Hen Mazzig

We have to defeat the false ‘colonialism’ narrative about Israel

It is imperative to remind the world of the enduring bond between Jews and the land of Israel


An Israeli flag over the Western Wall in Jerusalem (Getty Images)

February 20, 2024 16:23

Last week I met Ofir Engel, the 18-year-old Jerusalem native who was recently freed after spending 54 agonising days in Hamas captivity. Listening to his firsthand account of survival — during which his captors starved him, interrogated him and refused to accept his Israeli identity — was a profound experience.

Not only will Ofir’s story be forever burned into my mind but his harrowing trauma serves as a stark reminder of how widespread misunderstanding of Jewish history and our historical ties to Israel threatens Jewish lives. As an Israeli Jew who is deeply committed to my homeland, I’m continually forced to defend my peoples’ right to exist, educate others about this ancestral connection, and confront dangerous misconceptions that seek to erode and delegitimise the modern Jewish state.

The truth is that Jews have built thriving communities and enriched the cultural fabric in the land of Israel for millennia. Thousands of years of archaeological and historical evidence show that the birthplace of Judaism — and the Jewish people — was in Judea, where the state of Israel exists today. It was only through ceaseless campaigns of conquest and imperialism that ethnic Jews were forced to leave our ancestral homeland. Subsequently, Jews settled in every corner of the world, from Eastern Europe to India to the Peruvian Amazon.

The fact that Jews trace our lineage back to Israel isn’t even in dispute among our biggest adversaries. Those who believe we do not belong there refer to us as Jews because we came from Judea, while Hamas and Hezbollah call us “Yahud” (“Yehuda” meaning Judea in Arabic). Still, they continue to question whether or not we originated from that land, just as Ofir’s victimisers inhumanely did while he was in captivity. Ofir told me that his Hamas captor kept asking him where his family is actually from, when Ofir replied that his grandfather was from Israel, the terrorist yelled at him that he was lying.

What compounds this lack of fact-based education about Israel is the prevailing false narrative among Palestinians and the “Free Palestine” movement of Jews as foreign invaders who subjugated Arabs and colonised the land. Ironically, the reality is the opposite, and the experiences of Mizrahi Jews, including those of my own family, expose the fraudulent framing of the issue.

Mizrahi Jews are the nearly one million Jewish refugees who, concurrent with the Holocaust in Europe, were violently displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. Despite living in the Islamic world, where they endured treatment as second-class citizens, Mizrahi Jews maintained their connection to Israel, preserved their heritage and nurtured a deep longing for their ancestral homeland. No matter the proximity of Jews to the land of Israel — in my family’s case, less than 1,000 kilometres — they have always seen it as their one and only true home.

Still, a day rarely goes by without an anti-Israel detractor online telling me to “go back to Europe,” the very place where a genocide against Jews took place and where we were told to “go back to Palestine.” Such harassment is doubly offensive to me as it erases my identity and my history while telling me I don’t deserve a home at all.

Israeli author Amos Oz recalled that history in his 2010 essay, How to Cure a Fanatic. “When my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, ‘Jews, go back to Palestine’, or sometimes worse: ‘Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine’. When my father revisited Europe 50 years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, ‘Jews, get out of Palestine’.”

Fostering lasting peace in the region - my aspiration - requires several things. First, in the interest of historical accuracy, the international community must acknowledge the Jewish connection to Israel. Denying these indigenous ties of Jews to Israel does nothing to free Palestinians or establish a two-state solution. Rather it erodes any foundation for genuine reconciliation and coexistence.

Of course, true peace also requires mutual recognition and respect for the rights and histories of all peoples involved. Affirming the Jewish connection to Israel does not diminish the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, as recent as they may be. Both Jews and Palestinians have valid claims to this land, and both deserve the right to self-determination. Recognising these dual narratives is fundamental to building a future where both communities can live side by side.

As we navigate these complexities, reminding the world of the enduring bond between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is imperative, not only to better understand the conflict but also to remind our adversaries that we are not going anywhere — because we have nowhere else to go. Let’s not allow the hope for a Palestinian state to supersede or supplant this historical truth.

Hen Mazzig is an Israeli author and the founder of The Tel Aviv Institute.

February 20, 2024 16:23

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