Book Review of "Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948"

Literature Review, 2009

27 Pages, Grade: 85


"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."[1] Myth and ethos play a fundamental role in the formation and perpetuation of collective memory. They are most effective, as well as most dangerous, when they are held as truth without question. Furthermore, it is very difficult to uncover them if a population is not ready. According to David Castriota's Myth, Ethos and Actuality, ^ethos [is] the essential variable in the equation or analogy between myth and actuality."[2] Formed out of different components, memories and circumstances, ethos are often used for a special aim, for instance to justify certain actions and methods of a ruling class . Anita Shapira, a well known Israeli historian and professor at the Tel Aviv University , in her history Land and Power, The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 examines ethos, myths and narratives. Her voluminous study describes the ideological evolution of the Zionist movement from the First Aliyah (1881-1904) until the foundation of the State of Israel. The following analysis focuses on the main arguments and theories developed in Land and Power and examines them based on book reviews by renowned scholars. These scholars scrutinize the work from different perspectives and propose various criticisms, mainly concerning Shapira's conception of 'defensive ethos' and 'offensive ethos'.

Professor Anita Shapira introduces Land and Power with a recount of a discussion about state and nationhood within the Zionist context. As Kirsten Schulze puts it in her book review, "virtually all strands of the European nationalist debate, ranging from liberalism, to socialism, to fascism, are reflected in the microcosm of Zionist thought."[3] Shapira places the Jewish version of nationhood in the framework of the "romantic-exclusivistic brand of nationalism", which invokes the German term völkisch, or "blood ties and common ethic origin."[4],[5] She argues that, as a "stateless people, the Jews could never embrace the idea of citizenship based on the notion of a state."[6] Further on, the author describes the national debate within the Jewish community and states that whoever adhered to the idea of "continued existence of the Jewish people," based neither on statehood nor on Judaism, had to delve deeper in order to find grounds for the nation's past and its future.[7] Poetess Hamutal Bar-Yosef actually finds a connection in this statement between Zionism and Romanticism; namely when Zionism invokes "Jewish 'national feeling' (Ahad Ha-Am) or ... 'national will to exist' (Micha Yosef Berdyczewski)."[8] She synchronizes the emergence of romantic Zionism and practical Zionism with the pogroms of 1881. From that point forward, however, Zionist thinkers branched out in many different directions, developing their own distinct visions of a Jewish state.

Ahad Ha-Am has been presented as a more assimilated essayist. He pictured a Jewish state as a "spiritual centre for an elite, not for the entire Jewish people."[9] His writings deal in depth with morality and virtue, the moral superiority of the Jewish people and the Jewish virtue of renunciation of violence and revenge, specifically. In accordance with his ideologies, he opposed any use of military force in the Zionist context. He saw the purpose of a Jewish state more in the promotion of Jewish high culture than as a state for all the Jews living around the globe. Other voices supported "practical Zionism" and strived for the creation of a Jewish state which would remedy the deteriorating situation of the European Jews.[10] In romantic literature as well as in Land and Power, the concept of creating a "new Jew", full of self-dignity, constitutes a major issue in the context of the inner Zionist discussion. This "new Jew" had to liberate himself from current characteristics attributed to Jews in Diaspora, like weakness and physically inferiority. The novelist Max Nordau referred to this hoped-for evolution, which in time was also dominant in the Palestinian reality, with the term "Muskeljudentum (Judaism of the muscles)."[11] Anita Shapira complements this concept of perceived eternal Jewish inferiority with the penetration of anti-Semitic ideas into the Jewish self-perception.

The inner-Zionist debate explored as well how the desired change in Jewish self-image from one of weakness to one of strength might be successfully projected on the future Jewish state in Palestine. However, the diversity of voices yielded to one vision embraced by the overwhelming majority of Zionist thinkers—that of an undeniable Jewish right to the Land of Israel. Norman Finkelstein, in his collection of essays Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, puts this common understanding in a larger context using three terms: "divine right, historical right, [and] compelling need", which he claims constitute the basis of Zionism.[12] Concerning the historical right, he locates it within German Romanticism and, defying the common position, says that it does not even necessitate justifications. He explains this by saying that Palestine was the home of "the forefathers of the Jewish people, ... [who] had been buried in Palestine, [and therefore] Jews could only — and only Jews could — establish an authentic, organic connection with the soil there."[13] However, unlike Land and Power, Finkelstein drastically revokes any basis of this right. According to his illustration, it cannot serve as a useful justification since it ignores 2000 years of non-Jewish settling in Palestine and 2000 years of Jewish appearance outside of Eretz Israel. Shapira does not question the Jewish right to the land of Israel, and does not consider the great amount of time which went by and in which Jews did not inhabit Israel as Finkelstein does in his argument.

Finkelstein's second component, "compelling need," is divided into two parts: ideological and non-ideological.[14] The ideological side portrays that only a national Jewish home in Palestine would counter harassment against Jews of the Diaspora, which exists due to their own statelessness. Finkelstein argues that this concept does not take into account that it would replicate and reverse the same minority-majority relations which ruled the reality of the Diaspora and enabled Anti-Semitism. Furthermore, he argues, it negates the liberal vision of citizenship. Shapira, as her work shows, is well aware of these objections, but, as distinguished from Norman Finkelstein, she never creates an explicit connection between these arguments and aggressions against to the Arab population residing in Palestine. The non-ideological side looks at the persecuted Jews, who are also entitled to a secure haven. Considering this, Finkelstein critiques Shapira's incoherent position regarding the exclusive Arab or Jewish right on Palestine. One could claim that Finkelstein fails to consider the internal disputes of the Zionist movement. However, Finkelstein's argumentation reveals that Shapira believes the Arabs in Palestine may have actually benefited from Jewish settlements. Her position could be countered with mention of the opposition of the majority of Palestinian notables to the Jewish settlements, described by Professor Benny Morris in 1948. Indeed, the richer and well educated upper class, who certainly would be interested in the socio-economic advantages supposedly brought by Jewish immigration, was mainly unhappy and worried about the Jewish immigration.

Considering the previous discussion about the Jewish claim for a national home, an analysis of Land and Power should not ignore the aspect of colonialism. The work presents Zionism in Palestine as a mixture of a colonial movement, 'European style', in a Middle Eastern country and at the same time a national liberation movement. Throughout the book, the author refers to the Jewish colonization of Palestine. According to Shapira, no Zionist leader used the actual term 'colonization' in reference to the Zionist activity in Palestine. However, Nahum Sokolow, leading member of the World Zionist Organization at the beginning of the 19th century, displayed the typical conduct of a colonial power promising that the Jews were coming in peace to Palestine; in an "interview, published in the Cairo daily al-muqattam, Sokolow explained that the Jewish immigrants to Palestine were coming not as a foreign colonizing power, but as people returning to their own homeland."[15] According to Land and Power it is doubtful that Zionists ever perceived themselves as 'colonialists' in the traditional sense. On the other hand a minority of settlers who immigrated within the first Aliyah, exploited local Arab workers to develop their own economy. Shapira admits that the actual relationships between Jews and Arabs were very similar to a classical colonial relationship.

By the period of the second Aliyah (1904-1914), the ideal of bringing progress and benefit to the land and its native population was solidified. However, she identifies the most important characteristic of the second Aliyah as the creation of the Jewish worker. The new immigrants came with strong socialist values and their aim was to develop a socialist Jewish society in Palestine which could be autarkical, saturated with Jewish manpower. The author describes a replacement of the colonial relationship between the Zionists and the Arabs during the first Aliyah with an increasing separation of the Jewish community and the Palestinian Arabs. The socialist ideological background was parallel with the drive finally to shake off the ever-present Jewish weakness and deficiency which accompanied the millennia-long Jewish Diaspora. As she illustrates, Jews in Palestine were determined to defy the physical inferiority which had remained one of their characteristics as a minority outside Palestine.

Shapira also introduces economical reasons for the national separation promoted by the immigrants of the second Aliyah; the rising number of new immigrants needed employment, and this separation was meant to maintain the European living standard introduced by Jews in Palestine. This delineates the background for a discourse of Hakki Bey al-'Azm, secretary of the Decentralization Party, who

"said that the words of the Zionist leader [Sokolow] in no way corresponded to reality: 'Quite the contrary, we see the Jews excluding themselves completely from the Arabs in language, school, commerce, customs, in their entire economic life. They cut themselves off in the same way from the indigenous government, whose protection they enjoy, so that the population considers them a foreign race... ."[16]


[1] George Orwell, 1984 ( New York, 1948, 1992, rev. ed.), 32, quoted in: Deborah L. West Myth and Narrative in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, WPF Reports, No. 34 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2003), 2.

[2] David Castriota, Myth, Ethos, and Actuality: Official Art in Fifth-Century B.C. Athens, (London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992) 12.

[3] Schulze, Kirstin, review of Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948, by Anita Shapira , The English Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 465, 2001, 260.

[4] Anita Shapira, Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 7.

[5] Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict ( London: Verso 1995), 99.

[6] Shapira Land and Power, 7.

[7] Shapira Land and Power, 8.

[8] Hamutal Bar-Yosef, "De-Romanticized Zionism in Modern Hebrew Literature", Modern Judaism 16.1 (1996), 67.

[9] Ibid

[10] Bar-Yosef, "De-Romanticized Zionism in Modern Hebrew Literature", 69.

[11] Shapira Land and Power, 13.

[12] Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, 100.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid, 101.

[15] Yaacov Ro'i, "The Zionist Attitude to the Arabs 1908-1914 in Palestine and Israel"in Chelm or Israel? International proposals to transfer Arabs from Palestine, 1895-1947, ed. E. Kedourie and S. Haim (Jewish Commentary, 1989), 34.

[16] Ro'i, "The Zionist Attitude to the Arabs 1908-1914 in Palestine and Israel", 35.

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Book Review of "Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948"
Ben Gurion University  (Middle Eastern Studies)
Milestones in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
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Book, Review, Land, Power, Zionist, Resort, Force
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Sophie Duhnkrack (Author), 2009, Book Review of "Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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