The New Puritans
First Published 2009-07-26
The New Puritans
The Zionists at the end of the 19th century concluded Jewish populations
would never find acceptance from Christian Europe. They would remain a
persecuted minority if they did not assimilate and would lose their identity
if they assimilated, says Dan Lieberman.
Calculating the Trajectory of the Middle East Conflict
Defined characteristics steer history to an eventual climax. Unless a
dramatic intervention occurs, similar historical characteristics forecast
similar results. If an earlier historical event has a narrative that is
comparable with the narrative of the Middle East conflict, then the
trajectory of that conflict can be predicted from the outcome of the earlier
narrative; not exactly, but within a certain boundary. A corollary exists -
if a conclusion can be forecasted from an earlier event that exhibited
closely similar conditions, changing the conditions by intervention can
modify the directed result.
Several conflicts have been compared to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Each narrative contained claims for land, clashes with indigenous peoples
and a desire for separation due to fear and insecurity. Each conflict left a
legacy that deserves consideration. Most prominently mentioned are:
(1) Apartheid South Africa
(2) Colonial Algeria
(3) Northern Ireland conflict
(4) The American destiny
(5) The Puritan experience
Which of these conflicts is most comparable with the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict? Realizing that the contestants of the 21st century conflict are
culturally advanced in comparison to the contestants engaged in the earlier
century conflicts and accounting for different eras and different stages in
civilization, the most relevant comparison is the Puritan experience. To
substantiate this assertion, let's start with the principle characteristics
that defined the Zionist agenda and its development into the Israeli state
The Zionists at the end of the 19th century concluded Jewish populations,
due to unique characteristics, would never find acceptance from Christian
Europe. They would remain a persecuted minority if they did not assimilate
and would lose their identity if they assimilated. In this no-win situation,
Judaism and Jewish identity would eventually disappear. Relatively few Jews
of that time agreed with or followed the Zionist agenda.
The Zionists sought a Promised Land, the same land that the Bible claimed
God had awarded to the Hebrews. However, the pioneers did not arrive by
invoking a phrase uttered by many later immigrants; "The land has been
reserved for us by a promise from God." Gaining national identity and social
redemption by social labor and communal life guided their purpose.
Hardship and failure describe many of the early missions. After near
failure, a limited success enthused compatriots in the World War I
aftermath, and immigration to Palestine greatly increased. As immigration
increased, the original purpose of "achievement of national identity and
social redemption by social labor and communal life," receded from the
The early Jewish immigrants to Palestine did not display an intention to
replace the Palestinians. The land seemed sufficiently empty to accommodate
a vast number of new immigrants without replacing the local populations. New
agricultural and irrigation techniques would make the land more productive.
However, some Palestinians, disturbed by the early intruders, others just
bandits, attacked a number of settlements. After a few incidents, awareness
that the Zionists could bring benefits - work and new technology -
encouraged Palestinians to gradual acceptance of the newcomers. In the
1920's the pioneering attitude changed and the welcoming attitude
In 1920, after the Zionist population had grown to 60,000 in a Palestine
composed of 585,000 Arabs, a reporter noted that earlier settlers felt
uncomfortable with the later immigrants.
"It may not be generally known, but a goodly number of the Jewish dwellers
in the land are not anxious to see a large immigration into the country.
This is partly due to the fear that the result of such immigration would be
an overcrowding of the industrial and agricultural market; but a number of
the more respectable older settlers have been disgusted by the recent
arrivals in Palestine of their coreligionists, unhappy individuals from
Russia and Romania brought in under the auspices of the Zionist Commission
from the cities of Southeastern Europe, and neither able nor willing to work
at agriculture or fruit-farming. "- Zionist Aspirations in Palestine,
Anstruther Mackay, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1920.
Israel's development did not proceed from a colonial mission. A search for a
new land to practice a unique way of life for an alienated group propelled
the adventure. After 1920, the new immigrants created an insatiable demand
for land, for coast, for plain and for hill. Land sales dispossessed
Palestinians who sensed continuous usurpation of their ancient lands and
destruction of their livelihood. An initial mildly cooperative relationship
between Zionists and Palestinians deteriorated to each wanting to be rid of
the other. Soon, Palestine quaked with total war. The Zionists won the
battle and the Palestinians were directly and indirectly forced to leave
their ancient lands. The Israeli state continued to use fear and insecurity
to rationalize separation and extend its territory to more secure
boundaries. Even those Palestinians willing to cooperate have been
marginalized. History records the Palestinian people reacting to
dispossession and fighting to prevent a slow and unyielding destruction.
How does this narrative compare to other narratives?
In 1651, the Dutch East India Company established a settlement as a base for
its ships passing the Cape of Good Hope. An influx in 1687 of a community of
Huguenots changed the purpose of the base camp. During the following 300+
years the Protestant colony, together with British and Dutch farmers evolved
the white population.
The acquisitive British, seeking control of vital shipping lanes, determined
the future of Africa's southern region.. The British seized the area in 1795
and the Congress of Vienna in 1815 recognized Britain's sovereign control of
the Cape. Discoveries of mineral resources provoked Great Britain to
incorporate the Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State into
one nation. On May 31, 1910, the English crown created another dominion -
the Union of South Africa - precursor to the 1961 creation of the Republic
of South Africa.
A nation that contained an estimated 67% black African, 9% colored and 2.5%
Asian became a state designed for its white population. The new nation
certified apartheid by a series of laws that started with the Natives' Land
Act of 1913. The Act initially restricted the Black population ownership of
land to only 7% of the country. The original Crape Coloreds (not White,
Black or Indian), who were able to vote, became totally disenfranchised in
1948, after the Nationalist Party took control of the Union's legislature.
South Africa started as a colonial enterprise. Colonialism led to a conflict
between the descendants of white settlers and the native population. The
conflict was almost entirely due to Apartheid Laws that denied economic and
political power to the non-white populations. Native populations were
misplaced and races were segregated. The conflict could only be resolved by
repeal of the Apartheid laws. In 1994, the repeal occurred.
The South African experience is often compared to the Middle East conflict
because of its positive outcome - why can't the former be a guide to the
other? All oppression of populations have similarities. Nevertheless, the
characteristics of the settling of the two areas and the nature of the
conflict are entirely different. There was no colonialism involved in the
establishment of Israel. There are no civil laws to cancel in order to
resolve the Middle East conflict. Rather than misplacements, there have been
population replacements and displacements. Apartheid defined the South
Africa struggle and sanctions convinced the authorities that changing the
apartheid laws were preferable to world enmity. Apartheid is a side factor
in the more complicated Middle East conflict. It will take much, much more
than sanctions to resolve the conflict.
The South Africa legacy: The world community can successfully pressure
nations to discard racial prejudice and grant equal rights to all its
Algeria, under French rule, was an example of pure colonialism.
Expanding from a blockade in 1827, caused by an assumed insult to a French
consul in Algiers, to invasion in 1830, France colonized Algeria. By 1848,
the French controlled most of northern Algeria, and the Second Republic
recognized the occupied lands as an integral part of France. Initially
separated from the new economic infrastructure, native Algerians became
French subjects in 1856. Nine years later, Napoleon III allowed the native
Algerians to apply for full French citizenship. Although seemingly
beneficial., this maneuver had problems; it legalized France's occupation
and replaced a right to be governed by sharia in personal matters, which
meant internal conflict.
After a century of verbal and sporadic warfare, the French National Assembly
in 1947 approved legislation that created an Algerian Assembly with Muslim
representation . It was an insufficient gesture. A protracted Algerian War
of Independence, fought from 1954-1962, resulted in an independent Algeria
and the retreat of the French colonists to their home country.
Similar to Israel policies, which strengthened Palestinian identity, the
French awakened an Algerian national identity. Nevertheless, by being a
colonial adventure, which brought economic separation, and later tried to
legally integrate the native population into the French nation, the Algerian
narrative does not track the Israel narrative. The Palestinians would be
pleased with an outcome similar to the resolution of the Algerian conflict..
Israelis prefer that conditions don't change to resemble the narrative which
forced an Algerian nation.
The Algerian conflict legacy: Even after a century of struggle, native
populations can win their right to self determination against a major power.
Ireland had been conquered and re-conquered several times by English
royalty. During the turn of the 16th century, England established a central
government that ruled the entire emerald island.
Colonization followed conquest. England sent Protestants colonists to Irish
provinces, mostly to those which would later be a part of Northern Ireland.
Constant strife culminated in a complicated arrangement by which Ireland was
temporarily partitioned in 1921 between Northern and Southern Ireland.
Following a brief war and a treaty between the English parliament and Irish
representatives, the Irish Free State came into existence as a dominion of
the British Commonwealth. In 1949, Ireland became a republic and left the
By being awarded autonomy, Northern Ireland received special consideration
in the 1921 partition plan. Almost immediately, the Northern Ireland
Parliament voted to leave the Irish free State and remain as a part of the
United Kingdom, but with its own parliament. A boundary commission failed in
its duty and a large minority of Catholics found inclusion in a Protestant
directed Northern Ireland. The Protestants dominated the political and
economic life and reduced the Catholics to a struggling minority.
Discrimination and the desire to unite Northern Ireland with Ireland guided
the Catholic Nationalists to an armed contest against the Protestant
Paramilitary groups fought in the streets of Belfast until 1994, when the
IRA and the Unionist paramilitary groups agreed to a truce. According to
Cain Web Service, between the years 1969 and 2001, 3,526 people were killed
in the conflict. Approximately 60% of the dead were killed by IRA
supporters, 30% by Unionists and 10% by security forces.
A 1997 peace agreement between the antagonists approved the formation of an
Assembly elected by proportional representation. Considering the violence
preceding the Good Friday power sharing arrangement, Northern Ireland has
had relative calm. The Assembly has been suspended on several occasions, at
one time for four and one-half years. Some violence has occurred. At the
July 2009 Protestant Orange parade, "approximately 23 police officers were
injured, numerous vehicles were hijacked, burned and pushed towards
officers, and shots were fired at police. Rioters, approximately 200 of them
youths, threw gas bombs, bricks, bottles and other missiles at the police.
In turn, the police fired plastic bullets and used water cannon to disperse
'Peace walls,' which are kilometers of concrete and wire barricades that
began to be erected during the 1970's in the city of Belfast, still separate
Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Sound familiar?
The Northern Ireland experience has key words that relate to the Middle East
conflict - partition, militias, immigrant pioneers, separation wall,
violence, terrorism, religious strife, nationalism, and two cultures finding
themselves together and wanting to separate. An end to the strife resulted
in two viable and adjacent states at peace with one another. Ireland is
composed of one ethnicity. Northern Ireland combines two ethnicities which
have tacitly resolved their differences and are willing to share power, an
arrangement that parallels not what is, but what could be in the Middle
East. Many perceive the path of the Irish conflict as the route to resolving
the Middle East conflict. However, characteristics of this route weren't
formed and didn't combine in the same manner as in the Middle East.
The Irish conflict proceeded from a colonial adventure that happened 400
The principal conflict was between the Irish and the English government.
The United Kingdom guided the resolution of the conflict.
Refugees and land seizures were not principal factors in the conflict.
Economic injustice mostly characterized the conflict.
Partition didn't create two new nations. It created an Irish Free State as a
self-governing dominion of the United Kingdom and allowed Northern Ireland
to separate and join the United Kingdom.
Rather than refugees being created by exclusion, Catholic refugees were
created by inclusion in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has its own Assembly but is an integral part of another
nation - the United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland legacy: Disparate cultures and religions can compromise
their differences and function as one nation.
Settlement of the Americas seems to more closely parallel the Israel
narrative. Adventurers of many types sought a new life in a new world. A
nation's military superiority conquered a continent and pioneer fear
destroyed the native populations. The American story of coast to coast
expansion is well known, but the narrative is too magnificent, too
complicated, and too controversial to make comparisons with the Israel
narrative .The United States of America transitioned from settlements to a
British colonial adventure, to the American Revolution, and to a new nation.
The new nation started with a constitution, contained slaves, fought many
wars, both external and internal, had excessive, rather than scarce, land
and resources, welcomed immigrants of all races and religions, and
considered itself to have a manifest destiny that superseded the pretensions
of all nations.
The American legacy: Seemingly harmless incursions can lead to great
tragedies, especially when nations perceive themselves as exceptional.
A small congregation of Puritans differentiated themselves from their
co-religionists by being unwilling to reconcile their independent
organization with the established Church of England. Desiring to preserve
their identity and feeling constantly persecuted, they sought new places to
live their unique social and communal life. In the year 1621 they concluded
they would never be accepted in Europe and sought an opportunity in America.
They were called the Separatists and because they made a voyage on the
Mayflower to what they termed 'their Promised land,' (not a land promised to
them) they became known as the Pilgrims.
The Separatists had no intention to uproot native communities they
anticipated they would encounter. Because they did not know that a series of
contagious diseases resulting from contacts with European fishermen on the
Maine coast had reduced Native populations, the Pilgrims concluded the area
was sparsely populated and land was available. Due to the plagues, the land
was sparsely populated, but the entire area was controlled by the Pokanoket
Tribe and Federation, led by Chief Massasoit. After being wary of the
newcomers to his territory, Massasoit came to highly regard the English. The
huge Mayflower boat, perceived as a 'walking island,' iron plows, muskets
and other material goods entranced the Indians and they saw themselves
benefiting from a cordial relationship with the Pilgrims.
After word reached England that the Pilgrim adventure, which had several
times been near failure, had finally succeeded, due principally to Pokanoket
assistance, other English - Puritans, entrepreneurs, adventurers, merchants,
farmers - booked passage to the New England. They and Pilgrim descendants
acquired an insatiable thirst for land and detoured from the Separatists'
"The Pilgrims bought their land from the Natives, but the Natives expected
to continue to use the land's resources. The colonists built fences where no
fences had ever been before, closing off their property to make the land
their own. Tensions had long existed due to the two cultures' different ways
of life. Colonists' livestock trampling Native cornfields was a continuing
problem. Competition for resources created friction. Regional economic
changes forced many Natives to sell their land." Nathan Philbrick,
The Pokanoket Indians became fearful of losing all their land, agriculture,
and fishing rights. Their fear and insecurity generated fear and insecurity
in the Puritans. After 40 years of a peaceful and helpful relationship, both
sides contemplated a future without the other. Massasoit's son, who gave
himself the name of King Philip, felt betrayed by the Puritans and started a
14 month war to drive out the English - a war for survival, which he almost
Fourteen months of attacks and counter attacks devastated New England. The
Puritans survived, but many of the area's tribes lost their homes, their
culture, and their way of life. Within a century, "Indians of cape Cod had
been reduced to several hundred people, most of them living on reservations
in the towns of Mashpee on the Cape and in Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard.
The Sakonnets dwindled from about four hundred (survivors) to six men and
nineteen women by 1774."
The Puritans arrival in America, which eventually became the Massachusetts
Bay Colony, and their fatal encounter with the native population, set the
stage for the settlement of the entire coast to coast territory. Insecurity
and mistrust guided the relations between what became a nation of Americans
and the indigenous populations. Superiority of US military forces enabled
American pioneers to move inexorably from the Atlantic to the Pacific
oceans. Wherever the Americans arrived they found native peoples. Wherever
they settled, the native peoples, even those who cooperated, like Chief
Joseph and his Nez Perce tribe, were decimated.
The Zionist Jewish narrative closely follows the Separatist Puritan
narrative. The early years of the development of the nation of Israel
parallels the Puritan experience in America. Let's hope the trajectory will
be detoured and the Israelis don't prove to be the New Puritans.
Dan Lieberman is editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web based
newsletter. Dan's many articles on the Middle East conflicts have circulated
on websites and media throughout the world. He can be reached at: