60 Years for the Land of Israel
by Tamar Afriat
“Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. . . It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land. . . Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition—it is dream-land.” -Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
In 1867, the famous American author, Mark Twain, joined a tour to the Holy Land and chronicled his experiences of what was then Turkish controlled Palestine*. His reflections and observations paint a stunning, if not bleak, picture of what the Land of Israel was like a mere fifteen years before the first wave of Jewish immigrants began making their way back to their ancient homeland; most of the Jewish immigrants were young, secular idealists fleeing violent attacks against Jewish communities in Russia at that time, inspired by the dream of establishing a national homeland for the Jewish people. The scene that met these young pioneers was not unlike what Mark Twain’s travel log describes, if not worse. Once in Israel, they attempted to establish agricultural settlements in deserts and swamps, in the face of disease, theft of their livestock, and sheer exhaustion. They struggled to make the desert bloom or to drain the swamps so they could live and farm. Many died. Some gave up and returned to Europe.
However, a national Jewish homeland was a divinely inspired dream that continued to grow in the hearts of different Jewish communities in Europe; from 1867 to 1939, there were five waves of Jewish immigrations to Palestine. The steady stream of Jewish immigrants returning to their ancient homeland was a beginning of the fulfillment of the prophesy in Jeremiah 16:14-15: “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt.’ But, ‘The LORD lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands were He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.” The Jewish settlement steadily began to grow, and, as a violent new strain of anti-Semitism was emerging in Europe, more and more Jews began fleeing to then British-Mandate Palestine. By 1948, there were almost 600,000 Jews living in the Land.
On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared an independent Jewish state within the area designated by the United Nations’ Partition Plan that mandated a division of the territory of Palestine into two separate states, one Jewish, one Arab. On that same day, the armies of five Arab nations, with superior firepower and an Air Force at their disposal, attacked the seriously outgunned fledgling Jewish state. On the eve of the Arab invasion, the secretary general of the Arab league, Azzam Pasha, described the coming fate of the Jews: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.” It is nothing less than a miracle of God that, within eight months of fighting, the little Jewish settlement of less than 600,000 defeated five Arab armies and even expanded the territory allotted them by the UN Partition Plan. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, Arab armies have twice attacked Israel with the intent of “exterminating” the Jewish state, without success: in the 1967 Six Day War and again in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. To this day, Israel faces the constant threat of annihilation from all sides; whether Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, or Syria and Iran whose leader has promised another Jewish holocaust. And yet, here we are still.
According to Mark Twain, I am living in a dream land. As I look out my window from our home perched atop a small hill in the Manasseh heights, I see verdant hills of fruit orchards, vineyards, and vegetable rows. The long straight road leading to our little village is lined alternately with waving barley fields and thick groves of various fruit trees. Everywhere I turn, I am reminded of the prophecy in Ezekiel 36:24 that foretells all this: “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. . . I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. . . Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. . . And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields. . . Then the nations which are left all around you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted what was desolate.” When I see these farms, the great cities, my Jewish brethren living here in the land of our forefathers, it is as if the Lord is saying, “You see, I am faithful to my promises! Nothing can stand before My Word!”
This year we are commemorating Israel’s 60th in grand fashion with elaborate festivities and celebrations. With the many challenges and pressures of day to day life here in Israel, it is certainly good to remind ourselves that we live in a very special place, a land of our own that was born despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We remember the first pioneers who clung to the vision of a Jewish homeland, rolled up their sleeves, dug in their heels, and refused to give up. We remember the countless brave soldiers who fought in the wars in which the existence of Israel was in the balance and massacre at the hands of our enemies was a real possibility. However, the Lord himself clearly stated that He would accomplish all this in order to bring glory to His name.
The modern state of Israel is definitely not the end all to God’s plans for the Jewish people; it is a means to an end. This is the place where He promised to put a new heart and a new spirit within us. And it is here in the modern State of Israel for the first time in two thousand years since the first Jewish disciples declared the gospel of Yeshua from these highways and byways that Jewish believers in Yeshua the Messiah today are crying out “Baruch ha bah b’shem Adonai!”—”Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Romans 11:26 states that all Israel shall be saved. Just as the Lord fulfilled His promise to return us to our land, He will also fulfill His promise to save all Israel. Paul, in speaking of the Jews in Romans 11:15 says, “For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” In other words, Israel’s acceptance of the Messiah means greater spiritual riches for the rest of the world. We give God all the glory and honor for the amazing miracle of restoring the physical state of Israel and we pray without ceasing and press on in faith until He restores Israel spiritually. It will be on that day that we can all say together as one man, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” as the Messiah King returns to reign from Jerusalem.
*Places change names for a variety of reasons over the centuries. Judea, whose capital was Jerusalem, is no exception. Some 60 years after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, it was a thoroughly Roman city with only a small Jewish population. The Emperor was Hadrian and he wished to eradicate all remnants of Hebrew heritage from the place. At the end of the Bar Kochba rebellion in the first part of the 2nd century Hadrian celebrated his victory by changing the name of Jerusalem to glorify himself; he declared the new name of Jerusalem to be Aelia Capitolina. Aelia was his family name.
But Hadrian did something else as well; he declared that the territory of Judea was to be renamed Palestine. Palestine was Greek for Philistine, the Jew’s arch enemy. The purpose was to humiliate the Hebrews wherever they lived in their dispersion, to Hellenize the population, and to discourage Jews from ever returning there.
The name remained for over 1800 years. Even during WWII, Palestine was the name for an even larger area of the Middle East that surrounded the former Holy Land. It was only with the rebirth of Israel as a nation that the Jewish homeland discarded its Roman name that translates to ìPhilistiaî. Just as much of the world’s population and all of the world’s Arab and Muslim nations insist on calling Israel ìPalestineî to this day, so we find the same folks insisting on calling the Holy Land areas of Judea and Samaria the more politically correct ìWest Bankî. The purpose of employing the terms Palestine and West Bank is to make it clear to the Jewish people that the world does not recognize or accept Israel as a Jewish state.
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