Donald Sassoon, in his recent review of Shlomo Sand
's latest book, The Invention of the Land of Israel
, presents us with the book's main argument, namely, that the entire notion of 'the land of Israel' is an invention. That is to say, most nations' location and borders are the result of endless shifts, changes and movements throughout history, many of them contingent and unwarranted. Israel, on the other hand, claims for itself a specific place on the map based on a transcendental prescription, also known as a divine promise.
First off, this promise, if it was indeed made (by God no less), it does not in fact include Jerusalem, Hebron, or Bethehem. And even less does it follow from this, that peoples should be displaced, wars should be waged and lands should be colonized to fulfill a promise made over 2000 years ago. Indeed, Sassoon reminds us that "in traditional Judaism there is no injunction to "return" to the "land of Israel"", which only serves to make things for the campaigners of such yearnings even harder.
But all this matters very little in the end: nations have always created myths to justify their existence, fabricated enemies to solidify national identities and reserved a special place for themselves in order to warrant domination over others. In the case of Israel, the facts Sand presents are known (at least to specialists), as Donald Sassoon confirms. What matters, and what this book's "painful truth-telling" delivers, is that they become more widely so. In Sassoon's own words:
"[Shlomo Sand's] achievement consists in debunking a nationalist mythology."
Something which, on all accounts, is no small feat.
Visit the Guardian to read the review in full.