YOM HAZIKARON AND YOM HA’ATZMA’UT
Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild
Although the novelty of being homebound has worn off, the restrictions and the effects remain. In Israel on Yom HaZikaron many bereaved families feel bereaved yet again that they cannot attend the cemeteries or memorials to their loved ones who fell in battle, and on Yom haAtzma’ut no-one will be dancing a hora. This year the anniversaries fall just a week after a temporary truce in a long-running political conflict, whereby even a truce is seen by many on both sides as a compromise gone too far. It is perhaps no coincidence that at a time when many in Israel face unemployment so many jobs have been created for ministers….. and it is sadly ironic that so many Israelis feel deep concern for the future of the State, not physically but morally.
And yet – especially because in the Diaspora many Jews too feel increasingly distanced from the political developments in the only Jewish State that we have, and feel even embarrassed that non-Jews automatically assume that they support everything, I feel it is important to look carefully at the alternatives. The biggest alternative, of course, is to have no State at all – to go back to. And to be back in the situation of all those Jews who, only a generation or two ago, desperately sought a place. Anywhere in the world, that would accept them. It is too easy, I think, to concentrate nowadays on the glass being half empty – a state divided between Haredi and secular, a state divided over treatment of minorities, a state divided over the role of religion, a state despised by its neighbours and others – and forget that to have even a half-full glass is in itself a miracle. And that this miracle was achieved only at a great cost in terms of effort and suffering and pain. Blood, sweat and tears accompanied the birth of the State of Israel and unfortunately they have accompanied it ever since. I can understand those who feel unable to support Zionism whole-heartedly, but I cannot understand those who oppose it, who deny Israel’s right to exist, who despise it, who accuse it unjustly of so many sins and evils. Jews, of all people, should be careful of comparing any later conflict to the extermination policies of the Nazis and their followers – yet there are some Jews who do.
So maybe it is important to look a little at the history of these two days and what they mark. Firstly, it is important that before one can celebrate the independence and the freedom, one should think of those who gave their lives for it – for its establishment, for its maintenance and, alas, even those innocent civilians who were turned into victims by those who sought to destroy the land all over again. Not all victims fell with a weapon in their hand, on the field of battle. Though many did…. in defensive wars against fellahin, against aggressive foreign armies, against terrorists. The two days belong together, just as the Liberation from Egypt was acquired only through the deaths of the Egyptian Firstborn, of the Egyptian army.
There are many bits of ‘Fake News’ in circulation. One is that ”the Jews” (whoever they are) effectively invaded the country and stole it from the original inhabitants. In fact the League of Nations granted the Mandate to Great Britain on condition that it should do all it could do encourage the gradual creation of a ‘homeland’ for the Jews – this was never too closely defined but it clearly meant that Jews should have rights in this country. Article 2 of the League document states: ”The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.” It is important to note that the actual borders of what was to be called ‘Palestine’ remained very fluid for some years, until ca. 1925. A new ‘Emirate’ of Transjordan was created, there were treaty discussions with the French who held the Mandate for Syria – this is not intended to be a lengthy history lecture and yet one needs to know the history.
But Arabs in Jaffa rioted following the 1922 White Paper on British Policy in Palestine which split the country and created Transjordan (where the Mandate rules did not all apply!). There were further provocations (from both sides) and then violent riots in August 1929 with over 133 Jews brutally murdered, most in their homes, 67 in Hebron and 18 in Sfad. The Shaw Commission was established to find out what had been done and by whom. And in October 1930 the Passfield White Paper restricted Jewish immigration – ironically two years before more and more Jews who had felt content in Europe began to feel threatened.
There is no need to know every document but it is important to be able to deny another claim, often made, that the state was ”given to the Jews” as a result of the European crimes of the Shoah. Already in 1938 the Peel Commission had sought ways to find a peaceful partition of the country between Jews and Arabs – and failed. What one can say is that, once the enormity of what had happened in Europe became known, once the Displaced Persons realised how they were still not wanted in their homelands, the pressure for immigration grew exponentially and the patience had largely gone.
The period between 1945 and 1948 was one of bloody civil war. Yes, there was violence on both sides but that does not take away from the fact that Jews were attacked on the roads, in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, on the road to Jerusalem (which was besieged), at Yehiam, in the four Kibbutzim that formed Gush Ezion, in Haifa and elsewhere. The list is depressing, the statistics tragic – these were Jews who, in many cases, had survived the Shoah and come to build up new lives in a Jewish state. At the end of 1946 Jews formed a third of the population; On Saturday 29th. November 1947 the General Assembly by majority vote (33:13, 10 abstentions) on Resolution 181 agreed to a partition of the country into three sections (people always forget the third! There was to be one for the Jews, one for the Arabs – both Christian and Moslem – and one to be international and neutral!
But I would like to cite Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British representative to the United Nations, who on 21st January 1948 told that body: “The Arabs are determined to show that they will not submit tamely to the U.N. plan, while the Jews were trying to consolidate the advantages they gained at the General Assembly by a succession of drastic operations designed to intimidate and cure the Arabs of any desire for further conflicts.” Thus, elements were engaged on each side in attacking or taking reprisals indistinguishable from attacks. “The Palestine Government fears that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the U.N. Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom killing Jews now transcends all other considerations.”
On March 2 1948 the ‘Palestine Post’ reported that 1,378 people had been killed over the prior three months as a result of the ongoing violence, including 546 Jews, 666 Arabs and 74 British soldiers.
Just a few examples – On 4 March 1948 3 Jews were killed in an attack on a convoy to Jerusalem, and 14 killed in a convoy on to the way to Atarot. 39 died April 8-9th fighting for Castel on the approach to Jerusalem. On 13th April 78 Jews were killed – shot or burned alive – when a convoy to the Hadassah Hospital was ambushed. The list goes on and on and on. Yes, there were casualties on all sides and yes, many were innocent and yes, there were provocations but at a time like Yom HaZikaron a nation is entitled to mourn for those who died only because they were, or were trying to, defend the country or live in the country. And those of us who care – and I hope that includes all of us – even if we are living elsewhere, even if we have not been actively involved, even if we have not lost any relative directly – are entitled to, are expected to share in the sense of mourning. And do not let anyone ever say that it never happened, or that it was easy.
42 soldiers, police officers and civilians have been killed since Yom Hazikaron last year – making a combined total of 23,816 who are counted as having lost their lives for this reason. THEN we can celebrate that, whether or not we like this politician or that politician, we have a country we can grumble about, a country that has shown itself prepared to defend Jews and Jewish interests when they are under threat, wherever we are, and to open its doors to Jews who are being persecuted for being Jews.
I would end with a poem, a well-known but valuable poem by Nathan Alterman which focuses on the amount of self-sacrifice of an entire generation of pioneers:
”Silently the two approached
and stood there unmoving.
There was no saying whether they were alive or shot.
The nation, tear-rinsed and spellbound, asked,
saying: Who are you? And the two sighed
We are the Silver platter
on which the Jewish State has been given you .”