2. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL
The most important prophetic event of the last 1,000 years was the establishment of the State of Israel in the year 1948. At that moment the American scholar William W. Orr named it “the greatest piece of prophetic news”1212 of the modern times, and this idea remained unchanged ever since. It was further confirmed through the conquest of Jerusalem in June 1967, which, according to John Walvoord, was “one of the most remarkable fulfillments of biblical prophecy since the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.”1213
The Old Testament often speaks about the banishment of the Israelite people and its regathering in the Promised Land. But the Israelites (the Jews) have been enslaved and liberated several times until the present day. So, it is unclear if the prophecies refer to random future events or to the beginning of the Messianic Age. In the Book of Genesis God promised Abraham that his descendants would have their own country between Egypt and Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). The same promise was made to Jacob, whose descendants would have Israel as their country, they would be spread across the entire world, they would influence the world and they would be regathered in the Promised Land (Genesis 28:10-15). Around 1400 BC Moses warned the Israelites that they would have to leave the country, they would be scattered and they would be killed (Deuteronomy 4:25-30; 28:36-37, 49-52, 64; 29:23). Then, around 750-686 BC the prophet Micah prophesied that the Jews would be hit by calamities (Micah 3:12). Between 520 and 518 BC Zechariah said that God would bring back the Jews from east and west to their country of origin, and that they would live again in Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:7-8). And last but not least, Isaiah wrote between 701 and 681 BC that the Jews would return to their country from all directions (Isaiah 43:5-6).
Most of these prophecies have had an exemplary, literary and even repeated fulfillment. The Israelite tribes conquered Canaan and established the Kingdom of Israel sometime in the 11th century BC, being in constant conflict with their neighbors. After the death of Solomon around 926 BC, the kingdom was divided in two. Israel and Judea, the resulting kingdoms, were conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Romans, and the people of Israel was scattered in 721 BC, 586 BC, 70 AD and 135 AD. Nevertheless, the Jews managed to preserve their national identity for more than 1,700 years, and toward the end of the 19th century they began to massively return to the Palestine area.
Unlike the situations from the past, the establishment of the modern State of Israel was not sudden, but it occurred in stages lined up over dozens of years. Neither was it the product of a single man or the outcome of a single action; it was due to a complex of influences, ideas and conceptions that became active when a favorable international context emerged.
In 1862 Rabbi Zevi Hirsch Kalischer stated that the salvation of the Jewish people, promised by the prophets, can only come from within, through hard work and sacrifices.1214 In other words, God is no longer working through direct interventions as he did in the time of Moses, but through the help he gives to people in their choices. The statement of the rabbi came at a moment when anti-Semitism was escalating again, the Jews were questioning their identity and they were undecided if they had to continue to struggle to regain their homeland or to wait for the miraculous intervention of God. Later, in 1896, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist from Austria-Hungary, published the work Der Judenstaat, in which he argued that the only solution to the “Jewish problem” of Europe was the establishment of a Jewish state. This is how Zionism came into being – a Jewish international movement and a manifestation of nationalism, largely created by the European Jews as a reaction to anti-Semitism and the identity crisis of the Jewish people. One year later Herzl founded the Zionist Organization, which at its first congress set as guidelines the protection of the Jewish people and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. In order to reach these objectives the Zionist congress came to the conclusion that the Jews from diaspora had to be better organized, the Jewish sense of belonging had to be strengthened, the Jews had to be encouraged to migrate to Palestine, Hebrew culture had to be promoted in the area and funds and international support had be obtained.1215
In 1915 the British diplomat Henry McMahon exchanged letters with Hussein bin Ali, the sharif of Mecca. McMahon promised the latter the control of the Arab territories, with the exception of a couple of portions of Syria that stretch west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo. Palestine is positioned south of these areas and it was not explicitly mentioned. Based on McMahon’s assurances, Hussein bin Ali started the revolt against the Ottomans on June 5, 1916. In parallel, Great Britain and France secretly signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement on May 16, 1916, with Russia’s approval. This agreement defined the spheres of influences and control in Western Asia after the expected fall of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. It divided many Arab territories in areas administered by the British and the French and it allowed the institutionalization of Palestine.
On October 31, 1917, the secretary for foreign affairs Arthur James Balfour suggested to the British cabinet that a declaration favorable to the Zionist aspirations would allow Great Britain to continue to carry on an extremely useful propaganda in Russia and America. Balfour sent a letter to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Great Britain, which later became known as the Balfour Declaration. The letter reflected the position of the British cabinet as it was agreed at the meeting in October 1917. It stated that
His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.1216
The declaration was issued through the efforts of Chaim Weizmann, one of the main supporters of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and Nahum Sokolov, the secretary general (and future president) of the Zionist Organization. At the time of the declaration Weizmann was already an important figure in the island due to his chemical experiments related to explosives, which greatly helped Great Britain’s efforts in the First World War.1217
One year later, the Anglo-French Declaration on November 7, 1918, regulated the complete and final liberation of the nations which had been part of the Ottoman Empire. The declaration ensured that Great Britain and France would support “the setting up of national governments and administrations that shall derive their authority from the free exercise of the initiative and choice of the indigenous populations.”1218 In 1919 Sokolov explained:
It has been said, and is still being obstinately repeated by anti-Zionists again and again, that Zionism aims at the creation of an independent “Jewish State.” But this is wholly fallacious. The “Jewish State” was never a part of the Zionist programme. The “Jewish State” was the title of Herzl’s first pamphlet, which had the supreme merit of forcing people to think. This pamphlet was followed by the first Zionist Congress, which accepted the Basle Programme – the only programme in existence.1219
The notes made during the discussions that led to the final text of the Balfour Declaration clarify some of the details of the wording. The phrase “national home” was intentionally used instead of “state” due to the anti-Zionist opposition within the British cabinet. Officially, in the following decades both the Zionist Organization and the British government denied that the declaration referred to the establishment of a Jewish independent state. Unofficially, however, it is certain that the Zionists had this objective in mind, but they waited for the moment when there was a Jewish majority in the area. After all, this was the very purpose of the Zionist movement. In 1919, in a memorandum addressed to the new minister for foreign affairs Lord Curzon, Balfour stated …
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