While travelling on a train to the West, Leon Tucker spoke to a Jew about Israel. The Jew said he was perfectly satisfied in the United States. His home was there, his business was there, and his family had become established there. He was not interested in Jerusalem of the building of the nation of Israel.
“Stretch out your right hand,” Tucker said. The Jew held out his right hand and Tucker looked at it. Then he said, “Stick out your tongue, please.”
“Are you trying to make a fool of me?” the Jew asked.
“No,” Tucker replied, “but I would like to see your tongue.” The Jew stuck out his tongue.
Tucker looked at it and quoted from Psalm 137:5, 6: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”
The Jew bowed his head and with tears said, “I have never been so rebuked in my life.”
The Young Idealists
The years following the founding of Zionism demonstrated that many Jews had indeed forgotten Jerusalem. Having become comfortable, especially in the West, most Jews preferred to stay in the nations to which they had wandered.
Just before the turn of the century, however, there was a wave of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. Moved by Herzl’s book and his eloquence, a number of young idealists came as pioneers to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Many of these new arrivals were students. The education they were to receive in their chosen land was to be a difficult one. Palestine was under the control of Turkey, a nation hostile to Jews. The land was denuded of forests and most of it had returned to desert. Ancient terraces that had once protected the soil of Israel had long been destroyed, and erosion had conquered much of the area. The vital partnership of soil and farmer, so needed for agricultural success, had been broken for centuries and conditions were deplorable.
Mark Twain, who visited Palestine in 1867, described it as:
…a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent mournful expanse. …A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…. We never saw a human being on the whole route…. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.
Even as late as 1913, the report of the Palestine Royal Commission quotes an eyewitness account of the Maritime Plain as follows:
The road leading from Gaza to the north was only a summer track suitable for transport by camels and carts. …No orange groves, orchards or vineyards were to be seen until one reached Yabna village…. Not in a single village in all this area was water used for irrigation…. Houses were all of mud. No windows were anywhere to be seen…. The ploughs used were of wood…. The yields were very poor…. The sanitary conditions in the village were horrible. Schools did not exist…. The rate of infant mortality was very high…. The western part, towards the sea, was almost a desert…. The villages in this area were few and thinly populated. Many ruins of villages were scattered over the area, as owing to the prevalence of malaria; many villages were deserted by their inhabitants.
But this hostile land would be tamed. The desert would yet blossom as the rose.
As the years passed, trained people would arrive — scientific farmers, irrigation experts, builders of factories and cities, educators, and thinkers. These immigrants of diverse abilities and interests would in the next three- quarters of a century bring the dead land to life a gain. But what a task lay before them!
By 1914 there were about 100,000 Jews in Palestine, mostly in the area of Jerusalem. Though Herzl was no longer living, his dream was beginning to materialize. Foundations were being laid. Preparations were being made for the birth of a nation. Then World War I broke out.
Caught in the Middle
World conflict was especially unwanted by the Jews. Being small in number and finding themselves caught in the middle of strategic territory held by Turkey and desired by Great Britain, many Jews feared the worst — death of their nation before its birth, the abortion of Israel, the destruction of Zionism.
Turkey’s alliance with Germany threatened disaster to Jews in Palestine. Work had to be halted on the homeland. Jews with citizenship in any of the Allied nations were deported. Some Jews were forced to accept Turkish citizenship. Dozens were executed, accused of spying for the Allies.
Another problem for Jews in World War I was a division of loyalties. Jews fought on both sides of the conflict, and with equal patriotism. Unlike World War II, when Germany was an enemy of all Jewish people and thus unified them, World War I offered no such clear-cut decision. Jews in Germany were generally loyal to that land and served with devotion.
War Does Not Take God by Surprise
Although World War I brought great difficulties to the Jews and made the development of their homeland precarious, there were some important positive results from that tragic conflict.
Students of the Bible understand that all events work out God’s great plan. Even war does not take God by surprise. The working out of His program is not affected by the violence of man: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Ps. 76:10).
The first positive spin-off from World War I was the issuing of what is known as the Balfour Declaration. Eager to involve the Jews on the side of the Allies and being especially concerned about their strategic location near the Suez Canal, British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, on November 2, 1917, sent the following declaration to Lord Rothschild expressing British sympathy with the cause of Zionism:
His Majesty’s Government views 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.
British support for the establishment of the State of Israel was now on paper and declared to the world. If the aim of that move was to gain Jewish participation in the war, it was successful. The publication of the Balfour Declaration produced Jewish volunteers for service from Great Britain and other nations, especially the United States. It appeared now that instead of destroying Zionism, as had been feared, World War I would actually play an important role in establishing the Jews in their land.
Freedom for Jerusalem!
The second important development in the wartime drama was the arrival there of British General Allenby. The conquest of Jerusalem became one of his first objectives, and the success of his effort is well known.
The Balfour Declaration had been issued on November 2, 1917. One month later, General Allenby freed Jerusalem from the Turks. On December 9, 1917, Allenby’s forces liberated Jerusalem without firing a shot. When the Turks had discovered that a general was on the way whose name was Allenby (to them “Allah Bey” — the Prophet of God), they had taken this to mean God was against them and they evacuated the city. It is also said that seeing airplanes in battle for the first time panicked the Turks because they were aware of Isaiah’s promise of Jerusalem’s deliverance: “As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:5).
Whatever the reasons, Jerusalem was free and the Jews rejoiced. And what a great occasion that victory must have been for General Allenby! He later told how as a boy as he knelt to say his evening prayers he had been taught by his mother to pray: “And 0, Lord, we would not forget thine ancient people, Israel. Hasten the day when Israel shall again be Thy people and shall be restored to Thy favour and to their land.” At a reception given for him in London, Allenby said, “I never knew that God would give me the privilege of helping to answer my own childhood prayers.”
Statehood for Israel
A third benefit resulting from World War I was the public and official appreciation given to Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a Jew, for his contribution to the war effort of the Allies. Weizmann, who was born in Russia in 1874, studied chemistry in Germany and then taught at universities in Switzerland and England. During World War I he devised an improved method of making acetone, which is used in making explosives. This discovery may actually have affected the outcome of the war.
The prime minister of England credited Weizmann with saving the British army because of his work in providing explosives. When Great Britain tried to reward Weizmann for his work, he said, “There is nothing I want for myself, but there is something I would like you to do for my people.” Weizmann requested the establishment in Palestine of a national homeland. It was generally thought that his work had a great deal to do with bringing about the Balfour Declaration. Weizmann later became the first president of the State of Israel.
Following the war, the newly formed League of Nations approved the providing of a national homeland for the Jews as outlined by the Balfour Resolution. President Woodrow Wilson proposed that the land of Palestine be under a British mandate as a temporary arrangement, the ultimate aim being emancipation and independence of that area. The proposal was adopted and the Jews rejoiced.
All seemed ready now for the fulfilling of the words of the Hebrew prophets concerning the return of the Jewish people to their land:
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and w ill deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God (Ezekiel 34:11 — 15).
But the battle was far from won. Difficult days were ahead for the Jews. The British mandate in Palestine did not turn out as the Zionists had hoped. Disappointment lingered. The vision of hundreds of thousands of Jews pouring into Palestine would have to wait another generation for fulfillment. Frustrating quotas allowing only small numbers of Jewish immigrants plagued the planners of this new nation. The struggle continued.
But What of the Arabs?
Hoping to keep peace with the Arabs, the British placed ridiculously small immigration quotas on the Jews. In 1930, a Royal Commission of Inquiry under agricultural and settlement expert Sir John Hope Simpson concluded that only 20,000 more settlers could be admitted to the land without forcing the Arabs out. At that time there were approximately 850,000 Arabs and 170,000 Jews living there. Simpson could not foresee that in the years to come millions would occupy the area, enjoying a far higher standard of living then he observed in 1930.
To support their restrictions of Jewish immigration, the British issued a series of “white papers” that supposedly gave good reasons for their action. The most shocking of the policies set forth in these official documents was the declaration that within a specified time a majority vote of the Arabs could halt all Jewish immigration. Of the final of these infamous papers, Winston Churchill said:
There is much in this white paper which is alien to the spirit of the Balfour Declaration, but I will not trouble about that. I will select the one point upon which there is plainly a breach and repudiation of the Balfour Declaration, the decision that Jewish immigration can be stopped in five years time by an Arab majority. This is a plain breach of a solemn obligation.
Others joined Churchill in protesting the injustice, but the British continued their restrictive action throughout their mandate. It would take another global war to finally build Jewish resolution sufficient to break down the barriers that made it illegal for them to reenter the land.
Winning the War but Losing the Peace
Hindsight declares that in World War I the Allies won the war but lost the peace. One of the reasons for this tragedy was the bitterness born in a young Austrian corporal in the German army named Adolf Hitler.
Angered at the humiliation brought to his people by the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I and bitter about society in general, Hitler set out to get revenge. He found a sympathetic following among many of the veterans of the defeated German army and later, in the economic chaos that befell Germany, among a good portion of the population. His ultimate political success, making him dictator of Germany, became one of the most regrettable developments of the twentieth century.
Though volumes have been written attempting to analyze the troubled mind of Adolf Hitler, his hatred of the Jews found expression in such inhuman policies and practices that they can only be attributed to satanic influence.
Taking the reins of the German government, he would embark on a binge of bloodshed that would victimize all nations. But none would suffer as the Jews. Six million of the children of Israel would die at the hands of Hitler and his henchmen. The world would never be the same again, and Jews everywhere would be determined to settle for nothing less than a land of their own — the land of their fathers.