A Haganah member and others during Israel’s War of Independence. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
With Palestinian Arabs claiming Canaanite descent, the Jewish people must make their case for their historical ties to the land of Israel. The biblical era, from Israelite origins in the land through the Second Temple’s destruction, is well-known in the West. The tenacious continued Jewish presence thereafter isn’t.?
Former President Carter voiced a widely-believed misperception when he wrote regarding the year 135 CE: “Romans suppress(ed) a Jewish revolt, killing or forcing almost all Jews of Judaea into exile.” But the forgotten fact is that the Jews never left.
The great significance of this, stated by eminent British historian James Parkes, is that Jews have always had strong ties to the land due to the “heroic endurance of those who had maintained a Jewish presence in The Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement,” which gave the Zionists’“real title deeds.” Every ruler in between was a foreign invader, and mostly non-Arab at that. The homeland Jewish Yishuv saw them all arrive and depart.?
Roman-Byzantine Period: In 135, 65 years after the Temple’s destruction, Rome defeated the Bar-Kochba Revolt in a four-year war. But Rome did not “exile” Judaea’s surviving Jews. Wilken wrote in The Land Called Holy: “Jewish life in Palestine went on undisturbed during the Christian era – such is the testimony of archeology.” New synagogue construction, and remodeling of older ones, “continued without interruption.” During their ensuing “Talmudic Age,” homeland Jews wrote monumental religious works, the Mishnah and Palestinian Talmud. Rome recognized the Patriarch as head of the homeland’s Jews until the fifth century. In 614, twenty-some thousand Jews fought in their own self-mustered battalions alongside the invading Persians.
Muslim Dynasty Period: Homeland Jews aided the 638 Arab-led Muslim invaders and received rewards in Hebron and Jerusalem. The four-and-a-half century rule of the foreign-based Ommayad, Abbasid, and Fatimid dynasties began as Arab but progressively fell under control of the Turks. Archeologist Bahat’s Forgotten Generations includes a 9th century map showing 100 homeland Jewish communities of which we have evidence today, eleven centuries later.
Crusader Period: A contemporary Crusader account of their conquest in 1099 of Jerusalem reads: “And here, in front of us, were the foreigners, Jew, Turk and Arab, fighting for their lives …. none put down his sword; the Turk, the Arab, and the Jew were among the fallen. The Jew is the last to fall.” Several accounts tell of Tancred and the Venetians’ month-long land-sea siege of Haifa,“which the Jews [virtually alone] defended with great courage.” Travelers, including Benjamin of Tudela, recorded that surviving Jews remained in the land. Anglo-Saxon pilgrim Saewulf noted many places’ Jewish connection, including“the region called Judea” between the Jordan and Sea. Despite obstacles confronting all travelers, and those erected expressly for Jews, many Diaspora Jews, the great poet Yehuda Halevi and great scholar Maimonides among them, endeavored to return to the land during Crusader rule.
Mamluk Period: Few today have heard of the Mamluks (a/k/a Mamlukes), but following the Mongol invasion that came after Saladin-led Turks defeated the Crusaders, these Turks-Circassians ruled the region, first from Turkey and then from Egypt, from 1260 to 1517. Leaders Nahmanides and Ovadiah came in this period. Christian pilgrims’ recorded “in Jerusalem dwell many Jews,” but Acre was the principal Jewish community. Katz inBattleground says;: “Even the meager records that survived report nearly thirty Jewish urban and rural communities at the opening of the 16th century.”?
Ottoman Turk Period: Ottoman Turks ruled the region for the next 400 years, 1517 to 1917, driving Palestine’s population down below a quarter million. But with forced interruptions in some places, the Jewish Yishuv tenaciously lived in its four holy cities – Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron – and Galilee farming villages and elsewhere in the land, again becoming Jerusalem’s majority in pre-Zionist 19th century times. These were worldly people of industry, trade, and farming, as well as of religious conviction, who burst out of Jerusalem’s Old City’s walls, founding new communities, Palestine’s first modern agricultural school at Mikveh Israel, and Petah Tikvah, ” mother of agricultural settlements,” before the Zionists came. It was to an already reviving Yishuv that they came.
“The Palestinians:” If anybody, it’s Palestine’s Jews, not its Arabs, who have Canaanite roots. Archeologists have traced Israelite presence in the land to the 12th century BCE, but are divided into “Conquest” and “Indigenous Origin” camps. The latter believe that Israelites descended not from Joshua-led invaders but from sedentarizing Canaanite pastoral nomads (Finkelstein) or lowland Canaanite farmers who migrated up into the Judean-Samarian hills (Dever et al).
20th century Palestinian Arabs make up the majority population of an Arab state, Jordan, carved in 1921 from the post-Ottoman Palestine Mandate. The Palestinian Arabs’ representatives told the Peel Commission in 1937: “There is no such country as Palestine! ‘Palestine’ is a term the Zionists invented.” They do not have a distinctive history, language, culture, or religion from their brethren in neighboring Jordan, Syria, or Lebanon. In 1947, British Foreign Minister Bevin told Parliament that for the Jews “the essential point of principle” was attainment of Jewish statehood, and that for the Arabs it was “to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.” This explains Palestinian Arabs’ repeated rejections of their own western Palestine state alongside a Jewish one.?
Modern Israel: Far from being “created” and “founded” in 1948, as the mainstream Western media puts it, modern Israel’s attainment of independence, as the land’s next native state after Jewish Judaea, is the natural fruition again into statehood of perhaps history’s longest continuous attachment to a homeland central to its peoplehood and theology by a people practicing the same religion and speaking the same language as their ancestors three millennia ago.
We need to reawaken ourselves and the West to our continuous post-biblical homeland history. This is the effective response to the canards that “Zionists” are colonialist European “settlers,” not just in Samaria and Judea, but throughout the homeland of Israel, which the Jews never left.
Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin are co-President and co-Vice President, respectively, of the Zionist Organization of America- Greater Philadelphia District. They are the authors of Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z (Pavilion Press, 2012). Verlin is the author of Israel 3000 Years: The Jewish People’s 3000 Year Presence inPalestine (Pavilion Press, 2011)