Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In The Twinkle of A (Canaanite) Eye

The eyes of a New York woman
Are eyes that can hold a man...
I'll never have to look for more
I found what I've been lookin' for
Deep in the eyes of a New York woman
...I lost my heart to her when her eyes met mine
Now I see her differently
I've got to make her mine

- BJ Thomas

Ever heard of "zealotocracy"?

In Holy Land Studies. Volume 8, Page 55-108, you can find this article:

Reading the Bible with the Eyes of the Canaanites: Neo-Zionism, Political Theology and the Land Traditions of the Bible (1967 to Gaza 2009) written by Dr Nur Masalha who is a Reader in Religion and Politics and Director of the Centre for Religion and History and the Holy Land Research Project School of Theology, Philosophy and History St Mary's University College Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, England.

The summary:

In modern times, a whole range of colonial enterprises have used the Bible. The book of Joshua and other biblical texts evoking the exploits of ancient Israelites have been deployed in support of secular Zionism and settler colonisation in Palestine. The mega narratives of the Bible, however, appeared to mandate the ethnic cleansing and even genocide of the indigenous population of Canaan.

This article argues that, with the rise of messianic Zionism since 1967, a Jewish theology of zealotocracy, based on the land traditions of the Bible, has emerged in Israel–a political theology that demanded the destruction of the so-called modern Canaanites; since 1967 fundamentalist rabbis have routinely compared the Palestinian people to the ancient Canaanites, Philistines and Amalekites, whose annihilation or expulsion by the ancient Israelites was predestined by a divine design.
This article focuses on the politics of reading the Bible by neo-Zionists and examines the theology of the messianic current which embraces the paradigm of Jews as a divinely ‘chosen people’ and sees the indigenous Palestinians as no more than illegitimate squatters, and a threat to the process of messianic redemption; their human and civil rights are no match for the biblically-ordained holy war of conquering and settling the ‘Promised Land’.

Seems there is a whole slew of treatments on this new thematic approach like: "The political sacralization of imperial genocide: contextualizing Timothy Dwight's The Conquest of Canaan" by Bill Templer in Postcolonial Studies, 1466-1888, Volume 9, Issue 4, 2006, Pages 358 – 391 and "Approaching YHWH’s Violence" by Rob Barrett (here)

Based on Robert Allen Warrior, "A Native American Perspective: Canaanites, Cowboys, and Indians," in R. S. Sugitharajah, ed., Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), pp. 289, 291-92, the academics seek to alter the perspective of Biblical history by focusing not on how the Jews viewed the events of their nation-founding but on the inhabitants of the Land. It is a development of liberation theology and the attempt by the Left to engage in religious dialogue while distancing oneself from any commitment to religion.

Masalha takes it much further.

I have not finished the article but I feel a first attempt to point out weaknesses, if not absurdities, is in order.

[Part II is here]

1. On page 69, he attacks the "process of clericalisation of the Israeli state". Hamas, anyone? Islamic Jihad? The late Jund Anssar Allah in Gaza. 72 Virgins for suicide bombers. Hello?

2. He describes as "messianic Zionism" the ideological and political developments since 1967. I would suggest that Zionism had always been messianic-oriented through a secular filter but after 1967, a redemptive phase of Zionism is active.

3. On page 56, "...'the land of Canaan' (as Palestine was then called)" is a sleight-of-the-word trick. Palestine, as a geo-political entity never existed and doesn't. There was a Mandate of Palestine which was defined by certain less-than-perfect Biblical cartography as 'from Dan to Be'er Sheva' but immediately, Transjordan was lopped off, the Golan went to Syria (in an Englsih-French exchange for Mosul) and, beginning in 1937, the country, as much as it was, was being partitioned. In 1947, following the Arab refusal to agree to an Arab Palestine state as long as there would be a small Jewish state in Palestine and following the 1948 invasion by five Arab states, Palestine disappeared, thanks to Arab aggression and illegal violation of UN resolutions.

4. He quotes there one Robert Carroll (he mispells the name as Caroll, it would seem) that the religion of the Hebrew Bible belongs in large part to the...Cannanites. Hmm. So, there was no monotheistic revolution? No distinction between pagans and others?

5. Page 57 has it that "the Palestinians are the indigenous people of historic Palestine" and that "The Palestinians...are culturally and linguistically Arab and largely but not exclusively Muslim" but quotes Farsoun that this mix-stock of Arab-Islamic culture" is only 14 centuries old, i.e., the conquest of the early 7th century when Arab hordes came out of the Arabian Peninsula to conquer and occupy territories. He does, though, point out that oddly enough, secular "Palestinian nationalists" have adopted pagan Canaanite history as their own. I recall an attempt to resurrect a Canaanite festival at Sebastia some 15 years ago.

But recall this recent story and this one?

Or from today:

The Jews have no historical connection to Jerusalem or the Western Wall, declared a Palestinian Authority lecturer on official PA television.
"[The Jews have] no historical roots. This is political terminology to win the hearts and the support of the Zionists in Europe, so they would emigrate and come to Palestine. Nothing more!" stated Shamekh Alawneh, a lecturer in modern history at Al-Quds Open University.
"The [Jews'] goal in giving the name 'Wailing Wall' to this [Western] Wall is political," continued Alawneh, speaking on a PA television program called "Jerusalem – History and Culture."
"The Jewish Zionists had no choice but to invent an excuse [about Jerusalem] to spread among the Zionists or the Jews in Europe, to connect to something concrete from the past about Jerusalem. They made false claims and called the 'Al-Burak Wall' the 'Wailing Wall," Alawneh said.
It's all a new form a twisted denial. First the Holocaust and now Jews/Land of Israel/Jerusalem. Dore Gold calls it the "Temple Denial".

6. His sources, as far as I can tell are almost, if not, all left, progressive, radical or downright turncoat Jews like Israel Shahak who have been engaged in ideological polemics, not scholarship which as been discredited.

7. Little attention is devoted to the development of Jewish tradition parallel to the Bible - Talmudic, Midrashic, Rabbinic - without which, one cannot talk of Judaism. Our Judaism is not petrified. This is especially relevant when, on bottom of page 59 Masalha asserts the claim of ethnic cleansing as part of a mega-narrative that is "not only legitimate, but as required by the Deity" and translates that for us as 'war crimes' and 'crimes against humanity'.

Neat trick, that. Jews defending themselves from persons who successfully ethnically cleansed Jewish inhabitations like the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948 and Hebron in 1929, where Jews had been living for centuries, before modern political Zionism, are now pilloried.

8. On page 60, he gradually seeks to close the circle: the Zionist enterprise in Palestine in an "ideological manipulation". Really? First, when does Zionism start? If in the Bible, then Masalha must identify Cannanites, Jebusites, Hittites and other pagans as...Arabs? Second, if Zionism is not Bible-based but, say, a post-Second Temple destruction phenomenom,like the Bar Kochba Revolt, that still is longer than any other people dwelling in the Land. Third, if he insists it's a "colonialist" affair, identified with European colonialism, what do we do with Jews living in the Land and immigrating to it, previously?

Manipulation? By whom?

9. On page 64, he selects Ben-Gurion as the Bible symbology practitioner. But if Zionism was really that bad, why didn't the majority of the Zionists go after Jabotinsky, Greenberg, Stern? If ethnic cleansing was at the basis of what "Cannanite eyes" saw, why didn't Jewish eyes go roving to the extreme positions? Maybe Masalha's theory was unknown to the Jews at the time, even in their subconsciousness?

10. On page 6, Masalha draws a parallel with the 'few-against-the-many' self-description of a Zionist culture myth, just like a Western cowboy. But isn't a mainstay of Arab propaganda the actual fact that the vast number of persons present in the area of the Holy Land at the end of the Ottoman Empire period were Arabs, or at least non-Jews? So, why the "myth" claim? Jews were the "few-against-the-many". That's why the Arabs attacked Jews at Tel Hai in March 1920, Jerusalem in April 1920, Jaffa in May 1921, Jerusalem in November 1921 and on and on.

Ten points is a good beginning. I'll be bringing you a second installment in a few days.

Maybe Masalha would like to comment?



Marc said...

"since 1967 fundamentalist rabbis have routinely compared the Palestinian people to the ancient Canaanites, Philistines and Amalekites, whose annihilation or expulsion by the ancient Israelites was predestined by a divine design."

You might wish to take issue with this comment. In fact, it has been an essential tenet of revisionist Palestinian history that the Palestinians are the descendants of the ancient Canaanites and therefore have a superior historical claim to the land. For an example of this argument, see Tad Szulc's piece on the Palestinians in the 1990s National Geographic articles soundly debunked by the late David Bar Illan. Jewish leaders would have been remiss to accept this Palestinian sophistry, let alone affirm it in order to justify reinvigorating the Biblical injunction to destroy them.

With regard to the Phillistines, the argument invoked by Jewish nationalists is not that the Palestinians are descendants of the Phillistines, but rather that Palestine was a Roman construct to obscure the Jewish connection with the Land of Israel by renaming the area after a people that had been long extinct at the time the name Syria-Palaestina was coined by Emperor Hadrian in the Second Century. The Jewish position is that by co-opting the name Palestinian to identify themselves, the Arabs of the Land of Israel demonstrate their lack of national identity by embracing the name of a people (the Phillistines) with whom they have no connection whatsoever. It is also ironic that the Phillistines were themselves outsiders who immigrated to the Land of Israel from the Greek isles, speaking some as yet undeciphered form of Greek, worshipping Mediterranean idols and otherwise practising a culture that was utterly foreign to the indigenous Semitic peoples of the region.

As for the Amalekites, this is one ancient people with whom the Arabs of Palestine have not sought to create a cultural link for some reason. The contemporary Jewish injunction is to remember Amalek we are no longer commanded to destroy them unless they first seek to destroy us. Even the most extreme of Jewish nationalists have not advocated destroying the Palestinian Arabs a la Amalek, but rather only to transfer them outside of the Land of Israel and then usually as part of a consensual arrangement.

yoni said...

i'm not sure why you even bother engaging with anti-intellectual politically motivated morons like
masalha. also, i have a few quibbles with your own debunking of his ridiculous anti-historical polemic, but i won't go into it because i, too, am politically motivated and we're on the same side in this matter.

but, to keep things "fair and balanced" :) maybe you should have just called him a snivelling, lying putz and left it at that.