From a dream to being shaken to the core
For many Jews, the proclamation of their own state just three years after the Holocaust felt like a release.
Israel’s commemoration of the founding of its state traditionally begins with the lighting of 12 torches on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. They stand for the biblical 12 Tribes of Israel. This year, the celebrations are overshadowed by the protest of hundreds of thousands of Israelis against their government’s judicial reform plans. It is one of the biggest crises in the country’s crisis-ridden history. The state was founded on May 14, 1948, following the Gregorian calendar. But because the holiday follows the Jewish calendar, this year it falls on the evening of April 25. In essence, Israel emerged from crisis and was born into crisis. When David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land had already been at war with their Arab-Palestinian neighbors for months.
For many Jews, the proclamation of their own state just three years after the Holocaust felt like a release. “The year 1948 is very closely connected with 1945 — on the one hand, we have the end of European Jewry, very clearly marked by the year 1945, and three years later, the founding of the state of Israel, which is, so to speak, the redemption of this annihilation,” the Israeli sociologist Natan Sznaider told DW. “It was like a resurrection. I think that’s a narrative that’s not only official, but also shared by most Israelis: the founding of the state as an almost theological act of liberation,” he added.
Between 1941 and 1945, 6 million European Jews were brutally murdered in the Holocaust, crammed into ghettos, starved, murdered, worked to death, exterminated in German death camps. It was an unprecedented genocide, and an unimaginable crime. If was followed by a possibly unique historical decision: In 1947, the UN General Assembly — with 13 votes against — adopted a partition plan for Palestine, which at the time was still a British mandate territory, providing for the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem was to be governed by a special international regime. The Arab side rejected the plan, but Jewish representatives agreed. A civil war ensued, with violence on both sides.
Although the horrors of the Holocaust contributed considerable momentum to the founding of the state of Israel, the idea of a Jewish homeland goes much further back. The most famous representative of the Zionist idea is Theodor Herzl. In 1896, under the impression of rising antisemitism, especially in France, Herzl wrote “The Jewish State,” a pamphlet with very practical ideas for the establishment of a state.
Herzl first explored alternative possibilities to Palestine, but other representatives of the Zionist movement were opposed from the start. They invoked the millennia-old spiritual connection of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. “From a Zionist point of view, the Jews are first and foremost a people, a nation, not a religion, and just like other nations, they deserve their homeland and state sovereignty,” says Michael Brenner, a historian and current director of the Center for Israel Studies at American University in Washington DC.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration was a diplomatic breakthrough — the British promised to support a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The declaration was deliberately vague, however, and the British also gave Arabs in Palestine hopes for their own state. As a mandate power, Britain thereby ultimately contributed to the tensions in the region.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle