The Zionist Narrative
What is Zionism? A political movement that believes the Jewish people, the people of Israel, are a nation, like any other nation, with a right to self-determination – a sovereign state of their own – in their historic homeland, the land of Israel. Below is a review of the Zionist narrative, for those that identify with the Zionist idea, that a Jew belongs to a nation that has a shared land, language and culture, and as a result, has the rights to national sovereignty in the only land they’ve ever known.
The Jewish people, according to the Zionist Narrative, are a nation like any other nation, with the rights to self-determination in their historic homeland. The story of the Jewish people begins with the stories of the Bible where eventually Joshua, taking over for Moses, leads the people of Israel to the promised land. If you don’t necessarily believe in the stores of the bible, there is extensive archeological to the indigenous roots of the Jews to the land of Israel that corresponds to the time of the stories of the Bible over 3000 years ago. It was then that the first Jewish commonwealth is established with its capital Jerusalem. The kingdoms were divided, conquered, the people were exiled, returned, established a new kingdom and new temple, but the story of conquest and exile happens again in 70 CE with the destruction of the 2nd Temple by the Roman Empire. And the Jews revolted one last time in their fight for sovereignty, the Bar Kochba Revolt, which was squashed by the Romans. The Romans subsequently rename the area from Judea to Palestine, named after the Philistines who had lived on the coast during biblical times.
Sustaining National Identity Through Diaspora
Thus solidifies a 2000 year story of diaspora. The Jewish people have been dispersed in all four corners of the globe. Rabbinic Judaism replaces the Temple based religion, which Zionists understand to be the vehicle to sustain the national identity of the Jewish people in these last two thousand years of Diaspora. The connection to the land stayed alive during all this time that by the 19th century, with the rise of modern anti-Semitism and modern nationalism, you have a catalyst which brings about the political organization of a Zionist movement which believes in the return of the Jewish Nation to its historic homeland, the land of Israel. According to Zionists, the Jews are like any other nation with a right to self-determination because we share similar characteristics to any other nation on earth.
A Nation like Others - Shared Land, Language and Culture
Zionists have a shared land – Israel -- a land in which our people have always lived in even when we have not been the majority and lacked sovereignty. There’s has always been a Jewish population throughout the years of exile in Jerusalem, Tsfat, Tiberias and Hebron, and eve with many massacres and for expulsions throughout the years, there has always been a Jewish presence in the land of Israel through the period of exile. But the Jewish people’s connection to the land is not just about sovereignty or being the demographic majority in the area. As a nation, we have always had a desire for a physical or spiritual return to the land. In the 3rd century the Haggadah is developed – the book we use at the Passover Seder – where we always in with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Every time a religious Jew eats a piece of bread he/she says, “May we rebuild Jerusalem speedily in our days.” Jews that pray three times a day meditate about the return of the exiles to Israel and a rebuilding of the capital. When a Jew gets married, before they stomp on the glass and recited, “If I forget Jerusalem let my right hand wither.” For Zionists, even if a political organization dedicated to the return of Jewish sovereignty was established at the end of the 19th century, you cannot deny the deep intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual connection of the Jewish people to their homeland and constant desire to return.
The Jews have a shared language, Hebrew, which they have shared since their emergence to human civilization over three thousand years ago. Even though Jews have constantly been displaced throughout history, thus picking up additional native spoken languages or developed their own dialects (Yiddish & Ladino for example), Jews wrote these languages in Hebrew script, studied traditional texts in Hebrew, and corresponded in Hebrew, whether for business, pleasure or religious inquiry. Even when Hebrew was not a modern spoken language or spoken language, Hebrew has always been the shared language of the Jewish people, just like any other people. Therefore when the Zionist movement restores a spoken Jewish language for the Jews to speak as a national group in its homeland, it could have only been Hebrew.
Besides having a shared land and language, the Jewish people have had a shared culture since their emergence. It is a culture rooted in a religious experience, but has transformed for many Jews to be ethnic, tribal, cultural and a multifaceted experience where they would simply identify a belief, behavior or ritual as simply, “Jewish.” As the Jews were spread throughout the diaspora. Gefilte fish became Jewish food for Ashkenazim and Moroccan fish has always been thought of as Jewish food for Sephardim. Today in the 21st century, most Israeli Jews have a Passover Seder even though most are not religious. Most Jews around the world mark the High Holidays in some way, but do not do it because they feel commanded by God through a religious imperative, but because they feel a part of a Jewish culture. There are various Jewish cultures around the world that have evolved as the Jews spread around the world, and with their diversity are rooted in a foundational connection which are identify by their practitioners as “Jewish.”
Returning to a land without a people?
When the Zionist movement is solidified and organized Aliyot (Zionist migrations) begin in mass in the 1880’s, there was a belief that the Jews were returning home, to a land without a people. According to Zionist understanding of history, the only people to have ever had sovereignty in the land of Israel has been the Jewish nation; otherwise it’s been a colonial backwater to another Empire. If you look at a chart of who the sovereigns were in the land of Israel, the only time it's been a national state for one nation has been when it was a Jewish Commonwealth - and the other times it has always been a colony of a foreign entity. For Zionists, the name Palestine emerges not because a local Arab people identified it as Palestine and called themselves Palestinian, but rather it is the Roman Empire which gives it a new name in 135 BCE to distance Jews from their homeland. Nevertheless, when Zionism returns to the land of Israel, it still encounters another people living there with a completely different story, a completely different narrative and a completely different identity which sees itself as the only indigenous inhabitants of the land.