Courageous characters

Spanning nationalities and professions, the history of the Jewish state ties in with some positive personalities.

An artistic rendition of Prof. George Bush. (photo credit: OREN COHEN)
An artistic rendition of Prof. George Bush.
(photo credit: OREN COHEN)
The humanitarian
It was said that Jean Henri Dunant, Swiss-born banker and humanitarian, was first labeled a Christian Zionist by Theodor Herzl.
Dunant, the founder of the International Red Cross, also inspired the 1864 Geneva Convention.
While en route to meet with the French emperor in June 1859, Dunant arrived in Solferino, Italy, just after Napoléon III and his ally Piedmont-Sardinia and their troops had engaged Austria in the Battle of Solferino. He stumbled into the midst of horrendous carnage – bloody and mutilated bodies scattered over the battlefield. More than 38,000 men lay dead or dying, many of the living suffering with severe wounds.
Little effort was being made to care for the wounded.
Stunned and sickened, Dunant took steps to rally the women and girls of Solferino to provide aid to the men, regardless of their military attachment.
When Dunant arrived home from the battlefront in July of the same year, he wrote Un Souvenir de Solferino (A Memory of Solferino). He told of the terrible deaths and casualties there and proffered suggestions for an impartial group that would care for wounded soldiers. Gustave Moynier, president of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare, took Dunant’s suggestions to heart and named a committee of five, including Dunant, to assess the recommendations. The group scheduled its first meeting on February 17, 1863, now deemed the origination date for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
In 1866, some 20 years before Herzl began to push for a Jewish homeland, Dunant appealed for the founding of the International Society for the Renewal of the Orient.
His plan outlined the establishment of a colony in Palestine that would in due course become a place of settlement for the Jews and ultimately a small Jewish homeland that would aid in the liberation of the Holy Land from the Ottoman Empire. This plan would be formulated under the auspices of France and Napoleon III. Unfortunately, Dunant’s strategy came to naught.
So great was his determination to further the cause of a Jewish homeland in Palestine that Dunant founded the Association for the Colonization (or Resettlement) of Palestine in 1867.
Because of his Zionist beliefs, Dunant was invited by Herzl to accompany him to the First World Zionist Congress, one of only a handful of gentiles to be invited.
Dunant’s belief in his vision of a Jewish homeland in Palestine was so vivid he worked tirelessly for renewal along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. He developed large areas of the coast and strove to ensure that Jews immigrated.
Although Dunant again failed in efforts to enlist the aid of numerous highly visible public figures, his zeal for bringing the Jews home to Palestine never wavered.
His life was celebrated in Israel when a section of the Jerusalem Forest was named in his honor. Its shady groves provide places for children to play and families to picnic just below Mount Herzl. The spot selected to memorialize Dunant is quietly reminiscent of his beloved Swiss Alps. I believe he would have been pleased with the choice.
Nevertheless, the Jewish people and Christian Zionists have not forgotten Dunant’s passion. It was said of him at the commemoration service for his 100th birthday, “Henri Dunant was a Christian activist (he helped found the World Alliance of YMCA in 1855) and a fervent believer in the restoration of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland of Palestine.”
In 1866, 30 years before the First Zionist Congress, Dunant had proposed a repopulation of Palestine by Jews.
The missionary
Rev. William Henry Hechler, born to German parents who had been missionaries in India, became one of the most prominent Christian Zionists and restorationists of his day.
For over 30 years he worked diligently to help the Jews realize the goal of establishing a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. He was present in Basel, Switzerland, at the First Zionist Congress, when the foundation for his dream was laid. He died in 1931, just 17 years before his aspirations were realized.
While working in Vienna as chaplain to the British Embassy, Hechler read Theodor Herzl’s book The Jewish State. The eccentric and full-bearded preacher later met and bonded with Herzl, whom he considered to be a messianic figure. The two men worked diligently to promote the Zionist movement, Hechler relentlessly assuring Herzl that his desire for a Jewish homeland was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Hechler gathered a group of Christian Zionists for the express purpose of aiding Russian Jews in escaping the pogroms and resettling in Palestine. Like other colleagues in the Zionist cause, he published a book that he titled The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine According to Prophecy. Upon recommendation of the British court, Hechler became private tutor to Prince Ludwig, son of Frederick, the grand duke of Baden.
At that time he met the grand duke’s nephew, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany.
In a letter to the grand duke dated March 26, 1886, Hechler included a lengthy description of prophecies from both the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. He added, “The return of the Jews would become a great blessing to Europe and put an end to the anti- Semitic spirit of hatred, which is most detrimental to the welfare of all our nations.”
Because of his role as tutor to German royalty and to the grand duke of Baden in particular, Hechler was instrumental in coordinating a meeting in Palestine between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II to introduce the discussion of a Jewish homeland.
Hechler also encouraged the Turkish head of state to contemplate the restoration of a Jewish state. He worked meticulously on a set of maps depicting the future State of Israel. He even included a detailed map of a new Temple in Jerusalem. Through his dealings with Herzl, Hechler realized that sovereignty for the Jews would come through both political and religious avenues. He ascertained quickly that Herzl would be instrumental in succeeding with a Zionist state and threw his support to his friend.
It was said of Hechler that not only was he “the first, but [he was] the most constant and the most indefatigable of Herzl’s followers.” His contacts both on the continent and in Great Britain were most advantageous to Herzl. Hechler frequently scheduled appointments with the top echelon of German and British leaders, all the while encouraging Herzl that they were “fulfilling prophecy.” Hechler said of David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour that they “accepted Zionism for religious and humanistic reasons; they saw it as fulfillment of the biblical prophecies, not just as something suiting British Imperial interests.”
Prior to his death, Herzl requested that Hechler be honored for all he had done for him and the cause of Zionism. The Zionist Executive rewarded Hechler with a monthly pension. The day before Herzl died, Hechler was one of the last people to visit him at a sanatorium in Austria.
In 1997, during the 100th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, Alex Carmel, a historian from Israel, appealed for the restoration of the names of men such as William Hechler, Laurence Oliphant and other outstanding Christian Zionists in the annals of Zionist history.
The fighter
One of the men highlighted at the new Friends of Zion Heritage Center and museum is John Henry Patterson, godfather of the late Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Patterson was born in Ireland in 1867 and was among those conservative Protestants whose Zionist leanings made him the perfect commander for the Zion Mule Corps. His familiarity with the Bible – its stories, laws, geography, prophecies and morals – stood him in good stead when his army superiors chose him to take over the ZMC. The group formed would be the first Jewish fighting force to take to the field of battle since 135 CE with noted Jewish commander Bar-Kochba.
When the Jewish volunteers were sworn in, Patterson offered the invitation, “Pray with me that I should not only, as Moses, behold Canaan from afar, but be divinely permitted to lead you into the Promised Land.”
Of the training camp, he wrote, “Never since the days of Judah Maccabee had such sights and sounds been seen and heard in a military camp – with the drilling of uniformed soldiers in the Hebrew language.”
Formed during World War I, the ZMC originated in Egypt among displaced Jews fleeing the Turkish stranglehold on Palestine. The plan for a corps to help liberate Palestine from the Turks had been proposed by Russian journalist Vladimir Jabotinsky. The British, however, were opposed to the idea of having Jewish recruits fight on the Palestinian border. Patterson and his group of 300 volunteers were sent instead to the Gallipoli front. They landed at V Beach, east of Cape Helles.
In his book With the Judeans in the Palestine Campaign, published in the 1930s, Lt.-Col. Patterson wrote in his journal of his experiences with the ZMC. The Jewish Chronicle published an article on September 15, 1915, in which Patterson revealed, “These brave lads who had never seen shell fire before most competently unloaded the boats and handled the mules whilst shells were bursting in close proximity to them.”
Patterson, who later commanded the Jewish Legion, was such an ardent supporter of Zionism that he believed that David Lloyd George and Sir Arthur Balfour had been elevated to positions of power just as Esther had been in ancient Persia – “for such a time as this.”
His excitement was said to have been palpable as he watched unprecedented events taking place before his very eyes, precursors to the Jewish people returning to the land that had been promised to Abraham and his offspring for all eternity.
Patterson wrote, “All down the centuries from the time of the Dispersion it has been the dream of the Jew that one day he would be restored to his ancestral home. In his exile the age-long cry of his stricken soul has ever been ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’” Patterson said of the Balfour Declaration, “A friendly Palestine today is of immensely more importance to the peace and prosperity of the British Empire. Our statesmen were, therefore, but following in the footsteps of the greatest men of the past when they issued the world-famous Balfour Declaration pledging England to use her best endeavors to establish in Palestine “a national home for the Jewish people.”
Patterson felt he had a front-row seat to the fulfillment of prophetic scriptures and promises from God. He died on June 18, 1947, less than a year before his vision for the rebirth of Israel was fulfilled on May 14, 1948.
The academic
When the name George Bush pops up in the news or in conversations, we immediately think of the 41st and 43rd presidents of the US. What relatively few know is that there was an earlier George Bush born in Norwich, Vermont, in 1796. This distant ancestor of the two presidents was a Bible scholar, a Presbyterian pastor, and a devout restorationist. His monthly magazine Hierophant (expositor) was devoted to explaining biblical prophecies.
Rev. Bush, the academic, taught Hebrew and Oriental literature at New York University.
An ardent believer in the return of the Jews to their rightful land in Palestine, Bush wrote The Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived in 1844, based on Ezekiel 37, in which he criticized “the thralldom and oppression which has so long ground them [the Jews] to the dust.”
He called for elevating the Jews “to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth” by recreating the Jewish state in the land of Israel. This, according to the professor, would benefit not only the Jews but all of mankind, forming a “link of communication” between humanity and God.
“It will blaze in notoriety.” He added, “It will flash a splendid demonstration upon all kindreds and tongues of the truth.”
Bush based his thesis on the prophetic book of Ezekiel. In his “Prefatory Remarks,” the academic theorized, “Its [Ezekiel’s] grand scope is to announce… the return and resettlement of exiled tribes all over the length and breadth of the desolate wastes and the forsaken cities, which had been so long “a prey and a derision to the residue of the heathen round about.”
Bush believed Ezekiel prophesied that Israel – which had not known self-rule since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and had not had a significant population in the Holy Land since 135 CE (they always had some presence in the land) – would again be populated primarily by Jews. They would not only return to their ancestral home, he posited, they would also reestablish their government and restore a dry and barren expanse into a lush and fertile land.
Bush wrote, “We are now just upon the borders of that sublime crisis in Providence of which the restoration of the Jews to [Palestine], and their ingathering into the Church, is to be one of the prominent features.”
He later went on to explain that, through some string of seemingly unremarkable and unconnected events, “the dispersed and downcast remnant shall, one after another, turn their faces to Zion, and in sparse and scattered bands find their way to the land of their fathers. Thus shall ‘bone come to his bone’; one Jew shall meet another, entering from different quarters of the globe upon the predestined soil of Palestine. Urged by different motives, the natives of Poland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Africa, and the East shall drop in, in scattered groups, to the cities of Judah, with the hope of depositing their bones in the tombs of their patriarch fathers.”
Though he didn’t know exactly how, Bush looked into Ezekiel’s prophecy and realized that before any vision of John from the Book of Revelation could become reality, Israel would have to be reborn, and its capital would be Jerusalem, the city David called his own.
The Valley of Vision sold approximately one million copies before the onset of the Civil War – an unheard-of feat in the days before mass production and advertising.
His restorationist beliefs helped to influence American stalwarts such as Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Emma Lazarus, Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. 
Michael D. Evans is the founder of the Friends of Zion Heritage Center in Jerusalem. The museum tells the stories of non-Jews who, throughout history, aided the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.