A real territorial exception, the land of Israel is far more than a territory. It is the image and the sign of the Jewish exception. Its intimate link to God sends back to God’s intimate link to Israel. Any change of the relations between Israel and its land is nothing but the clear sign of a change of its relations with God. However, no alteration of this kind is irrevocable and definitive. And none is as deep as appearances seem to tell. The land is a person endowed with will, which may be negative or favourable, now accepting now rejecting its inhabitants. Those who live on it, breathe a pure air and its dust for those buried in it has an expiatory power, comparable to that of the altar of sacrifices. Its successive conquerors did not manage to put down roots, which reveals its positive resistance to any illegal takeover. The land of Israel is hit by nothing but what it accepts to be hit by. Essentially pure, nothing could possibly stain it. The destruction and the oppression of a foreign ruler only has a limited impact on it: perhaps the divine impulse from above is no more as intense as it used to be, but evil has no grip on it, and it has itself the power to reject impurity. To consider that the effects of impious acts committed in the Holy Land through centuries are non-existent or fundamentally inessential is a way of implying that the relation of history to it, is like water off a duck’s back. The land of Israel is no more in history, but out of it. The rags of spoliation and destruction mask an essential, divine and unchanging land whose present troubles by no means affect it and which, some day, once again, is to reveal itself in all its untarnished glory. Indefinitely idealised, the land medieval Jews are dreaming of is this land toward which they turn to pray thrice a day. But it is also far more than that, and really something else. The more it is perceived as holy, the more it is lived as different – and as terrible.
The modern Jewish Zionist-inspired ideology, of course, tended to claim that after destruction and dispersion nothing in fact had jeopardised the Jews’ relationship toward the Holy Land and that this land had never even been weakened by some symbolisation of the sacred space or by the transfer of this sacrality to whatever space or institution.
From a lecture by Jean-Christophe Attias and Esther Benbassa: ISRAEL, THE LAND AND THE SACRED