Saturday, November 19, 2011

Self-fulfilling prophecies: The Bible, Zionism and the Palestinians

The Bible contains quite a few prophesies about the Jews returning to Israel.  Some of them related to the Babylonians and the first exile, which ended in the Sixth century BCE, but others came from later.
My favorite is Ezekiel 37 (Yehezkel in Hebrew), whose "Dry Bones" prophesy, in which a valley full of dry bones slide together to make an army of skeletons, sounds like the script for a Hollywood movie:

: 1 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 
3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.” 
4 Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’” 
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. 
9 Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. 
11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 

When these words were written, 2600 years ago, I don't suppose any more than a handful of people noticed them, but over the next three millenia the Bible became the most influential book ever created, and such powerful writing was no longer some obscure prophesy, but a statement with the power to move Empires - in this case the British Empire, the largest empire ever created, leading to the 1917 Balfour Declaration. 

Without the biblical prophesies, neither the Jews nor the Christians who facilitated their return, would have considered such a drastic action as a return to a country abandoned more than a thousand years earlier.

There are other examples of self-fulfilling prophesies, though perhaps none quite so impressive. Karl Marx prophesized class-warfare, claiming all human history was simply a tale of class-warfare. He made the point so effectively, that for next century  people motivated by his writings engaged in class-warfare. Although class conflict existed before Marx, the affect of his prophesies was to turn class conflict into one of the dominant forms of social conflict  for the next century (and possibly beyond).

There is another type of self-fulfilling prophesy and that's when you predict that someone will become your enemy, and in the process of pre-empting that eventuality, turn them against you. After the Balfour declaration The Palestinians started claiming that the Jews' objective was to drive them out.  In fact, although most Jews wanted a state with a Jewish majority, even the most radical, Jabotinsky wanted a democratic state and assumed the Arabs would remain.  Jabotinsky had no qualms about using force to achieve Jewish control of Palestine, but he assumed that Jewish migrants could easily outnumber the Arabs.
The Mufti in his efforts to prevent a Jewish majority met with Hitler, who favored expelling the Jews from Europe,  and helped persuade him to exterminate them instead. 
When the UN partitioned Palestine the Mufti insisted on an all or nothing policy ultimately resulting in the departure of a large chunk of Palestine's Arab population, thus fulfilling his own prophecy.  Had the Palestinians embraced the Jews and welcomed them in, it is likely both the Holocaust and the Nakba would have been averted.

The Israeli right, today,  claim to be concerned about the loyalty of Israeli Arabs.  So they are trying to pass legislation defining Israel as a Jewish state, giving preference to former soldiers in state employment tribunals (most Arabs don't serve in the Army) and preventing teaching of the Nakba in state schools. Needless to say Arab disloyalty is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we cannot make allowances to the needs of our Arab citizens then we should not be surprised if they question their allegiances. Perhaps the right doesn't really care whether or not the Arab-Israelis are loyal, its just popular with the voters to put them on the spot.  


  1. i also took that boat Haifa to Greece, summer of 1971....danny now in Taiwan via danbloom At gmail DOT com and this - Chris, great story, well told. Two things, Wired's Kevin Kelly also fell victim to the Jerusalem Syndrome in 1979 when he , as his bio says,'' in 1979

  2. i also took that boat Haifa to Greece, summer of 1971....danny now in Taiwan via danbloom At gmail DOT com and this - Chris, great story, well told. Two things, Wired's Kevin Kelly also fell victim to the Jerusalem Syndrome in 1979 when he , as his bio says,'' in 1979

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