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"CANAANITES" (Heb. כְּנַעֲנִים; kenaʾanim), slightly derisory name given to a small group of Jewish poets and artists in Israel who began to act as a group in 1942, publishing pamphlets and booklets under the name "The Committee for the Formation of the Hebrew Youth." At the end of the Mandatory period and in the early years of statehood, they developed a political and cultural ideology aimed at evolving a new "Hebrew" nation – as opposed to a "Jewish" one – consisting of native-born Israelis, including Moslems and Christians (provided they regarded themselves as "Hebrews", and not Arabs, but without requiring them to change their religion), and of immigrants who wished to join the Hebrew nation. The "Land of the Hebrews" (Heb. Ereẓ Ever), as against "The Land of Israel" (Heb. Ereẓ Yisrael; Ereẓ Israel), would extend from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates Basin. The historiosophical basis for this concept was the rejection of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim chain of tradition in the history of the "Land of the Hebrews," and a return to a consciousness of the ethnic groups who inhabited the area prior to the appearance of Judaism (and consequently prior to Christianity and Islam).

The initiator and leader of this movement was the poet Yonatan *Ratosh (Uriel Halperin-Shelaḥ), and its chief supporters included the poet Aharon *Amir and the writer Binyamin *Tammuz. The differences and contrasts between the generation of locally born "sabras" and their immigrant parents led them to hope that their teachings would fall on fertile ground and that they might succeed in "molding" the younger generation. The group continued activities after 1948, publishing a periodical, Alef, which appeared until 1953. Ideas of the "Canaanite" type continued to be mooted in the literary quarterly Keshet, edited by Aharon Amir, mainly in articles by A.G. Ḥoron (Gurevitch), considered to be a forerunner of the "Canaanite" already in the late 1930s. Some of the "Canaanite" ideas reappeared in a modified form in the "Semitic Action" group, founded by Uri *Avnery and Nathan *Yellin-Mor, which, in journals such as Ha-Olam ha-Zeh and Etgar, advocated a distinction between the concepts of "Hebrew" and "Jew," separation from the Jewish Diaspora, and rapprochement with the Palestinian Arabs, in order to create a federation between them and Israel. However, the "Canaanites" of the Ratosh school did not aim at a federation between the two nations, but wanted to create a new "Hebrew" nation, combining Arab and Jew and abolishing their previous national affiliations. They therefore did not recognize "Semitic Action." The "Canaanites" made no perceptible political impression, but they left their mark on Hebrew poetry, reviving and enriching archaic Hebrew and eliminating later Aramaic and Diaspora influences. In 1969 the group renewed its activities advocating mainly the establishment of a network of Hebrew-language schools for the entire non-Jewish population of the Israel-held territories as well as their conscription into the Israel army. The group now adopted the nickname given it from the outside and termed itself "The Canaanites."

[Binyamin Eliav]