ISRAEL’S DECLARATION of Independence on display in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This past week, Israelis and Zionists celebrated Independence Day. The original Yom Ha’atzma’ut 71 years ago was initiated with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum, which today is called Independence Hall. The nature of the new Jewish state was defined by the words David Ben-Gurion read on that first Independence Day.
It is interesting to note that there seems to be an inherent contradiction in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The first section declares the Jewish people’s historic right to the Land of Israel. “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance... Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland...
“Recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.”
Later in the document, the authors seem to offer a different reason for the establishment of the state. “The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people – the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe – was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz Yisrael, the Jewish state, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the community of nations.” This latter clause seems to posit that the Holocaust and the need for a place of refuge for Jews was the reason that the State of Israel was established.
The two clauses – the first that says Israel was created because the people have a right to the land, and the second section that says the need of a place of refuge was the reason for the establishment of the state – seem to contradict to each other. The contradiction muddies the waters of determining the purpose of the State of Israel.
Was the state established so that the Jewish people could exercise their natural right to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations in their own sovereign state, or was it established because of the urgency of solving the problem of Jewish homelessness, and all of the persecution that came with it?
THE TWO views do not complement each other. The difference between them is whether Israel has a right to settle parts of its ancient homeland that are not needed to provide a refuge for Jews facing homelessness and persecution. The Jewish people can be safe without the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria. An argument can be made that the State of Israel can be a haven for the Jewish people even without east Jerusalem and south Tel Aviv. If the purpose of the State of Israel is only to be a safe haven, as the second part of the Declaration of Independence suggests, then it’s counterproductive to keep lands captured in the Six Day War.
The State of Israel wasn’t established because the Jews needed a safe haven. The State of Israel was established because like any other people, the Jewish people have an eternal right to govern and live in the land of Israel. The homelessness of the Jewish people and the persecution of the Holocaust created the immediate necessity, but did not create the cause for the creation of the state. The State of Israel was created to reestablish the Jewish people’s homeland. It was and continues to be their right.
The right of the Jewish people to their land doesn’t expire. The right to their land doesn’t terminate when others claim they replaced the Jewish people. The right of the Jewish people doesn’t even end when the international community orchestrates a grand compromise that strips them of rights to half of their land. The Jewish people’s right to their ancient lands recaptured in 1967 is just as strong today as it ever was. Critics of Israeli control of Judea and Samaria use the argument that Israel was established as a haven to demonstrate that there is no reason to keep the disputed lands captured in the Six Day War. But they are incorrect.
Those who conflate the Jewish people’s need for refuge with their right to the land commit an even graver mistake. They inadvertently weaken Israel’s legitimacy among the nations of the world. While every other nation deserves self-determination on its own land, the Jewish people only deserve refuge. This is a grievous error with unknown ramifications for Israel’s international standing. Like any other nation, Israel has a right to all of its land. The writer teaches Talmud and political activism to students around the world. He lives in Mitzpe Yeriho.
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