In May 1948, 5 Arab armies were poised to invade the new state of Israel. All the Jews had in their arsenal were rifles and machine guns to fight against the tanks and aircraft of the combined Arab armies of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. Many of the Jewish soldiers were holocaust survivors who were given a gun as they got off the boat in Israel. How would they defend themselves? Just as the defense of Israel in 1948 was orchestrated against all odds, the birth of Israel which we celebrate on Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha-atzmaut, which is the story of the Jewish people reestablishing our homeland in Israel, was written against all odds.
We will see how there were many events leading to the establishment of the state of Israel which by all odds should not have come about, but did. I would like to share 5 crucial events amongst many which brought about the miracle of the modern state of Israel.
1. The first event is the recognition against all odds by the world of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
In 1917 the British, who were then ruling the area know as Trans-Jordan as a colony, announced the Balfour Declaration which set out the right of Jews to a homeland in Israel. This came about not so much through British good will, but through an absurdly propitious series of events. A British Jew named Chaim Weitzman was a chemist who developed timing devices for explosives that helped the British was effort in WWI. This achievement gave him the connections and the political collateral with the British government to petition for the British to recognize the historic significance of Israel for the Jewish people. On November 2, 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration:
‘His majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a nation home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.’
This declaration led the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN, to ratify article 22 in 1922 which recognized Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people under international law. Against all odds.
2. The Second series of events which came about against all odds was the dismantling of British rule in Palestine which would lead to establishment of the State of Israel.
British good-will towards the Jews only lasted until Arab oil started flowing in the 1920’s. By 1939 the British had succumbed so much to Arab pressure that they issued the infamous White Paper closing the doors of Israel to Jews who wished to emigrate. This resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Jews who had nowhere else to flee to during the holocaust and could have gone to Palestine. After the Holocaust from 1945 to 1948 the British continued to refuse to allow the Jews to enter Palestine, and the establishment of a Jewish state remained imperative. Jewish groups rented boats to try to run British blockades to bring the survivors of the death camps of Europe to Israel. One such boat was the Exodus, immortalized in the book and the movie by Leon Uris. The survivors of the death camps of the Holocaust were turned away from the shores of Palestine and put in detention camps in Cyprus surrounded by barbed wire, sometimes for years. A Jewish independance movement arose, and sabotaged the British military presence. The most famous strike was the blowing up of the British military headquarters in Jerusalem located in the KingDavid Hotel masterminded by the future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
The British were so confounded by the Jewish resistance they dumped the whole issue into the lap of the UN because they simply could not handle it. The Jews would become the first indigenous group since the Yankees in the American colonies to kick the British out of one of their colonies. Against all odds.
3. The third event against all odds was the majority UN vote to establish the state of Israel. This vote was lead by United States vote, and the United States also was the first country to recognize the newly founded state of Israel on Yom Ha-atmaut, May 14, 1948. Harry Truman went against his revered secretary of state George C. Marshall and most of the foreign policy establishment in casting his vote. The State department told US president Harry Truman the ire of the Arabs would be directed against the US if they supported the foundation of Israel. They asked: ‘Why would you choose 600 000 Jews over 30 million Arabs?’ Truman was not going to support the formation of the State. The nascent Jewish leadership had to figure out a way to sway the president of the United States.
A call was put in to Eddie Jacobson, a simple clothing store owner living in Kansas City who just happened to be Harry Truman’s very close friend and business partner years before, and also just happened to be the only person in the country for whom Truman’s door was always open, and also just happened to be Jewish. When Truman did not want to see him, because he knew what Jacobson was going to talk about with him, Jacobson said his old friend Harry was as close to being an anti-Semite as any man could possibly be. So how did he sway him?
Jacobson would not take no for an answer. He traveled to Washington, walked into Truman’s office, and made an impassioned plea for the president to meet with Haiim Weitzman, the representative of the Jewish leadership in Palestine.
Truman capitulated: ‘alright you bald headed son of a b- , I’ll see him.’
After a brief meeting with Weitzman, Truman changed his mind to vote in the UN for a Jewish state, and six months later to be the first world leader to recognize the newly declared state. Then another miraculous event occurred. Joseph Stalin, who for years ruthlessly persecuted Zionists voted for the formation of a Jewish state, which brought along with it the entire soviet bloc. Against all odds the international community called for the formation of the State of Israel.
4. The fourth event against all odds was the raising of funds to bankroll an army for the soon to be declared state.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to divide up Palestine. Two new states would be formed, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Arabs greeted this news by ambushing a Jewish convoy on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. The British stood by, and then prevented the Jewish militia, the Haganah, from coming to the aid of the surrounded Jews. Seven Jews were killed. Over the next six months the Arabs were sending fighters into Israel, and the British did nothing. On Passover of 1947 over 1000 Jews were killed in Arab riots. If the Jewish soldiers did not have arms, the entire population of 600 000 Jews in Israel would be massacred. Golda Meir set out for the United States with a goal of raising 10 million dollars, only 20% of the funds needed for the future Jewish army. When she arrived at the US border, they asked her where she would be staying given that she did not have a penny to her name. She said with family. They asked which family, and she said the Jewish people are my family. This would prove to be true. Over the next few months in her tour of Jewish communities across the country she would raise 50 million dollars, the equivalent of half a billion dollars today from a community that did not have a fraction of the wealth of today’s Jewish community. So she raised five times the ambitious goal set for her, once again against all odds, and the Israel was able to buy the weapons it so desperately needed to defend itself.
5. The fifth and final event which happened against all odds was the mass exodus of Palestinians from the land of Israel before and during the war of independence, allowing for a Jewish majority in the new country. While the Jews asked the Arabs to remain in their homes, and those who did so became citizens of the State of Israel, before and during the war the Arab High Committee ordered them to leave the Jewish areas so their armies could come in and destroy the Jews. Around 600 000 Arabs fled their homes. In one of the most astounding turn of events the Jewish forces were outnumbered 10-1 in the battle of Zefat. Most of the 10 000 Arabs of Zefat wound up fleeing. How did this happen? The Jews deployed homemade cannon called the Davidka, which made a lot of noise but did not do much damage. The evening after it was first fired there was a rain. The Arabs thought the Jews had the atom bomb and fled. The Jews took control of Zefat and many other areas. Against all odds.
When we say against all odds, how do such things happen? 1. Chaim Weitzman inventing a detonating device that would bring about international recognition of a Jewish homeland, 2. The Jews being the first indigenous population to kick the British out of one of their colonies since the Yankees liberated the United States, 3. Eddie Jacobson convincing his old friend Harry Truman to support the formation of the state against the rest of his cabinet & Joseph Stalin voting for a Zionist state, 4. Golda Meir accomplishing the impossible task of raising 50 million dollars to equip the Jewish army, 5. 600 000 Arabs improbably fleeing and five trained and equipped armies being defeated by a group of Jews armed at first only with guns.
While it is true that the efforts of all of these great Jewish heroes, from Eddie Jacobson to Golda Meir to Menachem Begin to all the unnamed heroes of Jewish Independence helped bring about all of these incredible events, how is that time after time we succeeded against all odds? We see from these events that there is a destiny to Jewish history, that there is a greater power guiding the events against all odds. Even most secular Israelis who fought in the war in 1948 said that they saw the hand of G-d. The greatest miracle against all odds, along with all of these events, is the larger reality of Jewish History that after 2000 years our people have returned to our homeland. G-d promised in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 29 that the Jewish people would be brought back from all over the world to the land of their forefathers. We have the incredible merit and responsibility to live in generation where we have seen that promise fulfilled.
This is what we are celebrating on Yom Haatzmaut. It is a day to recognize the miracles that brought about the return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel, to feel the gratitude that we have a homeland for our people, and to offer thanks to the Almighty over the incredible events. It is also a day to recognize that we in our generation also have a role to play in the ongoing saga of the State of Israel. We must do all we can to show support. Whether it is living in Israel (making Aliyah for those of your who are not here), visiting Israel, whether it is being an advocate and activist on behalf of Israel, whether it is buying Israeli products or whether it is dreaming that someday we or our children may live there, we need to stand up and help Israel. We see from the events of 1948 that we need to be partners with G-d. Of course He can do it on His own, but we need to show Him that Israel is part of who we are as a Jew, and how important Israel is to us, and in that merit He will continue to help us and bring about the flourishing of Jewish life here and in Israel. Happy Yom Haatzmaut.