State of mind – The Invention of the Land of Israel

The Invention of the Land of Israel: from holy land to homeland, by Shlomo Sand, reviewed by Richard Kuper

August 28, 2013 · 2 min read

invention-israelIn his much acclaimed book The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso, 2009), Israeli historian Shlomo Sand argued that the idea of ‘the Jewish people’ was a contradiction. Most Jews did not originate from ancestors who lived in Judea and Samaria. Rather, Judaism was a highly successful proselytising religion in the centuries shortly before the rise of Christianity and for some centuries after. Jews were united by religious belief rather than a common ethnicity; most of them always lived in ‘the diaspora’. There simply was no mass exile in 70 CE. The idea of ‘the Jewish people’ is no less problematic than that of ‘the Christian people’ or ‘the Buddhist people’.

But Zionists see the Jewish people not just as a nation, any old nation, but a chosen one, with a homeland given to it by a jealous God in far-off times. Even secular Zionists appeal, in some sense or other, to the bible and historical right as a legitimation for today’s Israel as ‘the Jewish state’. This is the subject of Sand’s second, equally iconoclastic volume of demystification, as he now dissects the invention not of the people as such but of its homeland.

The core of the Zionist dream as expressed today is for Jews to ‘return’ to Eretz Yisroel, the Land of Israel. Sand is unsparing in showing how the ambiguities of the term are exploited ideologically, for this term is found nowhere in the bible before the new testament and only emerged, hesitantly, in the rabbinical tradition after the final incorporation of Judea into the Roman Palestina. It developed as a theological concept, referring to a certain sacred space, never a geopolitical area.

Something like modern day Zionism was a Christian evangelical notion before it was a Jewish one, and the idea that real Jews should actually go to live in Palestine was condemned by rabbinical Jewry, even as a yearning for Zion featured as a centrepiece of the Jewish religion. How this was transformed, and how the war between nation-state Zionism and traditional Judaism was played out is told in great detail by Sand in this fitting complement to his first volume.


Review – This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Suki Ferguson reviews the XR guide to climate activism

Review – Decolonial Communism, Democracy and the Commons

A collection of essays which could be a key resource for those seeking to create economic alternatives, edited by Catherine Samary and Fred Leplat. Reviewed by Derek Wall

Review – We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent

A book that systematically unpicks the myths that are spread in order to preserve the status quo, written by Nesrine Malik. Reviewed by Leah Cowan


Review – Letters of Solidarity and Friendship: Czechoslovakia 1968-71

Letters between Leslie Parker and Paul Zalud, edited by David Parker. Reviewed by Mary Kaldor

Review – Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain

Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain, by Amrit Wilson, reviewed by Maya Goodfellow

Chav Solidarity

Ewa Jasiewicz reviews the new book by D Hunter