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Israel in a Nutshell

Abraham, Mesopotamia, and a Promised Land The story of Israel is an example of history in the extreme. On the one hand, it encompasses the story-the history-of much of the world. On the other hand, it is the story of a tiny people and its relationship to a minute bit of the world's real estate. This book will tell the story of Israel in all its extremes. It will tell the story of much of world history as it unfolded in a theater called Israel-often on a stage called Jerusalem-and it will tell the story of the Jewish people and its relationship to the land called Israel.

All of these extremes can be found in the life of one man who lived in Mesopotamia some 3,670 odd years ago. The man's name was Abraham, and he just happens to have been the first Jew to ever step foot in the land of Israel. So it is with Abraham that we will begin our story of Israel. Abraham grew up in the great city of Ur in Mesopotamia. There, he was exposed to a culture unlike anything that had ever existed before in human history. In Mesopotamia, there were skilled craftsman of all kinds, people who could read and write, an elite cosmopolitan class, and of course an elaborate religious structure. Of all things Mesopotamian, Abraham just couldn't buy the religious beliefs. Despite the fact that he had been raised in a society that knew nothing other than polytheism, it all seemed like nonsense to Abraham. In time, Abraham did more than reject the belief system of his family, friends, and society-he came to a novel and utterly unique conclusion about life. Today we call that conclusion monotheism, the belief in one supreme God who is the sole source of all existence and upon whom everything remains totally dependent. It is at this point of radical departure that the Bible tells us that God appeared to Abraham, confirmed his convictions, told him to pack his bags, and sent him on his first trip to Israel, known then as Canaan.

"And God said to Abraham, 'Go for yourself; away from your land, the place of your birth and your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and bless you, and you will be a blessing...' And Abraham took Sarai his wife... and they departed for the land of Canaan, and came to the land of Canaan. And God appeared to Abraham and said, 'To your descendants will I give this land...'" Genesis 12:1-8

"On that day God sealed a covenant with Abraham, saying, 'To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt, to the great river, the Euphrates river.'" Genesis 15:18

It is at this point, at a relatively early period in the history of civilization, that the relationship of the Jewish people-Abraham's descendants-to the land of Israel begins. We are now going to look at the lives of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is these three men, together with their wives and children, that set the cornerstone of Jewish peoplehood, history, and destiny in place. With each, the most seminal events of their lives took place in the land of Israel, and one of them, Isaac, lived his entire life without ever leaving Israel. Let's take a look.

From "the Affair" in France... The Dreyfus Affair was as big in France as the O.J. trial was in the United States, and it dragged on for even longer. Here's what happened:

In September of 1894, French counterintelligence discovered irrefutable evidence that one of its own was passing valuable information to the Germans. The question was, "Whodunnit?" At the time, a Jew by the name of Alfred Dreyfus was working in military intelligence, and, despite the fact that Jews had been accepted in French society for almost a century, there was no shortage of Frenchman who wished those ghetto walls had never come down-so they decided to get Dreyfus. Soon, "secret" evidence pointing directly to Dreyfus was uncovered. The accusations against Dreyfus the Jew were trumpeted in the unabashedly anti-Semitic French press, and news of a Jewish traitor was well received-and loudly echoed-by Catholic leaders and laity alike. In short order, Dreyfus was convicted, court-martialed, and sent to rot in a filthy, vermin-infested cell on Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana.

While Alfred Dreyfus was rotting away in prison, a re-examination of the evidence clearly pointed to another man and pressure for a retrial began to mount. The whole "affair," as it became known, was the political event of the day across Europe. Eventually the officer who was behind the phony evidence killed himself, and though Dreyfus was once again found to be guilty, this time French President Emile Loubet pardoned him before he began to serve his sentence-which brings us to Theodor Herzl. ...To the Basel in Switzerland Theodor Herzl was a writer, a liberal idealist, and a journalist. As a man, he was someone who believed deeply in the ideas of the Enlightenment, and in France and Germany as beacons for Europe and the world. Herzl was well-educated, urbane, and a captivating speaker. Born in Hungary, he was raised in Austria by wealthy and influential parents who identified deeply with German nationalism and with its culture and ideals. Though his parents retained their Jewish identity, the Herzl's lived in a time when it was common for Jews to be baptized and formally opt out of their identity.

Ironically, though Judaism was just a footnote to Herzl's life, it would be his vision of the Jewish future that would have as dramatic and enduring an impact on the next century as anyone else's.

As a journalist, Herzl covered a number of political rallies where anti-Semitism was openly expressed, but none of these prepared him for the shock of "the affair." Herzl was a foreign correspondent from Vienna covering the Dreyfus trial in Paris, and was deeply affected by the outpouring of Jew-hatred that spewed forth from the capital of enlightened Europe. This experience convinced Herzl that anti-Semitism was a condition that could never be remedied in Europe.

After the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl became obsessed with finding a cure for anti-Semitism. The cure he found was in the idea of a Jewish homeland. To Herzl, because the Jewish people had no state of their own, they were doomed to always being outsiders in history, and as outsiders they would always be held in contempt and despised. But a Jewish state could rectify this, and so by 1896 Herzl had written a small book that contained his prescription for anti-Semitism. It was entitled, The Jewish State, and it argued that the creation of a Jewish state would eliminate the fundamental difference between the Jews and all other people, and thus eradicate the cause of anti-Semitism.

Ironically, though Herzl became totally devoted to the idea of a Jewish homeland, he was so alienated from Judaism that it never occurred to him that his idea would strike a profoundly deep chord within the Jewish people. In fact, because of his paucity of Jewish sensibilities, Herzl was at times willing to consider both Argentina and Uganda as possible sites for the Jewish homeland. As Judaism was an afterthought in his life, so originally were Jerusalem and the land of Israel afterthoughts to his concept of a Jewish state.

To be sure, Herzl was derided from many sides, but clearly, he couldn't be accused of lacking determination. With time, Herzl became utterly determined to create an organized movement of the Jewish masses capable of building a homeland that would include everything one could find in any other country. Eventually, he became equally determined that the place for this homeland must be in Palestine.

On August 29, 1897, Theodor Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The Congress was attended by 204 delegates from across Europe (though almost half were from Russia) and spanned the spectrum of Jewish identity, association, and affiliation. In Basel, a flag for the Jewish homeland was unfurled, "Hatikva" was sung as the Jewish national anthem, and it became clear that the Jews were abundantly serious about where they were headed-to what then was Ottoman-ruled Palestine and what today is the State of Israel. In his diary, Herzl wrote, "In Basel, I created the Jewish state." Next Year in Jerusalem Less than a year after the first Zionist Congress, over a thousand Zionist societies had been established across Europe, predominantly in Russia, and even some in America.

The living dream of "Next Year in Jerusalem," combined with Herzl's uncanny idea of establishing a Jewish state and the desperate need of Russia's Jews to escape the stranglehold of the Czar, all combined to fuel a movement-the Zionist movement-that would alter the course of Jewish history.

After two thousand years, the Jews, not just as individuals or families, but as a people, were ready to go home.

The obstacles along the road from Basel to Jerusalem were remarkably daunting. Palestine was still ruled by the same Ottoman Empire that had conquered it almost four hundred years earlier. World War I-a war that would devastate Europe and throw European Jewry into a pit of chaos and upheaval-was yet to be waged. Palestine would still have to pass from the hands of the Turks to the hands of the British. World War II, and the destruction of seven out of every ten Jews in Europe, was still a distant catastrophe, and the newly established Arab states of the Middle East would yet try to crush the Jews and their Jewish home.

Eventually, however, Israel would be reborn. Zionism the Vortex While Zionism was a remarkable idea, and a history-altering movement, not all Jews embraced it. Zionism became an ideological vortex that no Jew could escape. Whether you loved it, rejected it, or fought to redefine it, Jews everywhere couldn't help but confront it and be confronted by it. The following list of ideological responses is not comprehensive. Its purpose is just to provide a sense of how various elements within the Jewish people have dealt with Zionism.

Herzl's National-Political Zionists: These were bottom-line pragmatists and they had a plan. Step by step, they were prepared to put the political and economic pieces in place that would provide the basis for the infrastructure of a modern state capable of absorbing immigrants and moving them into the endeavors needed to build a viable political entity. People like Chaim Weizmann exemplified their commitment to working within Europe's existing political structure to bring about the realization of Herzl's vision. Weizmann was able to use his connections, prestige, and eloquence to advance the cause of a Jewish homeland at the highest levels of government. He would eventually become the first president of Israel.

Achad Ha'am's Cultural Zionists: This was Zionism with a soul. Achad Ha'am (born Asher Ginsberg) held in disdain a Zionist vision that stripped the Jewish people of a spiritual core. To Achad Ha'am, Herzl's idea of a Jewish state was little more than a kind of assimilation writ large, and he told Herzl as much. To the Cultural Zionists, for a state that happened to be populated by Jews to in fact be a Jewish state, it would have to also become the cultural and spiritual center of the Jewish people.

Reform Non-Zionists: Leopold Stein, a prominent leader of Reform Jewry in Germany, wrote, "We know but one fatherland, that in which we live. We cannot pray as though our present home were strange to us and our true home lay a thousand miles distant." This statement was echoed in America in 1897 when the reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis formally condemned political Zionism. It was only much later, when it became obvious that Germany represented the end of Jewish life-and not a golden future-that Reform leaders like Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver so ably took up the cause of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Socialist Zionists: In Russia, Jews were playing a central role in advancing the wave of socialism that would do away with czarist Russia and its centuries of oppression, and replace it with the imagined utopia of communism. In the main, these Jews were opposed to Zionism both ideologically and because it in no way addressed the reality of millions of Jews who in all likelihood would remain on Russian and European soil.

Eventually, a young intellectual named Ber Borochov proposed a theory of Marxist Zionism that envisioned a Jewish state built on the principles of Engels and Marx. This was the beginning of Labor Zionism, and most of the thirty thousand Russian Jews who immigrated to Palestine between 1905 and 1914 came with this ideology in mind. Many of Israel's founders, builders and political leaders-people like David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Yitzchak Rabin-were Labor Zionists, and it was Labor Zionism that would place a far-reaching socialist stamp on economic and social policy during Israel's formative period.

Religious Zionists: A number of prominent rabbinical figures, including Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, Rabbi Meir Leibush Malbim, and most notably, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer contributed their scholarly perspectives on the significance of the land of Israel to the movement that would become the Chovavei Tzion, the Lovers of Zion. In 1893, Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver founded mercaz ruchani, the "spiritual center" that would later, under Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines, become the Mizrachi party.

Religious Zionism saw the return to the land as a spiritually natural extension of all that Judaism represented and viewed any break with traditional Torah-based Judaism as an abandonment of that which had brought the Jews to the verge of return in the first place.

Religious Zionism sought to work from within the general Zionist movement and Rabbi Avraham Yitchak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, became a powerful advocate for the inclusion of Zionism in the rubric of a Torah-true outlook on Judaism, Jewish history, and Jewish destiny.

Religious Non-Zionists: In order to make sure that their voice was heard in the Jewish world and beyond, and in order to counter the trend of abandoning Judaism that was present in the Zionist movement, 204 of Jewry's most distinguished rabbis gathered in 1912 for the founding of Agudas Israel. These were the chareidim, those who today are referred to as the ultra-orthodox. For centuries, these were the people who risked everything to settle in the land of Israel.

Ironically, it was these same people who rejected Zionism. To the political Zionist, the future and well-being of the Jewish people was dependent on the creation and well-being of a Jewish state. To the religious non-Zionist, just the opposite was true. The well-being of a Jewish state was dependent on the well-being of the Jewish people, and the well-being of the Jewish people was dependent on its ability to fulfill its calling as defined by the teachings and practices of the Torah. Amongst these non-Zionists, there was a minority that rejected any form of pre-messianic Jewish sovereignty. Bagels & Lox Zionists These were the Jews who weren't all that interested in Zionist ideology and who were never going to settle in Israel but who nonetheless believed with all their hearts that it was critical for the Jews to have a country of their own. In the wake of World War II, these were the masses of Jews in the United States and elsewhere whose unflagging support for the Jewish state expressed itself in financial support, political activism, and countless visits to Israel that made them feel so proud to be Jews. Israel, Here We Come On the day that Herzl convened the first Zionist Congress in 1897, there were about 60,000 Jews living in Ottoman Palestine. Forty years later, there were nearly half-a-million Jews living in British Palestine, and twenty years after that, there were almost two million Jews living in Israel, including 600,000 who had been expelled from Arab countries after the birth of the Jewish state.

That the Jewish people kept the dream of a return to Zion alive for over two thousand years is a remarkable phenomenon. That this dream manifested itself in the re-establishment of a Jewish state after twenty-five centuries is an event utterly unique in the annals of human history.

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us: The Big Myth A myth that has become accepted as common knowledge goes like this: The Jewish effort to populate Palestine necessarily involved the depopulation of its age-old Palestinian Arab community. Thus, the more the Jews came, built, and developed, the more the Arabs were displaced, and the worse off they became. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let's take a look.

1. When the Muslims first conquered Palestine in 638, the inhabitants of the land were primarily Christians and Jews. At that time, Arabs lived in Arabia (Saudi Arabia), and the conquest of Palestine was just one piece of a much broader series of conquests. Following the Muslim conquest, no attempt was made to impose an Islamic or Arab identity on Palestine, and no significant influx of Arabs into the land occurred.

"During the first century after the Arab conquest the caliph and governors of Syria and the land [Palestine] ruled almost entirely over Christian and Jewish subjects. Apart from the Bedouin, in the earliest days the only Arabs west of the Jordan were the garrison." Reverend James W. Parkes, Whose Land? A History of the People of Palestine

Over the centuries, Palestine's primary attraction was as a place of pilgrimage. Christians from around the world came to visit the holy sites of Christianity, and many ended up staying. For Muslims who were unable to make the Hajj to Mecca, Jerusalem sometimes became a place of secondary pilgrimage.* Palestine, due to frequent invasions, coupled with it being a place of pilgrimage, became a land whose population reflected a vast mix of ethnic origins.

"Among the people who have long been counted as 'indigenous Palestinian Arabs' are Balkans, Syrians, Latins, Egyptians, Turks, Armenians, Italians, Persians, Kurds, Afghans, Sudanese, Algerians, and Tartars." Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial

2. By the year 1500, almost nine hundred years had passed since the first Arab conquest, and in all of Palestine there were only 49,000 families representing a total population of 200,000. Two hundred thousand is not even a third of the population of Jerusalem today and is less than a quarter of the present population of Amman, Jordan. When the Ottoman Empire arrived in 1517, it had been fifteen centuries since the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews. Throughout that entire period, though Palestine became religiously significant to both Christianity and Islam, its population was always in a great state of flux, and no distinctly recognizable ethnic group considered the area of Palestine to be their natural or ancestral homeland. The closest anyone came to establishing any kind of independent presence in the land were European Catholics who established the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem during the Crusader period.

3. The years 1800-1840 were a time of upheaval for the population of Palestine. During that period, Palestine was invaded by both Napoleon and the Egyptians. From 1831 to1840, Palestine was ruled by Muhammad Ali (no, not the boxer) of Egypt.

"The conquest did establish law and order in the country, but caused many old inhabitants to flee and new elements to settle in the land... the Egyptian settlers scattered to many urban and rural points, appropriated large tracts of land, and lent variety and numbers to the existing population... According to the British Palestine Exploration Fund regional map of Jaffa, most of the city was made up of Egyptian populated districts." Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession

Additionally, throughout the mid-1800s incessant little wars broke out between villages and rival clans in Palestine. It was often the case that one village would decimate another, destroy their property and cultivated acreage, and drive the inhabitants into exile.

4. The century from 1850 to 1948 is fascinating, significant, and telling. We have already looked at this period from the point of view of the development of Zionism, the return of the Jews to Israel, and the British mandate. We are now going to look at the population of Palestine during this pre-state century, and consider the implications that population had for the birth of Israel. First we'll look at the numbers, and then we'll explain them.

(Note: The figures for the Arab population include both Muslims and Christians. Christians were about 8-10 percent of the total, but for our purpose it's easier to just view them together.)

From 1850 until 1948, the Arab population of Palestine doubled, while the Jewish population increased forty times. Leaving birthrates aside, the question is this: What transformed Palestine, for the first time in almost twenty decades, from a place of limited, unstable, and fluctuating population to the hottest new suburb in the Middle East? The answer for both the Jews and Arabs is the same: immigration. The stimulus for immigration, however, was drastically different. The Jews came to Palestine to rebuild their homeland, and the Arabs came because Jewish development (along with British development after World War I) created a whole new economic reality filled with unprecedented opportunities. As the British and the Jews built new infrastructure in Palestine, as the business sector began to grow, and as the Jews developed an agricultural economy that went way beyond subsistence to export, Arabs flowed into the area in search of employment, stability, and opportunity. In addition to a surge in the agricultural sector, between 1917 and 1947 over 140,000 Arabs were employed by the British government in Palestine. Similarly, as the Jewish people further developed and modernized the economy and the country, the quality of life dramatically increased throughout Palestine.

"The Arab population of Palestine was small and limited until Jewish resettlement restored the barren lands and drew to it Arabs from neighboring countries... the Arab population in recent decades were recent newcomers-either late immigrants or descendants of persons who had immigrated into Palestine in the previous seventy years." Dr. Carl Herman Voss, 1953 Voss was chairman of the American Christian Palestine Committee.

"The Jewish-generated economic boom prompted Arab in-migration and immigration into the Jewish settled areas of Western Palestine beginning in the 1870s and continuing throughout the British administration of Palestine until 1946 or 1947." Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial

"During those twenty-four years [1922-1946] approximately 100,000 Arabs entered the country from neighboring lands. The influx could be traced in some measure to the orderly government provided by the British; but far more, certainly, to the economic opportunities made possible by Jewish settlement... by opening new markets for Arab produce and new employment opportunities for Arab labor." Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel

"The most profitable branch in agriculture between the two World Wars was citriculture. The other branch of intensive agriculture in the expanding economy was the growing of vegetables. In 1922 Arab farmers cultivated 30,000 dunam [7,500 acres] and produced 20,000 tons of vegetables. In 1944/45 Arabs farmed 239,733 dunam [60,000 acres] and supplied 189,804 tons of vegetables to the market. In 1931, there were 339 factories owned by Arabs and in 1942-1,558 factories. The rapid development of the Arab economy, with a concomitant rise in the standard of living, gave rise to demands for a higher quality of health and educational services. As a result, health facilities were expanded, and the scope and level of educational opportunities were also far beyond those prevailing in the neighboring Arab countries." Arieh L. Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession

"As the most visible Arab-American critic of Yasser Arafat, I get a lot of hate mail... Let me state this plainly and clearly: The Jews in Israel took no one's land. As the Jews came, something interesting happened. Arabs followed. I don't blame them. They came for jobs. They came for prosperity. They came for freedom. And they came in large numbers." Joseph Farrah, WorldNetDaily.com, April 23, 2002 Joseph Farrah is a columnist for the international edition of The Jerusalem Post, and founding editor of WorldNetDaily,com.

For the sake of perspective, we should not forget the basic fact that from 1917 to 1948 the British kept tight controls over Jewish immigration to Palestine, while there were virtually no restrictions on Arab immigration.

The truth about Jewish emigration to Palestine is that not only did the Jews not displace a large indigenous Arab population that had been there for millennia but that it was Jewish efforts to develop Palestine that directly resulted in a dramatic rise in Palestine's Arab population. It wouldn't be true to say that there weren't Jews who, as statehood approached-and particularly after the Arab riots in the twenties and thirties-hoped that a way could be found to establish a Jewish state that had as few Arab citizens as possible. Nonetheless, it was never a matter of policy or practice for the burgeoning Jewish community in Palestine to seek to drive the Arabs out of their homes.

As we have seen, the Arabs repeatedly rejected the option of living in peace with their Jewish neighbors and instead opted for war. This brings us to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

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