Loving The Homeland'

The cult of "Love of the Land," in which so many take part, is not - and never has been - innocent efforts meant only to provide aesthetic experiences, or a research field unto itself. It has always been a means for political enlistment and a propaganda agent for establishing and proving the claim of ownership over the redeemed Land of Israel.

Meron Benvenisti
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Meron Benvenisti

The criticism of the Education Ministry's instructions to commemorate Rehavam "Gandhi" Ze'evi focused on the legitimacy that would be granted to his nauseating doctrine calling for the ethnic cleansing of millions of people. The Education Ministry's response was that the purpose of the commemorations is to emphasize "the values in Ze'evi's personality - knowledge and love of the Land and loyalty to it," which, according to the ministry, has nothing to do with the political views of the murdered man. The critics rejected that explanation because, they said, it was precisely his great knowledge of and love for the landscapes of the homeland - which were mobilized in his preaching for transfer - that "polluted Zionism."

Both sides therefore tacitly agree with the assumption that there is a value of "knowledge and love of the Land," and that there is a political platform called "transfer," and they can be discussed separately. Gandhi's disciples naturally reject such a distinction and bring up "proof" that transfer was always accepted by the founding fathers of Zionism "and every lover of the Land of Israel must champion `the separation of the nations,'" meaning expulsion of the Palestinians.

Nowadays, transfer has won an enthusiastic new supporter, Prof. Benny Morris, who uses his prestige as the "new historian" who exposed "the transfer atrocities of 1948" to preach for a Jewish state without Arabs "from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and an Arab Palestinian state on the other side of the Jordan" (The Guardian, October 3, 2002) and expresses regret that Ben-Gurion did not finish the job in 1948. Sworn enemies of Zionism have long claimed that expelling the Arabs from Palestine was the basis of the Zionist strategy and therefore it was an immoral, colonialist and racist movement.

Tens of thousands of people participating in "Knowing the Land" groups, and Land of Israel studies at various colleges and institutes, won't like the politicization of the love of the Land of Israel and will no doubt agree that "transfer, even when it's coated with love of the Land, is a despicable heritage."

But the cult of "Love of the Land," in which so many take part, is not - and never has been - innocent efforts meant only to provide aesthetic experiences, or a research field unto itself. It has always been a means for political enlistment and a propaganda agent for establishing and proving the claim of ownership over the redeemed Land of Israel. The initiative to memorialize Gandhi as "an image of his homeland's landscape," in the words of Saul Tchernikovsky, as a man who "knew all its paths, its hidden corners, every tel, every ravine and every flower and plant" is an unequivocal expression of a generations-old tradition of nationalizing the landscape, the physical and chronological dimensions of the Land. Every wadi, wild bird and hairy cassia - let alone every planted tree and house - became part of the Jewish people and that collective transferred its identity to the landscape, making it "Jewish."

This was an immigrants' project: Natives don't have to "acquire love" for their homeland, since they are connected to it personally, intimately, and they don't need to draft every bald eagle into the cause of claiming ownership or to take pride in "knowing every plant and ravine" as if the knowledge were some form of sexual conquest in the biblical sense. For a native, the homeland is simply the place of birth, and not some theoretically geopolitical "landscape cell." But Rehavam Ze'evi, speaking in the name of the immigrants, needs some vague mysticism when he tries to define his homeland: "this nation's homeland is this Land destined for us in the depth of its experience (sic) as was written in the Bible." (Ze'evi, Svivot 13, 1993).

Thus the tables are turned: it's not the man who is "the image of his homeland's landscape" but the landscape is the image of the human landscape of the nationally mobilized Israeli. And in this landscape there's no room for the people who do not belong to "us," since unlike the bald eagles, which cannot complain about being Judaized, the "others" can - and do - protest against the theft of their homeland. Thus, "knowing the Land" deals with the physical landscape and ignores the human landscape that lives in it. For the Palmach's reconnaissance soldiers "the flora and fauna are described in great detail ... while the Arab villages and their inhabitants are practically never mentioned. Sometimes the landscape is described as virginal until the Jews came to settle it." (Oz Almog, "Hatsabar: Diokan" [The Sabra: A Portrait])

The hidden aspects intrinsic to the cult of "Knowing the Land" - the aspects of alienation from the other and erasing them from the consciousness - served as the ideological infrastructure that led from "the transfer of consciousness" to actual transfer during the 1948 war.

Now, when the "others" are returning to claim their rights to their homeland, the establishment calls for a return to the old values that Gandhi represented - "a deep connection to the process of establishing the state of Israel as an independent Jewish state" - so, there's no need to mention transfer. It is encompassed in the rhetoric about Gandhi "who expressed his love of the Land of Israel by hiking on foot through it." The connection between knowledge of the Land and the political platform of Moledet (Homeland) is much tighter than the desert hikers, and collectors of birds and plants, would like to admit. It's not Gandhi's commemoration that is the problem, but rather the continuing attempts to nationalize the physical and spiritual space.



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