By what form is a nation born? What makes its nationhood and citizenry stand out from all the others? Having just celebrated a birthday on July 4th, I am acutely aware of the rebellious group of British Subjects who declared independence from England and how and why they did it.
Jews have a national identity that goes back a bit farther than 1776. Near as we can tell, we were a people almost six thousand years ago. We formed a nation a little over two thousand years ago (sorry, creationists). We built our capital city from the ground up on the site of an ancient ruin—kind of like New York and Chicago.
We slowly developed our own language. We call it Hebrew. Some of our people—alright almost all of our people got tossed out of our own land a couple of times, but we came back to join those who stayed. Same national dream, same language. Same peoplehood.
I have a colleague who told me we had no more right to the land of Israel than the Hittites or the Canaanites. He said, “after all they lived there once, too.” Yeah buddy, but they are gone. Long time gone. On the ash heap of history. We are still there. Even when the Romans cast us out, many villages remained. Jewish towns that never left.
When the Romans were defeated by the Caliphate, we were there. Waiting for the day when we could regain our sovereignty. In the late 1880s the first Aliyah brought the first pioneers back to join those who never left. They and those who followed in the first years of the “Return” were citizens of a conquered land. A land that at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire.
We just saw a wonderful special on PBS titled “1913, The Seeds of Conflict.” It is about Israel, known at the time as Palestine.
While the Jews who came from Eastern Europe in that first Aliyah and then the second in the early 1900s were under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire, they knew they were different. They had come to expand the indigenous Jewish population and sow the seeds of the Third Jewish Commonwealth. According to newspapers of the time the Arabs and the Christians who lived there considered themselves Ottomans.
The Jews, who knew their history, knew that there had been Babylonians, then Romans, then the Caliphate now called Ottomans. The others had passed and disappeared, so would the Ottomans.
According to the Arab newspapers of the time, the Arabs were upset at the fact the Jews came to re-claim the land as the last indigenous people to have dominion. They, the Arabs, wanted to remain loyal Ottomans. They had no dreams, no ideas of Statehood.
Nowhere in the literature or news of the time does the word “Palestinian” appear. They were Arabs. They spoke and wrote in the Arab language. According to the writers and reporters of the time, they were loyal Ottomans.
The deal that England made with the tribes of Arabia in 1918 was if they would fight the Turks, who now ruled the shrinking Ottoman Empire, they would become rulers of the Middle East. Ibn Saud Hussein, the emir, unhappy with the Ottoman rule over his people, accepted the deal ( see: Lawrence of Arabia).
So, the Arabs joined the Brits, the Turks were defeated, Britain of course, never following through on their promise to Hussein, created a bunch of phony states and there you have the Middle East today.
But there were Jews, now calling themselves Israelis still in the land of their forefathers and vowing this time, to stay and form the Third Jewish Commonwealth. And there were Arabs, calling themselves Arabs. Not Palestinians. Arabs. Not Ottomans anymore.
A national identity can begin in many ways. The United States became a nation and a people through a revolution against a tyrannical foreign regime. France, Germany and other European nations came about after many tribal wars and treaties. Ours began with our own wars against various tribes and the eventual emergence of a set of laws and some brilliant early era politicians who over two thousand years ago recognized the viability of nationhood.
The present upheaval in the Middle East is the unraveling of those phony states set up by the British and the French after World War I. Israel? The only change there is the forming of the Third Jewish Commonwealth in 1948. The same people, the same dream, the same concepts. Never Babylonians, never Romans, never Ottomans. Jews. Israelis.
We have this indisputable right to our land. History as documented, not fictionalized proves it if one is willing to connect the dots. To me, the ultimate proof was in that PBS documentary. No, we would not, as those other occupied peoples did, call ourselves Ottomans, or, God forbid, Palestinians. We are, were and always will be the Jews of our own land, Israelis.