Exile – A Myth Unearthed by Ilan Ziv, National Film Board of Canada
” Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”
Ilan Ziv’s remarkable film, Exile, a Myth Unearthed is now being screened around the world. You may recall that this was the film the BBC purchased to air and then momentarily abandoned last May. I personally believe doubts were raised by the UK Community Trust hasbara patrol, though they deftly left no fingerprints. After Ziv wrote about the controversy on his blog, the BBC asked him to dramatically pare down the length and he cut almost half of the original. The edited version aired last week.
I watched both versions and while the shorter one is not significantly impaired, I highly recommend seeing the original if possible, since it allows Ziv to present his full argument. Which is this: at the advent of modern Zionism, and especially after the creation of the State in 1948, the new nation needed a heroic historical narrative. For this, it turned to the last period when Israel was an independent state, just before the first Roman revolt (66-73 CE).
The two Jewish revolts against Rome in the first and second centuries CE, become the opening salvo in the Zionist ‘revision’ of Jewish history. In the first war, the Jewish historian, Josephus writes about an organized national revolt against Roman authority in which virtually all sectors and regions participated. This allows him to portray himself as a valiant military leader who fought a strong, but ultimately losing battle for Jewish sovereignty. Josephus’ military command in the Galilee failed. Most Jews in the north rejected his entreaty to unite against Rome. Unlike Jerusalem, the Galilee co-existed peaceably with foreign influences like those the Romans represented.
There was no national revolt. Instead, it was a rebellion originating in Jerusalem. A conflict that was designed to protect the economic interests of the priestly élite. The comfortable, priestly class housed in the Temple in Jerusalem, had an illusion that they represented the heart and soul of the Jewish people. But those outside of Jerusalem saw things quite differently. The result was that the Galilee determined that it could live peaceably with the Romans, and so was spared destruction, while tens of thousands were killed in Jerusalem.
Josephus recruited a small band whose loyalty he bought, and retreated to the single town which did revolt against Rome. It was besieged by 50,000 Roman troops, who ultimately overran it and slew all the inhabitants–except the general. He escaped, was captured by the Romans, and became Vespasian’s (the Roman general) personal slave. In that capacity, after his master brought him to Rome, Josephus wrote his famous account, The Jewish Wars. In it, he spun a tale of Jews united, fighting valiantly against Roman might. Two great peoples fighting to the death.
It’s the height of irony that latter-day Zionists embraced the self-serving narrative spun by Josephus, who was, after all, a deserter of the Jewish cause.
After subduing the north, the Romans turned to the remnants of the revolt which had escaped to Herod’s fortress, Masada. There they laid siege for three years to the forces of Elazer Ben Yair, the last surviving commander of the Jewish revolt. The story as told by Josephus and adopted by the Zionist narrative, has it that these 900 souls, rather than being put to the sword by the Romans, took their own lives in a valiant act of national self-sacrifice.
This is one of Israel’s primary founding myths. One which Baruch Kimmerling criticized so cogently in Israel’s Culture of Martyrdom. From events such as Masada flow many of the myths and illusions that fuel latter-day Israeli nationalism.
In 1961, when Yigael Yadin began the first excavations in the area of Masada, he was laying the foundation for a “national archeology.” One that would both search for Jewish roots in ancient Israel and link these roots to the creation of the new State. Seeking remnants of the Bar Kochba revolt, the last period of Jewish sovereignty in the land, was a paramount concern. If he could do so, he would weave a powerful national story of a tragic exile and a redemptive return.
Though Yadin found the skeletal remains of Jewish refugees who fled to caves, no archaeological excavation could support the final mass martyrdom Josephus describes. Thus a dominant myth of the new Jewish state cannot be supported by any scientific evidence (at least to date).
In the second war, led by the messianic figure Shimon Bar Kochba (132-135 AD), the Jews again revolted. The rebellion failed the second time as well. The end of this war led to the Romans putting all of Jerusalem to flame (again). Unlike after the first revolt, the Romans expelled all Jews from Jerusalem and allowed none to return.
The Myth of Forced Exile by Rome
Despite the double destruction of Jerusalem in the first and second wars, there was no forced exile. Rome did not expel all Jews from the province. They allowed any Jew who had not rebelled to remain. After the second war, no Jews were permitted to reside in Jerusalem or its environs. This, in turn, led to these survivors fleeing north and taking up residence in the flourishing Jewish towns of the Galilee.
They were joined by rabbis who moved their religious academies there and created a form of Jewish continuity with what had previously existed. They in turn created new rituals like the Passover haggadah and seder, which affirmed that despite the Temple’s destruction, Jews maintained a direct connection to the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
This was a radical concept because in Judaism, before the Temple’s loss, religious worship meant offering sacrifices and making pilgrimage three times a year during the major holidays to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. These new traditions comforted Jews by showing them they could maintain their religion despite this traumatic loss.
The assumption that if Jerusalem died, then Jewish life in Israel died with it falsifies the reality for Jews on the ground. Thus, a fundamental premise of Zionist history–exile and the centrality of Jerusalem to Jewish survival–is proven to be a myth. Jews couldn’t return from exile after 2,000 years because they never left.
But the modern Zionist narrative has Rome exiling the entire population of Judea as punishment for the revolt. This, in turn, leads to the far-flung Jewish Diaspora and the yearning of these Jews over the centuries to return to their ancient homeland.
Christianity’s Role in Promoting Myth of Exile
The film notes that Christianity itself played a role in developing the concept of Jewish exile. Those Jews who broke away from normative Judaism and became followers of Jesus, imprinted their own interpretation on these historical events. For them, the loss of two wars and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple signified a rejection by God of the Jews. To Christianity, the myth of exile became a convenient trope that explained both the decline of Jewish life in Israel and the rise of the new competing religion, which eventually (to their mind) superceded it. Exile was God’s punishment of the Jews and His affirmation that He had instead embraced Christianity.
Here is another irony, that modern Zionism embraced a Christian concept of exile used that reinforced the claim that Judaism was a religion rejected by God.
Continuity of Jewish Life in Israel After the Wars Against Rome
Not only did Jewish life in Israel not die, the archaeologists Ziv consults find that major northern communities like Sephoris actually grew in size and wealth after the revolt. In other words, there has always been continuity in Israel. Jews always lived there and never left.
This directly contradicts the notion that Jerusalem is the navel of the world. That the Temple is the single unifying edifice that draws the Jewish nation together. That without the sacred city and sacred House, Judaism could not survive. In fact, Israel could survive as a place where Jews lived quite well for centuries after the Temple fell.
Diaspora Predated the Roman Conquest of Judea
Returning to the concept of exile: there was in fact a Jewish Diaspora, as Zionist history suggested, but it existed long before the revolts against Rome. What’s more, there were more Jews living in the Diaspora than in Israel BEFORE either of the revolts. In Alexandria alone, close to a million Jews lived. This population alone was larger than that of all the Jews living in Judea at the time. Further, the first Jews arrived in Rome in the first century BCE or even earlier, long before the Jewish revolts.
Why is all this important? Because the nascent State of Israel needed a heroic narrative to inspire its early citizens and to capture the heart of the world. Ben Gurion and the other Zionist leaders knew there were enemies lurking everywhere in the region. They knew that to survive they would need not only a strong army and political structure, but also a compelling historical myth.
There were two interlocking elements of this narrative: the Holocaust and Exile. The Holocaust was an epochal tragedy that befell European Jewry. Its surviving remnants needed a refuge where they could build a new life. What better way to welcome them than to tell them that their settlement in Israel wasn’t just a last resort to ensure their survival, but the fulfillment of a national dream to return from exile and close the circle of Jewish history.
Palestinians: the True Exiles
The myth of exile was supremely useful for another important reason: there already was a people in Israel before the Zionist movement arrived: the Palestinians (or as Ben Gurion called them, the fellahin). The Zionist leadership, in the course of the 1948 War, deliberately expelled up to 1-million of these residents of Israel who would otherwise have become citizens of the new state. In order to justify this founding injustice (I call it Israel’s Original Sin), known to Palestinians as the Nakba, the new state needed to its own myth of exile redeemed to supercede the Palestinian one.
In other words, the only way to diminish the injustice of the Palestinian exile was to suggest that ending the 2,000 Jewish exile justified it. Those millions of Jews returning to their homeland from this purported exile would blunt the sting of what the new state did to its Palestinian inhabitants. In fact, in denying the Nakba, the “Jewish state” could even argue that it would never commit such an injustice to the Palestinians, because it would never inflict its own fate on another people.
The film, Exile, argues that, in fact, the only people actually exiled from Israel was the Palestinians. Ziv returns to Sephoris and the archaeological excavations there which research the history of Jewish habitation. There is no accompanying excavation of the ruined Palestinian village of Sefuri (destroyed during the Nakba), which sat atop the former Jewish community. These Palestinians were truly exiled by the new State. They, unlike the Zionists returning from their dreamed exile in 1948, were never allowed to return.
One of the most intriguing ideas Ziv floats is that those exiled Palestinians from Sefuri might, in fact, be blood relatives of the Jews who lived in Sephoris earlier. Since there was no exile from the ancient Jewish town, there’s reason to believe there was historical Jewish continuity for centuries afterward. Perhaps the Jews, who’d proven so open to foreign influences and culture during the Roman era, eventually intermarried with the Arabs who came to the area at a later date.
Further, the Arabs of the Galilee treasured their own connection to the Jewish traditions they knew, in part, by worshipping at the grave of a Jewish rabbi, whose holiness, women believed, would bring them good luck and fortune. When Isaac Luria and his Kabbalist followers settled in the Galilee in the 16th century, those who told them where their ancestors were buried were the Arab residents of towns like Safuri. So they, in effect, helped preserve these critical Jewish traditions.
All this could make Sephoris-Safuri a potential model for a joint Israeli-Palestinian future in which no people rules over another. It could pose an example for peaceful co-existence and an end, once and for all, of exile.
But this is a dangerous concept for classical Zionism. Without the myth of exile, it stood to lose a good deal of its power. Israel becomes no more than a first among equals, in terms of its relationship with the Diaspora. The entire notion of shlilat ha’galut (negation of Diaspora), the supremacy of Zion over the Jewish hinterlands, is shot to pieces without exile as an undergirding idea.
Diaspora, in other words, is a place where Jews have always been at home. Those Jews living in ancient Rome, for example, were completely integrated into the surrounding society. They spoke and wrote in the contemporary Latin of the period and managed to thrive.
Thus there is no need for Israel to take the place of the Diaspora or for the latter ever to die out and be superceded by the Zion. Undermining this claim of the centrality of Israel to Jewish life and identity is a form of heresy. A betrayal of the sacred principle of Zionism. Without exile, without the myth of return, the ingathering of exiles and withering away of the surviving remnants, the fear is that Israel might collapse like a House of Cards.
The closing words of the film are memorable and powerful reminders of what is at stake for Israel and the Palestinians in this land:
What is being unearthed in the ruins of Sephoris and Safuri is a message of hope and warning: the promise of hope from a town that survived for hundreds of years because of its capacity to embrace many cultures and traditions; and a warning written in the destruction brought about by blind faith in a single narrative of history at the expense of others.
Now you can see why UK’s Jewish leaders hated this film. To them, it was part and parcel of the program of delegitimzation orchestrated by Israel’s enemies throughout the world. It doesn’t matter that Exile was made by an Israeli. Even Israelis can be self-hating and participate in their own demise. Right?
I take a different view: just as Sephoris defied Jerusalem’s national narrative and decided it could co-exist with Rome, there are Jews who reject the classical Zionist narrative in favor of one that suggests that Israel can survive without being the navel of the Jewish universe. Just as the Jewish people thrived both in Israel and in Diaspora, they do not need a Zionist narrative or heroic Jewish state to protect them or save them. They need an Israel that learns to take its place alongside the Diaspora, rather than above it. They need an Israel that integrates itself into the Middle East, rather than attempts to dominate it and subject the region to its will.
In the footsteps of Ariel Sharon, provoking a third intifada.
The siege of Masada was after the first revolt, not the second.
“In the second war, led by the messianic figure Shimon Bar Kochba (132-135 AD), the Jews again revolted. The rebellion failed the second time as well. The end of this war led to the Romans putting all of Jerusalem to flame (again). After subduing and razing the city, the Romans turned to the remnants of the revolt which had escaped to Herod’s fortress, Masada. There they laid siege for three years to the forces of Elazer Ben Yair, the last surviving commander of the Jewish revolt. The story as told by Josephus and adopted by the Zionist narrative, has it that these 900 souls, rather than being put to the sword by the Romans, took their own lives in a valiant act of national self-sacrifice.”
Is this your error or from the film?
The Massada revolt was in 73 CE according to Josephus and was the last of three strongholds that continued fighting the Romans after the destruction of the 2nd. Temple (Herodium, Michvar, Massada).
The Bar-Cochvah revolt was 135-138 CE.
Richard Silverstein says
I’m not a historian of ancient Israel. So the mistake is possibly mine. The film at various points talks about both wars in a way that almost seems interchangeable and either Ilan Ziv made the error or I misinterpreted what he said there.
I will correct that & thanks for letting me know this.
You are full of contradictions.
You claim that the jewish population of Alexandria, which you put on 1 million, was larger then the entire jewish population of Judea. According to josephus the Jewish casualties of war numbered 1.1 million with another 97,000 captives sold to slavery. Obviously, according to you own claim, there was massive Jewish depopulation and exile.
Richard Silverstein says
In the film, one of the Israeli experts interviewed says that Josephus’ numbers are ‘wildly exaggerated.’ A different expert puts forward the Alexandria population figure & says they outnumbered all Jews in Judea. Those aren’t my figures, they are theirs.
Your claim that Josephus’s figures are a “wild exaggeration” is nothing but pure unsubstantiated speculation. You (or Ziv) are simply cherry picking the figures to fit your pet theory. That’s the hallmark of cranks, not serious historians.
The great rebellion lasted 5 years, involved Jewish populations all over Israel, and was brutally put down by roman armies that routinely employed genocide and total annihilation as legitimate military tactics and didn’t differentiate between armed combatants and civilians. Jerusalem was totally razed, its status as “polis” revoked with significant legal and political repercussions, all the private and public lands of Judea where confiscated. The fighting certainly caused chaos, hunger, disease, crime, lack of income, lack of security leading to mass emigration. Whether or not there was a formal roman EDICT of exile there can be no doubt that mass population transfer was the consequence of the ongoing fighting.
Contrary to your claim, the sense of being exiled from the land is clearly reflected in ancient contemporaneous sources, both Jewish and non Jewish.
Following the war the Romans abolished provincea Iudea and made it part of provincea Syria palestina thus in effect canceling the formal designation of Israel as “the land of the Jews”, abolishing recognized Jewish autonomy, and abolishing the formal recognition of the high priest as the leader of the entire Jewish nation both within Israel and without, with the legal authority that came along such title.
The Romans minted special coins proclaiming Iudea captiva. They imposed a special punitive tax that Jews everywhere were required to pay. A special office was established in Rome to enforce the Jewish tax. Obviously the Romans were under the impression they where waging war with the Jewish NATION. Perhaps they too were influenced by Zionist revisionism.
Your claim that NO Jews where exiled is ridiculous beyond belief. Take a look at the Jewish captives on the Titus arch leading the grand victory procession in Rome. Where they send back home once the procession was over? How about the thousands of captives forced to entertain the Roman crowds in gladiator games. Where they to send home after the games? And what about Josephus himself? Wasn’t he a former Israeli Jew who ended up living his life in distant Rome as a direct result of the roman war? And how many countless others where they just like josephus?
Richard Silverstein says
@eli: The problem with members of the hasbara brigade like you is that you’re not arguing with me. You’re arguing with historians of ancient Israel who said the things I quote. So quarrel with them. An academic with a sterling reputation said in the documentary that Josephus’ figure of 90,000 Jews exiled from Judea is “wildly inflated.” I didn’t make it up. So go fight the academic who has far more standing & experience than either of us. And while you’re at it, watch the damn film before you do any more carping.
Further the documentary proves the Romans did NOT use genocide. In fact, they did not harm any Jewish communities that did not rise up against them. If they had engaged in genocide they would have killed all the Jews and exiled those they didn’t kill. They didn’t do this despite all your best efforts to falsify history. Further, if the Romans engaged in genocide against Jews in Judea why was there a thriving Jewish community in Rome that actually predated the Jewish Wars but actually grew following them?
“All the private and public land of Judea was confiscated??” Really, can you provide a single credible source supporting this outrageous statement?
All your clai s about Roman punishment of Jews doesn’t dispute anything in the documentary which claims that Jews existed in ancient Israel after the Wars and actually thrived as Jewish communities. In fact, what you claim further strengthens the claim that Jews didn’t need national sovereignty or temples in order to do quite well as a people & religion.
You falsify what I wrote by claiming I said “no” Jews were exiled. I never said that. I said there was no exile. That is, no formal policy of exiling Jews. There are some Jewish slaves portrayed on Titus’ arch. There were at least that many Jews exiled. Now, are you happy?
As I recall, the film makes the point that Jewish communities existed outside of ancient Israel long before the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Indeed, there was a large Jewish population in Rome for, I think, a very long time before the event of “exile.” Given the evidence of such communities, the Diaspora is probably best viewed as a separate dynamic independent of events in Jerusalem and Jewish life in the environs. If this is truer viewpoint, then “exile and homecoming” is nonsense and the Zionist project is reduced nothing but political expansionism and aggrandizement, that is, pillage and plunder. The occupation and settlement of other peoples land is just a form of old fashioned pillage and plunder.
How do you explain this then Eli:
“the archaeologists Ziv consults find that major northern communities like Sephoris actually grew in size and wealth after the revolt” . This would agree with the idea that people from the south fled to the north and resettled there.
I am not so sure that the Roman armies ‘routinely’ employed genocide and total annihilation as legitimate military tactics. There is of course Carthage, but normally the Romans were interested in receiving taxes and therefore not in killing or exiling an entire farming populations.
However, you mentioned:
Contrary to your claim, the sense of being exiled from the land is clearly reflected in ancient CONTEMPORANEOUS sources, both Jewish and non Jewish.
So what are these contemporaneous sources? (I wonder though how non Jewish sources could ‘reflect a sense of being exiled from the land’.)
a. Massacre was an acceptable method of Rome in its wars against enemies in general and against rebels in particular. Despite its drawbacks massacre has some advantages: (a) achieving military superiority if it not possible by other means; (b) deterrence; (c) establishing absolute control over areas of strategic importance. The Romans did not bother to distinguish between combatants and civilians. The history of Rome is full of wars ending with the massacre of entire populations even without any “operational justification”.
I recommend the book by Benjamin Isaac “The invention of racism in classic antiquity”. Two examples will suffice. Augustus , founder of the Roman Empire, writes on a monument erected at Rome: “I preferred not to destroy foreign nations when I could forgive them without fear”. Obviously there was no fundamental prohibition on the destruction of foreign population’s. That was the fate of people’s that the rulers of Rome could not “forgive without fear”.
The philosopher Seneca (committed suicide in 65 AD, a year before the outbreak of the Great Jewish Revolt) writes: “We complain about killings of individuals – but boast of wars in which we butcher entire people “.
Slaughter and massacre where an integral part of the history of Rome and as history shows, there is no example of genocide that is not accompanied by a phenomenon called nowadays “forced displacement” or “forced migration”.
b. Richard seems to adapt the position that exile qualifies only if it is a formally declared policy in the style of the 1492 Allhambra decree. This is a simplistic, almost moronic, way of seeing things. Based on this kind of thinking no Palestinians where exiled in the naqba since Israel never FORMALLY adopted a policy of total banishment of ALL Arabs from Palestine, indeed some Arabs remained in Israel and even most of those who didn’t, resettled in other parts of Palestine.
Of course this is total rubbish. Exile can be the outcome of a brutal struggle whether it is declared policy and whether it is not.
The loss of political self-rule, the utter annihilation of the largest and most important city in the land, the economic havoc created as a result in the surrounding countryside, the massive land confiscations in Judea, hundreds of thousands dead and sold to slavery (regardless of the level of accuracy attributed to josephus – and he did have accesses to excellent sources such official military reports of roman generals that are mentioned 3 times in wars) – in any context, modern or ancient, these conditions will inevitably lead to mass exile of refugees similar to what we see in syria today.
Indeed the crushing of the great rebellion (and the Qitos war and Bar kosba war that followed) was the beginning of a prolonged but consistent process that ultimately reduced the Jewish majority in all parts of Israel to a tiny minority.
c. The fighting with Rome reduced Jewish population in Judea, coastal cities, samaria, trans Jordan, negev and some parts of the galilee. Obviously some areas where les affected and become havens for those fleeing the war zones. Using this fact to deny reality of exile would be like denying the reality of naqba since the population of Gaza increased tremendously by 1950.
Richard Silverstein says
@ eli: You need to read my comment rules carefully. You’ve violated them in two ways. One rule is that you must support claims with evidence. While you have offered small amounts of evidence, you have offered no evidence for key claims. The second rule is that you not repeat yourself. You’ve done so here as well.
Every proof you attempt to bring to prove the Romans committed genocide actually prove the opposite. Go review the definition of the term. What you’ve brought here shows that in fact Romans only attacked those who resisted their rule. Again, those Jewish communities (almost all the Galilee) who did not revolt in fact thrived. So that’s not genocide. That’s colonial rule. You may have problems with Rome being a conqueror or empire. Yes, conquerors kill their enemies. In fact, that’s what the Children of Israel did when they settled the Land. They, in fact, did commit genocide (unlike Rome).
Regarding exile, not only was there not an official Roman policy of exiling entire conquered peoples, the Jews of Judea were not exiled. Period. You’ve also claimed without a shred of evidence that there were “hundreds of thousands of dead.” Again no evidence. And even is this were true, the vast majority of the dead would have been in Jerusalem, the seat of the revolt. There were also significant population centers which weren’t affected at all (like the Galilee). As for “massive land confiscations,” you don’t offer any proof of this or even define what is means.
As for whether Josephus had good sources, it’s well known that Josephus’ account is highly flattering to himself and his patron, Vespasian. Not to mention that if he relied on the accounts of Roman generals, they too would have been written to be flattering to themselves.
You offer no proof whatsoever that Rome decimated the Jewish population of ancient Israel. In fact, the Israeli archaeologists in the Galilee have proven that the Jewish population increased and thrived in the Galilee, directly contradicting your claims.
Since you’ve essentially repeated yourself in your last comment, that was your last comment in this thread. If you wish to continue commenting elsewhere you may. But you may not publish again in this thread.
The “sense of being exiled” is not necessarily correlated with a fact of being exile. “Exile” can be a religious philosophical concept connected with an origin myth not with reality. The film’s sources suggest that the location of the rebellion was Jerusalem and environs and not other parts of that land.
Furthermore, it was in Rome’s interests to earn a reputation as a destroyer of opposition, yet also in its interests to not do so (unless it intended to settle the land, not the case for Judea.) So, for every destroyed people, there were many other peoples who cooperated, of which the Jews were one, and escaped destruction and provided taxes, favorable trade and recruits for the legions. Rome certainly favored taxation etc. over destruction.
Secondly, the film also suggests that Diaspora predates the Roman destruction of the Temple and such evidence further dilutes the import of “exile” as interpreted by Zionism. As I recall, the film refers to Jewish communities throughout North Africa and in Rome itself, all very early on, long before “exile.” It is insufficient, if not false, to tie the Diaspora to exile uniquely. That seems to be the whole point.
Davey you forget that those other Jewish communities also originated in exile, but an earlier one caused by Babylon. All those Jews originated in Israel, and the exile started really in 586BCE. I don’t understand why Richard and the commenters here don’t appreciate that the Roman destruction was not the true cause of the exile, but rather Babylon. It was from that time onwards that the Jews started their diaspora, and since then there were attempts at national renewal, such as the Maccabeans kings, and the later roman revolts. But Jews everywhere since 586 for millennia all accepted the idea that they were in exile, called galut or galus. Exile is a fundamental conception of Judaism. That’s why reform synagogues called themselves temples, to emphasize to the Germans that NO, we are NOT in exile, and THESE synagogues here in Europe are our temples.
RS: “There was no national revolt. Instead, it was a rebellion originating in Jerusalem. A conflict that was designed to protect the economic interests of the priestly élite. The comfortable, priestly class housed in the Temple in Jerusalem, had an illusion that they represented the heart and soul of the Jewish people. But those outside of Jerusalem saw things quite differently. The result was that the Galilee determined that it could live peaceably with the Romans, and so was spared destruction, while tens of thousands were killed in Jerusalem.”
Isn’t this the story (so far, of course) of the efforts of The American Jewish Establishment — which pretends to represent all American Jews and to be followed by them politically — in its REVOLT against international law, Palestinian Human Rights, etc.?
Of course the difference is that the elements against which TAJE revolts have no armies (as Rome did back then). Once again, the brave heroes of our times are asking, in effect, “How many divisions has the Pope?” But the politics is the same — the rich and established are again ASKING the rank and file to follow them on a political path which the rank adn file seem undisposed to do. AIPAC: “USA Must Bomb Iran!!!” Jews: “Feh!”
The Palestinian village of Sephoris was called Saffouriya, not Safuri.
Many of it’s expelled residents settled in Nazareth and are Israeli citizens.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Goran: If you actually watch the film, you’ll see that they call the Palestinian village ‘Safuri.’ Or at least that’s how my ear heard it when I transcribed it. I don’t understand Arabic in order to be able to say how the Arabic speakers referred to the village in the script.
Just as the Jewish people thrived both in Israel and in Diaspora, they do not need a Zionist narrative or heroic Jewish state to protect them or save them.
Yeah, right…..just like the “thriving” diaspora (i.e. EXILIC) communities in 15th century Spain (what happened to them?) and the “thriving” Jewish communities in 1920’s and 1930’s Germany and Poland (what happened to them?). What happened to all the “thriving” Jewish communities of the supposedly tolerant Muslim Middle East of the first half of the 20th century (Morrocoo, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Libya, etc)? How come there aren’t any Jews left in these countries? Where have they all gone? (Israel, maybe?)
For that matter, Richard, what is happening to the American Jewish community? Don’t you remember what you wrote about the PEW poll a couple of weeks ago that says American Jewry is in terminal decline, and you even expressed distress at this? Sure you are comfortable in Seattle and you wouldn’t want to live in Israel, so naturally you invent a “diaspora (i.e EXILIC) ideology to justify your essentially untenable position.
If you don’t like religious Zionist ideology, read what a secularist like A B Yehoshua says about bankrupt diasport (i.e. EXILIC) Jewish life.
Richard Silverstein says
@ bar kochba: The Spanish Jewish communities managed to survive quite well after the trauma of the 1492 exile. THey moved to the New World or traveled to other European countries. As for the Nazi era, the Holocaust is a sui generis event in Jewish history. And there was an option for these Jews to go to Palestine. Not many of them chose to go before the Holocaust began. As for the Jews of Arab lands, that is a far more complex issue than you make it out to be. But those Jews emigrated to other countries such as France, Canada, the U.S. and Israel. Again, whether they needed Israel to save them is a dubious proposition.
Finally, on balance I would say that existence in Israel is about as dangerous (or even moreso) than Jewish existence in the Diaspora. There are dangers lurking in both places. But the idea that Jews need Israel to survive in any existential sense is just plain wrong.
As for Pew, you’ve obviously misinterpreted the data, which is no surprise since you view it through your own classical ZIonist lens. THe Pew poll did not show American Jewry in decline. It showed precisely the same level of integration of American Jews in American life that the film Exile shows regarding Roman Jews in the first century CE (but you didn’t watch the film, did you?). If there had been Zionists alive in ancient Rome they would’ve been shreying about the same thing as you are now. They would decry the assimilation of Roman Jewry, the loss of Jewish identity, etc. But Jews did just fine in Rome for many centuries (until the Holocaust). And when the Holocaust arose, as I wrote, those Jews chose not to go to Palestine or anywhere else, though they could’ve.
What you confuse in the Pew poll is the increasing secularization of Jews and their disenchantment with mainstream organizations and synagogues. That is a different issue than finding evidence of the decline of the overall community. Jewish identity is more than whether I belong to a synagogue, send my kids on Birthright trips, etc. BUt that is something you will never understand. If you ever did, I’d be deeply shocked.
As for A.B. Yehoshua’s Zionism, it’s pretty much the same dinosaur that you are. His is a completely classical Zionist perspective that has no relevance to today. He doesn’t carry any weight at all in any discourse and his approach is precisely the shlilat haGalut that is so insulting to all of us in the Diaspora.
“@ bar kochba: The Spanish Jewish communities managed to survived quite well after the trauma of the 1492 exile.”
And the Palestinians who went through their ‘Nakba’. They’ve managed to survive quite well too.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Pip: The Spanish government has invited descendants of the expelled Jews to return to Spain. WHen will Israel do the same for those it expelled?
Further, the Palestinians are not surviving “quite well.” They live in dingy refugee camps by the millions in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, etc. They await their return. Not terribly many descendants of expelled Spanish Jews are clamoring to return to Spain.
Spain expelled their Jews and Muslims on religious grounds. Israel expelled local Arabs as a military expedient during wartime.
I am confident that Israel would welcome back ORIGINAL REFUGEES as part of a final, comprehensive peace plan.
That Palestinians live in refugee camps is largely the blame of Arab States that host them. Compare the Arab refugees lot with that of the Jews forced to leave their homes in the Arab countries subsequent to the birth of Israel. They are doing quite well in their adopted Israel and France.
Richard Silverstein says
Spain expelled their Jews because they saw them as enemies of the State, just the same as the reason Israel expelled its Palestinians residents. This was NOT a military expedient & had nothing to do with security. This was pure & simple a land & power grab designed to lessen the political power to those remaining by reducing the number of Palestinians in Israel.
Original refugees are dead. But perhaps you’ll welcome back for reburial all those “ORIGINAL REFUGEES” who waited for decades in vain to return before dying in forced exile??!
Arab states welcomed refugees Israel expelled as a humanitarian gesture. It was Israel that caused this catastrophe & it is Israel’s responsibility to fix it, not the host states who took them in.
Very few Arab Jews were forced to leave their homes & almost none happened through the forced expulsions Israel inflicted on Palestinians.
I warn you–you’ve passed the hasbara threshhold. I have very little patience with you exhausting the hasbara talking pts. If this is the level of yr arguments, you will have a short stay here.
I think this is one of the hasbara flights landing at Ben Gurion, folks!
Dave Terry says
@Richard; “The Spanish Jewish communities managed to survive quite well after the trauma of the 1492 exile. THey moved to the New World or traveled to other European countries.
Yes, The Jewish refugees from Ferdinand and Isabella’s “Most Catholic Spain” survived “quite well”, but NOT because they moved to other European countries, where they were persecuted also. France had already expelled all of its Jews in 1394, and had not repealed such laws. That’s why there was disproportionately more Jews in EASTERN Europe. On the other hand, the majority of Sephardic Jews who left Spain were dispersed throughout
the region of NORTH AFRICA know as Maghreb. They also fled, mostly by sea, to south-eastern Europe where they were granted safety and intermingled with the already existing Mizrahi communitiies in Istanbul, Sarajevo and Salonika
The Spanish Jews who chose to leave Spain dispersed throughout the region of North Africa known as the Maghreb. They also fled to south-eastern Europe where they were granted safety and formed flourishing local Jewish communities, the largest being those of Salonika***, Istanbul, and Sarajevo. In those regions, they often intermingled with the already existing Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) communities.
***In Salonika, where 70 percent of Greek Jews lived, Greek Nazis collaborated with Germans in 1943 to eradicate the Jews in Greece. The death rate exceeded 90 percent.
Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire, learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain, dispatches the Ottoman Navy to bring the Jews safely to Ottoman lands, mainly to the cities of Thessaloniki (currently in Greece) and İzmir (currently in Turkey). http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Turkey.html
Clearly, throughout most of history, Muslims have been friends, allies and yes, even protectors of Jews.
Sephardic Jews also found refuge in the Netherlands.
Diaspora was, and remains, a good survival strategy. Much more effective than the “strategy” known as “Israel.”
Dave Terry says
>RS< "It’s the height of irony that latter-day Zionists embraced the self-serving narrative spun by Josephus, who was, after all, a deserter of the Jewish cause."
I must have missed something; this narrative is confusing (or contradictory) Didn't you write that "Josephus recruited a small band whose loyalty he bought, and retreated to the single town which did revolt against Rome. It was besieged by 50,000 Roman troops, who ultimately overran it and slew all the inhabitants–except the general. He escaped, was captured by the Romans, and became Vespasian’s (the Roman general) personal slave.
This DOESN'T read like a deserter, but one who was totally outmanned by the Roman Legion. What did I miss?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Dave Terry: If you watch the film, it explains the role Josephus played in creating the military myth that allowed Vespasian to proclaim himself a great war hero and become emperor. Josephus also returned to Judea towards the end of the war embedded within a Roman legion.
“…blind faith in a single narrative of history at the expense of others” — this is the Zionism I know, in a nutshell.
The short version I just watched does not make the case that Zionism and 1948 led to the emphasis on “exile.” It does not “de-legitimate” the Zionist founding which is why it passed the Zionist censors. This is just as Richard suggests:The myth of exile and redemption must stand because the whole Zionist state is built around it, from “making the desert bloom” to “judaizing Galilee.”
So we have a picture of monomaniacal focused narrative permitting unhappy European Jews (Ashkenazi) to settle this ME land and remove the indigenous people of many hundreds of years. While I don’t believe that Ashkenazi have hereditary connection to the ME at all, these people were compelled to take on this enormous task, a colonizing task not so different from other imperial adventures born in the 19th century or earlier. The question is why? What drove these people if it wasn’t religion (and it largely wasn’t). I can’t explain this other than to suggest that “exceptionalism” plays a role, as it does now in Israeli thinking. By “rebuilding” a Jewish state, these Zionists could self-fulfill the uniquely Jewish prophecy of “chosenness” legitimating such special identity through self-defining actions.
Solomon Mormon says
Davey this is the opposite of the truth. Zionism was born out of nationalism, not imperialism, and was pursued by (largely) secular Jews who saw the movement as a way to NORMALIZE the Jews: just like other peoples had countries, so should the Jews. It was an attempt to solve “The Jewish Question” that obsessed Europe for centuries, and which would hopefully end anti-semitism by making the Jews unexceptional.
I can’t argue that Zionism was not a species of nationalism, as it evidently was/is. Yet it also incorporates imperialist methods at least. No matter how you cut it, Zionism was the handiwork of Ashkenazi European Jews and it finally served their interests not the interests of the Jewish people. Nations are born of evolving identity consciousness connected with a land underfoot. Zionism was not an evolution in this historical sense at all, but a sort of “backing into” evolution through the production of myths, just one of which is highlighted in the film under discussion. It was not a nationalism born in situ, but a fantastic nationalism linked to a mythical land. How could fantasy “normalize” anything? In any case, I don’t see how you can free Jews of anti-semitism by subscribing earnestly to the same racialist notions from which it arises. This is the humbug of Zionism and it makes it not nationalist but plain vicious. Zionism may indeed have been a response to anti-semitism but it was the wrong response.
(Everybody seems to accept “anti-semitism” as some sort of inchoate given in human life, as though human beings are just born anti-semites like they are born with brown eyes or blonde hair. Jews have interests; if one opposes those interests are they guilty of “anti-semitism?” Ask the Zionists.)
There is a telling contradiction in your approach.
You describe Palestinian Arabs as “exiled” despite the admitted fact that not ALL Arabs were forced out of Palestine. The pre-1948 Arab population of Palestine was about 1.2-1.3 million. 450,000 Arabs in the west bank were not affected by the war. 150,000 Arabs remained in Israel after the war. Thus, the total number of Palestinian exiles could not possibly have been more then 700,000 and at least 2/3 of those remained within the territorial boundaries of Palestine.
Yet when it comes to the Jewish exile, the fact that not ALL Jews were exiled and that some of the exiles moved from Judea, trans-Jordan and the coast to the Galilee is reason enough for you to describe the exile as “myth”.
Richard Silverstein says
Your numbers are suspect. The figure of 700,000-1 million Palestinian expellees is the generally accepted number. If you want to rely on Ephraim Karsh or Benny Morris for your suspect “facts” be my guest. But yours aren’t reliable.
There were NO Jews exiled. Not any! They were prevented from settling in Jerusalem, but free to live elsewhere in Israel.
There is nothing controversial about the figures I quite.
Based on simple arithmetic there is no way the total number of those who left their homes in Palestine (whether as a result of the general chaos or deliberate Israeli policy) can be higher than 700,000, which means about 45 percent of the total arab pop was not exiled. Most of thos exiled remained in the boundaries of Palestine as becomes obvious if you check the location of the major refugee camps.
Richard Silverstein says
That is simply a lie and your “arithmetic” is neither “simple” nor accurate.
what part of my statment is a lie?
Dave Terry says
@Pip; “Spain expelled their Jews and Muslims on religious grounds. Israel expelled local Arabs as a military expedient during wartime.”
Yeah! Just like the U.S. Gov’t expelled the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctow, etc., etc., etc., etc.,
These Natives had the land and the government wanted it for their own people.
Deïr Yassin says
“the ruined Palestinian village of Sefuri (destroyed during the Nakba)”
The correct name is Saffuriyya: the village was bombed in July 1948 and the inhabitants were driven out. Some live as absentees around or in Nazareth, and the rest mostly in Ain al-Hilweh (and Sabra and Chatila) refugee camps in Lebanon.
Taha Muhammad Ali, the wonderful poet who died on 2 November 2011 was from Saffuriyya.
Deïr Yassin says
I didn’t read the comments before posting the above comment (a reminder that one always should), so I’m repeating what Goran wrote.
The difference between the written ‘Saffuriyya’ (pronounced and also transcribed Saffuriyyeh) and Safuri is probably due to local prononciation of the final ‘ta marbuta’. It’s just a detail except if people want to look up informations.
Dave Terry says
“During May  ideas about how to consolidate and give permanence to the Palestinian exile began to crystallize, and the destruction of villages was immediately perceived as a primary means of achieving this aim…[Even earlier,] On 10 April, Haganah units took Abu Shusha… The village was destroyed that night… Khulda was leveled by Jewish bulldozers on 20 April… Abu Zureiq was completely demolished… Al Mansi and An Naghnaghiya, to the southeast, were also leveled. . .By mid-1949, the majority of [the 350 depopulated Arab villages] were either completely or partly in ruins and uninhabitable.” Benny Morris, “The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.
“The main danger which Israel, as a ‘Jewish state’, poses to its own people, to other Jews and to its neighbors, is its ideologically motivated pursuit of territorial expansion and the inevitable series of wars resulting from this aim…No zionist politician has ever repudiated Ben-Gurion’s idea that Israeli policies must be based (within the limits of practical considerations) on the restoration of Biblical borders as the borders of the Jewish state.” Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of 3000 Years.”
We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here. In considerable areas of the country we bought lands from the Arabs. Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahalul, Gevat — in the place of Jibta, Sarid — in the place of Haneifs and Kefar Yehoshua — in the place of Tell Shaman. THERE IS NO ONE PLACE IN THIS COUNTRY, THAT DID NOT HAVE A FORMER ARAB POPULATION.
From an address given to Technion University students (19 March 1969), a transcription of which appeared in Ha’aretz (4 April 1969),
Dave Terry says
I neglected to include the fact that the above address at
Technion University in 1969 was given by Moshe Dayan.
Seems to me like a straw man. Jewish communities around the world have longing of Zion that extends millennia long. The Exile as linked to Rome is yet one of the underpinings of this ongoing element of Jewish tradiion. Without even arguing the exile, it would seem to me that suggesting that the Roman Exile is a myth does not support your political tendencies.
BBC’s shorter version of this doc’y can currently be viewed @
@Sara You are saying that exile begins much earlier. Sure, there was earlier impacts but the “exile” referred to by Zionists is the Roman destruction of the Temple.
If we accepted all that exile stuff as historical, then the conclusion would be that Jews were simply not viable as a state in the ancient world, at least not for very long. Even given the catastrophic oppression now of other peoples in the area of “Greater Israel”, I do not believe the modern state will be viable. Remove the oppression and it is absolutely not viable; or rather, it would be viable only if all world Jews moved to the region because then the demographics would work for the state. After all, if Jews want a state, then that is what it should take. Failing that, a Jewish state cannot survive without extraordinary perpetual violence. The ancient state was not strong enough and that will be true of the modern state as well. So “exile” will remain a religious doctrine. Personally, I don’t think a state based upon permanent daily violence can survive indefinitely.
Again the concept of “exile” may be rooted in Judaism but it does not bear historical meaning. It serves other purposes. It does no good to repeat the common understanding of “exile” because that is historically dubious: If Jewish communities thrived all over the ancient world, including the Holy Land, “exile” was mere sentimentality. I personally believe that American Jewish support for modern Israel reflects just such sentimentality and little else. It is certainly not religious at all.
Dave Terry says
Davey: “Jews have interests; if one opposes those interests are they guilty of “anti-semitism?”
UNLESS one is Jewish himself; in which case he is a “self-hating Jew”.
Talk about stretching reason to grotesque extremes!!!