“The land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attended statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books…
Accordingly, we, the members of the People’s Council…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel!”
The words of David Ben-Gurion didn’t linger long in that stuffy room on May 14th, 1948 as a rapturous applause shook the building to its foundation. Men, women, and children alike cried for joy and danced until they had no more breath to dance. After 2,000 years of exile, Israel was a nation once again.
But there were no illusions that the price they would pay for that nation would not be heavy. Multiple Arab armies stood ready, prepared to sweep the fledgling state into the cold waters of the Mediterranean the minute Great Britain ended her mandate. The stakes were high. Winning the war of independence for Israel would be accompanied by an abundant sacrifice of blood and pain, and the tragic loss of some of her finest people. If they lost, there would likely be no survivors. With the stakes so high, was declaring a state at that precise moment in history worth the risk? Was it that vital to the Jewish people’s existence?
For many peoples throughout history, declaring independence from a foreign power was an ideal—the opportunity to rise to something better. This was partially the case for Israel, but not the entirety. Israel was fighting for an ideal—the ideal of returning to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile and establishing a kingdom in the land promised to them by God never to be removed again.
But deeper than that ideal lay a chilling truth. You see, ever since Israel lost their independence to the Romans in 63 BCE, they had been subjected to every cruelty imaginable. Never in the history of the world have a people been so continually persecuted from one successive generation to the next.
For centuries, the Jewish people had tried to assimilate as other conquered nations did, but without success. Time and time again, they were taxed unjustly, converted to other religions by force, banished from countries, and exterminated by genocide. It seemed the harder they tried to assimilate into their host countries, the worse their situations became. Nowhere were they truly at home.
Nothing finalized this point in the minds of Jewish people around the globe as much as the Holocaust. To be humiliated, rounded up, starved, tortured, shot, and gassed in horrendous numbers in country after country in Europe was more than any long-suffering people could bear. And to add insult to injury, few countries, even Western countries, stood to their defense. In most European countries, there was little resistance to the Jewish extermination. In many places, there was active participation. Some Western countries, including the United States, unofficially lowered their already low immigration quotas for Jewish people. The United States also refused to bomb Auschwitz, even though they had scores of bombers hitting targets all around it during the time. They even refused a refugee ship full of desperate Jewish survivors, firing a warning shot to keep it off the coast of Florida, sending the refugees back to Hitler’s death camps. No, if the Jewish people were to survive, they must make their own destiny, and it would have to be their own state in the land of Israel— the only place they truly belonged. This is a point Golda Meir made very clear in her famous appeal to the United States Jewish community for support in 1947:
“I want you to believe me when I say that I came on this special mission to the United States today not to save 700,000 Jews. During the last few years the Jewish people lost 6,000,000 Jews, and it would be audacity on our part to worry the Jewish people throughout the world because a few hundred thousand more Jews were in danger. That is not the issue.
The Issue is that if these 700,000 Jews in Palestine can remain alive, then the Jewish people as such are alive and Jewish independence is assured. If these 700,000 people are killed off, then for many centuries, we are through with this dream of a Jewish people and a Jewish homeland.”
And they did remain alive. With God’s help, the Jewish people won their war of survival, their bid for independence, and are stronger than ever today as a nation and a people. God’s people are finally free in their own land, with their own army, government, schools, and institutions. They are making innovating discoveries at an astounding rate, blessing the very nations that sought their destruction not so many years ago. And they are turning to God. Israel is one of the only countries in the entire world that is becoming more religious and conservative with each passing year. Maybe this is in fulfillment of the prophecy God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel:
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean.” (Ezekiel 36:24-25)