With a very dry November and winds whipping up to 50 and 60 kph there was a spate of raging fires in Israel last week. At present, the police estimate that about 40 out of the 90 blazes that raged and destroyed houses and large swaths of forests, were started by arsons, most probably Arab, mostly for anti-Israel reasons.

This reminded me of a friend who had been in the U.S. for a three year stay to convince and help Jews go on "aliyah" – move to Israel. Going to the Land of Israel in Judaism is considered going up – going up to a higher level of spirituality, a higher level of living Judaism. Hence moving to Israel is called aliyah, going up.

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My friend was asked: do you miss home? He answered that above all he misses the land. They thought he meant home, friends and family, but he clarified that although he missed all those, above all he missed the land itself. A Jew loves the Land of Israel itself: the land of the Bible (most of it), the land of prophecy, the Holy Land that is so intrinsically ties up in the Jewish religion and Jewish history, and future.


"Desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds – a silent mournful expanse… We reached Tabor safely… We never saw a human being on the whole route.
"There is not a solitary village throughout its (the Jezreel Valley's) whole extant – not for 30 miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents but not a single permanent habitation…
"Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren… the valleys are unsightly deserts… it is a hopeless, dreary heartbroken land… desolate and unlovely… no more of this workday world… It is a dreamland," (Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, describing his visit to the land in 1867).

Indeed a dreamland – the dream of the Jewish nations that turned that desolation into a blooming country. Israel is the only country in the world where there were more trees in the land at the end of the 20th century than there were in its beginning. Every Jew my age remembers how we sold stamps of the Jewish National Fund in order to plant trees in Israel. Receiving that certificate that stated that a tree was planted in your name was a badge of honor and a happy occasion.

"Better for us that these territories should remain a waste, a howling wilderness, trod only by red hunters than be so settled." Those were the words of a Mississippian who opposed opening the West to homesteaders, lest the area be filled with anti-slavery Yankees (Battle Cry of Freedom, McPherson, p. 193). The message of this pro-slavery Southerner being: either the land is settled by the people I want and the way I want – or better that no one go there.

David Ben Gurion, who later went on to become Israel's first prime minister, met in the early 1930s with one of the local Arab leaders who had the reputation of being a moderate, Musa Alami. All of Ben Gurion's vision of developing the land for the common good of Jews and Arabs together, held no sway at all. Alami stated that "he would prefer the land to remain poor and desolate (admitting that the land was indeed desolate before the return of the Jews!) even for another hundred years", if the alternative was rapid development by the Jews!

In other words: more than they want the land – they want the Jews not to be in the land.

Burning forests and houses says: you don't love the land. If you hate more than you love, then you wish for the land to burn, so no one can enjoy it. If so – the land surely doesn't belong to you. In contrast, Yosef Zundel of Salant (1786 – 1865), a famous righteous rabbi who lived in Jerusalem and is buried on the Mount of Olives, used to count the new houses being built in Jerusalem, whether by Jews or Arabs, saying happily that thank God the Holy Land is being rebuilt! 
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