The formation of the state of Israel in 1948 is one of the most controversial episodes in recent world history. Jewish leaders meticulously executed a carefully drawn plan and made the state of Israel happen. Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism outlined in the much-publicized Book "Jewish state "in 1896," let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation, the rest we manage for ourselves". On the 14th of May, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion in the city of Tel Aviv, declared the establishment of the state of Israel, it was the accomplishment of a long-time project and a dream.
For 2000 years, Jews were in exile scattered over more than a hundred countries. The decline of petty Jewish kingdoms, the fall of first and second Jewish temples and failed uprisings against non-Jewish rulers were the major reasons for exile. Life in exile was one of pain and agony. The diaspora, which concentrated mainly in Russia and European Countries were treated, as pariahs. Discrimination meted out to them was unparalleled. In some countries, they were even asked to wear special clothing, such as the Judenhut and the yellow badge to distinguish them from the general Christian population. Religious freedom was curtailed, travel restrictions were imposed and in most of Europe, the Jewish community was confined to ghettos.
Despite all these hardships, the Jews with strict adherence to their religious beliefs and their holy book, Torah, retained their identity and in all remained as a cohesive unit. Rabbis, the clerics, maintained a strict code of religious discipline among the Jewish diaspora, which in many ways prevented them from converting to Christianity.
The emancipated Jew
France, in 1790, took the first step in treating the Jews as equal citizens and removed all the existing discriminatory law and practices against them. Other European countries followed suit, which was later to be known as the 'Jewish emancipation. The emancipated Jew in Europe came in contact with the general population, and on a level playing field, started to climb up the social hierarchical ladder. Suddenly, the Jew became lawyers, doctors, journalists and professors. which were all coveted professions at that time in Europe.
The newfound freedom and the rapid socio-economic clout of this new group fueled a new kind of anti-Jewish feeling (Antisemitism) throughout Europe. The way the Jews gave prominence to Judaism in their daily life was also quite amusing for the majority of Europeans. Nationalist Europeans, by observing the Jewish life also arrived at a conclusion that the Jews with their separate history and religion will never assimilate into their respective countries. They viewed them as a separate communal lot with a distinct identity. Jews started to feel the heat again, in a different manner.
Birth of Zionism
Zionism was the Jewish answer to the latest anti-Jewish offensive. For the liberated Jew with economic muscle, the latest resentment, was more unbearable, than what they have faced while in ghettos. The movement's name is derived from Zion, a hill in Jerusalem. The creation of a separate state for the Jews was the major plank of Zionism. Theodor Herzl, in 1897, organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland to further the agenda of creating a national home for Jews. Delegations were sent to British and Turkish empires seeking the possibility of establishing a Jewish state. Turks outrightly rejected the suggestion, whereas the British, asked them to consider the feasibility of making Uganda their Nation-state. The seventh Zionist Congress in 1904, rejected the Uganda plan and reiterated its commitment to pursue their long-standing demand of establishing a nation-state in Eretz Yisrael, which is the land of Israel.
The real breakthrough for the Zionist cause came in 1917, during world war I, when Chaim Weizmann, a British Jewish scientist, managed to get a promise from the British government, known as the Balfour declaration, for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The tactful diplomat in Chaim Weizmann very well knew that the Ottoman empire was to break up by the end of the war and a promise from the then world superpower, Great Britain, equalled to a job half done. The shrewd thinking on the British side was that the support for a Jewish homeland will make the influential Jewish lobby in the united states happy and they in turn somehow will drag the United States into the world war.
With a single stroke of a pen, by promising a nation-state in the midst of Arabs, Britain transformed a European –Jewish problem into an Arab – Jewish issue. Arabs saw the Balfour declaration as a great betrayal by the British, because it was only two years back in 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, has promised Arabs, independence over post-war Palestine as a reward to the Arabs for revolting against the Turks, in the first world war. Arabs took this as the duplicity of the worst kind. It was a classic case of selling the same piece of real estate to two different parties by two different agreements.
Balfour declaration was one of the most outrageous acts of the British government in the twentieth century. Edward Said, in his book 'The question of Palestine, summarizes the declaration as one made by (a) by a European power, (b) about a non – European territory, (c) in a flat disregard of both the presence and the wishes of the native majority resident in that country, and (d) it took the form of a promise about this same territory to another foreign group, so that this foreign group might, quite literally, make this territory a national home for the Jewish people".
The British census of 1922 clearly shows how casually, the British dealt with the fate of actual inhabitants of Palestine. The census states the population of that time in Palestine, was 78 per cent Muslims, 10 per cent Christians and 12 per cent Jewish. And that too, out of the 12 per cent Jews, two-thirds of them were very recent immigrants.
Zionists made a celebration of the Balfour declaration and carried out an aggressive campaign world over, to encourage the migration of Jews on a massive scale to Palestine. In fact, in 1896 itself, Theodor Herzl has laid out a clear-cut plan for mass migration. He stated "We must not imagine the departure of the Jews to be a sudden one. It will be gradual, continuous, and will cover many decades. The poorest will go first to cultivate the soil. In accordance with a preconceived plan, they will construct roads, bridges, railways and telegraph installations; regulate rivers; and build their own dwellings; their labour will create trade, the trade will create markets and markets will attract new settlers, for every man will go voluntarily, at his own expense and his own risk. The labour expended on the land will enhance its value, and the Jews will soon perceive that a new and permanent sphere of operation is opening here for that spirit of enterprise which has heretofore met only with hatred and obloquy".
Mass migration to Palestine
Jews especially from Russia, Poland, Germany and other European countries en masse started to migrate to Palestine. The native Arabs of Palestine, who were mainly rural folk was no match for the sophisticated Jewish emigrant, who have been exposed to European city life. The Jewish emigrant came with a master plan for the occupation and they clearly outmanoeuvred the Palestinian on all counts. The political psyche of the Palestinians, the bonding and the "We – feeling'' among them were mainly on family and tribal lines. The concept of nationalism and nation-state was not so evolved or matured.
Palestine, which was under British mandate, after World War 1, witnessed an unprecedented influx of Jews, Palestine. Arabs took objection to it, and clashes between the natives and the immigrants started to become more frequent. To appease the Arabs, the British, introduced a quota system on the number of Jews who could enter Palestine in a year. The quota system failed miserably to check the illegal entry of the Jews into Palestine.
A section of Jewish immigrants, mostly from Russia and other European countries in the Russian fold experimented with community settlements (kibbutz) based on socialistic ideals. In the kibbutz, men and women worked in the fields, built barns and housing, shared food and revenue. No outside labour was employed and the objective of every kibbutz was to be a self-sufficient economic unit. Another section of the immigrants went on a twofold expansion spree. One by, buying Palestinian property and the other by demolishing villages. To quote, Moshe Dayan, the later Israeli defence minister, "Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, but the Arab villages also are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population".
Israel – A mistake
Hitler's massacre of Jews in Germany ignited another wave of migration to Palestine significantly altered the demography of Palestine. The Jewish population which was only 12 per cent in the 1920s rose to 30 per cent by the late '40s and as tense violent exchanges between Arabs and Jews became the order of the day, Britain referred the Palestinian issue to the united nations. Sympathetic western powers, the United States and Britain, persuaded the United Nations, to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish state. On May 14th, 1948, the state of Israel was forced upon the native Arabs, ignoring their vehement protests and opened the doors to a long-standing animosity and hostilities. The never-ending cycle of violence and bloodshed, since the formation of the state of Israel, made the famous columnist Richard Cohen write on July 18th,2006, in Washington Post "The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now".