Being now in my mid-30’s, I think it is difficult for my generation and those younger to believe that less than a century ago the Jews were still homeless as a people. Though found in many countries, they lacked a country of their own to call home. ‘O Jerusalem!’ by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre then is the story of how the Jews got their own country again.
From the Balfour Declaration in 1917 where the British government committed to a national home for the Jewish people until the official realization of that promise in the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948 after the close of World War II and a failed but energetic effort on the part of Nazi Germany to exterminate their race, the simplest summary would be to say that this is a long and complicated story which the beginning of is difficult to precisely define.
When Israel declared herself an independent country again almost three-quarters of a century ago, images and stories from the liberation of concentration camps were still fresh and had shocked the conscience of the world as the Allies reclaimed territory which Hitler’s forces had seized and held for years. As details of what had happened in places like Auschwitz and Buchenwald were released, this undeniably contributed to a receptiveness regarding giving Palestine back to the Jews.
Who could deny that the Jews needed their own country now that the consequences of their perpetually living in foreign lands had now been painted in the starkest, direst possible terms?
The trouble, of course, was that Palestine was already occupied, and its residents and neighbors did not take kindly to the proposed custody transfer.
Resident Palestinian Arabs considered this their homeland. Most of them being Muslims, they objected on the grounds of religious as well as ethnic pride to the Jewish diaspora flooding in from all over the world to stake their claim.
There was then a lot of planning and preparation and maneuvering behind the scenes necessary for those Zionists to ultimately succeed in their bid for a country of their own again. And that planning as well as its execution are outlined here in vivid detail, written in brisk but engaging narrative fashion, conveying the complexity and confusion and tension of this period effectively and fairly so far as I can tell.
For instance, a significant part of Zionist planning and preparation had to do with the British who had effectively controlled Palestine from a governmental perspective since 1917 when they wrested it from the Ottoman Empire.
Winning a final British acquiescence to Jewish statehood therefore required Zionists to engage in a relentless campaign of politicking and appealing to the conscience of the world, culminating first in recognition of the cause at the United Nations in November 1947, with the fact of Israeli statehood being declared officially at midnight on May 14, 1948.
It would seem then that this task was completed decades ago. Yet in a certain sense it is also seemingly never finished.
What is done is done, and yet there is seemingly no end to disputes and disagreements about what has been done, is still done, or what still needs doing. Persuading the wider world that Israel is a legitimate country which has a right to exist and to defend herself has never stopped being a feature of Israel’s condition, even 74-years on.
Arabs for their part have remained largely committed to questioning when not outright denying the legitimacy of Israel, decrying her tireless efforts to establish herself against daily, weekly, monthly, and annual tests of her resolve.
At the same time, Western powers like the United States, Great Britain, and France have vacillated. Support for Israel has ebbed and flowed with the changing of administrations, and the ire of Israel’s neighbors has sometimes been raised, or other times placated, usually in direct proportion to dependence on trade and a keen desire to reduce random terrorist attacks from the most zealous and committed objectors.
Here then we see the Post-World War I and World War II vision and resolve of the global elites tested as fully as it has been tested anywhere.
Weening the people of the world from their fundamental commitments to tribe and nation and creed to the end of securing world peace has proven a thornier problem than was reckoned on the front-end. The standard approach has been to substitute economic interest and increasing secularism for divergent religious and ethnic convictions. Yet this is stubbornly denounced from all sides by those who like their religion and ethnos – and want to keep it, thank you very much.
The story told in ‘O Jerusalem!’ is an ongoing one, therefore. The events of 1948 which resulted in the formation of Israel are still playing out. Here is as an island of Jewish and Western thought in an ocean of non-Western civilization. So what will we do with it? And what do we make of it?
Answering this simple question is complicated by whether we are Jew or Arab or Gentile, and whether we hold the Tanakh, Bible, or Quran to be the true account of who God is and what He expects of us.
So also, how we answer the question for Israel is all wrapped up with how we answer for our own countries and ways of life.
We do well to study and consider, then, since the story of ‘O Jerusalem!’ just goes to show that decisions and plans can be made in an hour, day, week, month, and year which will reverberate for decades, even up to the present and foreseeable future, and often with great and terrible consequences.
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