Book Review: Blood and Religion

By Jim Miles

Blood and Religion – The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State.  Jonathan Cook.  Pluto Press, Ann Arbor, MI. 2006. 222 p.

The Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people in Westbank and Gaza are generally well known events for those that work beyond their own ignorance and that of the media presentations in America. These attacks take many forms from the blatant military uses of helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, tanks, sniper fire, live ammunition, through to the every day attacks with roadblocks, bulldozers, and hunts for ‘suspected’ terrorists.  Accompanying these attacks is the lack of ‘rule of law’ so strongly espoused by the Israeli’s and their American mentors (although at times it is hard to tell who is the mentor, who is the student):  land appropriations, denial of passage, refusal of rights of return, identity cards, confiscation of farms and aquifers, and the application of military zoning are all used at the will of the IDF and the Israeli government to access more land.

What is not seen – excluding the outright flagrant use of helicopters, tanks, and fighter attacks – is that these methods are used as well against the “Arab-Israelis” who live inside the Green Line in Israel proper – inside the ever shifting transitional border that Israel prefers not to define any sooner than it has to.  As with the Palestinian ‘territories’, the tactics are used inside Israel as a means of accessing more land, but more importantly in the eyes of the Israeli powers, is the fear of the demographic factor, a fear that is utilized along with the fear of terrorism, to negate the very existence of the Arab population that survives in Israel, to make it a fifth column in the Palestinian’s insurgency against their occupiers.  

In Blood and Religion, Jonathan Cook examines the strengthening of this demographic view, the strengthening of the fear factor, the fear that the Arab-Israelis and the Palestinians will outnumber the Jewish population and through the true democratic ideal of  “a state for all its citizens” will then destroy the Jewishness of the state.  It is that ideal, and the actions taken by the government against it, that “unmask the Jewish and Democratic State.”  

His general thesis is that Israel is practicing an ethnic cleansing not only of the occupied territories but also of the “Palestinian citizens from inside its internationally recognized borders.”  From that, Sharon’s creation of a new political party lies in his assessment of the demographics of Jewishness, and his desire to “build a Jewish consensus behind the idea of fixing once and for all the borders of the Jewish state.”  The disengagement in Gaza is part of this demographic plan, removing 1.3 million Palestinians from the official population of greater Israel; having done that “the disengagement simply removed the prison guards from view” while the area remains a large open-air prison. 

The same holds true for the remnant parts of Palestine with the meanderings of the wall or fence or barrier indicating that it is not truly for defensive purposes as its route is “illogical from a military point of view”, twisting and turning “through Palestinian farmland, destroying fertile valleys and lower slopes of hillsides, rather than tracking the higher ground where soldiers would be best able to spot Palestinian incursions.” Its purpose was to “make insecure the livelihoods of dozens of Palestinian farming communities”, with the subsequent hope that the residents would then emigrate to the Palestinian territories – a land grab and demographics neatly applied under the pretext of terror.  And as with Gaza, any space “Israel concedes to a Palestinian state will be little more than open-air prisons, guarded by the Israeli army.”

The steel and concrete barrier that keeps the Palestinians separated from Israel has its counterpart internally, what Cook describes both metaphorically and physically as a glass wall, “which protects the illusion of a Jewish and democratic state.”  The metaphor is based on the reality of a glass barrier used in the Or Commission examine the deaths of 13 unarmed Palestinians inside Israel at the start of the intifada.  A public gallery was built, with the dividing wall being glass, providing the illusion for the TV news and newspaper photographers that the “inquiry appeared to be treating all the parties equally when in reality its Arab participants were outsiders, excluded and largely ignored.”  That real image applies to the Arab citizens of Israel.

At the start of the second intifada, they became a fifth column in Israeli rhetoric, guided by Arafat to destroy the Jewish state.  The very ideal of a “state for all its citizens” became a seditious thought (the obvious wonderment being how can a state be democratic if it does not include all citizens?).   Cook then proceeds to very effectively demonstrate the racist ideology of the Israeli state, with racism “entwined with the very concept of Israel as a Jewish state.”

The Jewish state has no constitution (which should be much to the chagrin of neocon Israelite and the U.S.’s UN representative John Bolton who argues that without a constitution, there can be no true democracy), it continues under a state of emergency, and has no civil law that deals with personal status (the stuff of statistics that western democracies love and cherish such as marriages, births, deaths), resulting in “impenetrable barriers between Jews and Arabs…and open[s] up huge disparities in wealth and employment.”  Personal status for the Jews is handled exclusively by Orthodox fundamentalist rabbis who include observance of halacha (Judaism’s equivalent of sharia law – reflections of Iran?) as part of their rules. 

The work continues on, discussing the lack of meaningful representation in the Knesset, American support – especially from Bush, the racism and military training of the police force, the use of Shin Bet (the main intelligence gathering bureau along with the military) directed mostly against the Arab population, and of course the demographic issue continually returns.  Ehud Olmert identifies that the Arab population is struggling for “one-man-one-vote” which “would mean the end of the Jewish state,” and he is supported by an opinion poll that indicates that the Jews “believed the Jewish character of their state was more important than its democratic character.” And on it goes again, with “transfer” becoming the new word for ethnic cleansing, and changes in nationality laws and immigration laws.

By manipulating borders, by manipulating populations, by ‘transferring’ citizenship, the Palestinians will have all rights revoked and will become non-citizens, “residents of the occupied territories [having] no rights at all” while the Jewish state will not have to “accommodate their demands for civil rights and political recognition.”

Jonathan Cook very clearly demonstrates that the state of Israel is by no definition a democratic state, that it is much closer to being a theocratic Jewish state.  The application of force externally against the Palestinian territories and the racism and exclusion of Arab-Israelis from society within Israel’s green line territory deny fully the concept of a democratic state. 

With the backing of economic, military, religious and political support from the United States, Israel for the most part has successfully hidden its non-democratic status from the west.  The conflation of the fear from the war on terror with the demographic fear of the loss of the Jewish state gives the Israeli politicians of all parties a strong ideological base to pursue their ‘disengagement’ operations and the establishment of several Palestinian bantustans fully under Israeli military surveillance.  

Blood and Religion is a well-written rebuttal to that ideology, exposing the frightened underbelly of a struggling monster. 

-Jim Miles is a Canadian writer and educator. He writes regular book reviews for

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