Once upon a time, the world perspective of why the Jews came to live in this particular part of the world held Biblical clarity whereas in a world which values the Bible less and less it has become a topic for debate, doubt and misunderstanding, brought about by disinformation, religious disinterest and malevolence.
In this journey through our history, both distant and recent, I hope to bring understanding, above the clear Biblical rights and references, of why the Jews chose to come home to the land promised to them by G-d. The homecoming of the Children of Israel.
The Jews forgot their covenant with G-d and sinned bringing about the destruction of the First Temple, but this punishment did not culminate in their dispersion or exile; however, during the Second Temple period, their sins were not the bodily sins of adultery or murder but rather of “sinat chinam” or unwarranted hatred; in G-d’s eyes the greatest sin. Hatred, whether of oneself, the other or even of your enemies displeases G-d and the Jews were dispersed from their homeland and the Temple destroyed.
After the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the Jews were exiled from this land and the Roman Emperor Titus took 20,000 Jewish slaves to Rome, slaves who built the Roman Coliseum. Proof of their work and presence lies in the Arch of Titus, which depicts a menorah as a reminder of the bounty from Jerusalem. To this day, the Talmud forbids Jews from walking under the Arch.
The Jewish presence in Italy is recorded as early as 161 BCE when Judah Macabee, the son of Matathias the Hasmonean sent a delegation to the Roman Emperor and a treaty was signed between the two creating an alliance against the Greek Hellenists who wished to overtake the land and deny religious rights. “May all go well with the Romans and with the nation of the Jews at sea and on land forever, and may sword and enemy be far from them. If war comes first to Rome or to any of their allies in all their dominion, the nation of the Jews shall act as their allies wholeheartedly, as the occasion may indicate to them. To the enemy that makes war they shall not give or supply grain, arms, money, or ships, just as Rome has decided; and they shall keep their obligations without receiving any return. In the same way, if war comes first to the nation of the Jews, the Romans shall willingly act as their allies, as the occasion may indicate to them. And to their enemies there shall not be given grain, arms, money, or ships, just as Rome has decided; and they shall keep these obligations and do so without deceit.” So the Romans made a treaty with the Jewish people. “Concerning the wrongs that King Demetrius is doing to them, we have written to him as follows: ‘Why have you made your yoke heavy on our friends and allies the Jews? If now they appeal again for help against you, we will defend their rights and fight you on sea and on land.‘
This could well be the first man to man treaty declaring Jewish Rights to the Land of Israel.
After the dispersion from the Holy Land Jews sought haven in the Iberian Peninsula of Spain and Portugal travelling as far as France. They were considered second class citizens without the right to hold businesses, land or education, their ability to sustain themselves was highly limited and their ability to educate themselves was confined to Bible study. The study of the Bible honed their minds and fine-tuned their ability to analyze as they discussed each aspect of the treasured scriptures as they sought to understand the meaning behind it. Great scholars such as the Rambam, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) and the Ramban, Nahmonides, (1194-1270) doctors, philosophers and Biblical commentators emerged as a result. Their studies were of the Bible but their prayers were turned to Jerusalem.
The Spanish Inquisition began by oppressing Christian heretics and did not interfere with the affairs of Jews. However, disputes about Maimonides’ books (which addressed the synthesis of Judaism and other cultures) provided a pretext for harassing Jews and, in 1242, the Inquisition condemned the Talmud and burned thousands of volumes. In 1288, the first mass burning of Jews on the stake took place in France. It is said that when one begins burning books one continues by burning people and so it was.
Maybe the Roman Catholics learned from their war with the Greeks that one need not kill one’s enemies in a religious war, one simply takes away their religious rites or forces conversion upon them, but this did not suffice to cow the Jews of Spain. In 1481 the Inquisition began in Spain. Conversos (Secret Jews) and New Christians were targeted because of their close relations to the Jewish community, many of whom were Jews in all but name. Fear of Jewish influence led Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand to petition the Pope for permission to begin an Inquisition in Spain. In 1483 Tomas de Torquemada became the Inquisitor-General for most of Spain, setting up tribunals in many cities. Heading the Inquisition in Spain were two Dominican monks, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martin.
The Jews of Spain fled and those who did not were expelled in 1492; the vast majority finding false safe haven in Portugal where the Inquisition followed them. The power of the Inquisition was broken by King Joseph. In 1751 he issued a decree to the effect that before trial the prosecutors of the tribunal must inform the accused of the charge against him, and of the names of the witnesses, that the accused should be free to choose his own counsel, that no verdict should be rendered without the approval of the government and that no further auto should be held. King Joseph Bonaparte abrogated the Inquisition in 1808.
The Jews began to spread across Europe, North Africa, the Spanish Empire and into Eastern Europe. Wherever they went they were treated as second class citizens yet often, despite, or because of the limitations set upon them they thrived.
As with so many stories of persecution outstanding personalities were born of pain. Donna Grazia was one, exceptional because she was a woman at a time when women were chattels.
Donna Grazia was born in Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century to the Benveniste family, noblemen who fled Spain and the Inquisition. At 17 she married Francisco Mendez-Nassi, a member of one of the largest international trade and banking firms in the world. When Mendez-Nassi died she still young and decided to leave oppressive Portugal with her only child Reyna and several other relatives. The Inquisition made life unbearable for the Marrano Jews who, like Donna Grazia, were observant Jews in their homes but outwardly disguised themselves as Catholics. Donna Grazia fled to Antwerp, in Flanders (Belgium) but they still had to be secret Jews and public Christians.
Donna Grazia’s brother-in-law was the head of the Mendez-Nassi firm with connections with European Royalty.
After the death of her brother-in-law, Donna Grazia decided to leave Antwerp for a free country and she left Antwerp in 1549 with her daughter and most of her wealth. They traveled to Venice, from where many vessels left for lands where Jews could live openly according to their religion, she left for Constantinople.
In 1552, Dona Grazia settled in Kushta, the capital of the Turkish Empire, where she devoted her life to helping Marranos and Jews in suffering. She fostered Jewish culture, and poets wrote at great length in praise of her many achievements as a patron and helper of Jewry in those dark days. She built synagogues, established Yeshivoth (centres for Jewish study), libraries, supported Torah scholars and Rabbis and resettled hundreds of Marranos enabling their return to Judaism.
Donna Grazia decided to establish a refuge for Jews in the Land of Israel, in Tiberias, the city on the Sea of Galilee, where it was written that “from Tiberias Israel will be redeemed and it will be the spiritual centre of all Jewish communities of the Diaspora”.
1558 Donna Grazia leased Tiberias, in Palestine, from Sultan Suleiman, for a yearly fee of 1000 ducats and, in 1561, Joseph Nasi obtained ruling authority over Tiberias and Safed, developing major new centres of Jewish and religious settlement which thrive until today.
It came to pass that Donna Grazia succeeded in being the Visionary of the State of Israel, with the support of the Turkish Empire, 300 years before Theodore Herzl recognised the fate of the Jewish people at the trial of Dreyfus in France.
Jews spread all over Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia, North and South America, India and North Africa where life began to take on a sense of normality within the restrictions placed upon them. One essential element of the thrice daily prayers, facing Jerusalem and praying for a return to Jerusalem, was and is common to all communities no matter what the compass point or latitude. Jews the world over pray three times a day “Next Year in Jerusalem”.
After the Middle Ages and the trials and tribulations of Inquisitions and Blood Libels, life became much easier for Jews although they were not considered equal members of society and in many societies they were still unable to study in higher education, enter the professions or become landowners.
Germany and Austria became the centre for educated and sophisticated Jews who entered the professions and Arts becoming a central part of these societies, unlike Poland and Russia where they lived in small exclusively Jewish villages or “shtetls”. Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who after the Inquisition fled to Holland were brought to England by William of Orange to achieve high social status as the Kings Jews under direct protection of the crown. France also welcomed its Jews who strove to become part of society.
Movements formed, predominantly in Austria and Germany, amongst educated Jews, a movement toward returning to the Holy Land, to Eretz Yisroel – the Land of Israel, but it held no form, it remained a prayer and a dream. Hovevei Zion and Dorshei Zion grew amongst the Jews who pushed for a return to Zion from the corners of the dispersion. A significant number of non-Jewish “Heralders of Zion” mostly British, joined their ranks. Most “heralders,” Jewish and non-Jewish, they were met with bewilderment and contempt. During this period of enlightenment and the provision of citizens’ rights for Jews in Western European countries, it seemed unnecessary. Many Jewish leaders in Germany, France and Eastern Europe believed that assimilation was the only solution to innate European ant-Semitism. Russian anti-Semitism began to explode and in other parts of Europe Jews were expected to become regular citizens of the countries in which they lived; talk of returning to Eretz Israel, ruled by the fading Turkish Empire, was considered dangerous and disloyal to their home countries.
In the Holy Land, significant changes were taking place. The Jewish population was rapidly increasing, especially in Jerusalem, and grew from about 2,000 in 1800 to 50,000 by the end of the century, a majority of 60% of the entire population. The idea of settling the land grew simultaneously in Israel and abroad, and in the last quarter of the 19th century was, in fact, realized. The settlers – founders of the first agricultural villages – were native-born Jews and new immigrants who arrived in Palestine in the First Aliyah, as a direct result of the work of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) societies which were established with the aim of furthering Jewish settlement, particularly agricultural settlement in Eretz Israel. Immigrants streamed to Eretz Israel from Morocco to Persia, from Yemen to Bukhara, from Russia and Romania.
The Land of Israel consisted of 50,000 souls, 20 agricultural settlements and the first of the country’s institutions. The Hovevei Zion infrastructure in Eastern Europe and the French Jewish baron, Edmond de Rothschild and Philanthropic Businessman Moses Montefiore stood steadfastly behind the tiny Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel, making many trips to their Holy Land supporting the settlers of the land. Rothschild brought his French knowledge of fine wines to help build, for the blossoming Aliyah, what would, 120 years later, become a prime export winning many prizes around the world , whereas Montefiore concentrated upon his beloved Jerusalem. European scientists, engineers and agronomists, Jews who believed that the future of Israel lay in adapting the ecology and agricultural crops to Israel’s climate and specific land conditions lay the path for a future of communal farms and scientific agriculture which would sustain the new settlers both culturally and economically.
Herzl, however, was dissatisfied with the situation of settlement and firmly believed that the answer lay in a political solution; he knew that Eretz Israel must be recognised internationally as a Jewish state.
Why? Why would this financially comfortable, highly educated Hungarian/Austrian Jew be so fervent in his belief in this dream?
“If you will it, it is no dream.”
The Children of Israel find their way home.
French anti-Semitism, as in many countries was cloaked in an open society, proved to be the fulcrum of a truly important moment in Jewish history, a movement which was to change our world.
Alfred Dreyfus was the son of a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer. In 1882 he entered the École Polytechnique and decided on a military career. By 1889 he had risen to the rank of Captain much to the chagrin of his fellow, gentile officers. Dreyfus was assigned to the War Ministry when, in 1894, he was accused of selling military secrets to the German military attaché. The case caused a furore in French society and word of the impending trial spread throughout Europe. When Alfred Dreyfus was convicted on what was clearly fabricated evidence it affected two Jews very deeply. One was Emile Zola who wrote his famous letter “J’Accuse” to the liberal “L’Aurore magazine, accusing the French of which resulted in his being stripped of his Legion d’Honneur and imprisoned for libel against the judging panel; the second was a young journalist, Hungarian, Jewish who covered the trial for the Austrian publication Neue Freie Presse (The New Free Press). Herzl came from a religious family but as with many of his generation he became predominantly secular, but the Dreyfus trial changed his views and ultimately the lives of Diaspora Jews worldwide. Theodore Herzl came to the realisation that until Jews returned to the land of their forefathers they would never be accepted. Two years after the Dreyfus trial and its clear injustice, injustice born in deep-rooted antisemitism, Herzl wrote the booklet, “Altneuland” or Old New Land: The Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question.
Theodore Herzl did not rest his laurels on this small book but rather used the words within as the seed which grew into an enormous movement. On that day in Paris, watching the trial of a fellow Jew, Dreyfus the scapegoat, Theodore Herzl understood that he was, first, foremost and exclusively a Jew, no matter how secular his life had become and how far he had strayed from the teachings of his parents. Thus began Herzl’s Zionist movement. –
We were on our way home.
According to Herzl’s booklet The Jewish State, persecution would not destroy the Jewish people, on the contrary, Herzl believed that persecution would prevent assimilation, those outside prejudices strengthening Jewish resolve and sense of identity. Due to conditions in the Jewish Diaspora, some communities might disappear, but the Jewish people would always survive. Herzl believed that Jews had no choice but to adopt the reality of living as Jewish people in one land under their own sovereign authority. Despite ill health, his determination to realise his dream of a Jewish State in a Jewish Land far from the pogroms and anti-Semitism of Europe led Herzl to organise the First Zionist Congress, Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897. This meeting marked the establishment of the World Zionist Council, bringing together Jews from all over the globe who were of similar mind, whose executives were to be the diplomatic and administrative representatives of the Zionist movement. Herzl became president of the organization, a post he held until his death.
The official goal of the World Zionist Organization was the establishment of “a secured homeland in Palestine for the Jewish people.” Palestine was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Germany enjoyed a special relationship with Turkey so in 1898 Herzl met with Kaiser William II in an unsuccessful effort to win his support. Not discouraged in May 1901 Herzl met with the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul-Hamid II, also with little success. Herzl’s travels took him to many countries and many leaders throughout Europe
Deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation of Eastern European Jewry and foiled at every turn in his attempts to secure a return to the Old/New Land in the Biblical Jewish homeland, Herzl considered the British government suggestion of Uganda for the Jewish mass immigration, but when he put the idea forward to the Fourth Zionist Congress in 1903, he was heckled loudly by the representatives and returned to the original mandate of the World Jewish Congress – the establishment of a Jewish national home, recognised internationally, in Palestine.
During the Uganda polemics, Theodor Herzl showed signs of grave illness but it did not stop his travels criss-crossing Europe, Turkey and the Land of Israel to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm. When the meeting bore no fruit Herzl’s companions lost hope but he said “You see,that is why I am the leader. I am neither wiser nor better than you are. But I am fearless, and therefore suited for leadership. At difficult moments such as these, I do not despair.” His constant and determined efforts to gain recognition for the Jewish return to their homeland took its toll from his already weakened heart. On July 3, 1904, he died and was buried in Vienna. According to his wishes, his remains were transferred by the government of the independent state of Israel to Jerusalem in 1949 and buried on Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery for the great leaders of Israel.
Chaim Weitzmann was born to a religious Jewish family, third of twelve children, in a tiny village (shtetl) forty kilometres from Pinsk. He, like all his contemporaries, went to a traditional Torah School and one of his teachers recognised his exceptional brain and surreptitiously taught him simple natural science. He developed a love and aptitude for science and at age 11 his family took a courageous and rare decision to send him to a boarding school, an unacceptable move for most religious families. At 18, his outstanding aptitude for science led him to Germany, where he studied biochemistry at one of Europe’s most prestigious science institutions, the Polytechnic in Berlin. It was in Berlin that he first became involved with Zionist intellectual circles, and studied the teachings of Aham Haam, “Spiritual Zionism” that believed that Palestine should serve as a spiritual center for Jewry. This philosophy was to prompt Weizmann to champion the idea of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Later, he became influenced by Theodore Herzl’s “Political Zionism”, which focused on obtaining an international charter for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Weizmann became an active member, and then a key figure in the Zionist movement; he began what was to be a lifetime career characterized by a complex, and at times stormy, relationship with less moderate Zionists.
Weizmann felt that Herzl’s concentration upon diplomatic Zionism was not sufficient, insisting that this had to be in tandem with settling the land and the building of a proven society, rooted in the soil of Palestine, preferably in communal settlements or Kibbutzim.
Weizmann continued his studies at Manchester University in Britain where he began to cultivate relationships with members of the British government with the sole intention of gaining empathy for Jewish aspirations for a Return to Zion. His charm, wit and ability to state the Zionist cause in a manner with which his listener could identify personally won his audience no matter how jaded by experience.
In 1906 when asked by Lord Balfour why the Zionists’ rejected Uganda as a Jewish homeland, Weizmann asked Balfour “whether he would trade Paris for London,” pointing out that “Jerusalem was Jewish when London was still marshland.”
Chaim Weizman the biochemist made a major scientific breakthrough, synthetic acetone, an essential component for the war machine as a solvent in the manufacture of munitions. The time was 1916 and Britain and the Allies needed an edge over the German war machine of the First World War. The then Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George, became Prime Minister soon afterwards and Lord Balfour became his Foreign Minister; two people in ultimate positions of power who had already fallen under the spell of Weizmann’s personal charm and scientific breakthrough culminated in the Balfour Declaration, approved by the British cabinet on November 2, 1917′ The Balfour Declaration proclaimed the sympathy of the British government for Zionist aims in Palestine.
Informing Weizmann of the decision, Lord Mark Sykes, Secretary of the War Cabinet, declared: “Dr. Weizmann – It’s a boy.” This was arguably the most crucial single step towards the birth of a Jewish State, after persistent diplomatic work and Chaim Weizmann’s most outstanding achievement.
In 1918, Weizmann was asked to head the Zionist Commission sent by Great Britain to Palestine to advise on the future development of the country. Weizmann worked assiduously to achieve cooperation and peaceful relations with the local Arabs who, he felt, would benefit economically from the Zionist enterprise. Weizmann met with the Emir Feisal the leader of nascent Arab nationalism. Feisal promised to recognize Zionist aims in Palestine, as long as the aims of Arab nationalism were achieved in Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, the agreement and the hope of a peaceful partnership was short-lived.
Two dreams came to fruition, however. In 1918 Chaim Weizmann lay the cornerstone for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and in 1922 the League of Nations ratified Britain’s Mandate over Palestine.
In 1934 Chaim Weizmann, combining his love of Israel and science, laid the foundations of Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot, later to be renamed the Weizmann Institute to honour its founder and In 1937, Weizmann settled there’ living on the campus, continuing to speak for the Zionist cause worldwide, but gradually his moderate, pro-British stance met with opposition and his leadership was challenged.
British policy changed after the violent Arab riots of 1921, 1929 and between 1936-1939 which culminated in the White Paper restricting Jewish immigration and land purchase, Weizmann believed alienation of British support would be a strategic mistake and would undermine Zionist interests; changing British policy must be based on persuasion, not confrontation. Speaking before the Peel Commission in 1937, Weizmann said: “There are in this part of the world 6,000,000 people for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter.” The message was clear. However, British policy remained unchanged, with tragic ramifications. At the end of the Second World War, the horrifying dimensions of the tragedy that had befallen European Jewry became evident; but the British were not ready to admit more than 15,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine each year.
The Holocaust was not the reason the Jews returned to their Land, nor the reason they began the return but it was the greatest reminder of the depths of ruthless and relentless inhumanity that man is capable of when hatred is allowed to run rampant and the world entered the darkest period of its history. As 6,000,000 Jews died and a generation of orphans sought a home it was the ultimate reminder that Jews must have a safe and secure state where such atrocities could never happen again. There is every indication that the leaders of the United Nations never intended nor believed that the State of Israel would survive her Independence on May 14, 1948. After the Holocaust the nations of the world had a brief moment of self-appraisal at their complicity in the massive Genocide, the worst this planet had ever known. They participated, their silence roared, from the instrument of Hitler’’s Germany, Christian Europeans, the Church, the “humanitarian” Red Cross and ultimately the decision by the Western Allies not to rescue, feed or house the Jewish refugees, by default all were guilty of committing Genocide.
In 1946, Ben-Gurion took over the defense portfolio of the Jewish Agency Executive and led the struggle against the British Mandate, defying the British quota against large-scale Jewish immigration, including Jews fleeing the Holocaust. He encouraged and intensified settlement activity, challenging British authority over the land.
Ben Gurion strongly disapproved of the more violent activities on the Stern Gang (Abraham Yair Stern) and the Irgun (Menachem Begin) preferring to rely upon clandestine defensive activities. Many of those who formed the militant groups learned their “trade” during rebellions against the Nazi machine when the only way to survive was to meet tyranny with violence. However, it was Ben Gurion’s Hagana that used the efficient British Mandate administration to learn how to establish the mechanism to run a country by becoming Mandate policemen, bureaucrats and health workers.
As the situation in Palestine deteriorated severely, the British Mandate progressively unsuccessful at controlling both the Arab and Jewish population, Britain decided to take the question of Palestine back before the United Nations, formed when the League of Nations was disbanded, a step that culminated in the November 29, 1947 UN General Assembly vote for partition and the vote to create the State of Israel and Jordan – the original
Two-State Solution, one Moslem one Jewish. On May 14, 1948, when the British Mandate came to an end, Ben-Gurion, as leader of the provisional government, declared the establishment of the State to the singing of Hatikva, the National Anthem. Hatikva – the Hope – written by Naftali Herz Imber in 1878 and adopted by the First Zionist Congress in 1897.
The prayer became the hope; the hope became the dream; the dream finally and at last became the reality and the people sang their anthem “The Hope”.
Ben-Gurion masterminded the transition from clandestine force to regular army, dismantling pre-state politically motivated militias to form a united, apolitical army – the Israel Defense Forces. His military leadership was a rare mixture of pragmatism and vision. His combination of bold, daring and dogged determination, dynamic organisation and decisive moves, linked to a deep, almost mystical faith in Israeli youth, played a crucial role in the conduct of the War of Independence and its outcome.
Almost simultaneous with Ben Gurion announcement of the historic vote and the establishment of the State the Arab war machine began its deadly determination to destroy the nascent state. The long history of Arabs killing Jews became outright war, and despite and arms deal with Czechoslovakia the armaments did not arrive to help the nascent defence forces. Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia declared war on Israel. Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Lebanese forces attacked the tiny country with an untrained but determined army from the 15th of May to the 10th of June 1948 and the United Nations prediction for Israel’s existence seemed inevitable, not for the first and most certainly not for the last time. Israel emerged from the War of Independence victorious but paid a terrible human price: 6,373 killed, almost 1% of the population. Jerusalem was cut off from the remainder of the country for six weeks, its people left without food or sustenance and Weitzmanns Hebrew University became a lone outpost in hostile Arab land, its students putting up a brave fight. The Old City of Jerusalem and its Holy Jewish and Christian sites, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter all fell into Jordanian hands.
There is great dispute as to the Arab residents, subjects of the Ottoman Sultanate/Caliphate, the 3 Ottoman Sanjaks of the Palestinian area. They were, when the Jewish people began their return to their ancient homeland from 1882, “a neighborhood with Arabs”, not an Arab state, or Arab province, or even a neighborhood with no Jews. Under 400 years of Muslim rule, there was no such entity as “Palestine” or Jordan or Iraq either in the Ottoman administrative structure, or in popular feeling and awareness. Politically and legally, those Tri-Sanjak Arabs never lost sovereignty because they never had it. It must be remembered that when it comes to land ownership, every single dunam of the land slowly developed by Jewish labour and skill was bought from very willing landowners by the Jewish National Fund. Indeed much land which was bought by both the JNF and private persons is now in Arab land.
The name Palestine is not Arabic, nor Hebrew, it is Roman and was created to deny the Jewish link to the Land of Judea – the Land of the Jews. From the fifth century BC Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean “the Philistine Syria” using the Greek form of the name. In AD 135, after putting down the Bar Kochba revolt, the second major Jewish revolt against Rome, the Emperor Hadrian wanted to blot out the name of the Roman “Provincia Judaea” and so renamed it “Provincia Syria Palaestina”, the Latin version of the Greek name and the first use of the name as an administrative unit. The name “Provincia Syria Palaestina” was later shortened to Palaestina, from which the modern, Anglicised “Palestine” is derived. Palestine is the Roman name for Judea, the Kingdom of Judah, fourth son of Jacob. In principle the Jewish people are Exilarchs, exiled people of Judah.
War and Peace
War of Independence 1947-9 In human terms, the War of Independence was Israel’s costliest war, with over 6,000 Israelis were killed and 15,000 wounded. The war consisted of 39 separate operations, fought from the borders of Lebanon to the Sinai Peninsula and Eilat.
Sinai Campaign 1956 was fought to put an end to the terrorist incursions into Israel and to remove the Egyptian blockade of Eilat.
Six Day War 1967 Within the brief span of six days, the IDF overran the Sinai peninsula; took the entire West Bank of the River Jordan; and captured a great part of the Golan Heights. The culminating event was the re-capture of the Old City of Jerusalem and of the Holiest places to the Judeo Christian world.
War of Attrition 1968-70 After constant individual attacks following the Six-Day War, a static exchange of artillery fire along the entire Bar Lev line on the Suez Canal, escalated into the War of Attrition.
Yom Kippur War 1973 The war, which started on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement, was the fiercest Arab-Israeli war since the 1948 War of Independence. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel, catching Israel off guard.
1st Lebanon War 1982 A ceasefire with Palestinian terrorists in Lebanon declared in July 1981 was broken: the terrorists continued to carry out attacks against Israeli civilian targets in Israel and abroad, and the threat to the northern settlements became unbearable. On June 6, 1982, the IDF launched Operation Peace for the Galilee.
Gulf War 1991. August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened to attack Israel with various types of weapons, including non-conventional ordnance. For the first time in Israel’s history, the entire country faced a real threat of destruction.
2nd Lebanon War 2006 On July 12, 2006 eight IDF soldiers were killed and two kidnapped on the Israeli side of the border with Lebanon, in an attack carried out by Hezb-Allah terrorists. When the remains of Sgt.-Maj. Ehud Goldwasser and 1st Sgt. Eldad Regev, abducted in the attack, were returned to Israel on July 16, 2008, it became clear that they had been killed in the initial attack and their bodies snatched for ransom.
These wars in general and the ’48 War of Independence, in particular, created an as yet unknown refugee situation. When the Arabs declared war, the itinerant Arabs living in Israel at the time were invited by the Israeli Government to stay and become full citizens with equal rights but were told by the neighboring Arab countries to flee their homes. The promise that their war against Israel would be won quickly so they could return was too appealing for most of them. When Israel won the war, Egypt and Jordan placed them in camps in Gaza and the West Bank because the countries from which they came before moving to Israel, refused to let them return. These unfortunate people were used as political pawns for a period of 63 years and is an Arab created problem. In at least one instance, through co-operation between the Gilboa Regional Council of Israel and the Mayor of Jenin, Israeli engineers have rebuilt the Town of Jenin out of the refugee camp that fomented hatred and a beautiful town with full municipal services has taken its place. Remove the camps, absorb the refugees and solve the problem. Palestinians are the only people in the world who retained their refugee status for so long, refugees from oppression the world over, no matter how destitute are stripped of this status after two years. Israel, on the other hand, successfully absorbed 900,000 refugees from Arab countries who are today an integral and productive part of Israeli society.
Despite wars, attacks, terrorism and hardship, the Jews kept coming home. Immigration from oppression in Eastern Europe and Arab lands; immigration that made the headlines from Russia after years of harassment and imprisonment for the “Refuseniks” who were sentenced to banishment and imprisonment in Siberia for wanting to be Jewish and to emigrate to Israel; from Ethiopia where the Jews were banished to the remote region of Gondar deprived of opportunity or education then placed in interminable starvation conditions in refugee camps in Addis Abeba or walked the tortuous trek to the Sudan before fulfillng their dream to come to Jerusalem; voluntary immigration of Jews from India, China, Australia, North America and Western Europe. Jews came home from all corners of the globe, bringing their traditions and languages with them to form an enormous amalgam of yearning for their natural home. The dispersion to the Diaspora was no longer enforced, the thrice daily prayer to come home to Jerusalem and the land of Israel was answered.
In many cases the governments of the less law-abiding countries demanded cash for people – again Jews were cattle? The State of Israel paid willingly for the freedom of Russian and Ethiopian Jews. The immorality of the leaders of their former homes would never be an obstacle to the dream.
How on earth did a tiny, poor country absorb and house all these people of such diverse backgrounds whose only commonality was that they were Jews? The Jewish Agency, formed before the State and the interim government of Israel before Independence, created precisely to encourage and enable the homecoming. They created schools for adults and children alike to learn Hebrew – our common language, the language of King David’s psalms. They created organisations to help new immigrants on every level of their lives and appropriate to the countries from whence they came. The money was raised by their sister organisation, Keren Hayesod or the UJA in the USA. No money was demanded of the international aid organisations, if we were to be independent we must be independent.
Today the only reminder of the diversity of our society lies in the accents and the epicurean delights. As a society, we are an incredible rainbow of humanity whose very diversity allows us to think out of the box. We have won an inordinate number of Nobel prizes and made great strides forward on the scientific and medical forefront. We have more start-up companies per capita than anywhere else in the world, second only to the USA in real terms and our high-tech inventions have changed everybody’s lives from cellphones to texting, computer chips and firewalls to miniature medical devices. Our advances in the field of agriculture has been used to help third world countries to grow the food they so desperately need under their improbable conditions. Our universities not only produce the highest percentage of graduates in the world but because the students are older, having served in the IDF first, they understand why they are there and have already been given huge responsibility and used their initiative to save lives.
Our rescue, trauma, medical and disaster teams are always first to arrive at scenes of both natural and human disaster even for our enemies. Our constant need to be alert and ready makes our teams the finest in the world. Our hospitals not only train Palestinian doctors and nurses but we offer the only chance of recovery for Palestinian cancer patients. Israeli initiatives in agriculture and business help Palestinians to find independence through the rod not the fish.
Israel, the Phoenix born out of the ashes of the Holocaust is still under fire, under threat, yet as a people we live life to the full relishing every moment, sometimes too noisy, sometimes too sure of ourselves but we are here, back home in the State of Israel and no-one is going to disperse the Jews again.
Whether one calls it Judeah and Samaria, Canaan, Phaelestina, the Land of Israel or the State of Israel, for 2,000 years the prayer for a return to Jerusalem has been on the lips of Jews, wherever they may be, at least six times a day. The morning, afternoon and evening prayers, grace after every meal; festivals, feasts and fast days; weddings and funerals; in our homes and houses of prayer, we pray to come home to Zion, to the land of our forefathers. It is our deepest belief that when the Messiah comes it will be those in this unparalleled spiritual homeland, from here the souls will arise and be resurrected. This is not a piece of real estate to be fought over this is the heart of our religion, our spirit, our emotions and our longing. This is home.
A Final word from the Author
For me, as an Israeli, I recognise the important tie with the LDS Church; a prayer, a blessing and a prophecy. One hundred fifty years ago, Elder Orson Hyde climbed the Mount of Olives fulfilling the blessing of the Prophet Joseph Smith who commissioned him to go to Palestine to prepare for the return of the Children of Israel.
“In due time thou shalt go to Jerusalem, the land of thy fathers, and be a watchman unto the house of Israel; and by thy hands shall the Most High do a great work, which shall prepare the way and greatly facilitate the gathering together of that people.”
In 1840, Joseph Smith noted that the Jews “have been scattered abroad among the Gentiles for a long period; and in our estimation, the time of the commencement of their return to the Holy Land has already arrived.”
Evangelical Christians were also among the voices heard but Orson Hyde spoke from a different perspective, a perspective of love.
In 1972 Jerusalem’s mayor, Teddy Kollek, offered a parcel of land on the Mount of Olives for the development of a park and on 24 October 1979 the park was dedicated in the presence of Latter-day Saint leaders, Israeli dignitaries, and Arab notables. Together with the exquisitely beautiful BYU Jerusalem overlooking the Old City, the Church is an integral part of Jerusalem’s landscape exhibiting enormous mutual respect.