The group of 22 Arab states that persuaded UNESCO to cancel a Simon Wiesenthal Center exhibit on the Jewish people’s 3,500-year homeland connection awakened far more attention to forgotten history than the exhibit could have achieved left alone. This is even more hypocritical when, at the same time at UN headquarters, there is a prominent display about “Palestine” that is replete with outright historical distortions and bias against Israel.
Unfortunately, all too typical of the racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist behavior displayed at the UN. Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean of the SWC, stated UNESCO “is not supposed to be a place of censorship. It is not supposed to deny one nation the right to their history… The Arab Group’s protest is not over any particular content in the exhibition, but rather the very idea of it – that the Jewish people …trace their historical and cultural roots in that land for three and a half millennia.”
Few realize that in 1948 modern Israel became the land’s next native state after Jewish Judaea, which Rome finally vanquished in the year 135. Every intervening ruler was a foreign invader. And few realize that all through those long dark foreign rule centuries the Jews, as such, remained in the land.
Israeli premiers Begin, Sharon and Netanyahu referenced the Jews’ continuous presence and its significance, but 20th century British historian James Parkes put it best: the “heroic endurance of those who had maintained a Jewish presence in The Land all through the centuries, and in spite of every discouragement,” wrote the Zionists’ “real title deeds.” Yet, as Katz wrote in his Introduction to Battleground, even knowledgeable people are startled to learn of “the gap between what is generally known and the facts of the continuity of Jewish life in Palestine since the destruction of the Second Temple.” Here’s a quick look at those facts.
Roman-Byzantine Period: Contrary to widely held belief, the victorious Romans did not “exile” Judaea’s Jews. Second-to-seventh century synagogues unearthed all over the land, the writing of the Mishnah and Palestinian Talmud, and Roman recognition of the Patriarch as head of the Jewish community into the fifth century testify to this. Homeland Jews refused to use Roman names for cities and towns. “In their view the names were ephemeral, without root, and, in the face of the eternity of Israel, would one day vanish.” (Wilken, The Land Called Holy). In 614, 20,000 homeland Jews, fighting in their own self-mustered battalions, fought alongside the invading Persians, who promised autonomy and rebuilding the Temple.
Muslim Dynasty Period: Homeland Jews aided the seventh century Arab invaders, and received rewards in Hebron and Jerusalem. The foreign-based Ommayad, Abbasid and Fatimid dynasties, which ruled with brief interludes until the Crusades. were initially Arab but progressively fell under control of the Turks. Archeologist Bahat includes in The Forgotten Generations a map showing 100 homeland Jewish communities, scattered all over the land, during 9th century Abbasid rule.
Crusader Period: The European Christian Crusaders encountered a mixed population of Muslims, Christians, Jews and Druze. A contemporary Crusader account of the Jerusalem battle recorded that of their foes “the Turk, the Arab and the Jew were among the fallen. The Jew is the last to fall.” Another recorded the month-long battle for Haifa, which the Jews, virtually alone, “defended with great courage, to the shame and embarrassment of the Christians.” Travelers mentioned continued presence of Jews, and a Christian pilgrim wrote of “the region called Judea” between the Jordan and Sea.
Mamluk Period: The Crusaders were defeated not by Arabs but Turks led by Saladin, a Kurd, who established the brief Ayyubid dynasty. Asian and Mongol invaders were defeated by Turk-Circassian Mamluks, who ruled first from Turkey and then from Egypt from 1260 to 1516. Contemporary documents recorded Mamluk period Jewish communities, including Christian travelers’ noting “very many Jews in Jerusalem” and “in Jerusalem dwell many Jews,” and other documents cited Acre, Hebron, Gaza and other Jewish communities during Mamluk rule.
Ottoman Period: The Ottoman Turks ruled from 1517 to 1917, during which Jews lived in their four holy cities – Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron – and elsewhere in the land. Jews again became Jerusalem’s majority population during 19th century Ottoman rule, and burst out of the Old City’s medieval walls, founding new communities and Petah Tikva, the first modern agricultural village, before the Zionists came. Jews founded Tel Aviv in 1909, still during Ottoman rule.
Today’s world has forgotten the continuity and the depth of Jewish roots in the land. Jews are partly to blame through acquiescence and even assent in calling Judea and Samaria “the West Bank” (the UN itself used “the hill country of Samaria and Judea” in its 1947 partition resolution), and bestowing on Palestinian Arabs the exclusive mantle of “the Palestinians.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center set out to do a necessary and good thing in constructing an exhibit showing the 3,500 year Jewish homeland connection to Israel. But the rightful home for such an exhibit is not the halls of UNESCO and the UN. The home for such an exhibit is the Jewish homeland itself. Israel’s government should construct alongside Yad Vashem and include in visiting dignitaries’ itineraries a museum dedicated to documenting, from the time of Joshua through the present day, the Jewish people’s tenacious continuous homeland presence that wrote the Zionists’ “real title deeds.” Indeed, the Knesset should designate the actual birthdate of Israel at 3,200 years (when Joshua led the Jewish People across the Jordan River into the land), and emphasize that 1948 is marked the re-establishment of the State of Israel.
Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin, are co-President and co-Vice President, respectively, of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America. Verlin is the author of Israel 3000 Years: The Jewish People’s 3000 Year Presence in Palestine (Pavilion Press, Inc., 2011)