Love (of Zion) Among the Palestinian Ruins

A Transplanted Mississippi Jew Considers His Israel Roots

A Mississippi-to-Moshav Journey: An ariel view of Srigim, a village in central Israel, where the author lives.
Wikimedia Commons
A Mississippi-to-Moshav Journey: An ariel view of Srigim, a village in central Israel, where the author lives.

By Arieh O’Sullivan

Published April 25, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

The ancient Greeks believed they came from the land and were therefore part of it. This “autochthonous” philosophy connects a native people to the land from which it is believed to have been born. Well naturally, the Bible rejected the paganistic “Motherland” view of our relationship to the earth. God not earth stood above all. In traditional Jewish thinking, the Land belonged to God to be allocated according to divine will. And he promised it to the Jews.

If you believed in the Bible, then the land was the Jews’. The problem was, history continued and laughed at us. The long journey from original nation-building, exile and 2,000 years of a pornographic love for the symbol of the Land of Israel, clashed headlong with the indigenous folk out here when the Zionist movement emerged and Jews started returning to the Holy Land about a hundred years ago.

The narrative was that the historical right to the land was not based on the fact that once, in the distant past, the forefathers of the Jewish people had dwelt in the land of Israel, but that the connection had never been terminated. It had merely transformed into a spiritual realm, even in the longing of a shrimp-eating Jew from Mississippi to grow roots in an adopted homeland.

This wasn’t just a question of Zionist loving the homeland more than the Palestinians because the latter had panicked and fled their homes. This wasn’t just a competition over who was more attached to this land. This wasn’t a question that necessarily had an answer.


Fellow farmer Ya’ir Tzoran pointed out to the barren foothills of the West Bank about 10 miles to the east. “Their hills are bald because they have chopped down all their trees for firewood. They sneak over to our hills to pick thyme and other herbs because they’ve picked all theirs out.”

“It’s true they once lived here. We don’t have to hide that, just show why they left. If we are embarrassed by this, then we should be equally embarrassed to be Israelis. That’s the irony of this,” Tzoran said.

He peddled the sense that the Arabs neglected their land, destroyed the natural vegetation, because they didn’t care and therefore have no right to the land. Jews made it bloom, showed sensitivity to the environment and ancient sites because they cared. Indigenous Palestinians like Ziyad Abbas at the Deshaishe refugee camp believed their intimate personal communion to a parcel of this earth made them the legitimate owners.

The gentle heights of Tel Sucho in the south and Tel Azekah to the north sloped down like a mother’s thighs into the Elah Valley. Filled today with blazing sunflowers, this valley was a womb. From here the legend of David and Goliath was born. From here the Palestinian refugees set out to the hills in the distance and from here a renewal of modern Israeli settlement emerged.

Working my olive trees I realized on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day that life here was like looking at a snapshot of a full bottle of wine you’ve already downed; man it was good while it lasted. Sometimes we leave postcards to the future. The Romans left their milestones below my house, the Palestinians their village rubble. But on closer inspection, any longing to return was best confined to the realm of spirituality.

Here we were ephemeral mortals inhabiting this eternal land. If by some perilous revolution, I lost my faith in Israel, I think I would still believe in the land, the goodness and extraordinary depth of these hills. That was the first and last thing.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.