccan-based descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, Sharif Hussein ibn ‘Ali, was promised a pan-Arab Caliphate from Palestine to Yemen. This was done via the McMahon-Hussain correspondence.

Arab goodwill

But Arab goodwill towards Britain had already been betrayed by the Sykes-Picot Accord between France, Britain and Russia. This pact had divided Bilad al-Sham, the greater Middle East region, into chunks of post-Ottoman colonial real estate such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

For the Arab world previously unused to nation-state boundaries, and more accustomed to the loosely autonomous Turkish vilayets, or provincial sanjaqs, Sykes-Picot was to prove a shattering blow. When the Meccan Sharif claimed his pan-Arab throne, the British simply hurrumphed and looked the other way.

The weakening Turkish Caliphate was five years from its demise, and there was now a leadership vacuum in the Arab realm. Who were the independent Arab leaders?

The Wahhabi Ibn Sa’ud in the untamed Najd signed an agreement with the British, but did not take part in the 1917 uprising. Ibn Rashid of the Shammar region was pro-Turkish, as was Imam Yahya in semi-autonomous Yemen. Greater Syria and Iraq, though, were rudderless.

The Meccan Sharifs found themselves losing influence. Towards the end of 1918, Sharif Faizel Husseini (the second son of the Sharifian patriarch) met with T. E. Lawrence and entered into an agreement with Chaim Weizmann.

The Weizmann-Husseini agreement, as it was briefly known, stated that ‘all necessary measures’ should be taken to ‘stimulate the immigration of Jews’ to Palestine. Attached to the document was a curious Arabic codicil – almost an afterthought – written by Faizel in his own hand and signed by Weizmann:

Provide the Arabs obtain their independence as demanded…I shall concur in the above articles. But if the slightest modification or departure be made, I shall then not be bound by a single word of the present agreement…

Peter Mansfield in The Arabs claims that the Sharifs were prepared to give the Balfour Declaration a try to ‘help the progress of the Arabs’. Dr ‘Azzam Tamimi of the London-based Institute of Islamic Political Thought, accuses Sharif Faizel Husseini of self-interest.

The agreement – widely scorned in the Arab realm – was never tested, and was soon a worthless scrap of paper. After being granted the throne of Syria in 1920, Sharif Faizel was summarily unseated by the French. As a sop, he was sent to rule Iraq, it taking the deaths of 10, 000 restless Iraqis to get him into power.

Described by T. E. Lawrence as a ‘brave, weak, ignorant spirit’ trying to do the work for which only ‘a genius, a prophet or a great criminal was fitted’, Sharif Faizel died in 1933.

He was a Franco-British puppet that had been foisted upon a country of which he was not a native. It was an arrangement that could not last. In 1958 his son, Sharif Faizel II, was killed in a military coup. Army rule would in turn be toppled in 1963 by the Baathists, from whose ranks would emerge Iraqi strongmen such as Saddam Hussain.


With Arab territories west of the Jordan falling under European dominion, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 merely compounded the humiliation. The dream of Arabs enjoying hegemony over the lands of the Prophet in the 20th century became as remote as the prospect of an Eskimo caliphate in Hawaii.

The memoirs of British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George mention that the Balfour Declaration was a gesture to Chaim Weizmann for his work on developing acetone, a chemical essential for manufacturing cordite. Cordite, used in fuses, had previously been produced by Germany – now at war with England.

Robert Fisk observes that both the Balfour Declaration and the McMahon-Hussain correspondence were instruments of British ‘political expediency’. The one was the result of the British needing Arabs to fight the Turks, and the other was the result of Britain needing Jewish patronage.

The Washington Report offers another take on how the Balfour Declaration came into being. It refers to the Zimmerman Note, a secret contingency brief dispatched from the German war cabinet to its Mexican ambassador in 1917.

According to The Washington Report, Germany had to keep the United States neutral at all costs, but failing that, a call had to be made for the restoration of Mexican sovereignty over New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

This encrypted note was intercepted and sent by German Zionists to the British, who allegedly used it to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to declare war against Germany in 1917, and to tip the scales in favour of the allies.

Another view is that Sir Mark Sykes, co-architect of the Sykes-Picot Accord, had pushed long and hard for the Balfour Declaration. In this version, Chaim Weizmann was waiting outside cabinet for a decision when Sykes came out to tell him: “Chaim, it’s a boy!”

Whatever the instrument of the Balfour Declaration, the outcome by 1918 was that Arab leadership had been duped. The McMahon-Hussain correspondence promising a pan-Arab Caliphate, and described by the Israeli historian Tom Segev as ‘evasive and amateurish’, conflicted not only with the Sykes-Picot Accord, but now also the Balfour Declaration.

Spectre of Zionism

So for its support of Britain in unseating the Turkish Ottomans, the Arab world would not only be visited by yet another colonialist, but also the spectre of Zionism.

As Karen Armstrong has said: ‘The dispossessed, uprooted and wandering Jew’ would soon be replaced by ‘the homeless, uprooted and dispossessed Palestinian’.

For those living west of the Jordan, this would mean displacement and disruption at the hands of the Zionists on a massive scale; first after 1948 and then 1967, when Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights and Egyptian-administered Gaza would be occupied by Israeli forces.

Today more than 5 million Palestinians are in what the late Professor Edward Said calls a ‘shattat’, or a scattering. More than half a million are exiled overseas in Europe and the United States; a million reside under sufferance in the 1948 territories, and about 3 million lives in Gaza and the West Bank.

Furthermore, over 50% of Jordanians (about 2 million) are of Palestinian descent. In Lebanon, half a million are still stateless refugees while the rest of the refugee population (another half million) is spread through Syria, Iraq and other Arab states.

We stopped at a traffic light. Everything seemed so reassuringly normal. Unlike in the old South Africa, I could see no signs of petty apartheid. ‘Jews only’ boards were not stenciled on to park benches. Our driver turned into a side road, and halted at the gates of a holiday resort. We were now at the site of Tantura village in the Haifa region, and as I was to discover, yet another hapless victim of the 1948Nakba.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Israel: Strange White Men

AS WE TRAVELLED ALONG THE BRIGHT Mediterranean coast, it belied the dark, cynical undertow of contemporary Israeli politics. Whilst most Israelis yearned for secure borders, Palestinians demanded liberation and national identity from within the same space.

There was definitely no evidence of the idealistic Herzlian vision of Israel being a walled-in refuge for Jews, as well as a liberal European island of tolerance and enlightenment. The lofty mirage of that idyllic homeland had long since disappeared.

Ever watchful of critical scrutiny – expediently seen to threaten Israel’s very existence – Zionist PR men had been obliged to make use of offshore pressure groups to hasbara, or obfuscate, Israel’s consistent human rights abuses, and cavalier disregard of international law.

The task of continually re-inventing Israel1 to evade its detractors had chiefly fallen on the shoulders of the United States, Israel’s most faithful ally since 1967. Zionist pressure groups representing less than 1% of the country’s 300 million people – and certainly not all its diverse five million Jews – had put up camp at Capitol Hill.

It is AIPAC (the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) that spearheads Israel’s massive PR offensive. AIPAC is said to be influential way beyond its numbers. Former Republican congressman, Paul Findlay, says that AIPAC drummed him out of office in 1983 for not toeing the line on Israel.

Author and attorney Jeff Gates describes AIPAC as being a ‘foreign agent’ that dictates United States foreign policy.

Jeffrey Blankfort, former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and radio show host, told me it was AIPAC who persuaded Congress not to punish Israel for selling military technology to apartheid South Africa during the sanctions era.

Candidates in primary and general elections in the United States are vetted by AIPAC office bearers for their views on Israel. Those regarded as sufficiently pro-Israel by AIPAC are granted campaign funding via ‘bundlers’, which are designated groups of funders.

AIPAC is also the brains trust behind the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) which it founded in 1985. More ‘academic’ in outlook than AIPAC, it was set-up by Martin Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel.

It was Indyk who framed the policy of ‘dual containment’ for Iran and Iraq during the Clinton administration.

Indyk, a vice-president and director of the Brookings Institute, now serves on the board of the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy. Haim Saban, the centre’s funder, is an Egyptian-born Israeli. He is an avowed Zionist and media mogul who made his millions at Fox Media.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has been described by Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American Islamic relations (CAIR) as an institute that finds the worst possible quotes from the Arab world, which it translates into English.

On its board of directors is Steven Emerson (of Jihad in America fame). Its panel of advisors includes Professor Bernard Lewis (the original author of the term ‘clash of civilisations’), John Ashcroft, Ehud Barak and Paul Bremer.

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA) was founded in 1982. It claims to monitor the American press. If it detects what it perceives as anything unbalanced, it calls the journalist or writes letters to the editor offering ‘factual’ information.

CAMERA’S claims of neutrality are compromised by messages of support from people such as Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, whose objectivity on Israel has been openly questioned. In his book The Case for Israel, he suggests that Israel has a good human rights record.

The Palestinian Media Watch, an Israel-based organisation, was established in 1996 by the American-born Itamar Marcus. He is described by Wikipedia as ‘an Israeli political activist’.

The PMW focuses on the demonisation of Israelis and Jews, especially in the Palestinian education system. The PMW website is totally devoid of any balance; it does not examine Arab anti-Semitism in the Israeli curriculae.

The Middle East Forum is headed by Daniel Pipes, regarded by scholars and commentators such as Tariq Ramadan and James Zogby as an Islamophobe. On its website the MEF claims to work ‘intellectually, operationally and philanthropically’.

Pipes, an avowed political conservative and campaigner against what he calls ‘radical Islam’, gained notoriety through Campus Watch. This organisation was accused of ‘McCarthyism’ when it tried to black-list academics whom it considered anti- Israel.

Daniel Pipes is said to maintain a close relationship with Steven Emerson of MEMRI and is an active blogger.

Another renowned Israeli lobby group is the Anti-Defamation League. The late Dr Alfred Lilienthal, author of the Zionist Connection, claims that the ADL is the ‘most influential organisation’ in the United States. He accuses it of working closely with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, ‘and sometimes with the FBI or the CIA’.

One group – hardly in the lobbyist category one must add – enjoys the dubious distinction of being rated as violent and extremist by the FBI. It enjoys the sorry record of having committed six murders and 18 terrorist attacks on United States soil alone.

More successful and enduring than any Islamic jihadist group, the Jewish Defence League was the spiritual home of the Hebron killer, Dr. Barusch Goldstein, and Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political party, Kach, was even banned in Israel.

Another grouping to play a role, particularly in security affairs, has been the neo-con influenced Jewish Institute for Security Affairs (JINSA). It has been directly linked to former United States vice-president, Dick Cheney, and former Deputy Under-Secretary of Defence, Douglas Feith.

But all the above pales into insignificance if we consider the measure of Christian Evangelical support in the United States for Israel. Sometimes dubbed the ‘Kosher Nostra’, this group has the clout to stop the President it votes for in his tracks.

When President George Bush11 criticised Israel for its 2002 incursion of the West Bank, he received 100, 000 e-mails from the Evangelical lobby reproaching him. And when he mooted the Road Map, 50, 000 postcards saw him retreating from fully endorsing a Palestinian state.

This same group sent President Barak Obama nearly 30, 000 e-mails in March 2010 just before his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Indeed, as the late Reverend Jerry Falwell told CBS in 2003:

There are 70 million (sic) of us. And if there’s one thing that brings us together quickly it’s whenever we begin to detect our government becoming a little anti-Israel.

Christian-Zionist author Paul Merkley explains further13. Christian-Zionists are not knocked off their perches when Israel is denounced for rough treatment of Palestinians. Nor is it their concern when a politician gets caught for corruption, or when Mossad pulls off a dirty trick.

No, the Christian Zionist does not have to re-work the ethical Arithmetic when bad news appears, says Merkley. For the Christian-Zionist it is a requirement of faith to ‘prefer the blessing of Israel above all passing things’.

Across the Atlantic, Great Britain – the home of the Balfour Declaration – has played a leading European role in the international Israeli lobby since the 19th century and the petitions of Lord Shaftesbury, the famous Anglo-Zionist.

The Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), the Conservative Friends of Israel and Liberal-Democrat Friends of Israel all serve Israeli interests. The LFI has done this since the 1950’s. There is also the All-Party Britain Israeli Parliamentary Group and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) that focuses upon the media.

For decades now, Zionist spin doctors and bribed shills across the world have callously played upon Holocaust guilt and paranoia to elicit international support. This lobby knows full well that no public figure enjoys being labeled anti-Semitic. By spuriously linking anti-Semitism to any criticism of Israel, it can bully opinion makers into silence.

Or as James Zogby of the Arab American Institute observes: the Zionist adage is to give the impression of being everywhere, and to say the same the thing everywhere.

The Zionist ‘behind every bush’ conspiracy in the Muslim and Arab world is a direct, if not unfortunate consequence, of this ‘let’s be everywhere’ dogma. The contemporary flames of Jewish anti-Semitism are fanned by the very myth-making of the Zionist lobby.

Zionist influence in the corridors of the United States political establishment is pervasive. Gush Shalom’s Uri Avnery once quipped that if the Israeli government ever wanted an American law to annul the Ten Commandments, at least 95 Senators would rush to sign the bill.

Jews taking issue with the programmes of AIPAC, the ADL, the LFI and other groups are attacked by these lobbyists for being self-loathing. Or, as Abraham Weizfeld complains: the Zionist lobby forgets about other Jews.

Jews in the United States, Britain and Europe do not unquestioningly support Israeli policies. Yet this is the impression that organisations such as AIPAC, the ADL and the LFI have created.

The truth is that Jews in the Diaspora have their voice of concern about Israel played down. Jewish clamouring for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is completely ignored by the lobbyists. As Not in My Name founder Steven Feuerstein has declared:

We criticise Israel because of, not in spite of, our Jewish values.

Even though the Zionist administration may appear to wag the President’s tail (Lilienthal cites a Pentagon joke that memos always have to be typed in triplicate with a copy going to Tel Aviv) it cannot hide that today’s Israel is an extremely costly project for the American taxpayer.

The World Policy Institute reports that in a decade from 1996 to 2006, this small country of about six million received more than 17 billion dollars in direct military aid alone.

Israel’s aid benefaction is legend, and the country receives more aid dollars from Congress annually than all of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa combined. In fact, this tiny nation receives more aid from the United States and its Diasporic community than any other country in the world.

The late Yeshayahou Leibowitz, a renowned figure at the Hebrew University, and a former editor of the Hebrew Encyclopaedia, once fretted that Israel would collapse due to its reliance on Uncle Sam.

Yet this is what fuels the Zionist project. Those in the Diaspora must pay unconditionally for the protection of the nuclear-powered Zionist state – a David surrounded by a non nuclear-powered Arab Goliath, with Persian Iran now the bogey.

The former French Marxist Roger Garaudy, who turned Muslim and wrote The Founding Myths of the Israeli Policy, argues that the crux of the problem is the secular Zionist movement. It created a militaristic, nationalistic Jewish state at the expense of an Arab one in the very centre of the Arab world.

This was achieved, he says, purely through historical subterfuge, and not by fulfilling any Biblical prophecy. The truth of it – old-fashioned colonialism – was simply wished away by generating the founding fable that a wild, virgin soil was tamed by a superior civilisation.

Garaudy argues, with statistical proof, that before 1948 Palestine was a far cry from being an empty, barren land.

But this did not prevent Moshe Auman of the Israeli Academic Committee on the Middle East penning a 24-page essay entitled Land Ownership in Palestine 1880-1948. His document, in which author Mark Twain is prominently quoted, points to the savagery of the Arab natives and the bleakness of the country.

However, Mark Twain is about as reliable as Monty Python would be for writing a biography on the life of Christ. Twain’s accuracy of account in his 1867 Middle East travelogue, Innocents Abroad, is typified by his claims that he took a sword and tried it on a Muslim who ‘clove in twain like a doughnut’.

The Independent’s Robert Fisk in his Pity the Nation, comments that Auman’s real intent was to manufacture consent that Palestinian Arabs were backward, undeserving tenants of their land.

Auman is contradicted by one of the early Zionists, Asher Ginsberg, who toured Palestine in 1891 and observed that it was difficult to find uncultivated ground anywhere. The idea that a person could come and claim as much land as he wanted was not the case, he reported, using his Hebrew moniker, Ahad Ha’am.

No person epitomised the loftier ideals of Zionism more than Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and yet no person showed the rank disappointment of discovering that Palestine was an Arab homeland more than him.

Ben Yehuda, who revived ancient Hebrew as a modern language, could only describe his arrival on Palestinian soil in 1882 with feelings of dread. To him the Arabs were a fortified rampart that impinged upon his sacred dreams. He eventually left the Holy Land, saying that Jews should have a homeland, but not in Palestine.

Yet on the 15 June 1969, the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir still had the temerity to tell the British Sunday Times that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people. “It’s not as if we came and threw them out and took their country…they didn’t exist,” she proclaimed.

This contrived thesis of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ has been indubitably, the most enduring Zionist myth. It does not warrant further comment – other than to observe that our apartheid-era history books, also worshipping the idol of nationalism, were imbued with exactly the same kind of doctrinal flatulence.

We had to believe that white men had tamed the wild, unpopulated southern African shores with their ships, ox wagons and blunderbusses. Only when the indigenous Nguni, Khoi or San tribes – boasting centuries of cultural tradition – met up with their European interlopers as naked, caterwauling savages did they enter the pages of history.

This separatism is fixed in a one-eyed worldview that automatically asserts the inherent supremacy of one culture over another. Its arrogance is often subliminal, the perpetrators peculiarly unaware of their insensitivity. This Orientalism is well exemplified by two 19th century English settlers who tried to walk across the Australian outback.

As they lay at death’s door choking in the sand, a group of well-fed and watered Aborigines shook their heads in amazement. Why had these strange white men refused their help?

People often comment that creed is at the centre of the impasse in Palestine. Religious zealotry is indeed a component of the conflict, but the real battle is about land. And despite the religious zealots, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is firmly in the political frame.

Moses Hess, regarded as the first Jewish intellectual to discuss political Zionism, was a contemporary of Karl Marx. He also predicted Germany’s intolerance of Jews. As a secular philosopher, his interest was neither the Torah nor the Talmud. He suggested that Jews should create a socialist commonwealth in Palestine. Hess’s work only gained currency after his death in 1875.

Theodore Herzl, author of the foundational political Zionist document, Der Judenstat, admitted quite happily in his diaries that he was agnostic and did not enjoy religious impulse. He even refused to circumcise his son.

Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organisation with Herzl, went on to say that he found the Torah ‘rather repulsive’ and that Herzl’s book would replace it.

In the beginning the most determined opponents of political Zionism were not Arabs or Palestinians, but Jews. The Orthodox Rabbis of Europe’s ghettoes and rural shtetls fought tooth and nail against the idea from its birth.

Judaism’s greatest scholar, Maimonides, had listed 13 principles of Jewish faith in the 12th century; the 12th principle was that Jews had to wait for the promised Messiah. According to the Rabbis this had to occur before the ingathering of all Jews in the Holy Land.

What political Zionism did was to remove the concept of Messianic expectation from Judaism.

For the Rabbis it was a heresy of the highest order, and over 100 prominent Rabbis across the Jewish world condemned Zionism. In 1942 publications such as the New York Times were still arguing in their columns against the establishment of a Zionist state.

This led to fears expressed by people such as Hebrew University academic Professor Judah Magnes that Zionism would become the idol of the Jewish people. In other words, the proto-national identity of the modern Jew in Israel would see him worshipping not God, but the state.

Chicago University history professor, Bernard Wasserstein, writes that the greater part of Jewish immigration to Palestine was not motivated by Zionist conviction, but by circumstance.

Professor Wasserstein concludes that most arrivals re-invented themselves as Zionists only when they got to Palestine. And in the mould of nationalist myth-making, invested their own and their forefather’s presence in Israel with a retrospective meaning that was at odds with historical reality.

Even the ancient yeshivas, the religious institutions of Jerusalem, were not interested in Zionism, their focus more on the sacred stones of the city and their quasi-mediaeval lifestyle of prayer, reflection and waiting for the Messiah.

When Herzl visited Jerusalem in 1898 the chief Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Shmeul Salant, ordered that he be declared an unbeliever.

The shift from the sacred to the secular so condemned by the Orthodox Rabbis at the turn of the 20th century – and then, ironically, the Zionist use of the sacred to justify the secular – is precisely where Roger Garaudy believes today’s conflict has its roots.

He writes that with Zionism developing primarily as a nationalist-colonialist movement, its followers could so easily have settled in Uganda or anywhere else in the world. The Russian, Leon Pinsker, who penned Auto-Emancipation in 1882, was yet another who initially favoured territorialism.

The open question is whether an African or South American Zionist homeland would have created as much turmoil as Israel has done in the Middle East. Nonetheless, Palestine became the sentimental Zionist favourite.

As we have already mentioned, Christian fundamentalism has hugely bolstered this Zionist sentimentality. Its support of the Zionist cause, predicated by mediaeval Protestant writings, is based on the Book of Genesis where God is said to proclaim that those ‘who bless Israel’ will be ‘blessed’ themselves.

These fundamentalists, today known as Dispensationalists, claim that all Jews must return to Israel to build the Third Temple. This is so that the Messiah can appear.

The political mobilisation of this group began in 1973 in the United States. Ironically it was not the issue of the Messiah, but rather legalised abortion, that stirred it into action.

Menachim Begin, who signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, invited one of its figureheads, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, to Israel in 1978. In 1979 the Israeli government gifted him a million-dollar Lear Jet as a tribute for bringing Christian pilgrims – and donations – to the Holy Land.

In the same year Falwell founded the Moral Majority. With its pro-family, pro-life, pro-defence and pro-Israel policy, it helped Ronald Reagan into office in 1980. The Dispensationalist’s belief – that Jesus would only reappear when there was a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates – suited the Israelis too.

But what was really important to Israel was Falwell’s constituency: millions of Evangelicals supporting West Bank expansionism as opposed to 100, 000 Zionist lobbyists. What was left out of the picture, though, was Falwell’s conviction that the anti-Christ would be Jewish, and that Jews would one day have to submit to Jesus Christ.