Israel has just entered its 50th year, the year which will mark the jubilee of its independence.The dust churned up over 49 years of tumultuous history has all but obscured that glorious May 14 when David Ben Gurion--addressing the descendants of the exiles driven out by Rome nearly two millennia before--pronounced Israel reborn.
The extent of the miracle which enabled the Jews to re-declare their independence is too often lost in the standard official summation: In 1947, the UN voted to partition Palestine. The following May saw the State of Israel declared. Eight Arab armies invaded, but Israel won its War of Independence, and the 1949 armistice lines became the de facto borders of the new Jewish state for the next 19 years. The full story contains so much more.
Hard as it may be to believe, the vote to partition Palestine cannot be ascribed to a seared gentile conscience: By 1947 the impact created by scenes from the liberation of the death camps was already wearing off. In fact, the drama unfolded at a time when pro- and anti-Zionist forces were raging against each other in Washington.
In favour of the Jews' desire for Palestine in 1945, President Harry Truman had succumbed somewhat by 1947 to pressure from senior state and defence officials to tone down that support. Secretary of Defence James Forrestal--whose company had done business with the Nazis during the war--was against a Jewish homeland, and co-ordinated opposition within the US government.
Prior to the actual debate and vote on partition, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, three related votes were held before the UN's Ad Hoc Committee, all of them, in effect, test runs for the actual partition vote.
These "test" votes, which needed a majority of just one, would indicate to the Zionists how likely they would be to achieve two-thirds at the end. The last test, on November 25, did get Partition referred to the General Assembly, but by 25 votes to 13. Unless the Jews could win over enough votes within three days, they would lose their homeland.
A desperate Ben Gurion resorted to blackmail, holding a figurative gun to the head of the powerful Nelson Rockefeller, who held sway over most of the Latin American countries and could influence their votes. The Zionists had compiled a comprehensive dossier of Rockerfeller's financial dealings with the Nazis, and now let him see what they had on him. Rockefeller agreed to get the extra votes on condition the Jews kept quiet about the Nazi business, or the haven given German war criminals in South America. Ben Gurion reluctantly agreed.
In three days, Rockefeller succeeded in getting all his Latin American governmental and business contacts to change their earlier votes: Brazil and Haiti, who voted "no" on November 26, voted "yes" on November 29. Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador voted in favour where they had previously abstained; Argentina, Colombia and El Salvador, who had voted against, now abstained.
In the end, the vote was 33 for and 13 against, with 10 abstentions. The price paid by the Zionists to get Rockerfeller's help may, however, have been for nought, as Western nations which had abstained during the previous vote also switched to "yes".
The vote far from ended the fight for Israel's rebirth, set to take place six months later with the termination of the British Mandate. Within two days, the administration's Arabists were working to have the Security Council overthrow the vote, and by January the tide had turned strongly against the Jews. The battle raged to the last minute.
On May 13, 1948, when Ben Gurion announced that statehood would be declared at midnight of the following day, President Truman defied all the threats and pressures on him and decided the US would recognise Israel: It did, just 11 minutes after the Jewish state came into being.
It must have felt to the first Israeli prime minister that all the forces of Hell were arrayed against his people. Inspired by visions of Arab imperialism, driven by greed for the reclaimed lands of once arid Palestine, and fuelled by the fury of their anti-Jewish faith, enemy armies poured into the scrap of land.
And so we have modern Israel's history. War followed war, the intermediate periods filled with Arab violence. Terrorism became an everyday, everywhere word.
Simultaneously down the years, a different sort of war has been waged in the corridors of power from Washington to London to Paris, as leaders placed their need for oil and their plans for a new world order above justice, and sought to undermine Israel's security and divide up its land.
That Israel came into being was a miracle. That it has not only survived 49 years of hostility on every front, but has grown from strength to strength defies reason.
Its very existence, in the words of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in early May, gives expression "to the greatest victory of any people--the victory against all the laws of history."