Religious Jews believe that Israel was promised to them since biblical times, even though the land of Israel didn't always belong to them. There has always been a certain affiliation between Jews and Israel. It was religiously believed that a messiah would come to return the Jewish homeland to the Jews when the time came. The Jews never had any idea how much time would pass, or how much they would suffer, before this happened.
Over thousands of years, Jews left Palestine, in what is called the diaspora, in search of a place where they would be accepted in society. The Jews are undoubtedly one of the most migratory peoples in the history of mankind. The principal Jewish centre has shifted many times from one place to another, but no matter where they seemed to go, they were always the minority, and were always treated unfairly. In Christian Europe, the Jews were feared because they were different, and treated as though they were lower than human beings. This started a trend in which unfortunate happenings were blamed on the Jews.
The Beginning of Zionism
In May 2, 1860, Theodor Herzl was born. He felt little attachment to his Jewish heritage until 1894, when he covered the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French military who was unjustly convicted of passing secrets to Germany. The charges against Dreyfus shocked Herzl into realizing the need for a Jewish state. He saw that it was unfair that Dreyfus had been sentenced to life imprisonment when evidence had been uncovered implicating that he was innocent, and that a French infantry officer called Major Marie Charles Esterhazy was actually the culprit. In order that the army look fair, they had to court-martial Esterhazy, but in early 1898, he was acquitted of all charges. In August of 1898, Esterhazy was dismissed from the army and left France, settling in England. Esterhazy was not Jewish.
Herzl was shocked, and decided he must take action to prevent such unfairness towards his people. Herzl wrote many pieces of literature in which he attempted to advocate the importance of a Jewish state. Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) was a pamphlet written in 1896. In 1897, the First Zionist Congress was held in Basle, under Herzl's leadership. "Zionism" is a belief that one day, the Jews will have an independent state. It comes from the word "Zion", which is stronghold in Jerusalem. Over time, the term "Zion" came to be applied to Jerusalem in general, and later to the Jewish idea of utopia. At one point, Herzl's zionist followers were so desperate for a place to call their own, they considered a proposal to create a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Herzl once said "In Basle, I founded the Jewish state... Maybe in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will realize it." Theodor Herzl died on July 3rd, 1904. He never saw his dream of a Jewish homeland fulfilled, and he never knew just how much he did for the Jewish people. He gave them a voice.
The Word Spreads
In the political sense, the British sympathized with the Jewish cause. On November 2nd, 1917, Arthur James Balfour signed a declaration stating that Britain was committed to the idea of establishing a Jewish home in Palestine. "His Majesty's Government," wrote Balfour, " view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." The Jewish people were overjoyed. The Balfour Declaration signified the first step in the Jewish quest for a home. In 1918, the allies emerged victorious after the 1st world war, and France and England agreed to divide up the region in such a way that England had authority over Palestine. Moving to Israel is called "aliya," Hebrew for going up. Between 1920 and 1929, some one-hundred-and-sixty-thousand Jewish immigrants came to Palestine, eighty-five percent from Eastern Europe. This great wave brought most of the people who would lead Israel to statehood within the next two decades, including David Ben-Gurion, who would later become Israel's first prime minister. Many of those who came were socialists. They were prejudiced against the Jewish merchant stereotype, and instead believed in the importance of Jewish labour, which started the Kibbutz movement. Kibbutzim are collective settlements, built on the promise that everyone would give what they could, and take what they needed.
The Tension Mounts
The Arabs were very opposed to the Balfour declaration, even though many were making money from the Jews, who paid the Arabs as well as they could for a small piece of land on which to raise a family. The Jews weren't picky once they reached Palestine. They bought land wherever they could, mostly in areas where nobody wanted to live. The Jews turned swamp land into gardens and fields, developed the economy, and started to attract immigrants. True, the British claimed to be partial to the Jews, but at the same time, since they were in charge of Palestine, they were also interested in keeping the Arabs content, so that the two major groups would peacefully coexist in Palestine. They spend the next 30 years trying unsuccessfully to keep Palestine at peace, making promises to both the Jews and the Arabs that Britain had no power to keep. Britain caused tension between Jews and Arabs which is part of the reason that Israel isn't at peace with Palestinians today.
The Arabs decided they'd had enough, and started taking action to bring a stop to the Jewish takeover. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem organized pogroms, in which Jews would be captured and beaten. In 1929, things began to get worse when the Arabs started rioting and massacring students in Chevron. The Jewish community in Chevron were mortified, and evacuated. The Jews of Palestine realized that in order that they keep their land, they may have to fight and die for it. The Arabs felt threatened with the increase of Jewish population in Palestine, and fought it whenever possible. In 1936, the Arabs tried to attract attention by uprising, and continued to do so for the next three years.
Britain jumped in in 1939, and put a limit on the amount of land Jews were allowed to buy. This limit became known as the "white paper," and the Jews fought it, and smuggled in refugees anyway. This worked for a while, as the number of refugees during the war was relatively low, and the Arabs were under the impression that Britain was partial to them again. However, in 1945, when the 2nd world war ended, thousands of Jewish refugees came to Palestine by boat. They were scared, and needed to find safety. The world went into shock as the details of the holocaust became known, and for the first time in modern history, there was a widespread sympathy for the Jewish people. There was a quarter-million Jews who had survived the holocaust and needed housing. The Jewish settlers in Palestine insisted that the white paper be lifted for the refugees to be allowed to come into the country and find homes. The Arabs fervently opposed the increase in the Jewish population and argued that if anything, the Jews ought to be sent to England. The refugees were Britain's problem, not theirs.
Political persona in Britain had changed, and the new foreign secretary decided that the Jewish refugees was not Britain's problem, either. Political zionists used this opportunity to push for the formation of a Jewish state. They decided that the British were not helping them any longer, and must go. The Jews smuggled in refugees, and fought the British mandate. The British did what they could to send the ships of homeless Jews away, but since the paperwork had all been destroyed during the war, they had trouble telling who had Palestinian citizenship and who didn't. The Jews fought the British law by fighting in retaliation, using terrorist groups of angry Jews.
The Issue Trades Hands
The British grew frightened at having found themselves in the middle of such a mess, and made plans to withdraw their troops from Palestine, leaving the newly formed United Nations to address the issue. Britain claimed that they could no longer guarantee the safety of existing settlers, and that there were not enough jobs to go around. They claimed that Jewish statehood was impossible.
In November of 1947, The United Nations voted and the bill was passed to establish the state of Israel. The British and the Arabs wasted no time trying to make it impossible for the Jews to declare an independent state. From November 30, 1947, to May 14, 1948, the Arabs waged unnoficial war against the Yishuv. The only fighting forces that the Yishuv had were the Hagannah (Prevention), and two groups called "Etzel" (Irgun Zioni Lochen), and Lehy (Lochamei Chirut Israel). These groups were forced to work underground because the British had declared it illegal for Jews to own or carry weapons. The Yishuv, however, owned a monopoly on about 1,300 guns.
The Yishuv were pressed to decide whether they would proclaim the independent state of Israel. They were fully aware that if they did, five angry, well-equipped Arab armies would attack with planes, tanks, and artillery. Things again looked bad for the Jews, who had no tanks and no air force. May 13th, 1948, the day scheduled for the end of the British mandate, was quickly approaching. Many Jews opted to proclaim the statehood of Israel simply because they were convinced that another opportunity would never come. After a long debate, it was agreed that the Jews indeed would declare an independent Jewish state on the soonest possible day after the British mandate was terminated. The 13th, however, was a shabbat, a Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. The state of Israel could not be proclaimed on a shabbat.
The Proclamation, and the Consequences
On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion announced the birth of the Jewish state. He read the new Declaration of the State of Israel. HaTikvah (meaning hope), the national anthem, was played. Eleven minutes later, President Truman officially recognized the state of Israel, and was followed almost immediately by the USSR. For the first time since Bar Kochba, the Jews had their own country.
Less than 24 hours later, the Arabs declared war on Israel. Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon invaded areas that had been deemed Israeli by the United Nations, and immediately started what the world believed would become a huge massacre. The Jews, however, were eager to band together and defend their new state. The Arabs outnumbered the Israelis, but the Israelis were better organized. Everybody helped, even people who had not had previous affiliation with the army. My grandfather, who drove his kibbutz's truck, drove provisions to a nearby kibbutz which was surrounded by arabs. Religious Jews believe that God played a part in it, too. In the dry, desert area of Israel, it very, very rarely rains during the summer, however, during the summer of 1948, it not only rained, it thundered. The Arabs only came up with one plausible explanation for the sound: the Jews had the atomic bomb. They turned and fled. After a second round and more tension, the world demanded a cease fire. England finally threatened Israel with an invasion unless they signed a document saying that they would stop shooting. The armistice treaty was signed in early 1949, after Israel had, amazingly, captured large tracts of land beyond boundaries designed by the United Nations.
Israel had become a independent state, and worked together to defend it. And so ended the terrible plight of the Jewish people, as they settled down to see what the future would bring. Herzl's vision had become a reality. The Jews then came together to understand the forces that had acted to bring them together as a state, and honoured these forces. In 1949, the Jews relocated Herzl's remains, as well as those of many others who had contributed to the statehood of Israel, to a mountain west of Jerusalem, that was named Mount Herzl.
Barnavi, Eli. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. Kuperard Ltd.: London, 1994.
Cohn-Sherbok, Lavinia. A History of Jewish Civilization. Promotional Reprint Company Ltd.: London, 1997.
Dreamers and Builders, 100 years of Zionism. Israel Film Archive, Jerusalem Cinematheque. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dept. of Public Affairs.
Gilboa, Yael, et. Al. Israel at 50, From Vision to Life. Ahva: Jerusalem, Israel, 1998.
Israel Becomes A State.
[Broken link Removed by Moderator]
Israel's 52nd Independence Day. [Broken link Removed by Moderator]
The Most Amazing State of Israel. [Broken link Removed by Moderator]
The Jewish Student Online Research Centre [Broken link Removed by Moderator]