This is a book which ought to be read widely as we remember in June 2017 the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967. If we wonder why Israel shows no sign of being willing to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Avi Raz, an Israeli Jewish journalist and historian, has collected convincing evidence from the period of twenty-one months between June 1967 and February 1969 to show that the vast majority of Israeli leaders never had any intention of withdrawing from the occupied territories.
These are the main conclusions of the book together with quotations taken mainly from the Introduction and Conclusion:
The term Jihad tends to be associated with Islam – indeed for some, the two words are synonymous. But the fact is violent extremism is found in all religions. I could easily quote Islamic or Jewish leaders who justify the use of violence in the name of God, but I will give you one example from a well-known Christian. Following the tragedy of 9/11 and destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,
“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
In my opinion, too many evangelical leaders have also been quick to endorse Mr Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea.” Thankfully, many Christians in the USA as well as Europe and Asia repudiate views such as these as a gross distortion of Christianity and grave insult to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
I bought this book in March 2014, soon after it was published, at the bookshop at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. Although Verso have recently published it as a paperback, its title and length (313 pages) may not immediately appeal to many readers. I wanted therefore to write a fairly full summary of the book (not a review or a critique) because I believe it sheds so much light on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If ten pages are too long to read, just read this first page to get an idea of what the book is about!
This is how the blurb explains the title:
‘Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has drawn on Zionism, the movement behind its creation, to provide a sense of self and political direction. In this groundbreaking new work, Ilan Pappe looks at the continued role of Zionist ideology. The Idea of Israel considers the way Zionism operates outside of the government and military in areas such as the country’s education system, media, and cinema, and the uses that are made of the Holocaust in supporting the state’s ideological structure.
‘In particular, Pappe examines the way successive generations of historians have framed the 1948 conflict as a liberation campaign, creating a foundation myth that went unquestioned in Israeli society until the 1990s. Pappe himself was part of the post-Zionist movement that arose then. He was attacked and received death threats as he exposed the truth about how Palestinians have been treated and the gruesome structure that links the production of knowledge to the exercise of power. The Idea of Israel is a powerful and urgent intervention in the war of ideas concerning the past, and the future, of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’
In his short but passionate little book, Chosen? Walter Brueggemann addresses some of the important questions regarding God’s purposes for Israel and the Church. For example, are contemporary Israeli citizens the descendants of the Israelites in the Bible whom God called chosen? Was the promise of land to Abraham permanent and irrevocable? What about others living in the promised land? Who are the Zionists, and what do they believe? The subtitle of the book tells us where he intends to look for answers, “Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” His publisher, Westminster John Knox, promises,
“The reader will get answers to their key questions about how to understand God’s promises to the biblical people often called Israel and the conflict between Israel and Palestine today.”
Chosen? comprises 59 pages of scripture commentary in four short chapters, a Q&A with the author, a glossary and 20-page study guide to facilitate group discussion around each of the chapters. The four chapters are:
Reading the Bible amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
God’s Chosen People, Claim and Problem
Zionism and Israel
The book also contains very helpful guidelines for respectful dialogue first published by the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1992. Significantly, the title includes a question mark. I added a question mark to the titles of two of my own books: Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church.[i] Walter is recognising, as I did, that views differ on whether the Jews are God’s chosen people, even though, unlike me, he personally concludes that they are.
The late Tony Judt described this book as ‘the best modern history of the Balfour Declaration,’ and Eugene Rogan of Oxford sees it as ‘the most original exposition of the Balfour Declaration to date.’ It deserves a wide circulation as we live through the centenary of the Balfour Declaration on 2 November, 2017. The author, Jonathan Schneer, is an American historian who specialises in modern British history and teaches at Georgia Tech’s School of History, Technology, and Society.
This is an attempt simply to summarise the contents of the book with a number of quotations. If it were a review, my only criticism of the book would be that, in concentrating so much on the politics behind the Declaration, there is no discussion of the religious beliefs of key players like Lord Balfour and David Lloyd George which made them so open to supporting Zionism.
The Balfour Declaration (BD) needs to be understood in the context of World War I
By the time the BD was issued on 2 November 1917, Britain and Germany had been at war for over three years. Millions had been slaughtered in the trenches and neither side seemed to be winning. The Battle of the Somme had been fought between 1 July and 1 November, 1916, and Passchendale between July and November, 1917. The British government was seeking for ways to turn the tide in the war. Some in the cabinet believed that all their energies should be concentrated on the western front on the continent (‘the westerners’), while others believed that new initiatives in the Middle East could break the deadlock and give Britain the advantage (‘the easterners’). After the fall of the Asquith government in December 1916, Lloyd George, an easterner, became Prime Minister.
This very readable review of the last hundred years of the history of Syria has helped me to make sense of the ongoing conflict in Syria. Before summarising each chapter, it may be helpful to spell out some of the most significant themes that John McHugo draws out from this history:
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Faisal set himself up as king in Damascus in 1918, attempting to set up an independent Arab kingdom in accordance with promises made to him by the French and the British. This was ‘probably the best chance of Greater Syria to develop their own nationhood’; but these hopes of independence and nationhood were dashed by French and British colonial ambitions.
France during the Mandate period(1920 – 1946) did little to prepare the country for independence, and some of its policies (like ‘divide and rule’ and supporting minorities) sowed the seeds of later conflict. France’s colonial rule made it difficult for Syria to develop as an independent state.
‘France had a vision of a permanent French presence in Syria … “the whole of it and for ever” … The French did their utmost to make the establishment of a successful independent Syrian state as hard as possible … It is not an exaggeration to say that the actions of the great powers in the aftermath of the Great War and over the following decades deprived the people of Syria of any chance of a normal development to nationhood.’
Britain shares some of the responsibility along with France since many of its policies in the region were motivated by rivalry with France and a determination to limit its power in the region. The boundaries of the states they created were artificial and determined more by their own interests than by geography, history or demography.
During the Cold War(later 1940s – 1989) Syria was caught up in the struggle between the US and the USSR and therefore became ‘the play thing of foreign interests.’ Syria turned to the USSR for support (and especially for arms) when it was rebuffed by the West. Many US policies in the region were intended to separate Syria (and Egypt) from the USSR, to support Israel and further American hegemony.
This book seeks to explain how many of the problems of the Middle East in the last century can be traced back to the colonial ambitions of Britain and France and in particular to the ‘venomous rivalry’ between them in their struggle for mastery of the region. It was this rivalry which lay behind the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, the creation by Britain of the kingdoms in Iraq and Transjordan, Britain’s support for the independence of Syria and Lebanon, and French support for the Jewish underground which was working against the British in Palestine in 1948.
What follows is a summary of the main themes of the book, combined with quotations from key passages.
The Sykes-Picot agreement (May 1916) was an attempt by Britain and France to deal with their rival ambitions in the Middle East and to define spheres of influence in the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The ‘line in the sand’, which was literally drawn on the map by Mark Sykes (for Britain) and Francois Georges-Picot (for France), ran (in Sykes’ words) ‘from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kirkuk’. Lebanon, Syria and northern Iraq (including Mosul) were allocated to France, while Transjordan and southern Iraq were allocated to Britain. Because Britain and France both wanted control of Palestine, it was finally agreed that it should come under international control.
‘The compromise, which neither power liked, was that the Holy Land should have an international administration.’ (2)