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Israel at 50.


The 50th anniversary of Israel on the CBC TV special at the end of April opened with an honour call of battle victories. Viewers were reminded of the central role of the army in Israel's fifty years: six major wars, innumerable subsidiary firefights, endless police actions in the annexed areas (called occupation zones by non-Israelis), and every male (for 3 years) and every female (for two years) serving time in the military. Founded in the midst of war, Israel has remained at war for its entire 50- year history. Despite all efforts, it knows neither internal nor external peace. In the process, it has become a Bismarckian-Machiavellian power state which maintains itself through "blood and steel." In it, Arabs-whether Muslim or Christian-hold second-rate citizenship, while their cousins in the occupied lands have practically no rights at all.

Israel as it is now will not and should not endure. It will not endure because Palestinians cannot be repressed forever. It should not endure because a secular state is no answer to a religious quest. It is secularism which is at the heart of the problem. How did this come about?


Modern Israel goes back to Zionism, the nineteenth-century nationalist movement which aimed to solve "the Jewish problem" by creating a "Jewish state." Summaries of Zionism may be found in the better encyclopedias. At its source stands the Hungarian Jew Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) who proposed, rather vaguely, the goal of a publicly endorsed and guaranteed "homestead." Its first triumph came with the British Balfour Declaration of 1917. This endorsed an equally vague "national home" for the Jews in the newly mandated British protectorate of Palestine after the collapse of the Turkish protectorate. It reads:

"His Majesty's government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

With increased Jewish immigration after 1918, safeguarding the rights of non-Jews became the central issue. Hence the statement was refined by a further one in 1922 known as the Churchill Memorandum. It stressed "That His Majesty's Government did not contemplate either the creation of a wholly Jewish Palestine or the disappearance or subordination of the Arab population, language or culture in Palestine."

It declared further, "That the terms of the Balfour Declaration did not contemplate that Palestine, as a whole, should be converted into a Jewish national home, but that such a home should be founded in Palestine;" 2) that legal recognition of this home should "be formally recognized in the Mandate"; and 3) that immigration should be gauged according "to the economic capacity of the country."


Developments gainsaid the 1922 conditions, first by frightening the local Arab population through rapid Jewish immigration during the thirties-a time when Jews were hounded out of Germany. Then, after the end of the Second World War, there was the 1945 Zionist revolt in Palestine followed by the 1947 United Nations' recommendation for the partitioning of the country, which Arabs attempted to counter by force. When Jewish terrorists slaughtered 250 Arab villagers at Deir Yassin and others in a half dozen other towns, half a million Arabs abandoned their homes in the war zones. On May 14, 1948 Israel declared itself a state.

After the Jewish victory, ethnic cleansing was consolidated by razing over 400 villages to the ground. The habit of expropriating Arab properties continues till this day, accompanied by denying the now two million Arabs conquered after 1967 most civil rights. As for the original refugees, they live elsewhere unable to forget.

Is Israel a miracle?

Some people see Israel as a miracle. From the point of view of biblical and salvation history, the ingathering of Jews in Palestine-after a hiatus of 2000 years-is certainly a wondrous event. Religious Jews such as Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Community, see the Judaic religion and the Israeli state as "inextricably bound through the covenant between God and the descendants of Jacob called Israel." "Israel," he says, "is not an added or secondary feature, but an integral, essential, ineluctable component of our identity" (Pittsburgh, April 14, 1997).

In our view the real, theological meaning is yet to come. First the current, ruthlessly secular power state of Israel must give way to one which will share the land with Arabs according to the humane Jewish tradition found in Exodus and Deuteronomy about aliens and strangers, and replace hatred with brotherhood. Secondly, Israel must seek its own religious transformation in which the covenant with God and the messianic prophecies of the Law and the Prophets are re-examined through new eyes. Finally, Israel, the Jewish state, must cease to ignore the greatest Jew of all time-compared to whom all other illustrious Jewish names appear pathetically puny-Jesus, the anointed.

Jesus is not Israel's greatest enemy, as thought by many who see through secular lenses. He is Israel's validation and fulfilment. The Jewish state, if Rabbi Rudin is to be correct, must be allied to God, not to secularism, and no one is greater than He whose Jubilee, itself a practice from the Hebrew bible, we celebrate in the year 2000.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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