Israel Independence Day 2016 by Rabbi David Degani
On the 5th day of the month of Iyar, we will celebrate Yom Ha-atz-ma-ut, 68 years of Israel's Independence. For us as Jews, this event 68 years ago, became a powerful symbol of our everlasting existence as a unique people whose religion cannot be separated from its nationality. Israel Independence day is a reminder that our existence depends on having a land of our own and that land is specifically the land of Israel with very specific borders. This land is part of us, of who we are as Jews.
I am reminded of an episode which happened at the beginning of the 20th century when the Zionist movement was offered the country of Uganda in Africa as a homeland and a safe haven for European Jews, many of them who were victims of the infamous Kishinev pogrom in Russia. In a rejection letter the leader of the Zionist movement at the time explained that the land component of the Jewish religion is directly related to the land of Israel because of its specific spiritual value and its holiness to Judaism, without which Judaism cannot exist. This principal trumped even the immediate need for a safe place for thousands of Jewish Kishinev refugees.
Other than the religious claim, there are other profound reasons for the existence of Israel as a Jewish state (Judea and Samaria included). The crime of taking away a land from its people is not expunged due to time passed, not even 2000 years. When a nation is forcefully removed from its legitimate homeland, and as long as that nation exists, its claim to the land never gets old. The claim is always intact. Many of us don't realize that when the Muslims invaded the land of Israel in the 7th century the majority of the population was still Jewish. There were many thriving communities around the land beyond the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius, Tzfat, etc. Most of the Jews were forced to leave because of extremely heavy and unrealistic taxation imposed on the "Non believers"- a tactic employed by Muslim occupiers over the centuries in order to facilitate a measured but steady exodus of non believer from their own lands.
This principle of never giving up our legitimate claim for our land has been even more profound when we the Jewish nation made it very clear to the rest of the world over the long years of exile through prayers and, in fact, through actions that we are not giving up on our sovereignty to our land.
In the last 2000 years the world knew very well that the Jewish people never gave up on our claim for the land from which we were exiled. In medieval times the church, fearful of Jewish immigration to their homeland which intensified periodically, forbade Jews to travel on Christian boats to the land of Israel. The same was true after the expulsion from Spain in the 15th century as well as other centuries.
The Arabs, recognizing that the land of Israel is the land of the Jews were especially fearful that the Jews would one day return to reclaim their land. One of the major attempts to resettle millions of Jews back in Israel was a plan to create an economic infrastructure first, which would allow for rapid Jewish migration. This plan was made by Don Yosef Nasi, a highly influential Jew in international circles, in the 15th century. The Arab nomads in Israel opposed the plan which Don Yosef had started to implement. The plan was eventually abandoned due to the extreme violent resistance of the local Moslems.
To ensure the Jews wouldn't return, the Muslims built a cemetery in Jerusalem in front of the city Gate of Mercy, Their reasoning for building it in this specific place was that when the Jewish messiah would come to the city, being a descendant of Jewish priests, a Cohen, he would not be allowed to go through a cemetery and therefore would not be able to enter Jerusalem and to establish a new Jewish kingdom in Judea.
In the 17th century an estimated eight thousands Jews, mostly young men, gathered in Turkey under the leadership of a man call Shabbetai Tzvi who promised them that they would take the land of Israel by force through his magic. They were all slaughtered by the Ottoman army. Over the centuries numerous "Messiahs" gathered Jewish believers around them in a naive attempt to magically take over the land of Israel. All ended up in failure. However these constant attempts, as naive as they all were, serve as evidence throughout the centuries that indeed, action was taken by Jews who tried to reclaim the land of Israel.
These and others similar actions indicate that the Jewish people never gave up on their rights to their land. It was a constant battle for our legitimate land which we finally won in 1948 with most but not all of the Jewish land in Jewish hands.
So is the term Israel Independence Day really accurate? To suggest that Israel became independent in 1948 is not only inaccurate, it also provides many Arabs with the anti- Israel propaganda they need. The term may suggest that Israel's independence as it relates to modern Israel separates itself from any Jewish evidence of independent living prior to 1948, as if there was no Jewish independent existence prior to the modern state of Israel.
The fact that Jews lived in the land of Israel for many centuries is not in dispute in international circles. Like most other ancient nations we were chased out of our land. What bothers Israel's enemies around the world is our return to our land recreates a prosperous powerful, independent Israel. We, according to our enemies belong in the past. We had our time on the world stage and lost our land some centuries ago. That is it. We are now just a group of people sharing the same religion. Jews returning back to their land is against the world's natural order of things.
It is therefore very important for us to understand that what we celebrate in front of the entire world is the Jewish Return to independent living in our land, a restoration of previous Jewish independence in the land of Israel after centuries of both yearning to return and at times, some actual attempts to do so.
May we be thankful for this return to our independence everyday! And with this gratitude, may it bring Peace to Israel, to us, to the world!