Text: Žikica Milošević
During the two thousand years of persecution and exile, Jews had always dreamed of returning to the land of their ancestors – Judea, Israel, Palestine – the same place that was called different names over the centuries. In the meantime, many places have been offered as their homeland, while some other people were living in their old land. But persistence paid off!
ERETZ ISRAEL OR SOMEWHERE ELSE?
For centuries, Jews were treated like “usual suspects” and blamed for everything that was wrong in the world, particularly starting with the Crusades (up until then, they had been viewed as “similar to Christians” in most countries) and continuing with their persecution elsewhere in Europe. There were blamed for the plague or a bad harvest, and were subjected to retaliation although they did nothing wrong. They were sectioned off in ghettos and exiled. A small number of countries were tolerent towards them, including Poland, which back then also incorporated Belarus and Ukraine, which was the reason why so many Ashkenazi Jews lived in that area up until 1945. In the meantime, various exotic destinations were suggested as their new homeland, including Uganda, i.e. its uninhabited mountainous part that they, as Europeans (most Jews lived in Europe at that time, would easily settle in. However, the Jews thought that, by agreeing to that, they would forever lose their right to Jerusalem and Israel. Other options included Stalin’s Siberian Birobidzhan (with a handful of Soviet Jews settling there in order to escape the Holocaust in Europe), and even the area around Perth in Western Australia.
BALFOUR AND A STEP FORWARD
After centuries of living in the diaspora, the 19th century saw the rise of Zionism, the Jewish Nationalist Movement, the desire to form a Jewish state in Palestine and significant immigration. The Movement was initiated by Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian Jew who came from Zemun, where his grandfather had the opportunity to see the re-birth of Serbia, which had not existed for three and a half centuries prior. “If the Serbs can do it, so can the Jews,” Herzl thought to himself and came up with the idea of taking the Jews back to Zion. The movement was called Zionism, and, initially, the Jews did not think that the idea of going back to the hot desert and getting into conflict with the Arabs was a happy solution – they were much better off in Europe, where they finally came out of the ghetto, and began to actively engage in social life. Some had mixed marriages and even abandoned Judaism, or became so secular that they didn’t even know that they were Jewish. Zionism remained a minority movement until the rise of Nazism in 1933 and the attempted extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.
ONE STATE SOLUTION?
Following the Great Arab Revolt in 1937, the division plan, proposed by the Peel Commission, was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership and the 20th Zionist Congress. As a result, in 1939, the British succumbed to Arab pressure, for the sake of the support they needed in World War II, abandoning the idea of the Jewish national homeland, the division and the negotiations in favour of the unilaterally imposed White Paper of 1939. This document stated that it was necessary to establish a unified Palestine state in which the Jews and the Arabs would have a common government. This document was seen as a significant defeat of the Jewish side, as it brought harsh restrictions on Jewish immigration, while there were no limits imposed for the Arab immigration. As the Arab population was growing at a much faster pace than the Jewish in the years of uncontrolled migration, it was expected that this joint government would be dominated by the Arabs. Because the World War II was looming, the plan was never fully implemented. And then the Jews took the matter into their own hands.
DECLARING THE STATE
In 1947, after growing violence, terrorism and unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab population, the British government withdrew from Palestine. The UN’s 1947 division plan would lead to the division of the disputed territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the territory to each side. According to this plan, Jerusalem and Bethlehem were supposed to be an international region in order to avoid conflicts over their status. A guerrilla war started immediately after the UN General Assembly adopted the division plan. On 14th May 1948, Israel was officially declared a state in Tel Aviv, and finally the Jews found their place under the sun, in their old homeland, after 2,000 years.