For close to one hundred years, the Jewish population of Palestine, and then, of the State of Israel, has been engaged in a struggle with its Arab neighbors. Again and again, Israel has been forced into defensive wars over its right to the narrow strip of territory which constitutes its only homeland on the face of the globe. Much blood has been shed since the onset of this conflict.
Weary of the on-going tension of hostility and bloodshed, some Israelis have begun asking themselves: What are we fighting for?
Others have weighed the Arabs' claims and come to the conclusion that there is, indeed, a degree of justification for them. After all, didn't they rule here for over a thousand years? If so, why do we Jews call this our homeland? A higher percentage of the Arab population were actually born in Palestine/Israel than is the case with the local Jewish population, or, at least with the parents of the Jews now living here.
This strip of land was designated by the United Nations in 1947 for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland, after the slaughter of six million of our people during the Holocaust. However, it is obvious that no one intended to atone for one crime against humanity by committing another one; no one would suggest that the survivors be absorbed into the new State of Israel by driving out those non-Jews currently residing here.
Thoughts such as these arise again and again with each additional war, even with each new terrorist attack. Public leaders find it difficult to respond to these arguments and the actions which are their natural consequences. Zionist leaders proposed that we gather again in our homeland and become a "nation like all the nations", similar to the dozens of new independent states established after World War I. We, too, they declared, will become an independent country. The world will acknowledge our independence, and we will become "a nation like all the nations." They proclaimed that the time had come to cast off the mentality of the Diaspora, so that we might become full members of the family of nations. They urged that we reach out to the parched land, just crying out to be developed. "Together with the indigenous Arab population we will establish a modern, humanitarian society that will expand to all of the Middle East," they proposed. It was an enticing dream.
Along came the facts of the matter, and shattered this dream to bits. The theories expounded by the Zionist founders of the State of Israel were sadly erroneous in their basic premises. Their misunderstanding lies in the assumption that the Biblical description of the Jewish People, "a people who dwell alone", was intrinsically flawed. In picturing the Jewish People as just another member of the "family of nations", they were, tragically, completely off the mark.
The People of Israel are most definitely not just a Hebrew-speaking version of the hundreds of other nations that populate our globe. Being a nation "who dwell alone" is not a sign that we are abnormal; for the Jewish People, it is the natural state of affairs. That is how the Creator intended us to be.
How so? We have no "family" apart from ourselves. Wherever we go, wherever we flee, we are alone. Although we may, upon occasion, be taken in willingly – more so in recent times – but once arrived, we do not become true "members of the family." The Jew will always be either a "guest" – at best, a welcome guest – or, at worst, an unwelcome intruder. Never can he become a true member of the family and remain a Jew.
The same principle applies to our status as a nation. We may be an accepted, tolerated, or even respected, outsider; but inevitably, we are not regarded as a member of the family. The individual Jew in exile was sometimes considered a valuable asset because of his wealth, or, more rarely, because of his knowledge and skill. So, too, the State of Israel among the nations of the world.
Just imagine that the State of Israel were, Heaven forbid, to disappear. Would any other country feel that it had lost a member of the family?
How is the Jewish People unique? The most basic explanation is because that was how the Manufacturer created us; we find expression of this uniqueness in a number of ways. There is no other nation which is intrinsically tied up with its religion. There is no other nation which is so threatened with extinction, not only in times of war, but also in times of peace. No other nation has millions of enemies when not at war; the Jewish People are faced with sworn enemies who seek its total elimination from the scene, whether by sword, or, (in terms more acceptable to the Western mind), by conversion to another religion. There is no other nation whose continued existence is dependent upon the support of its Diaspora, and vice versa. How do we explain all these anomalies?
Let's go back to the beginning of history, to a comment on the very first verse of the Torah, made by Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, arguably the most eminent commentator of all time. Discussing the words "In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth," Rashi poses a question as follows: Why does the Torah open with an account of the creation of the world? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to open with a precept or a ruling about how we should conduct our lives? Isn't that what the Torah is all about? Why not just go ahead and tell us what we should and should not do, without going into the lengthy description of the first six days of creation?
Rashi carries on to give the answer: This was all part of the omniscient Creator's plan for the future. Foreseeing that the day would come when Israel's right to their homeland would be challenged by other nations, G-d countered the arguments of those who would later lay claim to the Holy Land as their own by letting it be known to one and all that it was He who created the world in the first place. As the Original Owner of the territory in question (as well as the rest of the universe), G-d was fully entitled to give each section of the world to whomever He saw fit.
The Bible, as it is known to the Christian world, and the Koran, as known to the Muslim world, both clearly state that G-d created the world, and that He promised the Land of Israel upon the Jewish People. Thus, explains Rashi, there is no room for the Muslims or Christians to dispute of the right of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel, by their own admission.
Even if we are not successful in convincing the Arab League of our right to the Land, we should be able to convince at least ourselves that we have every right to be living in Israel. Before we discuss the question with outsiders, we ourselves must be convinced of the justice of our cause. Any qualms our conscience may have experienced when asked about the fate of Arabs who left the country in 1948 should be laid to rest by the words of Rashi on the creation of the world. We firmly believe that G-d revealed Himself to Abraham our forefather and promised him "I will give this land to your descendants."
We should also keep in mind that without the Torah, we have no claim to the Land of Israel. Were it not for this right, why would G-d have led us here after taking us out of Egypt? Surely, He could have taken us to any spot on the face of the globe; and just as certainly, He could have found us a location that would not be contested by other nations over the centuries. At the time, most of the European continent was not inhabited. Why not settle the People of Israel on the banks of the Rhine or the Rhone?
We would do well to recall a historical episode from the beginning of the previous century. It took place directly after the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. A member of the British Parliament submitted a query concerning the moral and constitutional principles upon which the Balfour Declaration was based. The possible point of contention was that the government of Great Britain had, in this matter, contravened its traditional policy regarding its numerous colonies. In the past, the British had always granted political autonomy to whichever ethnic group constituted the majority in the territory in question. Regarding Palestine, argued this member of Parliament, the government had done just the opposite, since the Jews living in Palestine at the time were only a tiny minority amongst a far larger Arab population.
In the course of his official response to this query, Lord Balfour made it clear that, in contrast to the accepted practice of other nations of the world, Great Britain's policy was to consider the territory of its colonies as the possession of the indigenous people living in them. However, he declared, the case of the Holy Land was entirely different, since it was common knowledge that it had been bestowed on the Jewish People thousands of years previously.
Furthermore, explained Lord Balfour, the situation of the Jewish People was unique. In their case, the question of nationality, religion, and homeland are intertwined to a degree not found with any other ethnic group on the face of the globe; not with any other nation, nor any other religion, and nor any other country. The millions of Jews to whom G-d bequeathed this land are undoubtedly far more numerous than any other religious group which resided in Palestine during the years of the Jews' exile from their land.
In commenting on Lord Balfour's response, we find in Ze'ev Jabotinsky's book, Megillat Hagedud, the author points out that it was Great Britain's good fortune to play a historical role in the return of the Jewish People to their land. They had taken a page from the Scriptures on which was engraved the ancient prophecy of the Return to Israel to their Land. It was now Great Britian's privilege to be instrumental in bringing this ancient prophecy to fruition. G-d had given the Jewish People His solemn promise that the land would be theirs; the people of Great Britain co-signed, so to speak, that they undertook to see that this Heavenly promise was fulfilled in their time.
Thus the legal, ethical, and theoretical basis for the Jewish homeland which was to come into being four decades later, all stemmed from the same source: the ancient, on-going bond between the Creator and the People of Israel, His Torah, and the Holy Land.
Just how profound is the bond between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel? On the one hand, we have been witness in the last hundred years to the return of millions of Jews to what they continue to consider their homeland, despite an exile which has lasted almost two thousand years! There is no parallel to this wave of return after two millennia of exile at any point in the history of the human race. Can we imagine anyone moving back to, say, Korea, or South Africa, or France, because he still considers himself a native of the country from which his ancestors were driven two thousand years ago? How many people even know where their ancestors were living that long ago, or why they left?
Another facet of the unique Jewish People – Land of Israel bond can be seen if we note the great sacrifices made by those who decided to return to the Land as individuals or small groups during the past thousand years. The price these brave souls were willing to pay in order to reach their destination has no parallel among any other nation or people. Was there ever a displaced nation who guarded its bond with its former homeland with such fervor and devotion?
And the Land of Israel responded in kind. Over the long centuries that it was inhabited by non-Jews, the Holy Land never flourished and never gave forth as rich, plentiful, and diversified crops as it does today, when settled by the Jewish nation. From the first century of the Common Era to the middle of the twentieth century, the Land of Israel was under gentile rule. At no point did it support a flourishing, expanding population and economy. It was only with the gradual return of her beloved People that the Land again began to give forth her bounty with a generous, loving hand. What greater testimony can there be of the Land's faithful bond with her people while they were scattered to the four corners of the earth?
There is another enigma of human history, for which there is no logical explanation. Israel has always been a crossroads, the bridge that joins Europe, Asia, and Africa. If for no other reason than this strategic location, the Holy Land ought to have been a thriving, densely populated region.
During those same centuries of the Jewish exile, Europe developed greatly, at times, by leaps and bounds; yet the Holy Land remained desolate and comparatively unpopulated. Paris, London, Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, and many other cities became metropolises, taking up prominent positions on the world map. At the same time, the Land of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, remained obscure names and places whose primary significance was on the dust-covered pages of ancient history.
Can anyone put forth an explanation for this phenomenon without basing it on the intrinsic bond that has always existed, and always will, between the People of Israel and the Land of Israel? No honest scholar has yet suggested an alternate explanation for the miraculous rebirth of the Holy Land as a flourishing, ever-growing and throbbing center of life and bounty in the past fifty years.
"The Land of Israel, for the People of Israel, as prescribed by the Torah of Israel" – this is our motto, a basic creed and tenet of Judaism, which has preserved our people and our faith throughout the millennia. The bond of the People of Israel is as eternal as are we, the Jewish People, the Eternal Nation of Israel.