It all comes down to camels – or no camels, to be precise.
Yes, that humpbacked beast of burden is in the news these days – for better and for worse.
Israel’s detractors have seized on new research suggesting that camels weren’t domesticated in Israel until well after the time of Bereshit (Genesis), and concluded that the entire Zionist dream is based on a myth.
That’s a big leap, even for curmudgeonly camels and rabid anti-Zionists.
On the plus side, there’s www.nocamels.com – more on the name later. This excellent website and news service has nothing to do with archaeological research, but everything to do with promoting Israel – specifically, Israeli breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine, the environment and more.
Let’s start with the camels that apparently didn’t exist during the time of Abraham and how this allegedly invalidates Zionism.
In an article in the journal Tel Aviv, Israeli archaeologists Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen concluded that camels were not domesticated in Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE).
The researchers used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the oldest-known domestic camel bones in Israel, located in the Aravah Valley. These bones were found almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later – centuries after the events chronicled in Bereshit.
The few camel bones found in older layers probably belonged to wild camels. In case you’re wondering how they could tell the difference, the leg bones of domesticated camels showed signs of having carried heavy loads.
The book of Bereshit makes about 20 references to camels, including a description of Abraham’s servant travelling by camel to find a suitable wife for Isaac.
If domesticated camels didn’t exist in Israel during that period, does that mean at least some of the details in Bereshit were written centuries after the events happened? If so, does that mean some of these details may have been embellished or even invented?
Good questions indeed. And, if I were a Torah scholar, I might have some profound answers.
Unfortunately, ignorance hasn’t stopped Andrew Brown of the Guardian – Britain’s notoriously anti-Israel newspaper – from gleefully pouncing on this study as proof positive that the Torah is little more than fiction, and therefore the Zionists’ claim to Israel is a fraud.
If the Torah was wrong about camels, then the entire Jewish Bible is likely a pack of lies, he argues.
What a relief for Brown, who asserts, “Everyone else has known for decades that there is even less evidence for the historical truth of the Old Testament than there is for that of the Qur’an.”
And since the Torah is bogus, he crows, so is “the Zionist project.”
One could drive quite a few camels through the holes in his logic.
To start with, the archaeologists’ research was limited to a particular geographical area of Israel during a particular period, so it is far from definitive. And it has to be viewed in the context of the many other archaeological finds that have confirmed very specific details of Biblical history.
Brown’s argument also presumes that Zionism is based solely on the literal truth of every word of every Jewish text, rather than on thousands of years of Jewish history in Israel. Furthermore, the Zionism of Theodor Herzl was a predominantly secular movement.
Sadly, those who are determined to deny Israel’s legitimacy typically start with the conclusion then seize on any detail that might shore up their shaky arguments.
Nocamels has a different take on dromedaries. It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that there are people out there who still believe Israel is little more than a desert with camels.
So the project – based at the Sammy Ofer School of Communications at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and funded by Canada’s Asper Foundation – highlights the most fascinating Israeli innovations and the people behind them.
This isn’t like the bad old days of hasbara, when Israel’s advocates were taught to counter every criticism of the country’s politics and policies with chirpy anecdotes about the Intel chip or some other Israeli innovation.
Nocamels starts with the fact that Israel has the highest concentration of startups and research and development centres per capita in the world, then shines the spotlight on the best of these inventions and innovations.
It’s also a great training ground for student journalists from around the world, who work on the site with industry professionals.
Perhaps their next project could include teaching the Andrew Browns of the world what the Zionist dream has created – with or without camels.