Herzl, Nakba, and Nationalist Escapism in Israeli and Palestinian Science Fiction

  • Timothy Quevillon
Keywords: Zionism, Palestinian Nationalism, Nakba, Colonization, Anti-colonialism, Nationalist Imagination


This paper addresses the omnipresence of nationalism and escapism in prominent science fiction literature in Israel and Palestine during the late-20th century and early-21st century.  For both populations, science fictions offers an escape from the struggles of their national conflict and a means for playing out nationalist fantasies.

Israeli science fiction’s identity as a nationalist endeavor stems back to Theodor Herzl’s second book, Altneuland, which imagined a Jewish Palestine decades in the future, having become a futuristic and cosmopolitan utopia.  Subsequent Jewish authors and thinkers built upon Herzl’s initial vision and patterned the eventual Israeli state as a technocratic “startup nation,” which has seen the country become a global leader in medicine, technology, education, and astronautics.  Despite this, Israel remains a territorially-miniscule country of eight million people lacking in natural resources and beset by never-ending war and internal strife.  Thus, this utopian identity serves as a form of escapism from the struggles of everyday Israeli life.  Israeli science fiction works, such as Savyon Liebrecht’s “A Good Place for the Night” and Elana Gomel’s “Death in Jerusalem,” allow readers to balance the utopian nationalism of Herzl with the omnipresent struggles of the colonial Zionism that pervades modern society.

Conversely, Palestinian science fiction serves as an escape from Israeli occupation and statelessness.  While traditionally Palestinian writers have been expected to present a very current reality of life in Palestine, in recent years, Palestinian authors such as Majd Kayyal and Saleem Haddad have attempted to use science fiction as a means for grappling with centennial anniversaries of Zionism, Balfour, and the onset of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  For Palestinian authors, science fiction allows them a liberating way to explore current problems and imagine a future without the Israeli occupation or a refugeed population.