The Most Amazing State Of Israel
At the turn of the bewildering twentieth century, we pick up from the story of Modern Zionism and begin the saga of the State of Israel.
In 1905, an attempted revolution in Russia fails to overthrow the Czar, causing many thousands to flee the country.
During the period that follows and up to World War One, fifteen-thousand people immigrate to Palestine.
As many as four-thousand immigrants are hard-core Communist revolutionaries. They exert influence to turn their new environment into the Socialist's dream-world.
The Turks control Palestine and in World War One they side with Germany. During the conflict they abuse their Jewish population, many of which came from enemy Russia.
Under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, America enters the war in 1917 and helps the allies gain the upper hand.
Later that year, England issues the Balfour Declaration, stating that they view with favor the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, providing this is acceptable to all inhabitants of the region. Jews worldwide are deeply moved as this provides hope to a persecuted people for a return to the shelter of their glorious past.
The Jews in Palestine sympathize with England. Allenby captures Jerusalem later that year.
In the political sense, the British sympathize with the Jewish cause. Yet, Palestine is controlled by their military and they are openly sympathetic to the Arabs. They frustrate efforts for the Jewish homeland by closing Palestine to Jewish immigration and forbidding Jews to purchase land.
The allies achieve victory in 1918. France and England agree to divide up the region in a way that gives Palestine to England.
History would have been quite different had Palestine gone to France. The French had nothing to do with Lord Balfour. Interesting.
Woodrow Wilson is the savior to Europe. They are drained from the fighting and they listen as Wilson demands that the world must become better after the war.
In the Good Old Days, the winner would take all and the conquered territory would become another colony. To Wilson, this is an unacceptable practice. Colonialism was the reason for the terrible war in the first place.
He insists that "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees for political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."
This materializes into the League of Nations. It succeeds to mandate France and England over the conquered territories for the purpose of helping the inhabitants in the region create independent countries.
England chooses to include the Balfour Declaration within the draft of the Mandate. They could have left it out. Interesting, too.
England's Lord Balfour is out of power and their new Foreign Secretary has no sympathy for Jewish causes (to put it mildly).
The League of Nations approves the Mandate in 1920. It still references the Balfour Declaration. We're sorry, Mr. Foreign Secretary.
England now has the means to implement the Balfour declaration. Also, the right to strive for a Jewish Homeland is now internationally legitimized. Instead of becoming a bigger Empire, England now becomes a midwife to incubate fledgling states.
The world powers carve out countries in the Middle East that compose of ethnic groups that hate each other. They create Syria and Lebanon. So far, Jews are the odd-man-out.
The League of Nations fades away.
Jews can now immigrate to Israel and purchase land. The Arabs become fed up with the growth in Jewish influence and they start rioting. Churchill becomes the new Colonial Minister. He breaks off Trans-Jordan from the occupied territory and makes it a country to mollify the Arabs.
Between 1920 and 1929 some one-hundred-sixty-thousand Jewish immigrants come to Palestine, eighty-five percent from Eastern Europe. This great wave brings most of the people who will lead Israel to statehood within two decades.
Many are committed Socialists. They are idealists who seek to build a new society and the perfect Jewish State. They harbor a prejudice against the Jewish businessman/merchant stereo type. Instead, they believe in the sanctity of Jewish labor. They found the Kibbutz Movement and quite a number of them live in collective settlements, built on the premise that everyone will equally contribute to the common cause and no one will take more than they need. This flops after several generations.
The settlers are divided into political parties. Parties provide their members with social services, such as school systems and health plans.
By now, most settlers are not religious and some are even anti-religious. The religious population is in the minority.
England creates the political position of Chief Rabbi and appoints Rabbi Cook. He is a visionary. He displays tolerance towards non-religious Jews and he uses his office to exert a Jewish voice in defining the Jewish State. He is a strong religious Zionist.
A tiny but visible minority of religious people within Israel are strong anti-Zionists. To them, efforts towards statehood are an Act of the Satan. They withdraw from all political activity.
The new immigrants establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Although the institution is quite secular, Rabbi Cook seeks a commitment that they will not support or teach Bible Criticism. Today they are one of the few world strongholds for Bible Criticism.
So, we have a state in formation that is Socialistic, Capitalistic, religious, and anti-religious, Bible-centered and Bible-critical. It will absorb people from North America and South America, East Europe and West Europe, Australia and Ethiopia.
My physics teacher told us that there are four forces in the world: gravity, electromagnetism, weak forces, and strong forces. (Forgive me if this is outdated.) The last two have something to do with binding atomic nuclei together. Let him take his next sabbatical in Israel. He will be amazed.
The struggle to define the character and soul of the Jewish State is ongoing, down to this day.
Getting back to the saga, out of the one-hundred-sixty-thousand Jews who immigrate to Israel during this wave, one-fourth give up and move back, due to hardships or isolation.
Moving to Israel is called aliya, Hebrew for going up. Moving out of Israel is called yerida, Hebrew for going down. The phenomenon of yerida still exists today, though not at such a rate. It not well understood.
For some people, it appears as though the privilege of living in the Holy Land must be earned through enduring temporary hardship.
The year 1925 brings an economic downturn to the region and confidence in Zionism takes a big hit. Between 1926 and 1928, more people leave Palestine than come. Things get better by 1929.
The Jews continue to purchase land. Much of it is in areas where nobody wants to live. They turn steamy swamp lands into gardens. They develop the economy and attract Arab immigrants. The map of Jewish settlement begins to take shape.
The Arabs have had enough and take action to stop the Jewish takeover. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem organizes pogroms. In 1929 they riot in Chevron (Hebron) and massacre students in its Yeshiva. The Jewish community in Chevron evacuates.
The Jewish settlers are in shock. Not only must they work hard to build up the land, they may have to fight and die for it, too.
As things start to get hot, England gets cold feet. They claim that they can no longer guarantee the safety of existing settlers and that there are not enough jobs to go around. They proclaim that Jewish statehood is impossible.
Political parties form their own militias for self-defense. They struggle with how to deal with the British who now oppose statehood.
The mounting anti-Semitism in Europe drives many people to believe that a Jewish state is essential for the survival of the Jewish people. Some disagree. We've survived without one until now. G-d has many resources.
Hitler comes to power and World War Two plunges England in a fight for survival. Churchill rallies the English towards victory.
Germany's Rommel maneuvers his huge tank force towards Palestine. The British forces prepare to evacuate Palestine. They start burning documents. Rabbi Kahanaman purchases a lot near Tel Aviv and lays the cornerstone for a new Yeshiva. People think he is crazy. He responds that G-d didn't bring him to Israel to be murdered by Nazis. Rommel turns back. Rabbi Kanahaman builds the Poneviz Yeshiva, one of the largest in Israel today.
The Grand Mufti waits out the war in Germany.
Germany is defeated.
The world goes into shock as details of the Holocaust become revealed. For the first time in modern history there is vast and widespread sympathy for the plight of the Jewish people.
The push for statehood is dwarfed by the urgent need to find a place for quarter-million Jews in Displaced Person Camps who are now homeless. The Jewish settlers insist that England allow a hundred-thousand survivors into the country. The Arabs vehemently oppose any increase in the Jewish population. Homeless Jews are Europe's problem, not theirs.
Churchill, England's war hero, is voted out of office. The new Prime Minister appoints Bevin as the foreign secretary. He is a hard-liner. Finding a home for the homeless is not his problem, either, so he slams the door shut on Jewish immigration. The immigration now continues illegally. Bevin doesn't care what anybody says and has the British navy intercept boatloads of refugees, shipping them to detention camps on Cyprus. He sends the now-famous ship Exodus back to Hamburg, its huddled masses yearning for a home.
The Political Zionists use the opportunity to push for statehood, arguing that this is the only hope for the stranded Jews about whom nobody in the world seems to really care about.
They conclude that the British must go. David reaches for his slingshot and aggressive factions within settler movements mount a Guerilla war against the English military. Jews are hanged in retaliation. Jews hang British soldiers in retaliation.
Political pressure mounts in England. Bevin is told that the England needs a hundred-thousand troops to secure order in Palestine. England is tired of war.
At this point, had England or any other country been willing to more actively resolve the plight of the homeless Jews in Europe, the entire matter would have been defused. There would have been no State of Israel.
By now there is a United Nations and Bevin proposes that England resign the Mandate and let the UN decide what to do. This allows England wash to their hands from the mess. Let the UN vote for a Jewish State if that's what the world wants. When the Arabs start the massacre and the Jews need to be saved, England will come to their rescue and regain both the Mandate and their prestige. Brilliant.
The UN considers partitioning Palestine into Jewish, Arab, and international regions. Their map rings the Jews into three indefensible and economically unfeasible areas. The Church wants Jerusalem to be an international city.
Even though the Partition Plan looks bad, the Jews are willing to accept it, because its better than nothing. The Arabs are vehemently opposed to it.
It's up to the UN. They debate the Plan.
We interrupt the flow of events with a flashback to World War One.
Harry was an artillery commander and Eddie was in his unit. The two got together after the war and together they opened up a haberdashery in Kansas City, Missouri. It went bankrupt. Despite the mishap, the two remained close friends. Unusual.
Harry went into politics. His last name was Truman and he wound up in the White House. So?
Eddie Jacobs gets an appointment to see his old buddy and asks him for a favor. Would the President mind meeting a friend of his, a tired old man from Jerusalem named Chaim Weitzman. Harry Truman goes lividly ballistic and the biographers refrain from publishing the precise words that the President uses. Eddie knows that the friendship is all over, but given the urgency he gently presses and he prevails.
Weitzman, meets Truman and persuades him to support the Partition Plan.
They are debating the plan at the UN. Ambassador Warren Austin has started to speak. He is about to present the United State's position against the plan. His aids rush up and tell him that the President of the United States wants to speak to him, RIGHT NOW. He excuses himself from the podium. Harry Truman tells him what the position of the United States is.
Russia supports the plan. Stalin hears that there are a lot of influential Socialists in Israel. With England out of the picture, the area will make a great Soviet satellite. Good work KGB!
The United States knows better. The area will not go Communist and they support the plan.
Using Bevin's strategy, England supports the plan, too.
For the moment there is broad-based and world-wide sympathy towards the Jewish people, who have suffered enough from the Holocaust.
On November 29, 1947 the United Nations votes to adopt the plan. The world says, "Let there be a Jewish Homeland." On November 30 some delegates have second thoughts, but it's too late.
The Arabs prepare for war. England prepares to leave the area on May 15. In the name of neutrality they impose a strict arms embargo in the area. The Jordanians have the best equipped and trained army, courtesy of England.
Most countries are officially neutral and a good number of people are imprisoned for helping Jews in Palestine obtain weapons. The Jews are able to smuggle relics from World War Two. The weapons originate from several countries and there is a lot of mismatch. They are desperate.
The dark cloud of a second-round Holocaust looms in the air.
The Arabs mount attacks. A week before May 15 the Etzion Block falls. England leaves and the Jews declare a sovereign State of Israel.
The world is stunned. No one knows what this really means, but everyone feels that something very significant is happening. Chicago's Mayor Kelly addresses a huge rally at the stadium. He breaks down and cries.
The world holds its breath as the Jews struggle to stave off annihilation and with G-d's help they are successful.
There are some amazing stories about their War of Independence.
Har Cna'an was impregnable and the raging summer battle looked hopeless.
Then, it rained. It NEVER rains there in the summer. Well, almost never. It thundered, too.
To the defending Arab soldiers, the most plausible explanation for the noise was that the Israelis had the Atomic Bomb. They fled.
This really happened!
The Arabs run out of steam and agree to a cease fire. During the lull, both sides get ready for a second round. World powers impose an arms embargo and they send a peace mediator. He is assassinated.
With the help of G-d, Israel again successfully defends itself. The world demands a cease fire. England finally threatens Israel with an invasion unless they stop shooting.
The Arabs agree to a cease fire. They are not ready at this time for a peace treaty.
The people of the new State of Israel struggle to cope with huge waves of immigrants. In 1948 they numbered six-hundred-thousand Jews. Two-hundred-fifty-thousand join them by 1950, mostly refugees from Eastern Europe. The resentment of the surrounding Arab countries makes living conditions impossible for the Jews in their lands and eight-hundred-thousand impoverished Sfardic Jews move to Israel by 1954.
Many people in this social polyglot live in a pressure-cooker and under Appalachian living conditions. Thank G-d almost everyone eventually crawls out.
Food is rationed. Many people eat chicken only biweekly. They have no meat. The Government proudly reports that it has enough food to provide 2,700 calories to every worker.
Today, thank G-d, the food crisis is over. Yet, there are still unique opportunities for compassion and philanthropy.
New apartments go to the new and needy immigrants, creating cries of social injustice from the established citizens.
The sudden dislocations deeply affect family life.
Jews lived in Yemen for a thousand Years. They never saw stairs, not to mention airplanes. Within an hour they are transported from the thirteenth century to the twentieth century. Many of their children are overtaken by new culture, are inducted into the army, and they break with their past. Later, many become disillusioned.
The American Jewish community takes the lead in raising funds to support Israel. The cause provides them with a means of identifying with the Jewish State. They remorse over their lack of activism during the Holocaust. Supporting the State of Israel fills their void. They stand in line to purchase Israel Bonds from Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister. Israel uses funds from their first Bond Drive to construct water and irrigation systems. They push the desert back sixty miles.
The Israeli political system supports fragmentation. Both nobody and everybody are in control.
It works something like this.
There are one-hundred-twenty seats in their Parliament, the K'nesset. A group of people obtains enough signatures to form a recognized political party and they make a list of one-hundred-twenty K'nesset delegates. The national electorate votes for parties and the seats are distributed to the parties according to the percentage of votes they received. For each party that receives enough votes to win seats, the first people on their delegate list become Knesset members.
The largest party has first chance to form a government. Between their seats and those of other parties that are willing to cooperate, they must come up with a coalition that has at least sixty-one delegates. In exchange for joining the coalition, the other parties get influence or high-level jobs.
The K'nesset members from the winning party and those from their coalition partners frequently vote as a block, although there is nothing in the formal rules to stop someone from voting differently.
The big votes are for motions of no-confidence. If a coalition does not have enough supporters to defeat a no-confidence motion, the government is over and they have new elections. Otherwise, the government serves out its term.
Until recently, the Prime Minister was the leader of the party in control of the coalition. Now, he/she is elected directly by the people. Thus, Israel can have a Prime Minister from a party that is in opposition to the coalition government.
This system of government contributes to colorful and exciting legislative sessions.
The war of 1948 was the first in a series. The Arabs are bent on restoring their honor and their objective is to destroy Israel. For Israel, each war is a test, each test is a final.
Israel becomes isolated, a pariah in the United Nations. The world press frequently sympathizes with the Arabs and slants the news against Israel.
In 1967, Egypt's President Nasser blocks Israeli shipping routes and asks the UN peace keepers to leave the area. They cooperate. The neighboring countries prepared for war. Israel is greatly outnumbered and isolated. Israel's Prime Minister Eshkol goes on television to urge his people to be strong. He breaks down during the broadcast.
To the surprise of all, Israel is given a dramatic and swift victory, thank G-d. They capture West Jordan, including Jerusalem, the Sinai, and the Gaza Strip. Many nations resent their success.
Jerusalem is reunited. For the first time in decades, Jews are able to worship at the Western Wall, the Kosel Ma'aravi. All of Jerusalem, religious and non-religious, walk to Kosel on the holiday of Shavuos in 1967, demonstrating the hidden spiritual resources of the Jewish people.
Yom Kippur 1972 brings a near disaster. The Israelis display overconfidence and have a small number of tanks on the Golan when Syria attacks. The Arabs claim several military successes and they consider the war to be a victory, sorely needed for their pride.
In Israel, the near-disaster contributes to a political upset and the opposition party, the Likud, rises to power. It is headed by the hawkish Menachem Begin. They defeat the Labor Party, the establishment since 1948.
Egypt's trouble-making Nasser is dead.
For a short time, Arab states stop selling oil to the US who supported Israel. Afterwards they hike up the price of oil. Israel is blamed.
Now, both Israel and Egypt are in a political position to consider peace. The US wants stability in the region and President Jimmy Carter succeeds in cutting a peace treaty, backed by guarantees and foreign aid.
Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat shake hands on the White House lawn. Begin dons a Jewish traditional head covering and recites verses from the Bible.
Egypt gets back their territory. A few years later, Islamic Fundamentalists who vigorously oppose peace with Israel assassinate Sadat.
The Likud party supports settling Jews in the occupied territories. By the mid-1990's over a hundred-thousand Jews live there. Many settlements are sparse outposts and are populated by religious idealists.
Had the Arabs achieved victory in 1948 they would have established a Palestinian state. They refuse let go of the dream. They force millions of Arabs who fled from the war to remain in refugee camps, human hostages to the ideal.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is led by Yasir Arafat. In the absence of Arab military victory they resort to Guerilla warfare and perpetrate gruesome acts.
They massacre innocent school children. They hijack planes and take innocent passengers hostage.
In one instance they fly a plane to Entebbe, Uganda. Israel rescues the hostages in a most daring and heroic manner, demonstrating the extent that they are willing to go to care for their fellow Jew. Commander Yonatan Netanyahu is killed in the mission. His brother will later become Prime Minister.
In 1987 the Arabs riot and press coverage helps build this into an uprising. Encouraged by publicity and world sympathy, the PLO keeps the pressure up.
Many Israelis are tired of struggling for survival. Too high a price has already been paid and the steam has run out of secular Zionism. The Palestinians want a state but there are moderates within their movement who claim to be willing to let Israel be a state, too.
In 1993, Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Yasir Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn. Rabin, a former general and ambassador to the United States, is from the Labor party.
Many within his coalition are willing to give most of the occupied territories to the Palestinians, even though this would dislocate a huge number of people. They assert that the settlers shouldn't have moved out there in the first place. They fault the Likud party for putting these people out on a limb.
The settlers demonstrate and publicize their plight. Most are right-wing nationalists, religious Zionists.
Rabin is assassinated by a radical right-wing college student. The kid acts on his own but he wears a religious head covering. Traditional Jewry of all sizes and colors are blamed for the murder.
As of this today, Benyamin Netanyahu of Likud is Prime Minister. So far he appears to be maintaining a cautious but steady course towards resolving the Palestinian problem, honoring the commitments made by Rabin to the PLO.
Israel today continues to maintain the role of being a place where Jews can move if they want to or if they have to.
The most recent mass immigration came from the CIS, formerly Soviet Russia.
Several decades ago, Russian Jews who openly stated their desire to immigrate to Israel were persecuted by their government.
Refuseniks, Prisoners of Conscience, languished in prison. Some were released due to public pressure, such as Iosef Mendelevitch in 1981 and Anatoly Scharansky. The latter leads a political party in Israel for immigrant causes.
The demise of the Soviet Union opens the floodgate and hundreds of thousands of people immigrate to Israel. Some people are not even Jewish but they claim to be Jewish in order to get to Israel.
Israel today is frequently in the news and is full of surprises. Stay tuned and keep ready to be amazed.
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