The Jewish people have had a deep connection with the
land of Israel for more than 3000 years, and a continuous
physical presence. A Jewish state has existed there during
three separate historical periods. Those who challenge
the legitimacy of modern Israel disregard Jewish history,
ideals and values, and create an obstacle to peace and
The promised land and
The land of
Israel was promised to Abraham, the father of the Jewish
people, over 3700 years ago.
The Jewish slave nation which
left Egypt 3300 years ago, under the leadership of Moses,
embarked on a journey of national liberation. Their goal was to establish
national life in the land of Israel and
fulfil the biblical covenant.
The first Jewish "state" was
established in Israel during the period of the kings and the prophets, and
lasted for around 600 years - from 1175 BCE to 586 BCE. Its leaders
included King David and King Solomon, and the prophets Samuel, Deborah and
Ever since that time, the Jewish
people have had a continuous and unbroken physical presence in the land of
Destruction by the Babylonians and
The Jews never voluntarily
abandoned Israel. But twice the nation was shattered by conquering
The first Jewish
kingdom was eradicated by the Babylonians in 586 BCE.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered, the Jewish temple
in Jerusalem was
destroyed, and those Jews who survived were taken as prisoners
into exile in Babylon.
Within two generations, Jews had
started to return. They rebuilt Jewish life, and constructed a second
temple in Jerusalem. This revived period of independent national
life in the state of Judaea lasted for around 400 years, under the leadership of
such figures as Ezra, Simon the Just, Judah the Maccabee, and the Rabbi
This second period of nationhood
was also ended by merciless invasion - this time by the Romans, who destroyed
the Second Temple in 70
CE, killed vast numbers of Jews with extreme cruelty, and dispersed the
remainder to various countries of exile.
The second Jewish exile lasted
for over 1800 years.
While Jews did enjoy periods of
relative stability in some of the countries to which they were dispersed, their
overall experience was one of intense persecution and anti-semitism.
The establishment of the modern
State of Israel has marked the end of this era of dispersion and
Survival in Exile - with a vision of a rebuilt
Despite the devastation of the
second Jewish state, and the centuries of exile which followed, the Jews never
lost their connection with the land or their faith that they would eventually
In their effort to erase the
Jews' bond with the land, the Romans changed the name of the country from
Judaea to Palaestina.
Small numbers of Jews continued
to live in scattered locations in Palaestina, such as Jerusalem,
Tiberias and Safed. But it was not only this physical presence which
maintained the Jewish connection, but also Jewish religious practice.
When a Jewish person prays, he or
she must face in the direction of Jerusalem. The daily prayers include the following
pleas for Divine assistance:
"Behold our affliction, take up our grievance, and
redeem us, speedily for Your Name's sake, for You are a powerful Redeemer … May
You shine a new light on Zion, and may we speedily merit its light … Gather
us together from the four corners of the earth"
Jews frequently made the
hazardous journey from abroad to settle in the land, including the great
rabbinical leaders Nachmanides (13th century, from Spain) and
Ovadia Bertinoro (15th century, from Italy).
Israel was seen, even during the bleakest periods of Jewish
persecution, as the place in which Jews would eventually gather
to re-establish the country and in due course herald a messianic
age of universal peace and universal values.
The Modern Return to
In the 18th century,
increasing numbers of Jews began to return to the land, mainly religious Jews.
By 1844 a majority of the population of Jerusalem was
Anti-semitism and modern
nationalism in Europe each accelerated this return. The influx of
Jews (religious and non-religious) peaked during the 1890s, early 1900s
and in the 1930s, and then in 1945-8 following the Nazi Holocaust.
In the 19th century,
the vision of the return to Zion
broadened out to embrace various non-traditional strands of Jewish
Socialist Jews saw a revived
Jewish nation as the way to end Jewish persecution, to enable Jews to be
economically productive in an equal society, and to contribute to the betterment
of humanity. The Israeli kibbutz is a unique social experiment which resulted
from this vision.
Assimilated Jews, guided by
Theodore Herzl, viewed the prospect of the return to Zion as a
cure for anti-semitism and as a way for the Jewish people to become a "normal"
nation like any other.
Politically right-wing Jews,
whose guiding influence was Ze'ev Jabotinsky, viewed the return to Israel as a
way to restore Jewish dignity, and to enable the Jewish people to defend
Religious Jews, meanwhile, saw
the return to Zion as the way to fulfil the ancient Biblical vision,
and restore Jewish nationhood as it had existed at the time of the Jewish
temples in Jerusalem.
Each of these groups had
passionate followers, dissenters and critics. Together they expressed, in
their varied ways, different Jewish visions for Israel.
They together comprise the modern Zionist movement.
The establishment of the State of
Israel in 1948, led by David Ben-Gurion, marked the culmination of this
The connection between the Jewish
people and the land - fragile for nearly 2000 years - had been restored.
And in the 54 years since the declaration of independence in 1948, Israel has
sought to have that connection recognised as legitimate by the Palestinian
people and by the Arab world, and to achieve a secure and just peace with
Challenges of the Jewish people in
The Jewish people in Israel face
to maintain a young country in a way
which combines loyalty to the values of Judaism with the running of a modern
of the Jews: to
attract Jews from around the world to live in the country and
contribute to its growth; while not negating the significance
of Diaspora Jewry
reaching peace and
coexistence: to achieve peace
and coexistence with the Arab world and the Palestinian people. The
unending violence is a tragedy for the Jewish people who struggled for so long
to regain national independence and freedom from fear; and
participation in the family of
nations: to perform a positive
role among the family of nations of the world, contributing humanitarian
principles and Israel's technological expertise for the benefit of the
wider world. The Biblical tradition envisages a Jewish nation living in
accordance with the values of social justice and peace, while relating in mutual
respect with the non-Jewish peoples of the world.
Negating Jewish history
There is a tendency, not only in
the Arab world, but among many western critics of Israel, to
characterise Israel as an artificial, 20th century
It is depicted as the creation of
"corrupt" external forces: either as a mistake resulting from British colonial
incompetence, or as an entity which was created by the European powers after
World War II in order to soothe their collective guilt over the Nazi
extermination of the Jews.
These versions of history suggest
that the Jewish presence in Israel has
been unjustly "imposed" on the Palestinian "victims" by cynical Western forces,
and usually continue by claiming that the external "occupation" is now being
perpetuated by the United
This narrative is a travesty. It
negates the course of Jewish history, and the moral basis for Jewish national
The right of the Jews to live
permanently as a nation in peace and security in Israel has
overwhelming historical, political and moral legitimacy.
Reconciling Different Rights
There are, of course, fundamental
issues to consider arising from the basic Jewish right to a national
How much of the territory is
necessary to fulfil Jewish national goals?
What historical connection and
claim to the land do the Palestinians have?
What are the legitimate
aspirations of the Palestinians today?
How can the legitimate rights of
the Israelis and Palestinians be reconciled, so that neither is pursued at the
expense of the other?
Each of these
topics will be dealt with in other Beyond Images Briefings.
Conclusion - Towards
Acceptance and Coexistence
The refusal of the Arab and
Palestinian world as a whole to recognise the legitimacy of Israel lies
at the heart of the conflict.
If that acceptance
were forthcoming, in actions and not simply in words, then the
basis would be created for peaceful coexistence.