In his essay, Joel Peckham suggests that, “The poverty of knowledge about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that exists in America is daunting.” He thus proceeds to correct certain “held truths” about Israel and Palestine, one being that Palestine’s nationalism movement is grounded in a belief in a historical right to Palestine, much like the Jewish historical connection to Israel. Peckham explains that, despite their loss of home and attendant pain and suffering, Palestinians, in fact, never had a home in the legal sense. Palestine was never a nation to begin with.
While I concur with Peckham’s observation about Palestinian history, as a former Fulbright participant in Israel I’m dismayed by his inability to reveal a more truthful version of Zionist history. Zionism was not simply a response to worldwide anti-Semitism. The earliest Zionists were caught up in the colonialist and nationalist ideology of their day. Much like Germans, Belgians, French and other European peoples who were fighting for nationalist ideals in their own countries and exporting it abroad, Europe’s Jews – particularly its wealthy, assimilated, German Jews — were on fire with the idea of rebuilding culture and possessing a physical space to extend that culture. The idea of Zionism as a response to anti-Semitism came only later, when nationalist sentiment in Europe turned aggressively against minority movements. It is eerily similar to the course of history in Israel and Palestine.