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Nostalgia

Avishai Margalit on the origins of modern Israel at the New York Review of Books:

The British rule over Palestine lasted roughly thirty years, from 1917 until 1948. In a country that has three thousand years of recorded history, thirty years is a tiny fraction. If we conceive of three thousand years on a scale of one day, the period of British rule takes barely eight minutes. In comparison, Turkish Ottoman rule over Palestine, which lasted four hundred years, takes an hour and forty minutes. Yet the influence of these thirty years was deep and wide-ranging.

For people like me who are largely ignorant of this history, the article has some great insights, like this one:

The Zionists’ yearning for homecoming was to a place where they believed Jews had once led authentic, independent, and pristine lives, of simplicity and purity: a pastoral kind of life, with the golden city Jerusalem as its center. They were clueless about the landscape of Palestine before they arrived, and they projected onto it the landscape they knew from Europe, much like Flemish painters located the return of the holy family to or from Egypt in a bluish, mountainous Renaissance setting.

And this:

We tend to forget that the ferocious support of Israel by the extreme evangelical right in the United States today originated in the Christian Zionism of nineteenth-century Britain—a movement that envisaged the return of the Messiah to Palestine and still influenced British public opinion before and just after World War I. But there is one crucial difference between the American Christian Zionists and the British Christian Zionists, such as the Earl of Shaftesbury. Unlike their American successors, the British movement was reformist and in no way “culturally conservative.” It was consumed with the idea of the “ingathering” of the Jews in the Holy Land as a necessary redemptive step in the “Second Coming.”