Birth Pangs of a Jewish Nation

By GARY ALLEYApril 2015 

Who has ever heard of such things?  Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.  Isaiah 66:8

Last week, Israel celebrated its birth.  Following the Jewish calendar, on the 5th of Iyyar, 67 years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben Gurion and the Jewish National Council declared the establishment of the modern Jewish state.  Yet, before every birth, there are labor pangs, and before those travails a fetus has slowly developed in the wake of conception.  The modern state of Israel’s birth was much more than one miraculous day.  It was an intense labor of blood and tears for two peoples seeking survival in a region irrevocably transformed by two world wars, embroiled in competing geopolitical interests, and shadowed by the Holocaust.

Today, Israel’s population is 8,345,000 people of which 75% are Jews and 21% are Arabs.[1]  This is the inverse of British Palestine’s 1922 census that documented 88% Arabs and 11% Jews.  While the biblical ancestors of the Jewish people had lived in this land since the times of Abraham, it was not until the end of the 19th century with the start of modern Zionism[2] and large scale Jewish immigration that tangible hopes for a Jewish nation were conceived.

Towards the end of World War One as the Ottoman Empire was in its death throes, the British Balfour Declaration signaled the first labor pain of Israel’s birth.  In it, Britain, the greatest world empire at that time, publicly supported a homeland for the Jews within Palestine while also protecting the rights of its Arab residents.[3]  Then, in 1920, the victorious Allies assigned the Palestine Mandate to Britain, and, later, the League of Nations approved the Balfour declaration as well.  Arab riots and attacks followed.[4]  Casualties mounted on both sides.  For the next decades, Britain attempted to govern Palestine, though bloodshed continued and, later, escalated.[5]

The Zionist cause increased after World War Two as Hitler’s genocide of the Jewish people became public knowledge.  A push for a Jewish homeland became more accepted in international discussion and helped ignite one final labor pain prior to Israel’s birth, when on Nov 29th, 1947 the United Nations voted for a Partition Plan of Palestine between the Jewish and Arab peoples.[6]  While most Jewish residents accepted the plan, the Arab leadership did not.[7]  Immediately after the vote, civil war broke out in Palestine as Britain began plans for its soon withdrawal.

Dr. Robert “Bob” Lindsey, a Southern Baptist pastor who lived and worked in Jerusalem at that time was awakened in the early morning of Nov 30th, 1947 when Jewish residents received word of the UN’s Partition Plan.  Writing that day, he said:

This has been a historic day.  So many things have been happening during it that I sit down to write before I forget any of them.

The excitement began early this morning at one-thirty.  The hundreds of people had sat all night waiting for returns by shortwave concerning the voting on the question of the partition of Palestine at the UN Assembly.  Finally the news came!  At last after nearly 2,000 years of wandering, Jews have a state.

We walked down the main avenue of New Jerusalem, King George.  Everywhere were people walking up and down.  Near Jaffa Road, a great crowd had gathered and were singing and dancing.  A British tank, the kind that the police use here, went by with at least thirty young people clinging to its iron sides and one holding a large national Jewish flag.[8]

Bob Lindsey, fleeing the siege of and war in Jerusalem, found himself in Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 where and when Israeli independence was declared.  Later, he would write about what later became known as the Arab-Israeli War:[9]

As in every war…the majority did not want to fight.  Most Palestine Arabs stood to lose everything in a fight with the Jews and they knew it.  Most Jewish people had had enough fighting for six long years before and they did not want it.  Some of our Arab members continued to meet in the church with the Jewish Christian brethren for a month after the troubles began and in places, Arab and Jewish children played together for several weeks after November 29…but at last the tension was too great and the communities separated completely, pillboxes at every border.

Many have asked what is actually the truth about the Arab-Jewish conflict.  Whose country is it anyway?  I cannot answer that question absolutely, of course.  Only God can.  But it seems to me that both Arab and Jewish claims have much validity.  Arabs claim Palestine because they have formed the majority of the population for many hundreds of years.  Jews claim it on the grounds of a historical connection of many hundreds of years and the pressing need for a solution to the Jewish problem the world around.  I think both peoples are right.  That means, naturally, that only compromise will give a measure of each group’s desires.  The UN plan was such a compromise and perhaps not as bad a one as some have thought.  It gave both Arabs and Jews the political rights of sovereign nations, yet the economic possibilities of a single country.  The political leaders of the Arabs rejected the plan, however, and history has again changed to some extent “our best-laid plans.”[10]

Yet, history continues and, in a sense, Israel is still being born—trying to figure out how to be a Jewish democracy while being inclusive of its 1.73 million Arab citizens, as well as coming to a political resolution with its Palestinian neighbors.  The celebrated miracle of Israel’s birth will grow greater in stature each day as these growing pains mature the Jewish nation.

[1] This number does not include the estimated 4.44 million mostly Arabs/Palestinians who live in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

[2] Zionism is a nationalist and political movement of Jews and Jewish culture that supports the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the territory defined as the historic Land of Israel.

[3] “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” Nov 2, 1917

[4] “The fundamental cause of the Jaffa riots and the subsequent acts of violence was a feeling among the Arabs of discontent with, and hostility to, the Jews, due to political and economic causes, and connected with Jewish immigration, and with their conception of Zionist policy as derived from Jewish exponents . . . the Arab majority, who were generally the aggressors, inflicted most of the casualties.”  The Haycraft Commission (1921)

[5] Some of the attacks here.

[6] 33 countries or 72% voted for the Partition Plan giving the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine.

[7] “Palestinians and Arabs as a rule always reiterated that a partition was unfair: it gave the majority of the land (56%) to a Jewish state, when Jews at that stage legally owned only 7% of it and remained a minority (33% in 1946) of the population.”  More.  For historical demographic charts, here.

[8] One Foot in Heaven, Mullican and Turnage, pg 83-85.

[9] By Israelis it is called Milkhemet Ha'atzma'ut, "The War of Independence," and by the Arabs,al-Nakba‎, "The Catastrophe."

[10] One Foot in Heaven, Mullican and Turnage, pg 86-87.