Chanuka and the Developement of Israel


Chanuka and the Developement of Israel


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Ancient Dreams and the Renewal of Hope

By Larry Domnitch

On Chanukah, in addition to pondering the Maccabee victories and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, one can also reflect upon the events that transpired on Chanukah in 1917. At that time, a wave of enthusiasm swept over Jewish communtities worldwide.

During the First World war, two powers fought over control of Palestine--the ruling Ottoman Turks of the Axis and the British along with their allies. The outcome of the contest brought the ancient Jewish dream of the re-establishment of Jewish statehood in the Jewish Homeland a little closer.

For almost four hundred years, the Ottoman Turks ruled Palestine and its Jewish community. In the late nineteenth century, the Zionist movement began to take shape as Zionists began to settle the land. But their efforts were opposed by the Turks. Land purchases by Zionists were generally prohibited and well known Zionists were often expelled or imprisoned. During the First World War, however, a glimmer of hope appeared.

The British along with their allies waged a campaign to wrest Palestine from the Turks. British General Edmund Allenby cunnungly led his outnumbered troops to victory at the strategic southern city in the Negev of Beer Sheba. As the success of the campaign seemed likely, the British government issued the Balfour declaration on November 2, 1917. The Declaration sent by British foreign minister Lord Arthur Balfour to Jewish philanthropist Edmund De Rothchild called for the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." Great Britian issued the statement partly out of the desire to elicit the support of Russian Jewry behind the allied war effort and also out of the belief by some of its leaders that Zionism was Biblically-ordained destiny. All that seemed to stand in the way of the goal's realization was Britian's successful completion of the campaign. On November 6, Gaza fell to the British who then drove towards Jerusalem. With each British victory, more excitement and anticipation swept over Jewry. Aided by allied armies, the British fought their way through each town flushing out the enemy until they reached Jerusalem.

On December 9, as Chanukah was approaching, Turkish forces surrendered. In the battles for Jerusalem twenty thousand Turkish soldiers, and three thousand six hundred British and allied troops lost their lives. Two days later British troops marched into Jerusalem. Allenby humbly entered its walls by foot through the Jaffa gate as the city's thirty-fourth conqueror.

Excited crowds of Jews lined Jerusalem's streets to welcome the city's liberators. One women told a newspaper correspondent that the Jews "have been starving but now we are free." (Jewish Chronicle December 21, 1917)

A Jewish periodical, The Jewish Chronicle, described the allied conquest as an "Epochal event" and stated with mystic overtone, "It is as if Providence had placed its blessing upon an enterprise distinguished as had been the Palestine campaign by the historic [Balfour] declaration to the Jewish people." (Jewish Chronicle December 14 1917) Rabbi J.H. Hertz, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire forwarded a telegram to General Allenby that read, "British Jewry thrilled by glorious news from Palestine, sends heartfelt congratulations on historic entry into Holy City." (Ibid.)

With Jerusalem under British control, the campaign continued and soon Turkish forces were ousted from all of Palestine. Three Jewish units participated in the completion of the conquest.

Soon, the initial euphoria faded and the excitement calmed. The climate changed. Arab leaders in Palestine petitioned the British foreign office strongly opposing increased Jewish immigration into the land. British miltary authorities also began to express disagreement with the aims of Zionism. Suddenly, under pressure, British committments to the establishment of a Jewish homeland seemed in jepordy.

Barely a few months after the Balfour Declaration was issued, British miltary authorities banned its publication in Palestine. By 1919, the British miltary administration of Palestine pushed for a revocation of the Balfour Declaration and also enforced stringent measures upon the Zionists. They restricted Jewish immigration and land transfers to Jews. In addition, Hebrew was not recognized as an official language. the British even banned the public performance of the national anthem, HaTikvah.

Yet the hopes of the Zionists were again raised in 1920 when a British civil mandate replaced a military administration. This change signified a return by the British government to its committment to the principles of the Balfour Declaration. A Jew sympathetic to Zionism, Herbert Samuel, was appointed High Commisioner and the gates were opened to Jewish immigration. In the spring of 1921, ten thousand Jewish immigrants reached the shores of Palestine. The development of the land and its institutions also accelerated.

These developments triggered a violent reaction among the opponents of Zionsim. Arab riots soon broke out throughout the land. Samuel responded by granting concessions to the rioters succombing to the pressures of violence and terror and restrictions against the Zionists were again imposed. But despite the hardships, the task of building the Jewish State continued as did the efforts of the opponents of Zionism. Following the Arab riots of 1936, the British set up the Peel Commission which recommended the partition of the land as a solution to the conflict. The Arabs in vehement opposition to any partition continued the revolt and the pressure on the British. In an act of appeasement to the Arabs, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin issued the MacDonald White Paper of 1939. This White Paper -(policy statement) severly restricted Jewish immigration and called for the eventual establishment of one state with an Arab majority--a devastating blow to the Zionists, one which meant disaster for the Jews of Europe who would be denied sanctuary in their greatest hour of need.

The Jewish struggle for a homeland was far from over. Just as the Maccabees fought many wars and battles after liberating the Temple to achieve and maintain independence, the British conquest of Jerusalem was significant as well. With the climatic events of 1917, the Jews did not yet achieve their freedom, the British denied them the neccesary rights that come with independence, but those events did signal progress in that long journey. Under British rule, the Jews were able to build an infrastructure which was important but that alone would not suffice. There would be many struggles and sacrifices made to oust the British and then defend the newborn state against its enemy's attacks. What the shift of powers during Chanukah 1917 did accomplish was to bring the Jews one step closer to the eventual establishment of the State of Israel. Who know what history will be made this Chanukah or in the Chanukahs of the future?

Larry Domnitch is the author of, "The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History", published by Jason Aronson.


from the December 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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