What Makes Israel Unique? Ten Things (From A Critical Perspective)

I was raised evangelical Zionist—along with 30 million others throughout the world (which is about twice the global Jewish population, and also the largest block of Israel supporters on the planet). I went to a Baptist church twice a week carrying my John Hagee Prophecy Study Bible and was taught Jewish supremacy: that if you were Jewish (or Israeli; the two weren’t distinguished), you were God’s chosen people and had unconditional rights from God and unconditional rights to Middle-Eastern real estate. According to the law of Moses in Genesis 15-17, God would “bless those who bless” Israel and “curse those who curse” Israel. Therefore, sending cash to Israel would bring blessings on yourself. Conversely, saying anything critical of Israel could result in eternal consequences from the old white guy in the sky (lightning? Disease? Drowning? Who knows; just watch out!). In fact, I remember sitting in my Pastor’s office as a 15 year-old and asking him next to his desk, “so, hypothetically, if Jewish people committed mass murder, would that be wrong?” He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Well, that’s a good question,” and that was the end of our conversation. This only left me with more skepticism, because the rest of the Hebrew Bible—and especially that rascal Palestinian carpenter named Jesus who got bludgeoned by a large, western colonizing empire—taught me to at least try to be an ethical person, take care of strangers, “love your enemy” and all that stuff. Saying “one set of ethical rules applies to everybody—except for this one group,” just didn’t make sense to me.

I began to develop a more critical perspective towards the Zionist/nationalist experiment of Israel when reading Middle-eastern history books as a student at a Christian college and taking a “history of the Muslim world course.” Gary Burge of Wheaton College put a unique spin on the typical Zionist story in Whose Land? Whose Promise? and later Jesus and the Land: “OK, if Jewish people have a claim to the land, it’s conditional according to the conditions in the Torah—and it turns out that Israel since 1948 broke all of those specific conditions, so their ‘unconditional’ claim is void.” These religious perspectives definitely changed my thinking.

I didn’t think critically as much about the economic, social, and political aspects until 2013. As a new Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at a small evangelical liberal arts college, I visited Palestine/Israel and Jordan on a whirlwind tour of the “holy lands” with a bus load of evangelical Zionists that left me with even more questions, especially since many of my non-religious questions during the trip weren’t answered at all (despite having three tour guides, all with graduate degrees). Besides being in a wood boat during a storm in the Sea of Galilee, the highlight of our trip was leaving our fancy hotel and (at Jessica’s prompting) having tea with a random Muslim family in their living room flat in rural Jordan. (This was one of the few successful attempts at escaping the bubble we knew that we were in; the tour continually diverted our eyes like mules with blinders.)

Fast forward a decade to 2023, the year of the Second Nakba, where 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza were almost instantly displaced in a major ethnic cleanse. Since studying more on my own and listening to Palestinian voices locally and abroad over these years, I’ve learned more about what makes the state of Israel unique among nation states in the world, and how it also differs from Europe and North American nation states that Israel is modeled after. This has taken years of time to actually process because of American propaganda and media programming ontop of fundamentalist upbringing, but it only took one afternoon of compiling. So here’s a brief list of Ten Things That Make Israel Unique (with citations):

  1. Israel was established as a settler colonial ethno-state—an entity created by migration/settlement of a land with a political apparatus aimed at being exclusively Jewish (Khalidi 2021; Pappe 2022; Morris 1999; Veracini and Cavanaugh 2017). Proponents of this ideology (Zionists) in the early 1900s considered creating the Jewish state in western Kenya (East African 2015), Argentina, and Chile, but eventually settled on Palestine and funded colonization through the Jewish Colonial Trust. After WWI, Britain occupied Palestine and promised a state to the Zionists in the 1917 Balfour Declaration. That is, Israel is a settler colonial state initiated by British colonization/invasion like the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, which (like all settler colonies) displaced/exterminated the native peoples (mostly Arab Muslims, but also Christians and Jews).
  2. Because the land of Palestine was occupied by over a million people at the time, the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 resulted in one of the largest and longest refugee crises in modern history and (since 2007) resulted the largest concentration camp in history (Pappe 2017; Finkelstein 2021); the 1948 Nakba (“Catastrophe”) forcefully displaced over 700,000 Palestinians out of their homes and moved into camps like Gaza (see references in 1 above); the Gaza blockade trapped 2 million people in cage with nowhere to go, no hope of a future beyond its walls, and every reason to desperately take up arms of resistance.
  3. Every year since 1946, over 90% of the world’s nations resolve to end Israel’ illegal occupation of Palestine and the right of Palestinians to return to their homes; the U.S. and Israel vote no every year (United Nations). (Note that the UN also recognized the right of colonized peoples—specifically Palestinians—to resist occupation, invasion, and extermination in resolutions from the 1960s-80s).
  4. In continuing to colonize and increase settlements as an ethno-state, Israel is the only country in the world that all major human rights organizations classify as an “apartheid state”—worse, in fact, than apartheid South Africa (Amnesty International 2021; Human Rights Watch 2020; B’tSelem 2022; United Nations; South Africa Human Rights Commission). There is a physical wall separating Israelis from Palestinians (Palestine is also militarily occupied by Israel with hundreds of checkpoints, curfews, and continual military harassment); interfaith marriage is illegal (unless they get married online); Jews are tried in a different legal system than Palestinians and criminal sentences vary (e.g., Palestinians charged with rape face twice the prison sentence as Israelis); Palestinians and Israelis have different license plates marking their identity; collective punishment is sanctioned against Palestinians; some streets are Jew only (Ta-Nehisi Coates recently compared it to Jim Crow); etc.
  5. Israel is the only state in the world that prosecutes children in military courts, also formally interrogating children (as young as five) without legal representation. (Syed 2023 in Time Magazine; DCI Palestine 2023); 86% of Palestinian children are beaten after being detained by Israeli occupation forces and 42% are injured during their arrest. (Israel also holds over 10,000 people in prison, none of who are entitled to a fair trial, and some facing up to 11 years in solitary confinement, which is just a little above the 15-day limit of international law)
  6. Israel is home to the world’s largest skin bank, which is produced in part by non-consensual harvests of Palestinian organs. (CNN 2009; Weiss 2014, “Over Their Dead Bodies Power, Knowledge, and the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Israel,” Askew 2023 in EuroNews; cf. “The Great Organ Theft”)
  7. In the Second Nakba (2023), Israel holds records in killing more United Nations workers than anyone else in history, and killing more journalists and children faster than any other military conflict in modern history (over 90 journalists and 10,000 children in 10 weeks) (Aljazeera 2023; Committee to Protect Journalists; United Nations 2023; Euromed Monitor 2023).
  8. Israel’s military trains police in cities across the United States (“The Deadly Exchange” 2020; Amnesty International 2016); “Since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).”
  9. Israel has no constitution, no independent judiciary (pending reforms in 2023-2024), does not recognize international law (considering it anti-semitic), and does not prosecute its soldiers for murder. (see references in 1-7 above). Israel is, as Jewish and Israeli scholars have shown, a genuinely “rogue state” banking on European guilt from the holocaust and charges of antisemitism to ensure the total lack of accountability and secure unconditional support from the EU and North America (Bartov 2023; Finkelstein 2015; Chomsky and Pappe 2013).
  10. Israel regularly receives more military aid from the U.S. than any other country in the world (Mearsheimer and Walt 2008); Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, is the second (to the U.S.) most advanced spying and intelligence apparatus in the world (Morris and Black 1992; Thomas 2015), and (in contrast to any other country in the world other than the U.S.) Israel regularly bombs multiple neighboring countries simultaneously in constant warfare (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria) (Becker 2013; Chomsky and Pappe 2013).

Click here for an illustrated guide to the above that I compiled for a Protest in Rapid City, SD in October, 2023 and have since updated.

Click here to watch the excellent 2023 Documentary “Israelism.”