Do Jews have their own country?
Yes. Israel, founded in 1948 as a result of the Zionist
movement, is the Jewish national home. The Zionists
believed that the Jewish people had a right to establish
a state in Israel, the place where the spiritual, religious,
and political identity of the Jewish people was formed.
Led by Theodor Herzl (right; 1860-1904) and Chaim Weizmann
(1874 - 1952), this movement sought international recognition
for the Jews' right to claim Israel as their state.
capturing Palestine from Turkey during World War One,
the British acknowledged in the 1917 Balfour Declaration
the historical connection between Jews and Israel and
the Jews' right to make it their national home. At the
same time, the British government promised the land
to Arab representatives, without any real intention
of leaving their colonial possession to either group.
However, in a 1947 United Nations resolution, the world
called for a partition plan: dividing the British colony
of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
The Arabs disagreed with the U.N. plan, and on May 14,
1948 Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq invaded the fledgling
country, less than 24 hours after Prime Minister David
Ben-Gurion (left; 1886 - 1973) declared
Israel survived that war and several more with her neighboring
countries (in 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982), but peace
between Israel and most Arab countries (with the exception
of Egypt and Jordan) remains elusive.
A Brief History
of the Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora
Jews have a historical connection to the land of Israel.
In Biblical times, Israel was where the Jewish patriarchs
(Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca,
Rachel and Leah) lived. It was through their line that
the Jewish people of today descended. A famine in the
17th century BCE caused the Israelites to move to Egypt.
The Israelites escaped from the slavery and persecution
of Egypt under the guidance of Moses, who received the
Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. After forty years in
the Egyptian desert, the Israelites settled the Land of
Israel and formed a Jewish monarchy under the leadership
of King Saul. King David succeeded him and made Jerusalem
his capital. Solomon, David's son, took control when his
father died, and built the Temple in Jerusalem. In 586
BCE, Babylonia conquered Ancient Israel and destroyed
the temple. Most Jews were expelled and lived in Babylonia
while in exile. The experience of exile caused Judaism
to evolve as a portable religion, which would become helpful
in later years. Upon returning to Israel, the Jews rebuilt
the Holy Temple, only to have it destroyed by the Romans
in 70 CE.
After the Temple's destruction, the Romans scattered
the Jews across the world. The Jews, living in exile
(Diaspora), were often persecuted for their beliefs,
most notably during the Spanish Inquisition. Seen as
foreigners without a homeland and strange because of
their different customs, Jews were discriminated against
and were forced to live in ghettos, thereby segregating
them from the non-Jewish community. As a result of the
spread of democratic and humanistic values across Europe
in the 1800s, the Jews were granted more civil liberties.
The Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, liberated
Jews from their ghettos and consequently integrated
them into the secular non-Jewish society. Yet, this
sudden mixing of cultures in Europe and the Jewish success
that was a result of the Haskalah reinforced the xenophobia
and anti-Semitism that had been prevalent before. In
the late 1800s, as a reaction to European
anti-Semitism, the Zionist movement started, proposing
the creation of a Jewish national homeland that would
serve as a sanctuary for persecuted Jews. However, the
Zionist movement was too late in establishing a state
to save the Jews from Hitler and the Holocaust. As a
result of Zionist efforts, Israel, which was founded
three years after the Holocaust, is now a safe haven
from anti-Semitism and a homeland for worldwide Jewry.
Is Zionism racism and/or colonialism?
Zionism is neither racism nor colonialism. In 1975, the
United Nations equated Zionism with racism, due to pressure
by the Arab nations. This resolution was repealed in 1991.
In Durban, South Africa, in 2001, there was an effort
by Arab leaders to pressure the United Nations to equate
Zionism with racism once again. This move was halted by
the United States, which claimed that it was groundless.
Zionism's primary goal was to create a Jewish national
home in the land of Israel, with which the Jews have a
special historical, religious and national claim to. Its
intent was never to discriminate against Arabs or suppress
Palestinian self-determination. In fact, Zionist leaders
(Chaim Weizmann, pictured below) supported the 1947 partition
plan that would have divided the land into a Jewish and
an Arab state. Had the Arabs not rejected the plan and
attacked Israel, there would be two states there now.
The Zionists' fundamental goal was in securing a Jewish
homeland in Israel and not in the suppression of Arab
claims to the land.
Zionism is not a form of colonialism either. Colonialism
is the practice of a mother country ruling another country
as a colony, often benefiting at the expense of their
labor, land and people. The Zionists had no mother country
they weren't immigrating to Israel for the benefit
of someone else. Jews were scattered across the globe,
they were a people without a land. The Zionists were also
planning to form an independent country and not just a
colony for some other one. The Zionists were intent on
working the land and developing the country, unlike colonialists,
who often exploit a country's resources. Furthermore,
the Zionists wanted to work the land themselves and be
independent they did not want to be masters of
the native population. Finally, even during the Diaspora,
there were a number of Jews living in the land of Israel.
The Zionist immigration to Israel cannot be equated with
a foreign invasion.
What is the current dispute between Israel and the Palestinians?
In 1948, when the Arab countries declared war on the newly
formed state of Israel, many Arabs native to the land
of Israel fled the war zone. Some were expelled, and some
fled, expecting to return on the heals of an Arab victory.
Israel won the war, however, and many of the Arabs were
stuck in the countries to which they fled (Jordan, Lebanon,
Syria, Egypt, etc). Rather than absorb these refugees,
the Arab countries kept them in squalid refugee camps
as political pawns in a continuing campaign to drive the
Jews "into the sea." At the same time, around
800,000 Jews who had been living peacefully in Arab lands
were expelled and settled in Israel as full citizens.
In 1967, during the Six-Day War, Israel conquered lands
from Syria (Golan Heights), Egypt (Sinai, Gaza Strip),
and Jordan (Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank), creating
more Palestinian refugees. Israel annexed the Golan Heights
and the Old City of Jerusalem, making the inhabitants
of those lands citizens of Israel. In 1979, it returned
the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for peace. Egypt
did not want Gaza back because it did not want to absorb
all of the Palestinian refugees. After the peace agreement,
Israel was left undecided about what to do with Gaza and
the West Bank.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization, formed in the
1960s, conducted terrorist attacks against Israelis and
Jews around the world (such as the murder of Israeli athletes
at the 1972 Munich Olympics) in the hopes that the world
would recognize the Palestinian plight. Forming an independent
Palestinian state had been dismissed by Israel because
of the security threat that the Palestinians presented.
In the late 1970s, religious Israeli Zionists decided
to settle in part of the West Bank and Gaza. These settlers
often built communities neighboring Arab towns and villages.
The settlers justified their presence by appealing to
Israel's security needs and by claiming that they were
fulfilling God's wishes. The settlements were intended
to provide an early warning system for Israel in case
of a war. They would serve as a buffer zone between Palestinian
land and Israel proper. The settlements also fulfilled
the messianic beliefs of the religious settlers, who view
the West Bank as part of Biblical Israel. The Palestinians
view this as an occupation and see the settlers as enemies.
Consequently, attacks against settlements became frequent.
In 1987, the Palestinians rioted in what was termed the
Intifada (Arabic for struggle, or uprising; literally
"shaking off"). They threw rocks at Israeli
soldiers and attacked Jews in Israel. This uprising was
surprising because it was conducted by the Palestinian
people and not directly by the PLO. PLO leader Yasser
Arafat was exiled in Tunis at the time.
the early 1990s, late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left;
1922-1995) made overtures for peace. The Oslo Accords
between Israel and the Palestinians was intended to form
a Palestinian Authority that would govern and control
the Palestinian people. Eventually, this authority would
lead the Palestinian people to statehood. The peace process
stalled after a Jewish extremist murdered Rabin, but in
the summer of 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered
the Palestinians 97% of all their land demands, including
a compromise on Jerusalem. This was widely seen as the
most generous offer any Israeli government could give,
but Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, rejected it without
making a counter-offer. His desire and/or ability to make
peace was thereafter questioned. Shortly afterwards, the
conflict slid back into violence, and the left wing Israeli
government of Barak fell to the right-wing government
of Ariel Sharon. The outstanding issues remain the size
and borders of the future Palestinian state, the status
of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians would like as their
capital, and the status of the Palestinian refugees.
According to Israeli law, are converts considered Jews?
Under the 1950 Law of Return, every Jew has the right
to move to Israel as an immigrant. The process is very
easy for a Jew to become a citizen, though it is considerably
more difficult for a non-Jew to become one. The law has
been controversial since its inception, due primarily
to the specific definition of "Who is a Jew."
According to Jewish law, someone is Jewish if his/her
mother is or if an accepted Beit Din (religious court)
converted him/her. In the 1980s, the Israeli High Court
ruled that non-Israelis who converted to Judaism by a
non-Orthodox rabbi must be considered Jewish. However,
Israelis who wish to convert to Judaism must do so through
an Orthodox rabbi. In 2002, the Israeli High Court ruled
that non-Orthodox converts must be considered Jews on
their national identity cards. However, the Orthodox Jewish
establishment in Israel that controls marriages, divorces
and burials for Jews could continue to refuse services
to such converts.
can I find more information about Israel?
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs information
about Israel's history, culture, politics, etc.
Israel Insider Israel Insider is
an independent, nonpartisan online publication that
aims to provide an "inside perspective" on the latest
news, analysis and commentary from and about Israel.
DebkaFile Israeli military intelligence
and strategy website. In depth analyses of the American
war on terrorism, Palestinian terror and more.
The World Zionist Organization the WZO
website is a great resource for topics on Israel and
Judaism. Special sections focus on the Mid-east peace
process, terrorism, conversion, anti-Semitism, moving
to Israel, the Holocaust, learning Hebrew, etc.
The Jerusalem Post Online Internet version
of the somewhat right of center Jerusalem-based daily
Ha'aretz Internet version of the somewhat
left of center Tel-Aviv newspaper. Contains up-to-the
minute news on Israel.
CAMERA - Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting
in America a nondenominational, educational
organization that sees itself as a watchdog organization dedicated to fair
coverage of Israel in the Media.