Hadar Tennenberg

Thanksgiving and Zionism: The Great Decolonization

Credit: Ilan Sharif via the PikiWiki- Israel free image collection project

“Judaism is a land-based, agricultural religion and culture, with Jews maintaining a sacred and spiritual connection to the land of Israel throughout our historical consciousness. The concept of land relationships and stewardship forms an essential cornerstone for the indigenous identity of any indigenous peoples.” Native American and Jewish activist, Lani Dawn.

This Thanksgiving I’m celebrating the greatest decolonization in history, Zionism.

Zionism is unique and unprecedented – the story of an indigenous nation returning to the land that was violently stolen from them by colonizing empires. A land they have never stopped yearning for, and have had a continuous presence in despite 3000 years of efforts to the contrary.

Arabs, by comparison, are indigenous to the Arab Peninsula. So is Islam. How did they become the overwhelming majority in the Middle East and North Africa, once a culturally diverse region? Violent colonization and forced conversion.

The Levant has been colonized by empire after empire. The Jewish Kingdoms of Israel were taken over by the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans (who’s emperor Hadrian changed the name from Judea to “Syria Palaestina”, in order to sever the Jewish connection to our homeland), the Byzantine empire, THEN the Arab empire, followed by Crusaders, the Ayyub and Mamluk Sultanate, the Ottoman empire, then the British.

The colonization and mismanagement of Israel has had deep impacts on the land including deforestation, desertification, the extinction of native animals in the region (like the lion, once a symbol of the kingdom of Judah), while swaths of land became unusable swamps plagued with malaria.

Decolonization by the Jewish people is not just about restoring a people to their homeland, but restoring the homeland to its natural state. Respect for the land of Israel, and the environment in general, is a cornerstone of Judaism. Early Zionist efforts to eliminate malaria and clear swamps began immediately, turning previously uninhabitable land into thriving communities (something my own great-grandfather worked on in Migdal Eder, now Migdal Oz). Efforts to “make the desert bloom” succeeded with scientific breakthroughs like drip irrigation. We planted ancient preserved date palm seeds, reintroduced endangered species and enacted laws to ban hunting. We coupled Jewish law with Jewish ingenuity and passion for the land of our ancestors, to resounding success.

We have always longed to return to this land as a nation, because it is our home, and we have been allowed no other. A key element of settler colonialism which often gets left out of the debate today is the concept of the “metropole”, or mother country. Jews have no such home base to report back to or return to. When the violent aversion to the return of the Jews to their homeland manifested itself in attacks, murder and rape, incidents like the 1929 riots, including the Hebron massacre, occurred in the hopes Jews would go back to where they came from- that we’d decide the region is simply too violent and not worth the hassle. They continue to use the tactic to this day. After all, it worked on the British mandate. It worked in Vietnam, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Haiti. Why has it still not gotten rid of the Jews? The misconception of Israel being a settler-colonial project lies in this ignorance: the violent tactics do not and will not work on us, because Israel IS our metropole, and we HAVE returned.

And we have always yearned to return.
Every year at Passover we say “Next year in Jerusalem”.
We always pray facing the site of the ancient holy Jewish Temple (now the site of Al-Aqsa, a mosque built over the Temple ruins when the Arab empire conquered Jerusalem).
We have kept the language despite attempts to eradicate it- a trademark imperialistic move.
Now, thanks to the decolonization by Zionists, we are finally able to practice our ancient laws applicable ONLY in the land of Israel, like “Shmita”, the agricultural sabbatical which commands us not to work the land every seventh year in order to let it rest without human intervention.
We have reinstated the currency our ancestors used in this land.
We have reinstated the language.

By the left’s own logic, this should enable Zionists to be as violent as they wish. Decolonization, after all, is not a vague academic theory but rather a practice which has the moral right to be achieved by any means, they say. Resistance by the colonizers, indeed any attempt at self defense on their part, is inherently colonial and racist. Despite this assertion, we have no interest in violence. Judaism isn’t a violent religion. We have no wish to truly “decolonize” the region. It’s a tragedy that such a peaceful nation dedicated to innovation and cooperation is surrounded by enemies hellbent on its destruction. Our track record in developing and sharing technology with the region and the developing world speaks for itself- imagine how much farther we could’ve come. Imagine what the Middle East could look like.

We are happy to live here peacefully among other nations who have a claim to the land, including Samaritans, Druze, and yes, Arabs, by sheer number of years – so long as they respect our existence and acknowledge our frankly indisputable claim to the land as well.

The world is afraid. The Jews have returned to their homeland. What if the rest of the world were to follow suit? What if every displaced indigenous people decolonized their land? What would that look like? Why would win, who would lose? Would you, dear reader, be free to keep living in your country, attending your university? Or do you have these benefits because you live on stolen land? The greatest perpetrators of colonialism are the ones supposedly preaching against it the loudest- but when they see real decolonization in action, they denounce it. The call is coming from inside the house.

About the Author
Hadar Tennenberg is a writer, artist, traveler, amateur guitar player and lover of dogs. A law student who served in the IDF Spokesperson Unit, Hadar made Aliya as a teen and continues to learn about this new country while enjoying the vibrant culture and beauty of Israel.
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