The state of Israel emerged on May 15, 1948. It was the first Jewish state to be established in nearly 2,000 years and was the culmination of efforts by the Jews to secure a homeland for themselves.
This paper will explore the major reasons for its creation. It will be shown to be a long enduring quest that has biblical origins. Subsequently both biblical history and geography will be worthy of mention as they are integral to the question – I will furthermore suggest that the Jewish belief from the bible forms a basis for motivation for the creation of a state. Allied with this belief is the persecution sufferred by Jews when they dispersed worldwide during exile.
This persecution, they felt, could end if they were able to realise a state of their own, whereby they would be able to govern and protect themselves from others who would persecute them. However, the bible and events thousands of years ago have been ‘stepping stones’ in the outcome of 1948. Accordingly, I will concentrate on the more recent ‘stepping stones’ that facilitated the creation of the Israel state. Some of the areas that have been selected include the Zionist Movement, World War One, World War Two and myriad of politics that came to the fore during this period.
In particular I will discuss the Balfour Declaration and its effect on the situation, and comment on whether it was a turning point in the Zionist quest for the creation of the state of Israel. 2 Two more points are worthy of mention. Firstly, this paper does not intend to debate or suggest an Arab versus Israel, Jew versus Muslim situation even though their religions are different and and are a factor. Secondly, it is not a debate on the Palestinian claim for the land in question.
It is rather an exploration on ‘why’ Jews sought this area of land and the subsequent chain of events whereby this was successfully realised in 1948. GEOGRAPHICAL, BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL BACKGROUND The area of Israel, formerly Palestine, is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and is bounded by Lebanon in the north, to the north east by Syria, to the east and south east by Jordan and to the south west by Egypt. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea. Its total area is about 23,000 square kilometres (Harper 1986, p. 4) This particular area, as one of the oldest recorded in mankind’s civilisation has experienced numerous occupations. However, this situation sees two main ‘claimants’ to the land. The Palestinian claim is simple; they believe they were first inhabitants of the land descending from the ancient tribes of the Philistines and Canaanites. They argue the land is theirs perhaps much the same as the French regard France as their country, for example. The Jewish claim is not as straight forward. It has a complex historical and biblical argument. On the religious level, the Jews believe that God promised Palestine to them. The Book of Genesis in the bible’s Old Testament records that Abraham, the father of the Jews, was told by God “the whole land of Canaan , where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you”. (Harper, 1986 p. 16) The Jews claim their right to this land originates directly from the bible. Historically, the Jewish claim to Palestine rests on Jewish habitation, there from about 1300 B. C. hen the tribes of Israel (after initial exile from there due to famine) escaped under Moses’ leadership from Egypt, where they were enslaved, entered and conquered Palestine from the Canaanites, Philistines and other tribes living there. This occupation lasted some 700 years. From then on there was a series of occupations such as Romans, Persians and Turks. (Cattan, H. , 1971 p. 148) It should be mentioned at this stage, religion plays an important role in the situation. Palestine is the Holy Land of three of the world’s major religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
They all have significant historical and religious sites in this region. (Harper, 1986, p. 17) The biblical claim, supported by the historical claim by the Jews, is at the heart of the major reasons for the creation of the state of Israel. Its creation was based on the belief by Jews that the land was promised to them by God. Even though there has been a series of ‘take overs’ and occupations by others in this area and the occurrence of numerous ‘persecutions’ of Jews (which will be commented on later 4 n greater detail) worldwide since, causing other reasons for Jews to seek refuge in a homeland of their own, the Biblical reasons should not be underestimated as a major factor for the state of Israel being realised in the first place. It was after Jewish exile and disaspora thereafter worldwide and the subsequent ramifications of this that caused renewed motivation for the creation of the Jewish state. One such example came in the form of Zionism. ZIONISM Since the abovementioned exile, the Jews experienced a broad disaspora and settled in numerous parts of the world, notably Europe and the United States.
There had been many persecutions of the Jews during this period. In particular, this occurred during the nineteenth century in Russia and eastern Europe, where there were many incidents of violence. These events caused a political movement called Zionism to emerge. This was the earliest organised claim by the Jews to Palestine and commenced in 1897. Zionism’s founder was an Hungarian Jew, Theodor Herzl. He believed strongly that anti-Semitism would occur in any nation which contained Jews.
It is important to add that at this stage of world history many parts were being divided up into smaller individual states. This gave an independance from previous rulers and importantly gave an opportunity to manage and protect affairs. This development gives rise to a major reason for the state of Isreal being formed. If a state was created for the Jews in which to live, they could govern independantly and 5 therefore provide an opportunity to defend and protect themselves from persecutors. Without its creation, they reasoned, the persecution would simply continue.
In 1897, Herzl led the first Zionist congress whereby the motivation was harnessed in the form of a programme which preferred the ideal of the establishment of a publicly and legally secured home in Palestine for the Jewish people. At first though, other sites for the Jewish people were considered; in Africa and South America. These were resisted as the Zionists realised the emotional attraction of Palestine could be a powerful force if harnessed to a political ideology. This period was important in that it was a re-awakening for many Jews unhappy with the way they had been treated.
The movement gradually gained strength and momentum and organisation and created a significant wave of Jewish emigration back into Palestine. The Jews set up many settlements on land purchased from absentee Arab landlords. Much of the money needed was funded by the increasingly powerful Zionist Movement. At the start of this period, Palestine had almost 500,000 Arabs living there compared to the 50,000 Jews. By 1914, 60,000 Jews had emigrated there, purchasing some 100,000 acres of Palestinian land. (Barker, 1980 p. 9)
In the chronology of events this period displays the emergence of the Zionists as a vital one in re-establishing the ideals of the Jews and overtly making things happen. This re-awakening caused the ‘ball’ to begin rolling. However, it was World War One that transformed the Zionist prospects for the foundation it had laid. 6 WORLD WAR ONE Palestine was under the control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and had been so for a considerable time. The Zionists had appealed to the Turks ideas of returning to Palestine which was refused. (Harper, 1986 p. 4). The British however were not so unsympathetic and offerred a small area in the African Continent. Even though this offer to the Zionists was refused, it is an important event in so much as it was an overt offer by the British and a sign of sympathy and understanding in the Zionist quest. The onset of World War One saw an interesting situation develop. When Turkey joined Germany and Austria against Britain, France and Russia, its defeat was expected to bring about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and thus end Turkish domination of Palestine.
This had important ramifications for Zionists, who supported the British, as it would further enhance their chances for their re-establishment in Palestine afterwards. For the Arabs this was important too. They also supported the allies against the Turks, their motivation being the end of the Ottoman rule over them. What soon occurred was to be arguably one of the major and decisive turning points in to the Zionist quest. Before what happened is revealed, an interesting ‘what if’ should be considered ! What if Germany and the Turks had succeeded in World War One thus re-enforcing the Ottoman domination and control of the region?
Whilst this can only be 7 speculative at best, one thing is likely – the events that occurred due to the victories won during the war would not have been possible had Germany and the Turks won World War One. During World War One, Britain had encouraged the Arab Independence movement but had little intention of giving the Arabs the power they had been promised once the Turks, with invaluable Arab assistance, had been defeated. (Harper, 1986 p. 32) During this period two developments occurred that had important ramifications for both Arabs and Jews.
The first was the secret Anglo-French-Russian accord known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement which divided between France and Britain, all of the areas in the region. Arabs recarded this a betrayal by the British, as the region of Palestine came under British control. (Baker, 1986 p. 31) The Zionists by this time had political roots in Britain. In 1917, thanks to the efforts of Zionist Chaim Weizmann’s lobbying, the British Government issued a document that was to change the course of Middle-Eastern history. In the form of a letter from the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, a pledge known as the Balfour Declaration was made. THE BALFOUR DECLARATION – A TURNING POINT “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 rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”, so said the pledge made by Lord Balfour on behalf of the British Government.
This pledge was eventually approved by its allies and subsequently incorporated in the terms of the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine, granted to Britain in 1922. This mandate was one of the major turning points in the Zionist quest. It not only had been agreed to by the British, but endorsed by its allies. Furthermore, it had been achieved without any consultation or negotiation with the incumbent inhabitants – the Palestinians. The fact that this was done indicates that Britain was prepared to not only implement the mandate but enforce it regardless of any resistance.
This mandate then saw a wave of immigration into Palestine by the Jews. However, the mandate was not the only reason for mass migration of Jews. During the 1930’s when Hitler’s persecution of European Jews gathered momentum, Jewish immigration soared dramatically, so much so that workers had 9 risen to a third of total population there. Out of this saw Arab alarm and subsequent hostility between the two occurred. In the middle of this was the British, trapped by the undertaking of the Balfour declaration on one hand, and the promises made to the Arabs on the other.
In the wake of continual violent confrontations between Jewish settlers and Palestinians, the British were increasingly finding the mandate difficult to maintain. In 1939 the British Government issued a White paper that envisaged the creation of a bi-national state of Palestine that limited Jewish immigration. (Cattan, H. 1971 p. 150) This was denounced as a betrayal by the Zionists. In an effort to placate the problem, the British had in so doing, incensed the situation further and violence was experienced.
The British, as well, by this time had other more pressing problems in the wake of World War Two. This period also saw the important emergence of a militant aspect of the Jews, which stood apart from the increasing organisation and administration of the Zionists. Instead of immigration slowing down, the opposite occurred. Illegal immigration and settlement was stepped up and mass sabotage and resistance was organised or effected by the Zionists. This was a clear indicator that the Zionists, with their ‘foot in the door’ had no ntention of stopping in their quest for the creation of their own state. 10 WORLD WAR TWO During the war there was a general truce between the Zionist and British with the Jews feeling that until Germany was defeated, disruption of the British bases could not be justified. Indeed, during the war years, the British even trained some of the Jewish officers, thereby increasing the Jewish knowledge and ability even further. (Barker, 1980 p. 12) After the war, significant realisations came to the fore that ultimately assisted the Jewish cause. But it came at a huge cost.
The systematic murder of six million Jews in the Nazi Germany holocaust caused near universal support for the Zionists’ effort to secure a new, safe future within an independent state. The significance of the holocaust points to another major turning point. The political sympathy and subsequent influence of a powerful United States after the war ensured the debate increased. Furthermore, Britain was not the power it used to be as a consequence of depletion both economically and materially, Britain was more than ever dependent and influenced by the Americans. THE UNITED NATIONS
In the United States a powerful and influential Jewish community mobilised itself to persuade the government to back Zionist ideals. 11 In 1947, the British Government turned to the United Nations for assistance in solving the situation in Palestine. On November 29 the United Nations General Assembly, after strong American pressure by President Truman, voted to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. This plan was eagerly welcomed by Jews but denounced by the Arabs. At the same time the British declared an end to the mandate due to cease May 14, 1948. Barker, 1980 p. 12) The United Nations’ decision was another major turning point. The power and influence of the fledgling United Nations was being tested and of course brought many new countries into the bitter lobbying process that occurred. The dispute had now become the resposibility of many new countries that were part of the UN. THE CREATION OF THE STATE During the period of the United Nations decision and the British mandate withdrawal, both Jew and Arab saw tensions increase between each other. There were many violent uprisings.
In one such incident, at the Arab village of Deir Yassin, 254 civilian inhabitants were massacred by the Jews. This along with other events, saw a mass exodus of fearful Palestinians to neighbouring states. By this time the tide had turned. The Zionists had been systematically preparing for war and were well organised and trained. Terrorism was rampant and the British did 12 little to stop violence in the last days of their mandate. In fact, during the British withdrawal of troops, a distinct direction of neutrality was demonstrated.
On May 14, 1948, just prior to the last withdrawal of British troops thereby ending the mandate, Ben Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence to a Jewish audience in Tel Aviv. A provisional government was formed which was instantly recognised by two of the emerging superpowers, the United States and Russia. Thereupon the realisation of Jewish dreams had been fulfilled. 13 SUMMARY This paper has discussed the major reasons for the creation of the state of Israel. The quest for statehood and independence has been sought by Jews for nearly 2000 years.
Both biblical and historical claims have significance in this discussion and are, I have argued, form a basis of Jewish beliefs for independence. However, it is the series of events that have occurred from the 19th and 20th centuries that real progress has been made in attaining the state of Israel. The ‘stepping stones’ of events have, it has been discussed, all played roles in facilitating the quest. Some have been more important than others. The ‘Balfour Declaration’ in particular was offered as a major turning point in the Zionist quest.
So too the Jewish need to create a place so as to protect them from the experiences of persecution. The Jewish origins coupled with the recent events of the 20th century relate to each other and in between the ‘stepping stones’ of incidents have culminated in the outcome of the acquisition of an independant state of Isreal.
BIBLIOGRAPHY BOOK REFERENCES: Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 15th Edition, (1982), International Press, New York, U. S. A. , Volume 10 p 886; Volume 1 p 758 Barker, A. J. (1980), Arab Israeli Wars Ian Allan Ltd. , Shepperton, Surrey, England, pp 9 – 43 Bible (1976), Old Testament American Bible Society, pp 4 – 88 Bromley, S. (1994), Rethinking Middle East Politics Edited by Polity Press, Cambridge, U. K. pp 6 – 16 Cattan, H. (1971), The Palestine Problem: The Palestinian viewpoint in the Middle East: a handbook Edited by M. Adams, Great Britain, Anthony Bland Ltd. , pp 146 – 160 Harper, P. (1986), The Arab – Israeli Issue. Wayland Publishers, West Sussex, England, pp 8 – 43 Mansfield, P. (1992), A History of the Middle East Penguin Books, London, England, pp 1 – 7 ; pp 85 – 135 Miller, A. (1988), The Palestinians: the past as prologue Current History, Volume 87, number 526, pp 73 – 76 ; pp 83- 85