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The Timeless History of Zionism: A Response to Nima Shirali

By: Michael Ettedgui

While the overall tone of Nima Shirali’s essay on the history of Zionism is commendable in that it envisions the possibility of a peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians, the work as a whole falls drastically short of an adequate representation of Zionist history. This response will highlight some areas of contention in his essay, as I, an active Zionist see them.

Initially, Shirali fails to comment on the biblical and historical union between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. His essay passes Zionism off as a modern ideology. Granted the political expression of Zionism can be attributed to Theodore Herzl and the World Zionist Congress of 1897, but the phenomenon of Zionism as a theological and social tenet is among the founding pillars of Judaism. Let’s not forget that the Hebrew Bible clearly promises this land to the Jews and recounts Jewish settlement there as far as 3500 years ago. Please do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that other people, namely the Palestinians, have no legitimate right to this land. What I am asserting is that Zionism is ancient and sacred for Jews and actually transcends politics.

Furthermore, Shirali’s treatment of the Arab riots during the Mandate period is insufficiently brief in my opinion. In order to understand the evolutionary process of modern Zionism, an adequate account of Jewish/Palestinian relations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries must be forwarded. These riots were unlawful, brutal and numerous. Hundreds of Jews were pillaged, injured and killed during the riots of the 1920s and 1930s. While I do agree with him that the people of the Middle East must surpass their collective past, the impact of chronological terrorism (especially when perpetrated against religious sights) in response to a commissionary proposal of dividing the land is hard to forget.

Shirali’s piece attempts to “place this discussion [Zionism] in a contemporary context which is of relevance to the present Israeli-Palestinian issue.” It seems to me that when placed in a contemporary context, history is repeating itself—terrorism is still a common tool among Palestinians and the Palestinian leadership still refuses to divide the land. This was made apparent by Chairman Arafat’s refusal to accept the Barak-Clinton proposal. This is an undeniable fact of life for Israelis and has been for over 80 years. Nima Shirali claims that the word “salam” appears throughout the Occupied Territories but I can testify, from first hand experience, that pictures of dead suicide bombers being praised as martyrs are just as frequent.

I, like Shirali, find no hope in the Palestinian leadership but he places no blame on the Palestinian population. True, the majority of Palestinians probably condemn terrorism and would like to live in peace with their Jewish neighbours. They are honest, hard working people that must be fed up with centuries of fighting. But the fact remains that many of them are taking matters in their own hands and killing innocent civilians, outside the government’s auspices. The same cannot be said of the Jewish extremists. While they too are an impediment to peace, they act in accordance with government regulations (settlements) and are subject to governmental authority as is being witnessed by the current disengagement plan of Prime Minister Sharon.

I share Shirali’s optimism and I applaud his vision but historical realities cannot be omitted. His portrayal of Zionism as a modern, political phenomenon is not fair to the Jewish people and his oversight of empirical Palestinian terrorism is not fair to Israelis.

Michael Ettedgui is a fourth year political science student at York University, Toronto, Canada. He has also extensively studied the history of the Middle East and Israeli politics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Nima Shirali is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Middle East Reconciliation Journal (MERJ),

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The following comments are for "The Timeless History of Zionism: A Response to Nima Shirali"
by nimashirali

This commentary is on an article I wrote which can be found at:

Nima Shirali

( Posted by: nimashirali [Member] On: July 12, 2004 )

Not Zionist
I will not beat around the bush. I am no Zionist, I am an Arab-and very proud to be one. I will try to be civil here. You have studied your history in Israel, but nowhere else-keep in mind your view is biased, as is mine. I agree that Zionism is a modern ideology and dates back to Theodore Herzl. I am a history teacher, and while teaching the issue of Palestine, I never once offended either party, and as difficult as it was, tried to show both sides of the quarrel. I know that there was a history of Jews in Palestine thousands of years ago as you have stated above, but I also know that Jews, Christians, and Muslims were living peacefully until the mass migration of Jews after WWII. My point is, what was the purpose of entering this holy land, and causing war in order to make a land for Zionists-not Jews-but Zionists? I am sure you studied the Balfour Declaration, and gave no right for the Zionists to declare the land their own. Rather on cry over the past, I will say this, you talk of the suicide bombers, have you not seen what they are suffering? Sadly, I believe you would have done the same.
Peace is what we want to live by, but we are, as human beings, condemned by our nature, to fight for what has been rightfully taken from us. I am not writing in any way to offend you, but I think that history must be studied correctly by Israeilis and Arabs alike.
I found it very offensive when you stated, "While I do agree with him that the people of the Middle East must surpass their collective past, the impact of chronological terrorism (especially when perpetrated against religious sights) in response to a commissionary proposal of dividing the land is hard to forget. " Think this through, chronoligical terrorism-religious sights!! Whew, that blew me away!! I'm sorry, my eyes must have tricked me while watching the news live on TV when the Israeli soldiers entered the mosques and starting shooting!!
There are other issues I would like to comment on, but I don't want you to tire while reading. If we are really looking for peace, we will try so hard to be unbiased. I have tried to teach my students, that the Jews were being persecuted and spoke of how inhumanely they were treated, and put them in the shoes of the survivors. They were baffled, and felt shame. They knew their hate was of reason, but they could not understand how a people who have suffered so much, could afflict the same pain or even worse, on people that had no problems with them-that lived side by side with them as neighbors, brothers, etc.
We have to look at the issue from both sides, and unless we do that this endless war will continue..
I ask you this, if your sister was raped, your mother killed, your father imprisoned, and your house demolished-what would you do...but before you answer, please put yourself in that position.
Thank you.

( Posted by: Serendipity [Member] On: July 16, 2004 )

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