Photo: Theodor Herzl
Just over 120 years ago, a Viennese Jewish journalist and visionary, Theodor Herzl, launched the modern Zionist movement at a meeting in Basle of Jews from all over the world. They called for a Jewish State in their ancestral land, Palestine, a land then ruled by the Turks.
Fifty years late, the State of Israel came into being. The five decades between Basle and statehood are as remarkable as the first 70 years of statehood. Together these two periods saw the emergence of a vibrant democratic state.
Israel is often viewed as a land born from war and maintained through war. Its origins and evolution were, however, filled with hope and constructive achievement. Its founders were men and women of vision. Its pioneers were hard-working men and women who cleared the swamps and tilled the soil.
It was never a smooth process. The local Arab population, with whom the Zionists wished to live in friendship, was inflamed by extremist leaders to oppose the Zionist enterprise with increasing violence. Bloodshed marred the early years of struggle, nation building and creativity.
Each year along the road to statehood – and each year in maintaining it – saw setbacks that might have laid the enterprise low. The poet Byron’s words ring harshly true: “A thousand years scarce serve to build a State, an hour can lay it in the dust.” The Israelis and their forebears were determined, and remain so, that they will not be laid in the dust this has involved considerable sacrifices, but also extraordinary achievements.
Israel was established so that Jews anywhere in the world, out of need or choice, could have a homeland of their own. After independence, that process began with the ingathering of more than half a million Jews from the Arab lands, a massive undertaking.
Five wars tested Israel’s ability to survive. As Communism disintegrated, more than a million Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union. Despite war and terror, Israel has sought peace through both secret and public negotiations. These efforts continue to this day despite the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. Through all of this, Israel remains a vibrant Jewish State and Jewish homeland.
Excerpt ©Martin Gilbert
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