G-d wrote, “You shall possess the Land and you shall settle in it, for to you have I given the land to possess it” (Numbers 33:53). In his comments to this verse, Ramban (Nachmanides) wrote, “In my opinion, this verse expresses a positive command. We are commanded to settle and dwell in the land for it was given to them, and we cannot reject (me’us) the nachalat Hashem (the portion of G-d). If it would ever occur to us to go and capture the land of Shinar or the land of Ashur, or anything like it, and to settle there, one would be violating this positive command.” In this comment, Ramban stated his well-known opinion that one of the 613 mitzvot is to live in Eretz Yisrael. In truth there are two laws taught by Ramban: the law to settle the land and the law for the individual to reside in the land.
The Jewish people began living in the Land of Israel as a nation at the time of Joshua, some 3,000 years ago. They experienced two exiles after their conquest of the land: the second lasting 2,000 years. The last exile was devastating to the Jewish people for it spread them throughout the world, opening them to persecution. Yet there was always a small Jewish community in Israel. Even during the harshest times in Eretz Yisrael over the past 2,000 years, there was always a Jewish presence in the land of Israel.
With the founding of the Zionist movement 150 years ago Jews in exile began to earnestly return to Israel. Over five initial large “aliyot,” tens of thousands of Jews left their homes in Europe and moved to Israel. As Zionism became more and more popular, Jews from all over the world, and in greater numbers, uprooted themselves from lands as far as America, Yemen and Ethiopia and moved to Israel. When Israel was declared a state, Arab countries evicted their Jews and 850,000 Jews moved from Arab lands to Israel. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a million Jews fled their homes and moved to Israel.
Over the past 2,000 years there have been many hindrances to Jewish development in Eretz Yisrael. Romans, Crusaders, Mamelukes and the Ottoman Empire all prevented the Jewish people from actualizing their destiny and building Eretz Yisrael. More recently, the British Empire ruled over Palestine and inhibited Jewish immigration and settlement in Israel. Today, even though Israel is an independent country, international forces pressure Israel not to build where it deems best for the country. Countless plans to build all over Israel, even in Israel’s capital Jerusalem, have been stymied due to international objections. It isn’t only Israel’s enemies that have prevented Israel from building, even some of Israel’s best friends have levied insurmountable pressure that has barred Israel from development.
Since its founding as a modern political movement, Zionism has faced more opposition than it has enjoyed support. At first, opposition came internally; Jews, scared of antisemitic backlash over perceived double loyalties, hesitant because of religious belief in waiting for the Messiah before establishing a third commonwealth in Israel, or a refusal to invest in a questionable project, opposed Zionism. Zionism wasn’t only opposed internally; Zionists faced violent opposition from Arabs living in the land of Israel and Arab armies neighboring Israel. Zionism was also opposed by Western forces. There was opposition within the British government to Zionism because some of the English wanted to retain control of Palestine. Within the American government many argued that access to Arab oil, put at risk by Zionist “aggression,” was more important than American Jewish votes.
With all the opposition Israel faced before, during and after its founding, Israel has still flourished. Each time an opponent has tried to limit Israel’s area of settlement, Israel has broken free and enlarged its borders. War after war, each presenting another existential threat, were won by Israel, and provided Israel reason to grow. On the diplomatic front, resolutions accusing Israel of violating international law, of Zionism equaling racism, and calls for Israel to abandon its land were ignored by Israel. Through tens of thousands of terror attacks and two intifadas, Israel continued to develop, build, and grow. Instead of stopping Israel’s growth, it almost seems that opposition to Israel’s development furthers Israel’s growth.
While many nations and forces have tried to stop the Jewish people and Israel from growing, Zionists are resilient and can’t be easily stopped. Pressure from other nations have caused delays in Zionist plans but have never completely held Israel back from thriving. Zionism was started by brave Jews as a healthy response to 2,000 years of persecution. They were sick and tired of being dictated to by hateful Gentiles. Israel is a successful country that determines its own future. People will try and stop it from continuing to build and thrive, but Israel will carry on taking the steps it deems necessary to grow.