The Invention of the Land of Israel

Shlomo Sand (Tel Aviv).

The Invention of the Land of Israel

What is a homeland, and when does a homeland become a national territory? Have homelands always existed, or are they products of relatively recent historical developments? How are their borders determined, and why have so many peoples been historically unwilling to cede even one inch of them? And perhaps most importantly, why have so many people been willing to die for them throughout the twentieth century? Close to 200 homelands have come into existence around the globe over the past two centuries, and others are still bound to emerge. What does the future hold for these territories?

This line of thinking raises many questions about the homeland of the Jewish people. Did the Bible or the Talmud prescribe a concept of homeland that was consistent with the modern day usage of the term? What is the essence of the Promised Land? Is it a land that is sacred to the three Western monotheistic religions, or is it the land of origin of world Jewry? Did devout Jewish followers of the Talmud truly aspire to emigrate there over a period of 2,000 years, and, if so, why do they not wish to live there today? And what about the country’s indigenous population, whom the concept of the Jewish homeland has transformed into civic sub-tenants in their own country? Do they have a right to continue living there, or is their stay only temporary? What are their chances of achieving self-sovereignty in their own homeland?

After critically examining the myth of the eternal existence of the Jewish people, Shlomo Sand turns his attention to the mysterious sacred land that has emerged as the territorial bone of contention in the longest running national struggle of the twentieth century. His new book, The Invention of the Land of Israel, deconstructs the age-old legends surrounding the Holy Land and the prejudices that continue to suffocate it. Sand’s account examines the fundamental meaning of the concept of ‘historical right’ and traces the ‘invention’ of the modern geopolitical concept of the ‘Land of Israel’ by nineteenth century Evangelical Protestants and Jewish Zionists. This national invention is not only what facilitated the colonization of the Middle East and the establishment of the State of Israel; it is also what is threatening the existence of the Jewish state today.

 

Professor Shlomo Sand teaches contemporary history at Tel Aviv University and is a visiting professor at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris. His book Le XXe Siècle a l'écran was published in Paris by Seuil (2002). The Words and the Land. Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Mythwas published by Semiotexte/Mit Press (2011). His book The Invention of the Jewish People (2008) was published in Hebrew by Resling and has been translated into twenty languages.