Ze'ev Jabotinsky with his wife and son Eri..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
History does not always properly reward watershed events. It is the major political events that receive a great deal of our attention, but sometimes smaller events involving simple people have a much greater effect.
Exactly 100 years ago, on the 18th of Adar, Joseph Trumpeldor and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, both young, determined men with great aspirations, turned a dream into a formative document. This document, bearing 100 signatures, called for the establishment of a Jewish military unit which would help the British conquer the Land of Israel.
The Zion Mule Corps, which fought in Gallipoli, and later the Royal Fusiliers, led by Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky and their commander, John Peterson, may not be remembered as the most daring or effective fighting force, but this was the first time since the days of Bar Kochba that a Jewish fighting force was established to defend the Land of Israel. After 2,000 years of exile, the mighty lion had returned to defend its people.
A tangible example of the Jew ready to abandon the servitude of Exile and wield a sword in battle occurred on the 11th of Adar in 1921, the day of the battle at Tel Hai. Tel Hai is one of the important milestones in the history of Zionism and the struggle to create a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The courage seen at Tel Hai was in many ways the result of the historic decision taken five years earlier at Gallipoli. The common thread connecting these two events was Trumpeldor.
It is somewhat surprising that to this day, Trumpeldor is considered one of the ultimate symbols of heroism and determination in the Jewish people’s struggle for statehood. After all, there were many others who fought and fell for the Zionist cause, some of them with greater success.
We can guess that Trumpeldor is a symbol not just because of how he fell, but primarily because of what he lived for. He is a symbol of the Zionist understanding that the Jewish right to the Land of Israel supersedes other rights, and that the struggle for statehood will be long and difficult. He understood that victory will belong to those who persist in defending their right, even at the cost of their lives.
We can see that for example in a letter he wrote to his brother: “If war will break out in the Land of Israel, I will certainly be appointed a commander even though I am quite ready to serve as a simple soldier. For there we will be in our home, not among strangers. I believe that the day will come when I, tired and exhausted, will gaze with happiness at my fields in my land, and no one will tell me: go away from here, you don’t belong in this land. And if someone will tell me that, I will defend my fields and my rights. If I fall in battle, I will know for what cause I have fallen.”
Trumpeldor did in fact fall in battle at Tel Hai, but his heritage became a milestone, or perhaps a warning sign.
The fundamental strategy of Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky paved the way for the underground movements and later for the IDF. However, this fundamental Jewish understanding that “if I don’t protect myself, no one will do it for me” is being questioned today. Our right to the Land and right to national self-defense have been replaced by attempts to placate the enemy and by the childish thought that we can achieve peace by ceding territory to the Arab enemy that continues to seek our destruction.
Among the political Left there are those who in the name of Zionism choose to accept every international claim in the hope of living in peace. Trumpeldor could never have imagined that one day it would be fellow Zionists telling him, “You don’t belong in this land.”
One can say that the challenge of Jewish independence stands in opposition to the desire for existence.
Against the Iranian snake we must place the Jewish lion, determined and proud of his right to live in his entire land.
The heritage of Trumpeldor is to stand with pride even when facing a hostile president, and to protect the free world.
The heritage of Trumpeldor is to call for the millions of Jews in Europe and the United States to come home to the Land of Israel.
The heritage of Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky is to prepare a plan for the aliya of young and old from around the world, to conduct tours which encourage a love of the land, to create settlements and to educate toward a Zionist, national, liberal heritage, while maintaining the democratic principles which support the Jewish right to the Land of Israel.
In the face of external threats and internal confusion, we must plow the fields of Zionist awareness. In the great words of Trumpeldor, “In the place of the furthest furrow plowed by a Jewish plow – that is where the border will be.”The author is an attorney and the head of Betar World Leadership.