“That the West ‘wants a Jewish state’ – whether consciously or not – is what enables the continuing criminal bloodshed and injustice in Palestine and elsewhere.”
“The West wants a Jewish state”
Sabeel, the Palestinian Christian peace and justice movement held a conference on the “apartheid paradigm in Israel/Palestine” last October in Boston during the course of which Sabeel’s founder, the Canon Naim Ateek, clambered to the lectern and let loose a damning indictment of Israeli apartheid. But during his peroration he inexplicably drew back saying that although the Palestinians do not like the two-state solution they will have to accept it because the West (and here the good Canon sounded puzzled) “wants a Jewish state“. Aside from his capitulation to what the West wants, the Canon did put his finger on the nub of the gist, as they say. The fact that this bizarre Western desire exists at all lies at the ideological crux of the Palestinian issue and indeed the larger situation that currently obtains in the Middle East.
The West indeed wants a Jewish state, a state where the majority of the citizenry (perhaps all, if the Lieberman boys get their way) enjoy sole ownership of stolen Palestinian real estate based on some sort of quasi religious/DNA qualification. Why the West (and this includes the secular and democratic West) wants this is a question that has never been effectively addressed by any pro-Palestinian or progressive group as far as I know. And it is precisely this Western desire that lies at the core of the so-called difficulty of the problem. As you may recall, after 9/11 there was a load of sanctimonious rubbish written about how Islam was in dire need of a Western-style “enlightenment” to bring it up to speed. But the fact that a majority of Western Christians and Jews harbor such a non-negotiable, religious/racist desire suggests that they would be better employed examining their own commitment to enlightenment principles rather than snottily preaching to others.
I am looking at an old postcard circa 1879 entitled “Oriental Group in Palestine Park”.  The scene comprises a gaggle of Americans clad in oriental dress (caftans, turbans, veils) clustered round a Protestant chapel. These Americans are not attending a masked ball but instead frolicking in Palestine Park, a scale model of the “Holy Land” constructed in 1874 on Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York by the Reverend John Heyl Vincent who intended it as a visual aid for the legions of Sunday School teachers who flocked to his Chautauqua Institute to bone up on biblical history and geography. This very first example of that quintessential American construct – the theme park – featured:
“…a life-size Tabernacle built to the specifications given in Exodus, a pyramid, a model of Jerusalem, and a small scale replica of the biblical Holy Land itself—complete with a ten-foot-long Dead Sea, a smaller Sea of Galilee, and markers for important biblical sites—landscaped into the rocky terrain of the shoreline …which serves as the Mediterranean Sea.” 
The famous Chautauqua adult education Institute was established in 1874 and subsequently cloned into hundreds of “assemblies” all over the United States. Their popularity lasted for nearly a half century until radio and cinema began to chip away at their customer base. First and foremost, the Chautauqua model was a liberal construct. Ruling and middle class Americans flocked to Chautauqua Institute and its branches to imbibe (at first) the Protestant party line and later to indulge in an array of adult education courses in what Kipling called “the apotheosis of popular information”. Among Chautauqua’s visitors were Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, George Gershwin and at least nine sitting presidents. Ida Tarbell, famed muckraker of Standard Oil, cherished happy memories of cavorting as a young girl on the Park’s equivalent of Mt. Hermon. Apparently getting tricked out in “oriental dress” was a favorite activity of adult visitors to Palestine Park where “having recreated the landscape and emptied it of people, they now projected themselves into it. If they could not inhabit the Holy Land itself, they could inhabit the model”. 
Palestine Park was a premier manifestation of what American geographer John Kirtland Wright called geopiety, “a deep religious devotion to a vision of the Holy Land concocted from a ‘curious mix of romantic imagination, historical rectitude, and attachment to physical space’ “.  Geopiety is a peculiarly Protestant affliction, originating in England as early as the 16th century and famously culminating in the Balfour Declaration. British geopiety was succinctly encapsulated by the Archibishop of York who stated pugnaciously in 1875:
“Our reason for turning to Palestine is that Palestine is our country. I have used that expression before and I refuse to adopt any other”. 
The Archbishop may have been ready for a fight but Kirtland Wright’s mix is not in the least curious. Palestine Park was no aberration or quaint historic exhibit of exuberant 19th century American religiosity that no longer obtains in today’s alleged rational age. It is instead the physical and utterly American manifestation of Protestantism’s historic ideological role in driving a robust, thieving colonialism with its corollary component of ethnic cleansing. Protestant theology is historically wedded to capitalism, as evinced by Calvinist belief in the “elect” whose worldly success in the acquisition of capital verified a prestamped ticket to the celestial afterlife. The poor were out of luck predestined as they were for hell. Samir Amin’s explanation of the American consequences of such a concept applies equally to the Zionist project:
“The particular form of Protestantism that found its way to New England continues to shape American ideology to this day. First, it facilitated the conquest of the new continent by grounding its legitimacy in scriptural reference (biblical Israel’s violent conquest of the Promised Land is a constantly reiterated theme in North American discourse). Later, the US extended its god- given mission to encompass the entire globe. Thus North Americans have come to regard themselves as the “chosen people” — in practice, a synonym for the Nazi term, Herrenvolk.” 
One might add that the brutal impact of the closely-related religious ideologies of “elect-ness” (Protestant) and “chosen-ness” (Judaism) are being felt in the wider Middle East today with ground zero being Palestine itself.
American Protestants took geopiety and – in typical American style — made it bigger and better, objectifying it not only in Palestine Park but countless other biblical “recreations” in church halls and grounds throughout the United States during the 19th century. Geopiety reached apotheosis in the Jerusalem Exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis world’s fair, which exhibit occupied 10 acres in the very center of the fairgrounds. There the “ecumenical” board of the Jerusalem Exhibit company recreated the geography of Palestine’s hills and valleys along with full scale replicas of Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount, Solomon’s “stables”, the Wailing Wall and the Via Dolorosa. To lend authenticity and provide amusement for the fairgoers, “natives” were imported to populate the exhibit, in native dress of course. However the St. Louis exhibit was not the end of manifest American geopiety. The natural descendents of Palestine Park abound today in such religious venues such as Holy Land, US (Virginia), The Holy Land Experience (Florida), Golgotha Fun Park (Kentucky), Biblical Mini golf (KY), God’s Ark of Safety (MD) Cross Garden (Alabama).
Although today’s biblical theme parks have a definite red state tinge, youthful Protestant congregants in all states are still subject to Old Testamentary teaching and its obsession with property. In the liberal blue state Congregational Church of my youth we Sunday school students built a scale model of the Tabernacle using specs from Exodus and surplus tile from the teacher’s bathroom renovation. While we converted tiles into cubits, Johnston’s map of the Holy Land hung on the wall behind us and later when I was confirmed at age sixteen the testament bestowed upon me featured the same map on the frontispiece. Only a few years ago during a rummage sale at a nearby ultra-liberal Protestant church I spied the same map hanging in the choir room where the soft goods were on offer. Palestine Park and its derivatives are simply tangible examples of historic Protestant ownership regard for Palestinian real estate. It is precisely this theological component that now underpins the Western insistence on a Jewish state in Palestine that so bemused Canon Ateek.
So while the great-great-grandparents of today’s Palestinians were tending their fields and orchards and plying their crafts all unawares, Americans in Arab drag acted out their ownership fantasies in a Palestine theme park. Mind you, Palestine Park and the American tradition of biblical re-creation is only a small part of what is a long dense tradition of mainstream Protestant Zionism which includes such 19th century political milestones as: London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Among the Jews (1809); London Memorandum on the Restoration of the Jews (1839); Gawler’s Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine (1852); and the Blackstone Memorial Petition presented to President Harrison entitled “Palestine for the Jews” (1891) 
All of these proto-Zionist constructs (which by the way contained elements of anti-Semitism) were created to realize Biblical prophecy for political ends. An even more pervasive and influential strain of this Protestant desire is scattered profusely through British and American literature, culture and nomenclature. All of these political and religious desires constitute what the late Israel Shahak identified as the “weight of history”. It is important to understand that until today, this heavy historic desire weighs on the Christian West on all levels – from right wing dispensationalists to the liberal clergy to the ranks of the anti-war progressives. That the West “wants a Jewish state” – whether consciously or not – is what enables the continuing criminal bloodshed and injustice in Palestine and elsewhere and facilitates the continual triumphs of the Israel Lobby. It is crucial that these desires be “dragged into the light” using Shahak’s exhortation:
“…actual politics is an interaction between realistic considerations (whether valid or mistaken, whether moral or immoral in my view) and ideological influences. The latter tend to be more influential the less they are discussed and ‘dragged into the light’. Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it. This is especially so if its discussion is prohibited, either formally or by tacit agreement. When racism, discrimination and xenophobia [are] being fueled by religious motivations it is like its opposite case, that of anti-Semitism and its religious motivations.” 
The unexamined historical weight before us is the Protestant theology of real estate – the long historic Protestant theological desire for a Zionist project and its underlying theological assumption of a vested Protestant ownership stake in Palestine and even in the greater Middle East by virtue of Biblical covenant. Self-examination is particularly difficult when religion is involved. Former President Jimmy Carter writes candidly of his life-long “infatuation” with Israel and describes the giddiness he felt the first time he visited Israel and walked in the steps of “our Lord”. This giddiness born of property ownership infused with religion was experienced by the thousands of British and American travelers who flooded “their” Palestine in the 19th century and then published equally giddy accounts of their travels which enormous body of work constitutes a publishing phenomenon unprecedented at any other time or place.
Nevertheless Carter — like countless other devout Christians and so-called Western progressives — is unable to violate the “biblical” borders of Israel. Jeff Halper founder of ICAHD, who also spoke at the Sabeel conference, urged the congregants to focus on apartheid in the occupied territories, stating flatly and preemptively that “the single state is a non-starter”. Thus do both the religious conservative Christian and secular progressive Jew see apartheid as restricted to the occupied territories. Palestine Park itself is a “democracy”, its borders sacrosanct. How could it be otherwise when the bible tells us so? Progressives, smugly thinking themselves liberated from such baggage, are particularly loath to examine the personal impact of this historical religious weight and instead seek refuge from the effort by hiding behind the issue’s “complexity” and other ruses. No doubt they are all held back by a certain reluctance to relinquish their God given right to frolic in Palestine Park.
1. The History Project, UC Davis.
2. Timothy Beal, Roadside Religion (2005), 28.
3. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, ‘Making a Place in the World: Jews and the Holy Land at World’s Fairs’.
4. Beal, Roadside Religion, 27-8.
5. Issam Nassar, ‘In Their Image’, Jerusalem Quarterly, October 2003.
6. Samir Amin, ‘The American Ideology’, al-Ahram Weekly, May 2003.
7. For a detailed historical chronology of Christian Zionism, see Mohameden Ould-Mey, ‘The Geopolitical Genesis and Prospect of Zionism’, Political Geography, 2003.
8. Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of 3000 Years (1994), 2 (emphasis added).
J.A. Miller is a grandmother activist from the Middle West who spent many years traveling and studying in the Middle East. She has published essays on Counterpunch and DissidentVoice as well as poems in the manner of the Burma Shave highway signs of her youth at www.PoeticInjustice.net, some of which will be included in their upcoming anthology, Poets for Palestine. Miller is currently writing a book on the Protestant origin of the Zionist project. She can be reached at email@example.com