Zionism, Quebec Separatism, and Other Nationalisms

Zionism has a sense of entitlement to land (in this case, Israel, or as it is significantly known, the "Holy Land"). Interestingly, the Jews were seen by the Nazis as those without a place, and indeed who could not understand the significance of place. We can see this construction of place in the following:

Hebron is an extreme, yet telling illustration of the Israeli concept of ‘Place’. Zionism, as a national and colonizing movement, strove to reach control over land. Methods of occupation, acquisition and international negotiation were used to secure a land basis for Jewish development, in the context of a national conflict with the Palestinians. What is more important for our purposes is the symbolic appropriation of land, an idea well captured in the name of a book on the subject; ‘Grasping Land’ (Ben-Ari and Bilu, 1997). Holding control and sovereignty over territories was only part of this concept. With it came methods of cognitive ‘grasp’, such as giving Hebrew names to places, hiking through them, writing and composing songs, studying the places scientifically, examining their archaeology and history. The spaces occupied by Israel were to be transformed by these cognitive strategies into meaningful places, constituting the home of the Jewish people. However, this project was defined from the start as ‘homecoming’, re-appropriation of a place that was Jewish to begin with. Consequently, memory of ancient times was crucial for the symbolic aspect of ‘grasping land’.


Jewish Hebron takes this logic to its extreme. The place is more sacred and has a more nationally loaded history and mythology than most other places in Israel. For its Jewish residents, the place is defined through its sacred history of ancient times, strengthened by events that are more recent. The monumental history constructs the city as the centre of centres, the non-negotiable core of Jewish existence. In their conflict with the Arabs for continuous control over the most sacred shrines of Judaism, Hebron Jews see themselves as holding the stronghold of the Israeli frontier. However, the project of ‘Israelizing’ Hebron, while supported halfheartedly by some Israeli governments, is carried out under difficult conditions. There is constant struggle with a large, resistant Palestinian population over highly contested territory, and there is strong opposition from within Israel itself, too. The ‘Israel’ that the Hebron settlers encounter is one that is at best hesitant and ambivalent regarding the continuation of the colonizing practices in the occupied territories. As a result of their appropriation of the classical Zionist discourse and practices for ‘grasping land’, the Hebron settlers find themselves strongly critical of modern-day Israel and their religious zealotry further alienates them from many segments of Israeli society.

The place has two kinds of meanings in uneasy cohabition. On the one hand, Kiryat-Arba and Hebron are actual residential communities, with socio-economic problems stemming from the attributes of the population and isolation from the large Israeli urban centres. On the other hand, Hebron is a symbolic community, expressing Jewish return to the land of the Bible against violent opposition. This is ‘Metaphoric Hebron’ with its own needs and raison d’être, living within its unique ‘monumental time’.

Michael Feige, "Jewish Settlement of Hebron: The Place and the Other" GeoJournal 53 (2001): 324.

And, this place becomes mythologized:

For example, in addition to the Patriarchs, the Cave of Machpelah commemorates the former subservient community permitted to climb only to the seventh step and the glorious and tragic history of recent times. Archaeological research, carried out by the settlers themselves, has added a new story to the place, and the symbol is still open to engulf new events and render them meaning. The ‘Avraham Avinu’ synagogue commemorates both the Patriarch and the community who held the place and were wiped out in Tarpat. Later the heroic story of its reconstruction was added. Tour guides tell of a Saturday night some centuries ago, when one man was lacking from the ten needed for minyan (ritual prayer group of ten). A stranger joined in and he turned out to be Abraham himself. Mythology is condensed into one short symbolic legend, located in one sacred spot.

Since Hebron is, so to speak, a ‘forest of symbols’, where every act resonates through the ages and each place has numerous narratives, a sense of general holiness emerges from the accumulation of sacred and historical spots. Many residents describe their relation to Hebron in terms of a mystical experience. Elyakim Haetzni, a secular resident, tells his story; “Hebron is part of our genetic code. Once my genetic needle pointed towards Hebron, I felt an electric shock. In Hebron I feel for the first time at home” (Nekuda, 69, 1984). One of the residents explained to me that he came to live in Hebron because of the way in which the name ‘Hebron’ sounds when he says it. Another resident writes; “Sometimes, when the wind is howling in Hebron and Kiryat-Arba, it seems as if you can hear King David crying” (Hevruta, 3, 1986).

Michael Feige, "Jewish Settlement of Hebron: The Place and the Other" GeoJournal 53 (2001): 331.