For thousands of years, the small land of Israel has been the site of countless wars between people who claim, for many different reasons, the land as their own. The struggle persists up to this day, and blood continues to spill over what the world considers its Holy Land. Israel’s Biblical Past When one wishes to look at Israel’s history, it is important to study Israel’s Biblical account.
This precious volume recounts Israel’s roots, her period of slavery in Egypt, her beginnings as separate tribes in the Promised Land, and the uniting of these tribes under a monarchy. Wood, 1986, p. 3) Fortunately, Biblical accounts of Israel are supported by archaeological data, which makes the information in the Bible historically valid and reliable. Israel is the chosen land for the chosen people. From the Bible, we see that this land was promised by God as reward for Abraham’s faithfulness and obedience to His word. Abraham is considered the Father of the Jewish Nation, and his descendants were the direct beneficiary of God’s covenant with him.
However, the journey to the Promised Land would not be easy; it was wrought with so much pain and sacrifices. For quite a long time, the descendants of Abraham were slaves to the Egyptians. Still, they held on to God’s word, and when they were finally freed from slavery by Moses, they began their exodus from Egypt into the Canaan, the land that God has chosen for them. After a generation of wandering, the Jews finally arrived at Canaan. There, they settled as separate tribes, but was eventually unified under one king.
Israel’s first king was Saul, but his greatest king was David. After a succession of kings, Israel was banished by God because of their sins. Muslims came to invade the land claiming it as their spiritual land as well. Thus, the Jewish nation lost their Promised Land once again. The Diaspora Since the time that the Jews lost Israel, they have been scattered all over the world. This dispersion is called the Diaspora, and has deeper meanings than mere physical separation or migration to other places.
This Diaspora is meant to remind the Jews that they are meant to be together in Israel as God intended them to be. Thus the desire to return to their spiritual land abides even after thousands of years of Diaspora. This longing to return to Israel is made more acute by the persecution of Jews in almost every place they go. While there were isolated pockets of stability, the attempt to settle elsewhere was generally a failure, and they took this as a sign that it is time to return home. The Homecoming A hundred years after the crusades, Jews began to return to Israel in small trickles.
Israel then was under Muslim rule, as it has stood when the Crusades failed to retake the land from them. During this time Israel was called Palestine to make the distinction between Jewish Israel. For hundreds of years the Jews made their slow excruciating homecoming, strengthened only by their faith in God that He shall soon restore them to their land. Slowly over many generations, the number of Jews continued to grow. This Jewish homecoming was encouraged by the internal rift within the Ottoman Empire.
On one side, the Ottoman Empire was fighting the rebellious Bedouins, while fending off challenges to the legitimacy of the Ottoman State. (Lewis, 1996, p. 333) Gradually, these internal conflicts weakened the once mighty empire. Within the first decade of the twentieth century, the empire lost all of its territories, including Israel, their crown jewel. Thus, the Ottoman Empire was no more. Finally by the end of the nineteenth century, the population of Jews in Palestine was big enough to exert some pressure over Palestine.
In 1897, the First Zionist Congress was convened. This Congress formally declared the intention to establish a Jewish state within Palestine that will be recognized by the international community. This move was supported by Britain and the United States, who declared their favor over the creation of an independent Jewish state. However, the declaration did not find steam as the influx of Jews slowed down in the early twentieth century. The resurgence came in the 1940’s when the Holocaust killed millions of Jews in Europe.
This unspeakable horror wrought upon the Jews solidified their resolve to build their own country and galvanized support from the international community. After World War II, the United Nations declared that Palestine be split in two, one for the Arabs and one for the Jews. As expected, the Arab world raised their objections against the division. Violence erupted immediately after this announcement and continued unabated until David Ben-Gurion, in accordance with the UN Partition Plan, declared independence for the Jewish nation and the creation of the State of Israel in May 14, 1948.
The Holy Wars Right after the creation of the Israeli state, neighboring Arab countries surrounded Israel and attacked them from all sides. With sheer resolve to defend their homeland, the fledgling nation with an inexperienced army was able to repel the invading forces. In fact, the Jewish army went so far as advancing their forces, and occupying territories outside their mandated boundaries; this includes most of the land allocated for the Arabs under the Partition Plan, and half of Jerusalem which was supposed to be a UN-controlled city.
A ceasefire was successfully negotiated with current occupation defining the new boundaries of Israel. As a result of the Arab invasion, Israel now straddles a land much bigger than what was given to them in the UN Partition Plan. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from both fronts resulted from this war of Israeli independence. The Jewish refugees who have been expelled from Arab lands continue to flock to Israel, while Arab refugees displaced by the Israeli territory continue to settle along the border in UN-sanctioned refugee camps.
Even up to this day, Jews and Arabs trapped in the conflict pray for safe passage. The Promise of Israel Arabs and Jews stare at each other across the border in an uneasy truce. Even up to this day, lasting peace is an elusive dream as extremists from both sides threaten war at any time. Israel has created a deep and far-reaching conflict that affects the entire world. Arab terrorists attack the United States and Britain for being staunch allies of Israel, and the United States, in retaliation, is now holding a war in Iraq. And the violence goes on.
That the Holy Land of Israel shall be the site of such violence is indeed mankind’s collective tragedy. Where the story of Israel shall take us, we can never know, but this much I am sure of: the war over the Holy Land will never stop until we find it in our hearts to forgive and accept one another. Perhaps it is the fate of a Chosen Land to never find peace until humanity makes peace with each another. The promise of the Holy Land is the promise of peace, and it is incumbent upon us to bring that promise to its final fulfillment.