In a remarkable article, “Grand Larceny,” Chloe Valdary powerfully reminds the reader that the Palestinian Arabs have succeeded in reversing the true narrative of Eretz Yisrael.1 They have to a great degree succeeded in convincing people around the world that their land was stolen from them by Israel and the Jews. But Valdary points out that the reverse is closer to the truth. The land that is present-day Israel – including Judea and Samaria – was land that was brutally taken away from the Jewish people after 70 AD, and was only rightfully restored in 1947. The story of Jewish deprivation and suffering for thousands of years is the true story of Middle Eastern “larceny.” Valdary suggests that Israel and the Jewish people need to “re-package” the narrative of the history of Israel to replace the narrative that has gained traction among so many people.
Let us then consider the possible basis for this “new” narrative:
The Romans, Arabs, European Catholics, Seljuks, and other groups persecuted the Jews in their God-given homeland for 2000 years. The Jews remained in the land of their forefathers even though they were officially kicked out by the Romans. A remnant clung to its historical homeland in spite of the so-called diaspora of Jews throughout the world. They endured everything to live and breathe in the homeland of their ancestors assigned as a homeland by Almighty God.2
The ancient Jewish kingdom was dealt a severe blow by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. Most of the Jews were taken into exile by the Babylonians. However, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, and recognized that Judea, which included the capital city of Jerusalem, was Jewish land. Under the Persian King Artaxerxes, a large contingent of Jews were allowed to return.3 The Persians in turn were overcome by the Greeks led by Alexander the Great. Alexander recognized that Judea was Jewish land, and showed a lot of respect for the Jewish leadership. Later, other pagan Jew-haters like the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes wanted to wipe out the Jews and the Jewish religion and steal their land, but he was repulsed miraculously by Judah Maccabee and his brothers. The Romans succeeded to power over Jewish land; however, even though they heavily taxed the Jews and treated them as a conquered people, the Sanhedrin (high level rabbinical court) under the Romans still had some authority. Governors, appointed by the Roman Emperors, along with the Roman military legions, had the ultimate governing control.
The great catastrophe for Jewish civilization was having the Second Temple, the center of Jewish spiritual life, destroyed in 70 AD and having precious Judea and Samaria renamed “Palestina” by the Romans and Jerusalem renamed “Aelia Capitolina.” Despite the Roman carnage, a remnant of Jews remained century-after-century clinging to their hope of restoration, but living as a minority and as second-class citizens in the land of their forefathers. What endurance! They demonstrated the perseverance of the brokenhearted.
By the 7th century AD, the violent hordes of Islam took over the lands of the Middle East. Jews, however, continued to live in the same land that had been occupied by Joshua since 1300 BCE. They lived as a beleaguered minority under the Arabs, and endured as dhimmis (second-class citizens). That meant they had to pay a jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and endure humiliations. Constantly the Jewish people were crying out to Almighty God — both the minority of Jews in their ancient land, and Jews living throughout the world — to restore their state, their full citizenship in the land given to Abraham for them, which they controlled for 1500 years.
What a great day for all the minorities of the world when World War I came to an end. After World War I, the rights of persecuted minorities began to be recognized. Just as Czechoslovakia was created for the Czechs and Slovaks, just as the Ottoman Empire was broken up to recognize the claims of Arabs living under their control (the Ottomans were Muslims, but ethnographically were not Arabs), so the British recognized the claims of the indigenous Jewish minority living in their ancient homeland, having lived there since long before the 7th century when the Muslim Arab claims to the land began.
The sweet smell of liberation for minorities and colonialized people was in the air for the first time in history. Jews began to rejoice. But the Arabs, despite their own liberation at that time under temporary British and French mandates, took a hateful look at Jews who had the same aspirations for liberation. Their liberation was okay, but Jewish liberation under the same set of principles was rejected. This abiding rejection of the principle of national self-determination that has been totally accepted beginning with the end of World War I, and continuing at a greater pace after the creation of the United Nations, is the key to understanding the hatefulness of the Arab mindset. If it meant that Jews could achieve self-determination by having only .01% of the land of the Arab nations, that was still too much for those selfish, unprincipled people, even though they hungered for the same goal as those Arab states.
Arab anti-Semitism has caused them to reject national self-determination as it applies to the Jews. Meanwhile, even the national self-determination of Czechoslovakia has been fine-tuned, and that country has been divided to become the countries of Czech Republic and Slovakia. The integrity of Poland after being split by the Nazis and the USSR in 1939 has been restored, and Yugoslavia has become Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. The Arabs have accepted all these, but they will not accept Jewish self-determination. All the former republics of the USSR have become independent countries, all under the universally accepted principle of self-determination, but the Arabs do not accept Jewish self-determination. The Arab hatred for Israel is not only a rejection of Israel but is rejection of national self-determination, one of the key items of Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and carried forward more strongly by Pres. Roosevelt, Pres. Truman, and their successors, as well as the United Nations. The Arab world should hang its head in shame (but they have no shame regarding non-Muslim principles and rights) as its behavior is disgracing every world leader, and every country that became independent after World Wars I and II.
Israel’s existence is not only a tribute to the tenacity of the Jews who persisted there during the 2000 years after Rome’s expulsion, not only to the prayers of Jews all over the world for 2000 years, but also to the triumph of self-determination as an idea whose time had come. It is thrilling to see the emergence of so many new national entities in the 20th century, among them Israel, India, Pakistan, and the others named above. But the Goliath that is the Arab world would snatch away the wonderful restoration that is Israel. Goliath would kill David. But “David” has already triumphed despite the malevolent intentions of its neighbors. The power to have overcome such overwhelming hatred speaks for itself. If you are for the underdog, an underdog that is exercising the same right as every indigenous people in the world, namely the right to sovereignly govern itself, then you have to praise, honor, and stand up for Israel in every possible way.
1 The Algemeiner, July 3, 2014, http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/07/02/grand-larceny/#comments
2 For a complete account of the Jewish presence (Yishuv) in the land of present-day Israel, see Jerome R. Verlin, Israel: 3000 Years, The Jewish People’s Three Thousand Years Presence in Palestine, Pavilion Press, 2010 and Jerome R. Verlin and Lee S. Bender, Pressing Israel, Pavilion Press, 2012.
3 See Tanakh, Nehemiah 2:1-10.
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