Last month, we looked at two major anniversaries in 2017: the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and 120th Anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s first Zionist congress. This month, we focus on four more anniversaries for this year.
100 Years Ago - Battle of Beersheba 31 October 1917
Exactly 400 years after the Reformation, the Australian Light-horsemen, along with the British, captured the city of Beersheba in the south of Turkish-occupied Palestine. This campaign not only highlighted the great bravery of the Allied troops, but it was the beginning of the end of 400 years of Turkish rule. The British would capture the rest of the country, including Jerusalem in December 1917, were granted a mandate in Palestine by the League of Nations, and all this led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
100 Years Ago - The Balfour Declaration 2 November 1917
A seemingly harmless letter written by the British Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild became the foundation stone of international support for the creation of the Jewish state in Palestine. In gratitude for Dr. Chaim Weizman’s contribution to the British war effort, Balfour wrote the following words:
His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Until this letter was issued, the Zionist enterprise battled alone on the international front. Now, it had the backing of the British War Cabinet, and by extension the British Empire. Though it was a great morale booster for the Zionism, by itself it did not confer rights and responsibilities. However, the 1920 San Remo Conference and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine made the Balfour Declaration the cornerstone of its policy and granted international legitimacy to the Zionist cause. Thus, the Balfour Declaration facilitated the birth of the Jewish state; an unintended consequence was that it stirred up unbridled opposition of the Arabs, which continues to this day. Thus, the Arab-Israeli conflict is the ‘hundred year war.’
70 Years Ago - United Nations Partition Resolution 181 of 29th November 1947
After 30 years in Palestine, Britain informed the newly-created United Nations that it was going to withdraw from the country. The explosive Palestine issue now became the problem of the UN. After several months of deliberation, the General Assembly Resolution 181 of 29 November 1947 voted 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions, to partition western Palestine (to distinguish it was Transjordan, which was eastern Palestine) into Jewish and Arab states. Jerusalem would be under an international regime for 10 years (corpus separatum).
The Jewish community accepted the resolution results. The Arabs rejected the resolution and vowed to strangle the Jewish nation at birth. The security situation in the country deteriorated immediately and alarmingly over the next five months. On the day Israel was born, 14 May 1948, the first Arab-Israel war began.
The partition resolution recognised in principle the creation of the Jewish state. The subsequent war rendered implementation impossible. The borders would be determined on the battlefield.
50 Years Ago - Six Day War of 5-10 June 1967
After 19 years of unstable ceasefire, the third Arab-Israel war erupted on 5 June 1967. In May 1967, pan-Arab nationalist leader and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered a blockade of the Red Sea’s Straits of Tiran at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. This prevented shipping to the Israeli port of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba. The closure of international waters was considered an act of war. Nasser demanded the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping troops in the Egyptian-held Sinai Peninsula. Then Nasser formed an alliance with Syria and Jordan to confront Israel militarily.
In a pre-emptive air strike, Israel destroyed the three Arab airforces with their planes still on the ground. Having unchallenged skies, Israeli tanks raced through Arab held territory unopposed. The entire Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, West Bank, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem with the Old City, were captured with lightning speed. Israel trebled its size in just 6 days. East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel before the end of the month, declared the ‘indivisible’ and ‘eternal’ capital of the State of Israel. ‘Jerusalem is not negotiable’ was their motto and remained so until the Camp David negotiations of 2000. The remainder of land was declared ‘occupied territory’ and, in theory, subject for peace negotiations.
Israel expected a ‘phone call’ from the Arabs, asking for peace talks in order to return the territory it had seized. Instead, in the Sudanese capital of Khatoum on 1 September 1967, the Arabs issued the three ‘No’s:’ No negotiations with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No peace with Israel. The state of war would continue unto this very day, though Egypt and Jordan have since signed peace treaties.
The six anniversaries may be a cause of observation, even celebration in Israel, but will be viewed with disdain by the Arabs. We would do well to remember the injunction to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love her’ (Psalm 122:6).