The 'ethnic cleansing' of Palestine
Are the Jews an invented people?
By Eric Rouleau - May 2008
How the Jewish people were invented, from the Bible to Zionism is the provocative title of the most recent book to be published in Israel by Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University (forthcoming in French with Fayard). Sand, one of the "new" historians, attacks what he calls the myth that the Jews are the descendants of the Hebrews, exiled from the kingdom of Judaea. He has attempted to show that the Jews are neither a race nor a nation, but ancient pagans – in the main Berbers from North Africa, Arabs from the south of Arabia, and Turks from the Khazar empire – who converted to Judaism between the fourth and eighth centuries CE. According to Sand, the Palestinians are probably descended from Hebrews who embraced Islam or Christianity.
Sand doesn't challenge Israel's right to exist or the notion of its sovereignty, but he thinks that sovereignty is undermined by its exclusively ethnic base, which stems from the racism of Zionist ideologues. In other words, Israel shouldn't be a Jewish state, but a democratic secular one which belongs to all its citizens.
Quoted in Haaretz on 21 March 2008, Sand was pessimistic about how his work would be received in Israel: "There was a time when anyone who claimed that the Jews had a pagan ancestry was accused on the spot of being an anti-semite. Today, anyone who dares suggest that the Jews have never been and still are not a people or a nation is immediately denounced as an enemy of the state of Israel."
Sand may be mistaken. A no less challenging work which presents the Torah as in large part a collection of myths and legends, has been well received by the Israeli media and in secular circles.
In their book The Bible Unearthed, two eminent Israeli archaeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, present an argument based on excavations and ancient documents which calls into question long-cherished convictions.
Israeli society may be more receptive to challenging questions than it is given credit for.
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