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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘israeli history’

Google and the Defenders of Kfar Etzion

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Gush Etzion is an area southeast of Jerusalem, which contains several “settlements.” One of them is Kibbutz Kfar Etzion. Part of the Palestine Mandate from 1917 to 1948, and the Ottoman empire before that, it was purchased from local Arabs and settled by Yemenite Jews in 1927.  They lived there on and off (they were driven out several times by Arab “riots”) until May 1948 when the invading Jordanian army overran it and massacred all but four of its defenders. All of the West Bank and East Jerusalem were made Jew-free by the Jordanians, who illegally occupied the area until 1967, when the kibbutz was reestablished.

The Haganah sent thirty-five men to relieve the besieged kibbutzim of Gush Etzion in January 1948, following an Arab attack. They were wiped out and their bodies mutilated after an Arab shepherd, whom they unwisely set free after encountering him on the way, reported their presence. They are referred to as the lamed hey, “the thirty-five.”

Let me spell it out more clearly: Jews lived there on land they owned. The kibbutzim of Gush Etzion (there were four of them) represented the realization of the promise made by the world to the Jewish people in the Palestine Mandate, that there would be a national home in the land of Israel. Arabs violently resisted their presence, and when Jordan violated the U.N. charter by invading and occupying Judea and Samaria in 1948, Jews were murdered or expelled. Not one Jew was allowed to remain on the Jordanian side of the cease-fire line. Because they were Jews.

But in the eyes of the “international community,” the ethnic cleansing of the area east of the 1949 armistice line and the 19-year Jordanian occupation thereof transformed Gush Etzion into Arab land, land that today “belongs” to the new non-member-state of the U.N., “Palestine.”

Apparently this magical transmutation was recognized by Google, because when Jewish residents of Gush Etzion tried to use Google’s search engine this month, they received a message suggesting that they switch to the appropriate page for their location, Google Palestine (Google.ps), in Arabic, rather than the Hebrew-language Google Israel (Google.il) they had been using. This follows Google’s recent decision to re-title Google.ps “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian territories.”

Some people think this is much ado about nothing, and at a time when nobody knows if Israel will be at war with Hizballah, Syria and Iran tomorrow, they have a point.

But it is indicative of a much bigger problem. In its desire to present itself as a peace-loving member of the “international community,” Israeli governments have not asserted the historic right of the Jewish people, guaranteed in international law, to the land of Israel. They have not challenged the U.N.’s abdication of its responsibility, inherited from the League of Nations, to preserve this right. They have allowed the Arab position, that the Jews are colonialist interlopers occupying Arab land, to become the conventional wisdom.

I am not saying that it isn’t possible for Israel to agree to a negotiated settlement that would transfer some part of the area of the original mandate to Arab sovereignty, assuming that it could be consistent with Israel’s security. But this has to be negotiated from the starting point that the Jewish people have prima facie rights to Judea and Samaria, not the Palestinian Arabs.

This distortion underlies the position of the U.S. that Israel should withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines “with land swaps.” In other words, the U.S. believes that the armistice lines represent the boundaries of “Arab land” and so if Israel annexes any of it, the Arabs must be “compensated.” Why? The land wasn’t theirs to begin with!

Recent Israeli governments have argued for holding onto parts of the territories for security reasons, an argument which makes eminent sense. But they have generally avoided firmly asserting that Israel, on behalf of the Jewish people, holds the legal title to the land and has the right to dispose of it as it sees fit. The Arabs, of course, aren’t shy in saying that it’s all theirs, and that in addition, Jews aren’t allowed to live there.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Thirty-Six: Tevye the Builder

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

As weeks passed, Tevye felt more and more invincible. An inner transformation was taking place which he himself couldn’t explain, as if a new soul had entered his body. He felt like he was not only Tevye, but someonc much greater, as if the spirits of Goliath and Shmuelik, Bat Sheva and Golda, Tzeitl and Guttmacher, along with the heroes of history, had all become a part of his being. The strength of generations impelled him forward in his tasks. He was tireless in his labor. In addition to draining the swamps, he dug ditches throughout the night. When a wave of hot desert winds made work in the swamps too dangerous, he plowed fields and planted, sawed wooden planks and hammered the foundations of buildings. Unable to sleep more than a few hours a night, he did double shifts of guard duty, chased away snooping Arabs, and greeted the sunrise, wrapped in tallit and teffilin. Instead of mourning, he worked and he built. On the Sabbath, he rested, just as God had commanded. But come Motzei Shabbos, with the appearance of the first three stars in the sky, Tevye rushed back to his labor.

Busy with the endless work on the settlement, Tevye fought off moments of doubt and philosophical reflections. He knew that thinking too much could get a man into trouble. Why the Almighty did what He did was something no human could grasp. Nothing could be gained by complaining. It was God’s world to run things the way He saw fit. It was a mortal man’s duty to accept his fate in contentment and song. As Nachman always reminded them, that was man’s task and trial on earth, to trust in the Lord, in good times and bad, whether we understood God’s mysteries or not.

Which isn’t to say that Tevye turned into a saint. Many times he was angry. And often, there was more fury than joy in his work. And he was still wont to turn a questioning eye up to Heaven, and occasionally, even to sneer. But, for the most part, he kept his lips sealed. If anything, he shared a private battle with God. Like a boxer dizzy with blows, he was determined not to fall down. And if he fell down, he was determined to get back on his feet. He wouldn’t be beaten. His faith wouldn’t die. His body could ache and become food for mosquitoes, but his soul couldn’t be touched by a swamp. Where once he had been cautious, now he didn’t feel any fear. Tevye wasn’t worried about meeting the Angel of Death. “Come and take me!” he roared.

Like the Jewish People, he would live on forever. Tevye’s revenge was his work. He became an example for everyone. Summer arrived, bringing along hot, sandy winds from the desert. There were days a man couldn’t open his eyes without being blinded. While the settlers sought shelter in their tents, Tevye stood in the swamp, his eyes tightly closed, scooping buckets of water out of the swamp. The heat was scorching. There were no cool drinks to quench the nagging thirst, no ice, no shade, no air to breath in the oppressively humid lowlands. Even the ocean was warm. And nights were so still, no relief from the merciless desert sharav could be found, even by sleeping outside of their airless tents.

Still, work in the swamp continued. If not by the settlers, by the fiery rays of the sun. As if the Lord was pitching in some help of His own, the swamps began to evaporate and dry. By late August, the canal to the sea approached completion. Only a pipe-length section remained. When that last piece was set into place, the remaining swamp water would be drained off into the ocean. Only one small obstacle stood in the way. The pipe had to be laid in the most dangerous part of the swamp, where the mosquitoes had built their main encampment. Whoever connected together the last two sections was sure to be eaten alive. Descending into the nest of mosquitoes meant almost certain death. A general meeting was called which everyone had to attend. Lots were to be drawn to determine the unlucky hero.

Equating Zionist Pioneers With Arab Terrorists

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The film is grainy and amateurish, but the image is stirring: one-armed Yosef Trumpeldor, Zionist national hero, plowing a field in the Galilee in 1913.

By coincidence, the 100-year-old film clip of one of the most remarkable figures in Israel’s history was posted on YouTube shortly before Trumpeldor’s name appeared in the news in connection with the controversial study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that was released in February.

The study – “Victims of Our Own Narratives?” – was funded by the U.S. State Department and carried out by a Jerusalem-based Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Staff researchers examined books used in Israeli and Palestinian schools and concluded that both sides are equally guilty of incitement against the other.

The Israeli Ministry of Education called the study “biased and unprofessional” and three members of the international Scientific Advisory Panel overseeing the study rejected their colleagues’ methodology and conclusions.

One of the most controversial sections of the study dealt with the textbooks’ promotion of “martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” The study found passages in Palestinian books such as: “Every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!” and “With all this, the call to raise the overall performance to the level of shedding one’s blood becomes a sacred national right which it is difficult to relinquish or be lenient on.”

The study then argued that Israeli textbooks likewise promote “the value of martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” As evidence, it cited two books that described Yosef Trumpeldor as a hero and quoted his dying words, “No matter, it is good to die for our country.”

“Trumpeldor’s heroic defense of his home is a very different kind of ‘martyrdom’ from that frequently associated with the Palestinian movement,” notes Prof. Gil Troy of McGill University, author of the book Why I Am a Zionist. “To overlook that point, and implicitly compare Trumpeldor’s death in defense to suicide bombers or any kind of terrorism in offense – which Palestinians frequently call ‘martyrdom operations’ – is like comparing a policeman and an armed robber because both have guns. Trumpeldor died defending his home and country, not slaughtering innocents to advance a political goal.”

As a teenager growing up in Russia in the late 1800s, Trumpeldor was attracted to Zionism as well as the pacifism and communalism of the philosopher Leo Tolstoy.

“He did not have a trace of militarism in his character,” Prof. Anita Shapira, a leading Israeli historian of Zionism, has written. Nonetheless, Trumpeldor served with distinction in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, suffering wounds that cost him his left arm. Despite his injuries, he requested and was granted permission to return to the battlefront.

Trumpeldor arrived in the Holy Land in 1912 and, together with a small group of likeminded pioneers, settled at the Migdal farm, a fledgling Jewish settlement in the Galilee, on the site of what had been a Jewish town in biblical times. A harsh environment and primitive living quarters were the norm.

After the Migdal project broke up in 1913 over ideological disagreements and other problems, Trumpeldor traveled to Europe as a Zionist emissary. He served as a delegate to the Eleventh Zionist Congress, in Vienna, and then organized Zionist cells in Russia. Returning to Palestine in 1919, Trumpeldor volunteered to work at an Upper Galilee settlement called Tel Chai.

The small kibbutzim and other Jewish settlements in that region had few residents and fewer weapons, making them easy targets for local Arab terrorists. Attacks ranging from robbery to arson and murder were commonplace.

Some Zionist leaders favored sending aid to the northern border towns. Yitzhak Tabenkin argued, “If we withdraw from Tel Chai, we will retreat all the way to the desert.” But Menachem Ussishkin, chairman of the Zionist Commission, warned that “we would, by sending young men with arms, anger the Arabs unnecessarily.” Ussishkin eventually changed his mind and reinforcements were sent, but they arrived too late.

On March 1, Arab forces entered Tel Chai on the pretext of searching for illegal weapons, and a battle ensued. Six of the Jewish defenders, including Trumpeldor, were killed.

The last stand at Tel Chai, and Trumpeldor’s dying words, became an inspiration to the young Zionist movement. “This was the first time in Jewish history for two thousand years that Jews had preferred to die in battle rather than to retreat,” Prof. Shapira notes.

When is a Palestinian Not a Palestinian?

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

I usually write about the Jewish history of Israel.  This time around, a short piece on the flexibility of national identity among our neighbors.  Less than a century ago, the Christian residents of Bethlehem did not identify themselves as Arabs, and even less so as the indigenous peoples.  In welcoming the conquering Anglos, they eagerly associated themselves with the conquering imperial power.

From “The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine” by Charles Guy Powles (1922), quoted in “The Changing Land Between the Jordan and the Sea” by Benjamin Zeev Kedar:

Bethlehem is a Christian city…  The people declare that they are not Arabs, but that they are descendants of the Crusaders.  They certainly are not generally so dark and swarthy as the Arabs.  All the women have colour in their cheeks and many have blue eyes, and their dress is interesting and picturesque.  Apart from its attractive coloring – a sky-blue robe with red girdle and embroidered jacket – they wear a head-dress extraordinarily like that of the ladies of the Crusaders of old…
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Fiamma Nirenstein’s Political Journey

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Sometimes I read something that is so on-target and illuminating that I want to say “stop what you are doing and read this now!

Fiamma Nirenstein is an Italian journalist who was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2008 and was Vice President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

She has just announced that she is leaving politics and making aliyahto Israel.

She wrote the piece below in 2003. You can substitute ‘Netanyahu’ for ‘Sharon’ and she could have written it yesterday.

It is a bit long, but if you never read anything else that I suggest, please read this:

How I became an ‘unconscious fascist’
By Fiamma Nirenstein

In 1967 I was a young communist, like most Italian youngsters. Bored by my rebellious behavior my family sent me to a Kibbutz in the upper Galilee, Neot Mordechai. I was quite satisfied there, the kibbutz used to give some money every month to the Vietcong. When the Six Day War began, Moshe Dayan spoke on the radio to announce it. I asked: “What is he saying?” and the comrades of Neot answered: “Shtuyot,” silly things. During the war I took children to shelters; I dug trenches, and learned some simple shooting and acts of self defense. We continued working in the orchards, but were quick to identify the incoming Mig-im and the outgoing Mirage-im, chasing one another in the sky of the Golan Heights.

Click here for the rest…

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The March of the 35: A Bravery Fiercer than Death (Video)

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

“I don’t know if there was any company in the Israel Defense Forces or in any army in the world that assembled such splendid manpower, pure bravery, and spiritual abundance as this company, who will forever be known by our people as the “lamed hey” (the thirty-five)…These lions of Israel were a mix of youthful spirit and glory, superior wisdom…and bravery fiercer than death.”
–David Ben Gurion

65 years ago this week, 35 young Haganah soldiers – mostly students at the Hebrew University – set out from Jerusalem to bring much needed supplies to the kibbutzim in the besieged Etzion Bloc south of the city. The soldiers were ambushed en route, and, despite fighting valiantly, the entire company was killed prior to reaching their destination. Toldot Yisrael’s latest movie A Bravery Fiercer than Death: The 35 Heroes of Gush Etzion tells their tragic yet inspiring story.

This is the fourth installment in the “Eyewitness 1948″ short film series produced by Toldot Yisrael and was generously sponsored by the Alexander Family in memory of Shaul Pnueli, one of the fallen. The first three films in the series, Echoes of a ShofarThe Story of a Vote, and The Volunteers were made possible through the support of the Jim Joseph Foundation and others and have been viewed online over 450,000 times since the series launch in September 2010! A companion teachers guide including background information, discussion questions, and additional resources is available on their website.

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Postcard From Israel: Bet She’an

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Although only about a tenth of the archaeological site of Bet She’an has been excavated, it has to be one of the most fascinating places to visit in Israel. First settled in the Chalcolithic period in the fifth millennium BCE, it became the seat of Egyptian rule in the late Canaanite period and the governor’s residence can be seen at the top of the Tel, which has some twenty settlement strata including a walled Canaanite city and an Israelite fortress.

During the Hellenistic period, the city of Nysa-Scythopolis was founded – falling to the Hasmoneans in 107 BCE. After the Roman conquest, the city became one of the ten cities of the Decapolis and magnificent public buildings were constructed, including several bath-houses and a spectacular 7,000 seat second century theatre. At its height, some 30 to 40 thousand people lived in the city, but in 749 CE it was destroyed in the massive earthquake which hit the area.

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Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/cifwatch/postcard-from-israel-bet-shean/2012/12/24/

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