Today Israel often refers to the nation state of Israel, a parcel of land that was fraudulently taken and violently wrested from the true Semites whose ancestors tilled the soil there for centuries. It was not a gift from the Jewish god, Jehovah, but was given them by UN mandate in 1948. What is the real meaning of Israel? Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, was given a new name after he struggled with and prevailed over an angel of God. His new name, “Israel,” traditionally means “he struggles with God.” Jacob had twelve sons: Reuben, Judah, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Simeon, Issachar, Dan, Levi, and Zebulun. They constitute the original Twelve Tribes of Israel. Jacob adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. All the descendants of Jacob comprise the House of Israel. This name was given to Jacob at Penuel (Gen. 32:28) and at Bethel (Gen. 35:10). It also applies to his descendants and to their kingdom (2 Sam. 1:24; 23:3). The division of the house of Israel into two kingdoms at approximately 925 B.C. had been prophesied by Ahijah (1 Kgs. 11: 31-35). The immediate cause was a revolt of the people against the heavy taxes levied by Solomon and his son Rehoboam. Ten tribes formed the northern kingdom, with headquarters at Shechem in Samaria. They were known as Israel, or the northern kingdom, or Ephraim, since Ephraim was the dominant group among them. Their first king was Jeroboam, an Ephraimite; he was followed later by such kings as Omri and Ahab (who ruled with his Phoenician wife Jezebel). The southern kingdom, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, was headquartered at Jerusalem.
Sometime after the death of Joseph, a new pharaoh became concerned that the rapidly multiplying Israelites could become allied to Egypt’s enemies in the event of a war. His solution was to put them into slavery (see Ex. 1:10–11). After generations of servitude, the Israelites were miraculously delivered by Moses. Their migration from Egypt back to the land of Canaan took place over a 40-year period of travail in the wilderness. The exodus from Egypt and subsequent settlement of the promised land was the first gathering of the people now called Israel. Moses sought not only to restore them to their land but also to recommit them to their faith in God.
This story of the birth of Israel as a people has been told and retold over the millennia as evidence of God’s care for his covenant people. During their earlier wilderness travails, God gave them a law to govern their worship as well as their daily lives. This became known as the law of Moses. The Lord informed the people through Moses that if they turned away from his commandments he would “scatter [them] … from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (Deut. 28:64). But he also promised that he would eventually “gather [them] from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered [them]” (Deut. 30:3).
Under the leadership of Moses’ successor, Joshua, Israel took possession of most of the land of Canaan, the promised land. Each of the tribes received a portion of the land for its own. The Israelites were now a nation, as it were, poised to fulfill their destiny to bless the whole world with the gospel. Thus, the Lord placed Abraham’s covenant posterity where he did to assist them in their mission. They were located between Egypt and Mesopotamia, two great ancient power centers. Over the coming centuries, one nation after another used the promised land as a land bridge as they went about their business of trade, expansion, or conquest. As a result, Israel was ideally situated to influence nations with the message of the gospel as those nations passed through its borders.
As descendants of Abraham, the tribes of ancient Israel had the blessings of the gospel, but eventually the people rebelled. They killed the prophets and were punished by the Lord. Again and again prophets of the Lord warned the house of Israel what would happen if they were wicked. Moses prophesied, “And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (Deuteronomy 28:64). The northern kingdom soon went into apostasy and adopted many practices of Baalism, notwithstanding the ministries of such great prophets as Elijah and Amos. After a history of over 200 years and a series of 19 kings, the kingdom was captured by the Assyrians and the people carried away captive into Assyria. They have therefore become known as the “lost ten tribes.”
Since their captivity they have never yet returned to their homeland, but extensive promises and prophecies speak of the time when they of the “north countries” shall return when they are ready to obey the gospel. God’s promise for the gathering of scattered Israel was equally emphatic. Isaiah, for example, foresaw that in the latter days the Lord would send “swift messengers” to these people who were so “scattered and peeled.” This promise of the gathering, woven all through the fabric of the scriptures, will be fulfilled just as surely as were the prophecies of the scattering of Israel. The gathering of the lost tribes is to be a more spectacular event than the children of Israel coming out of Egypt in Moses’ day. Prophecies of their return are: Isa. 11: 10-16; Jer. 3: 18; Jer. 16: 14-21.
In another sense Israel means the true believer in Christ, as explained by Paul (Rom. 10:1; 11:7; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:12). The name Israel is therefore variously used to denote (1) the man Jacob, (2) the literal descendants of Jacob, and (3) the true believers in Christ, regardless of their lineage or geographical location. The Lord made special promises and covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which are passed on to their righteous descendants. Therefore, it is both a responsibility and a blessing to be counted among the House of Israel.
A Great Apostasy followed the pattern that had ended each previous dispensation. The very first was in the time of Adam. Then came dispensations of Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others. Each prophet had a divine commission to teach of the divinity and the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. In each age these teachings were meant to help the people. But their disobedience resulted in apostasy. As prophesied by Peter and Paul, all things were to be restored in this dispensation. Therefore, there must come, as part of that restoration, the long-awaited gathering of scattered Israel. It is a necessary prelude to the Second Coming of the Lord.
This dispensation of the fullness of times was foreseen by God as the time to gather, both in heaven and on earth. Peter knew that after a period of apostasy, a restoration would come. He, who had been with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, declared:
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; …
“Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3: 19, 21)
Today Israelites are found in all countries of the world. Many of these people do not know that they are descended from the ancient house of Israel. The Lord promised that His covenant people would someday be gathered: “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them” (Jeremiah 23:3).
The Israelites are to be gathered spiritually first and then physically. They are gathered spiritually as they come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, choose to be baptized in His name, and follow Him. This gathering is happening today, and Satan is doing all in his power to destroy Christianity and deceive the world of the true meaning of Israel’s gathering. Followers of Christ are Israelites either by blood or adoption. They belong to the family of Abraham and Jacob (see Galatians 3:26–29).
The physical gathering of Israel means that the covenant people will be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise. The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh will be gathered in the Americas. The tribe of Judah will return to the city of Jerusalem and the area surrounding it. The ten lost tribes will receive from the tribe of Ephraim their promised blessings.
Zionism and the State of Israel
In the late 19th century, Zionism emerged as a movement for the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Although Jews (literal descendants of the tribe of Judah) ruled over kingdoms there more than 2,000 years ago, they never numbered more than around 10 percent of the population from antiquity through the early 1900s. A key premise of Zionism is what literary theorist Edward Said called the “excluded presence” of Palestine’s indigenous population; a central myth of early Zionists was that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land.”
At its core, Zionism is a settler-colonial movement of white, European usurpers supplanting Arabs they often viewed as inferior or backwards. Theodore Herzl, father of modern political Zionism, envisioned a Jewish state in Palestine as “an outpost of civilization opposed to barbarism.” Other early Zionists warned against this sort of thinking. The great Hebrew essayist Ahad Ha’am wrote:
We… are accustomed to believing that Arabs are all wild desert people who, like donkeys, neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But this is a grave mistake. The Arabs… see and understand what we are doing and what we wish to do on the land. If the time comes that [we] develop to a point where we are taking their place… the natives are not going to just step aside so easily.
Jewish migration to Palestine increased significantly amid the pogroms and often rabid antisemitism afflicting much of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century. As control of Palestine passed from the defeated Ottoman Turks to Britain toward the end of World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour declared “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Israelis and their supporters often cite the Balfour Declaration when defending Israel’s legitimacy. What they never mention is that it goes on to state that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
Those “existing non-Jewish communities” still made up more than 85 percent of Palestine’s population at the time. As Zionist immigration swelled in the interwar years, conflict between the Jewish newcomers and the Arabs who had lived in Palestine for centuries was inevitable.
One strategegy used by the Zionist to take over Palestine was buying up the land (sometimes through subterfuges), proclaiming it Jewish for all eternity, and refusing to allow non-Jews to live or work on the purchased land. This was called “redeeming” the land and was financed by a variety of means, including by such wealthy banking families as the Rothschilds. (James Perloff says that the Rothschilds committed their fortune to the Zionist movement, beginning no later than 1829)
In the 1930s, Jewish land ownership had increased from approximately 1% to just over 6% of the land, and violence had increased as well. With the emergence of several Zionist terrorist gangs (whose ranks included a number of future Prime Ministers of Israel), there was violent conflict. Numerous people of all ethnicities were killed – then, as now, the large majority of them Christian and Muslim Palestinians.
Some Arabs reacted to the massive influx by rioting and attacking Jews, who responded by forming militias. Hundreds of Jews and Arabs were murdered in a series of clashes and massacres throughout the 1920s, and as yet another wave of Jewish migration surged into Palestine following the rise of Hitler, Britain formed the Peel Commission to examine the “Palestine problem.” The commission proposed a “two-state solution” – one for Jews, another for Arabs, with Jerusalem remaining under British control to protect Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.
As Arab attacks and Jewish retaliation escalated, an exasperated Britain issued the 1939 MacDonald White Paper, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine. It emphatically stated that the “Balfour Declaration… could not have intended that Palestine should be converted into a Jewish state against the will of the Arab population of the country.” From then on, Jewish militias, who by now had gone on the offensive and were initiating often unprovoked attacks on Arabs, targeted British occupiers as well.
The two most infamous Jewish terror militias were Irgun and Lehi, led respectively by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, both future Israeli prime ministers. Irgun was by far the most prolific of the two terror groups, carrying out a string of assassinations and attacks meant to drive out the British. On July 22, 1946, Irgun fighters bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, including 17 Jews, an attack still celebrated in Israel today. They bombed and shot up crowded markets, trains, cinemas and British police and army posts, killing hundreds of men, women and children. Meanwhile, Lehi assassinated British minister of state Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944, while planning to kill Winston Churchill as well.
“No Room for Both”
With it soldiers, police, officials and, increasingly, its reputation constantly under attack and its resources strained to the breaking point after World War II, Britain withdrew from Palestine in frustration in 1947. The “Palestine problem” was handed off to the fledgling United Nations, which, under intense United States pressure, voted to partition the territory. The Arabs were not consulted. Jews, who comprised just over one-third of Palestine’s population, would get 55 percent of its land. Arabs were enraged.
Count Folke Bernadotte, a former official of the Swedish Red Cross who saved thousands of Jews during World War II and was appointed U.N. mediator in Palestine, said of the refugees: “It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes.” Bernadotte was assassinated by a Zionist organization led by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
On 14th May 1948, the State of Israel was established by the Israeli Declaration of Independence. At present, 31 UN nations still do not recognize Israel as a state.
Jews rejoiced. There was, however, a huge problem with the UN partition plan. If the state of Israel was to be both Jewish and democratic, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would have to leave. Forever. Years earlier, Jewish National Land Fund director Joseph Weitz said:
Among ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both people in this country… and there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to neighboring countries… We must not leave a single village, a single tribe.
“A Bit Like A Pogrom”
To that end, David Ben-Gurion, who would soon become Israel’s first prime minister, and his inner circle drafted Plan Dalet, the “principle objective of the operation [being] the destruction of Arab villages,” according to official orders. At times the mere threat of violence was enough to coerce Arabs from their homes. Sometimes appalling slaughter was required to get the job done. In the most notorious of what Israeli historian Benny Morris has identified as Nakba 24 massacres, more than 100 Arab men, women and children were killed by Jewish militias at Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. One 11-year-old survivor later recalled:
“They blew down the door, entered and started searching the place… They shot the son-in -law and when one of his daughters screamed, they shot her too. They then called my brother and shot him in our presence and when my mother screamed and bent over my brother, carrying my little sister, who was still being breast-fed, they shot my mother too.”
“To me it looked a bit like a pogrom,” confessed Mordechai Gichon, an intelligence officer in the Haganah, which would soon become the core of the Israel Defense Forces. “When the Cossacks burst into Jewish neighborhoods, then that should have looked something like this.” Widespread looting and brutal and often deadly rapes were also reminiscent of antisemitic pogroms, with Jews now the aggressors instead of the victims.
News of Deir Yassin spread like wildfire through Palestine, prompting many Arabs to flee for their lives. This is exactly what Jewish commanders – who would play self-described “horror recordings” of shrieking women and children on loudspeakers when approaching Arab villages – wanted. Attacking Jewish militias typically gave most of their victims room to escape; commanders generally preferred a fright-to-flight strategy over wanton slaughter.
This growing violence culminated in Israel’s ruthless 1947-49 “War of Independence,”in which at least 750,000 Palestinian men, women, and children were expelled from their homes by numerically superior Israeli forces – half before any Arab armies joined the war. This massive humanitarian disaster is known as ‘The Catastrophe,’ al Nakba in Arabic.
Zionist forces committed 33 massacres and destroyed 531 Palestinian towns. Author Norman Finkelstein states:
“According to the former director of the Israeli army archives, ‘in almost every village occupied by us during the War… acts were committed which are defined as war crimes, such as murders, massacres, and rapes’…Uri Milstein, the authoritative Israeli military historian of the 1948 war, goes one step further, maintaining that ‘every skirmish ended in a massacre of Arabs.’”
Jewish ethnic cleansing of Palestine accelerated when Arab armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq invaded with the intent of smothering the nascent state of Israel in its cradle. On July 11, 1948, future Israeli foreign and defense minister Moshe Dayan led a raid on Lydda in which over 250 Arab men, women, children and old people were killed with automatic weapons, grenades and cannon. What followed, on future prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s orders, was the wholesale expulsion of Lydda and Ramle. Tens of thousands of Arabs fled in what became known as the Lydda Death March. Israeli reporter Ari Shavit wrote:
Children shouted, women screamed, men wept. There was no water. Every so often, a family… stopped by the side of the road to bury a baby who had not withstood the heat; to say farewell to a grandmother who had collapsed from fatigue. After a while, it got even worse. A mother abandoned her howling baby under a tree. [Another] abandoned her week-old boy.
The international community was horrified and outraged by the Jewish atrocities of 1948-49. In the United States, a prominent group of Jews including Albert Einstein blasted the “terrorists” who attacked Deir Yassin. Others compared the Jewish militias to their would-be German destroyers, including Aharon Cizling, Israel’s first agriculture minister, who lamented that “now Jews have behaved like Nazis and my entire being is shaken.”
Jews indeed behaved something like Nazis as they expelled or exterminated Arabs for their own lebensraumin Palestine. By the time it was all over, over 400 Arab villages were destroyed or abandoned, their residents – some of whom still hold the keys to their stolen homes – never to return. Moshe Dayan, one of Israel’s most exalted heroes, confessed in all but name to Israel’s ethnic cleansing in a 1969 speech:
“We came to this country, which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing… a Jewish state here. Jewish villages were built in place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because those geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either… There is not one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”
War on Truth & Memory
Today such honesty is sorely lacking, both among most Israeli Jews and their US coreligionists and supporters. In addition to efforts to silence and even outlaw peaceful protest movements like the growing worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort, Zionists and their apologist allies – some with their own competing religious agenda – have aggressively sought to erase the Nakba from memory. This is accomplished by denying Israeli crimes and by tarring critics with allegations of antisemitism.
Special vitriol is reserved for the “self-hating”Jews who dare shine light on Israeli atrocities. Teddy Katz, a graduate student at Haifa University and ardent Zionist who uncovered the mass slaughter of 230 surrendering Arabs at Tantura on May 22, 1948, was sued, publicly humiliated, forced to apologize and stripped of his degree for the “offense” of telling the ugly, uncomfortable truth. The Israeli government even went as far as banning diaspora Jews who are too critical from making the “birthright return” to Israel granted to every other Jew in the world.
No Return, No Retreat
Speaking of the right to return, as Nakba refugees fled Palestine, often to settle in squalid camps in neighboring countries, the United Nations passed Resolution 194, which guaranteed that every Palestinian refugee could return to their home and receive compensation for damages. None ever did. Israel ignored this and dozens of other UN resolutions over the coming decades, its impunity ensured by massive and unwavering US support.
Enabled and emboldened, Israel now marks 70 years of statehood and over half a century of illegal occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Today, Israel’s illegal Jewish settler colonies are the spear-tip of what critics call its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Its Jews-only settlements and roads, separation wall and ubiquitous military checkpoints are, according to Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and others, the foundation of an apartheid state. Its periodic invasions of Gaza, with their 100-1 death toll disparities, their slaughter of entire families and enduring economic privation, are globally condemned as war crimes.
Yet through it all, the Palestinian people endure, despite the overwhelming odds against them. The more honest voices among earlier generations of Zionists foresaw this. Echoing Ahad Ha’am’s 1891 warning that “the natives are not going to just step aside so easily,” Ben-Gurion later acknowledged that “a people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily.” Seventy years later, neither Palestinians nor Jews have tired so easily, and the world is no closer to solving the “Palestine problem.” Meanwhile, Jews, Arabs and the wider world brace for the next inevitable explosion. This is colonialism’s deadly legacy.
A more complete record of the establishment of the Zionist State of Israel can be found on the History Page.
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