ISRAEL, THE 20TH CENTURY MIRACLE
Let's look together at what is without doubt the greatest of all modern miracles--that miracle is the Nation of Israel.
I remember those years very well. In fact, I can recall a sunny morning in midMay when I jumped out of bed an hour early. Even my dad, who customarily fetched the Philadelphia Inquirer along with a first cup of morning coffee by 5:55, had yet to show his face. I pulled on my clothes, and went down to the front stoop to get the paper.
The reason I remember this day is because it was a big one in my life. That day, May 14 1948, Central High's varsity baseball team was scheduled to play our arch-rival, the Northeast High Spartans. And I personally had a lot at stake. Just two days earlier, Coach Bennett told me I'd be starting at third base this afternoon--which really floored me, since I'd spent all my baseball days including every Little League season playing left field. Talk about being thrown a curve.
With a heart totally focused on baseball, I gave little more than a passing glance to the Inquirer's headline that morning: JEWS AND ARABS TO DECIDE FATE OF PALESTINE. Filling a bowl with cornflakes and milk, I spooned down breakfast and began the daily five-mile walk up Broad Street toward school at Ogontz and Olney Avenues. I was a good hour and fifteen minutes earlier than usual. As things turned out, I should have slept in another hour. Northeast clobbered us 9-2, I went one bloop single for four and played uninspired if officially errorless infield. Everything considered, not exactly a memorable day for the baseball-crazed teenager I was in those days.
But halfway around the world, in a small sliver of land along the Mediterranean Seacoast, events were swiftly unfolding that would prove nothing less than miraculous. On that very day, May 14, 1948, a few hundred thousand Jews then living in British-mandated Palestine were getting set to proclaim the re-establishment of a "Jewish State to be called Israel." After a gap of more than two thousand years when there was no "Israel," the Jewish people were about reunite in both name and identity with their Biblically promised land of Tzion, Zion, otherwise known as Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. The Chosen People, whose very existence was based on historical miracles, was poised to be resurrected under even more miraculous circumstances.
At the time, even though raised in an Orthodox Jewish family that boasted a rabbi for my maternal grandfather, I knew very little about the post-Biblical history of the Jewish people. And even less about the tiny landbridge called "Palestine" linking Europe, Asia and Africa. In fact, it was only in recent years while I was researching a book on Eastern European Jews that I had become familiar with the facts surrounding historical Palestine.
I was surprised to learn that up to a hundred years ago, fewer than 50,000 Jews lived in the country the Romans in 135 A.D. had renamed "Palestine." This name change was a calculated imperial move that accomplished two purposes. First, it severed the Jewish people from their historical roots and so tended to discourage future uprisings. Renaming the land after the Philistines (Latin = "Palestina") served to further humiliate the Israelites by honoring their hated arch-enemies, the people of the giant Goliath. By 70 A.D., the Romans completed their obliteration of the ancient Jewish homeland by razing the sacred Temple, burning Jerusalem and scattering the Jewish people throughout the Empire.
Thereafter the land became a dustbowl, a reproach to the world. The country that had produced the Holy Bible, Moses, King David, and Jesus Christ, and had spawned three great world religions--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--was reduced to a barren shell where for eighteen hundred years a small handful of diehard Jews scratched out a living and cried out to God at the wailing wall that He might grant them mercy and restore Israel even as the prophets had promised would happen in the Last Days. But God appeared in no great hurry to answer those prayers.
Waves of invaders and counter-invaders swept through the land over the centuries. Political control variously switched from Moslems to Egyptians to European Crusaders to Mamelukes to Turkish Ottomans, but the land itself seemed little affected by the changes in ownership. The soil remained cursed, parched and unfruitful, with few human inhabitants there to honor its once glorious past.
Then, in the mid-19th century, persecutions against Jews erupted in Russia and Poland. That triggered a wave of several thousand European Jews who dared to abandon their homelands for a dream in Palestine where they set up farming collectives called kibbitzim. A few decades later, pogroms unleashed by tensions leading to the Russian Revolution in 1917 gave a new impetus to Ashkenazic Jewish immigration. Many, including my parents' families, succeeded in gaining admittance to America. Others resettled in other European countries, Canada, and Australia. Far fewer, perhaps 10,000 or less, chose to live in the Holy Land. At this point, out of some 100,000 Jews then living in Palestine, 75,000 were European Jews, only 25,000 Arab or Sephardic Jews.
Following World War One, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann met with British foreign minister Lord Arthur James Balfour, author of the historic Balfour Declaration that advocated establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Balfour told Weizman the time was now ripe for Jews to pour into the Holy Land, since the door might not stay open indefinitely. Balfour's exhortation in 1921 proved prophetic, with the rise of Hitler's Germany looming ahead. Tragically, only a handful of Jews seized the opportunity. In fact, the 1920s saw more Jews who wearied of the harsh pioneer life and returned to Europe from Palestine than the numbers of those choosing to emigrate there.
Many Jews, particularly those from Russia and Eastern Europe who settled in America where they prospered, supported the Zionist dream by buying plots of land from absentee Arab landowners, gaining a tangible if vicarious stake in any future Jewish homeland. My parents were among those who exchanged several hundred dollars for a titled deed in the 1920s, and even today my sister and I are the paper co-owners of 2 1/2 acres in the Galilean city of Afula.
By 1931 the Jewish population in Palestine had grown to 175,000, European Jews constituting the overwhelming majority. The few Arabic Jews welcomed the Europeans with open arms, impressed by their cash, energy and modern technology that launched the Zionist miracle of "making the desert bloom." But most of all they marveled at Ashkenazic boldness in dealing with ruling British authorities and hostile Arabs, a sharp contrast to their own submissiveness. Though they found the Europeans "pushy," as a large, tough co-Jewish presence in a sea of Arabs they were a reassuring defense force. But the millions of Sephardic Jews who still lived in Arab lands were afraid to return to Palestine where local sheiks sponsored cross-border terrorist raids against the new Jewish settlers.
When Hitler launched his killing crusade against Europe's Jews in 1936, refugees began pouring into Palestine until the Jews numbered 200,000. The Arabs rioted in protest against their British overlords and, with World War 2 on the horizon, the British government--with Winston Churchill, God bless him, dissenting--believed Arab good will should be the Crown's highest priority. So they restricted Jewish immigration to 15,000 a year for the next five years. After that time, no Jews would be allowed into Palestine without Arab consent.
History records how the Nazis slaughtered 6 million Jews in the death camps of Poland and Germany. In the space of three short years, one third of the world's Jews vanished off the face of the earth. But out of that horror, a quarter million Jews crawled out of the killing barracks into resettlement camps. These were joined by an equal number of homeless Jews who had survived the war by fighting in partisan units, hiding out in forests, mountains and caves, or living underground with "righteous gentiles" who kept them alive. Now, their old lives destroyed and with no place to go, their hopes turned to Biblical Palestine and they clamored for admission.
But for the intervention of Divine Providence, their pleas may have gone unheeded. At war's end during the disastrous Yalta Conference, Franklin D. Roosevelt handed over Eastern Europe to Russian domination, only now being overthrown. Then FDR met with Arab King Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, who threatened Arab reprisals if the United States supported Jewish emigration into Palestine. As a result, Roosevelt's already anti-Zionist sentiments hardened. Chief FDR aide David Niles later noted, "If Roosevelt had lived, I have serious doubts that Israel would ever have come into being." But on April 12, 1945 FDR suffered a massive brain clot and died before his views could move world opinion.
Meanwhile, the United Nations, moved by Holocaust compassion, begged the British to admit at least 100,000 displaced Jews. But their pleas fell on ears deafened by British pro-Arab oil politics. So Jewish Zionists leased any old ships they could find in an effort to slip through sea blockades set up by the Royal Navy. But these aging vessels were relentlessly pursued, intercepted and turned back. Most of the Jews who tried to reach land were captured and imprisoned in Cyprus, while a few thousand at most managed to jump overboard and swim or be rowed ashore to join the growing Jewish resistance.
By 1947, the United Nations had agreed on a plan to solve the situation. According to this scheme, the territory of Palestine would be split in two. The proposed Jewish state would include rocky Eastern Galilee, the central coast--including Haifa and Tel Aviv--and the Negev desert. The Arabs were ceded the more fertile central and western Galilee plains, the southern coast including Gaza, and nearly all the central inland territory. But, despite receiving the lion's share of the bargain, the Arabs were still unhappy. Accepting a piece of the Palestine pie--even if it were the largest piece--grated against the Moslem commandments to rule the entire Holy Land. So the Arabs boycotted the Committee. On the other hand the Jews, desperate for any haven in a storm, agreed to accept only a small part of the original territory promised to them.
U.S. President Harry Truman sympathized with the Jewish refugees as international underdogs. Facing the election of 1948, he found himself a decided underdog who needed Jewish political support in swing states like New York, Illinois and Pennslvania. So when the question of partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states came up for a vote in the U.N., both Truman and Joseph Stalin, who believed the European Jews of Palestine would favor his Socialist Republic over the Imperial British in international forums, joined forces to push hard for ratification.
On November 29, 1947, the roll of the 56 U.N. representatives was called. Thirty-three nations voted yea, thirteen nay, and ten countries including Great Britain abstained. The plan was officially adopted. Immediately the Arab nations walked out of the UN General Assembly, vowing to settle the matter in blood. The next day, Arabs blew up a busload of Jews on the road to Jerusalem. Armed patrols from neighboring Arab lands crossed the border in unprovoked attacks against Jewish farm settlements. By the end of the first week, over a hundred Jews had been killed. At this point, David Ben Gurion and his advisers knew how close to extinction were the Jews of Palestine.
On their newly mandated borders stood the combined armies of six nations--Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. A half-million Arab soldiers stood fully poised for Jihad, or Holy War. According to Ben-Gurion's own war diary, he had only 16,400 Jewish fighters, with rifles for less than 10,000. Beyond their rationed rifles, Jewish weapons consisted of forty automatic weapons, four artillery pieces and forty trucks converted to serve as mobile armor.
U.S. General George C. Marshall, after whom the Marshall Plan was named, sympathetized with the Jews but saw their position as impossible. So he sent the following telegram to Prime Minister David Ben Gurion--"For God's sake, Ben Gurion, tell your people in Palestine not to proclaim a Jewish state. If they proclaim a Jewish state, within ten days or maximum fifteen days, not a single Jew will remain alive." Though Marshall knew his military strategy and classical conflict probabilities, what he didn't know was that God Himself had determined the outcome.
At midnight Friday, May 14, 1948, the British mandate over Palestine was to formally end. At 4 o'clock that afternoon, David Ben Gurion assembled a hundred associates at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Rothschild Boulevard. On its rooftop flew the blue and white flag with its Star of David, while inside Ben Gurion delivered a 650-word proclamation that read in part:
"The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. By virtue of our natural and historical right and on the strength of the Resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel. This state will be known as the State of Israel. The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles."
Eleven minutes later, Harry Truman announced U.S. recognition for the State of Israel. That night Arab armies began to attack in force. Arabs in Haifa, Jaffa and other places were warned by the Arab League to leave Jewish population centers or the invading Arab soldiers would treat them like enemy Jews. Most Arabs complied as the Arab League announced to the world press that "This will be a war of extermination, a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."
But even as the bombs and shells exploded and Arab legions roared across the borders, while Jewish casualties mounted amid a spirit of grim desperation, wretched survivors of the Holocaust ovens began to pour into the besieged land. From the detention camps of Cyprus and the displaced-persons camps of Europe they came in by the thousands, and before they even learned how to speak Hebrew, they were taught how to fire a rifle. Five thousand arrived the first week, 150,000 over the next six months. Despite being outgunned and outnumbered, in amazingly short order these survivors of Dachau and Auschwitz proved themselves as valiant and tenacious on the field as any Sabra born and raised on the hallowed soil of historical Israel.
Field guns, tanks, automatic rifles and machine guns were airlifted in from Czechoslovakia. Small arms were bought with private Jewish money in the U.S.A., South Africa, England and France, then shipped in on leased vessels. Colonels, majors and air force pilots came from the United States and Britain, eager to join their fellow Jews in the struggle for survival. The "lightning victory" predicted by Arab leaders hit a stone wall of unexpected Jewish resistance.
Suddenly, the tide of battle swung. Egyptian attacks against Beersheba were repelled by kibbutz pioneers, dug into desert bunkers with ancient mortars and machine guns. Settlements in the north won victories, using the Bible as a source of military strategy against the Syrians. In JOSHUA 6 they read how Joshua and his "mighty men of valor" vanquished the Canaanites by marching seven trumpet-blowing priests at the head of a small column of Hebrews around the city of Jericho seven times a day for seven days until, on the seventh day the people gave a "great shout and the walls came tumbling down."
Faced with assaulting the holy city of Safad, which had fallen into Arab hands, the Israelis concocted a "new weapon" inspired by Joshua, consisting of a home-made mortar which, though useless as a weapon of mass destruction, set off an enormous blast when it went off. When they exploded it on the streets of Safad, Arab soldiers--convinced the Jews were using nuclear bombs against them--turned tail and fled in horror.
Down south in Jerusalem, the situation was even more desperate. Starvation was widespread and Jordan's crack Arab Legion controlled the road from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, with heavy fortifications based at Latrun. Ben-Gurion ordered a series of attacks against the Legion and all three were repulsed with heavy Jewish casualties. Then, reading in The First Book of Chronicles of an ancient Latrun bypass, under cover of darkness one morning a crew of several hundred Israelis followed the old Biblical trail and laid down a primitive track which bypassed Latrun.
That night the first armored truck was able to enter the Holy City carrying flour, water, weapons and ammunition to their trapped countrymen. With the siege of Jerusalem broken, Arab spirits sagged and white flags began flapping from weary Arab footsoldiers. By January 7, 1949, Egyptian forces in the Sinai surrendered unconditionally and a few days later on the Island of Rhodes, the Israelis and Egyptians at last concluded a firm armistice agreement.
By July, similar agreements recognized by the United Nations were arranged with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But the Iraquis and Saudis adamantly refused to sign. At the end of hostilities, Israel consisted of enlarged boundaries as a result of the fighting. The Kingdom of Jordan held the West Bank of the Jordan River, Egypt controlled Gaza--and Jerusalem was cut in half. Jordanian King Abdullah annexed the sacred Old City with all its fabled sites holy to three world faiths, while Israel held the hollow shell of the New City outside the ancient Temple's western wall.
The population of the new Jewish homeland was now just over 800,00--one fourth Arab, three-quarters Jewish. The great majority were Ashkenazic European Jews, toughened like steel by the fires of persecution and genocide, looking ahead to reborn lives as Israelis. The real losers were the Arab residents of Palestine, who had abandoned their homes expecting to return after the Arab armies had crushed the Jews, seized their possessions, and driven them into watery graves in the Mediterranean.
The rebirth of Israel in our times was a true miracle in many ways. Retired Israeli General Yehezkel "Hezzi" Schachar, whose Ashkenazic family had lived in Palestine since 1864, had led Jewish soldiers in all the major Israeli wars. A few years ago I had the privelege of hearing Hezzi speak when he visited the USA and sat on a panel discussing the War of Independence.
"It looked totally impossible," he related. "There was no such thing that so few people could resist all those Arab countries. I was head of one of the two batallions--actually not even batallions but two companies with platoons. Every platoon was so important we knew who was the commander of that platoon. A commander of a section was like a general in the U.S. Army. For every ten men, we had two rifles and two grenades. When I think about it now when we have a modern army, it was something from FANTASY LAND. And what happened there was totally miracles. Only the hand of God could have done such a thing.
"I remember one day when five Egyptian companies, maybe a thousand men, were attacking our thirty-two. Everyone was saying prayers, and we knew it was all over. Suddenly, I don't know why, they retreated! They turned all their men around and started a full retreat so when their backs were to us we started chasing them, firing our guns, and many were killed. There were so many miracles like that.
"Many years later, after Sadat came to Jerusalem and we made peace with Egypt, I visited Cairo and sat down together with the Egyptian general who commanded troops in the Sinai. Later, at dinner, I asked him because it had always amazed me, why did an entire Egyptian army run away from thirty-two poorly armed Israelis. 'You had us right in the palm of your hand,' I told him. 'You could have finished us off in twenty minutes, we were so outnumbered.'
'Outnumbered?' he answered in astonishment. 'How can you say that, Sachar? You know as well as I do that right behind your small forward emplacement stood thousands of Jews dressed in white desert uniforms, backed by hundreds of tanks racing at us across the desert. We were the ones outnumbered, not you!' My heart filled with joy when he told me that because I knew that our victory came, not because we were such great fighters, but because God had sent His angels to fight for us." (See Footnote 1)
On May 11, 1949, four days before her first anniversary, Israel was formally admitted as the fifty-ninth member of the United Nations. That certified what many Biblical scholars had been yearning for for hundreds of years. The rebirth of Israel as a nation was the sure prophetic sign that the world had entered the time of the Latter Days, the era described by the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 23, verses 7-8.
It was only after the predominately Ashkenazic warriors had reclaimed the land through warfare that the Arab and Oriental Jews began to return to the land in any significant numbers. More than 600,000 were forcibly expelled from Arab countries, and over the next decade over a million and a half more poured into Israel from Moslem lands until at last they outnumbered the European Jews. Soon there was scarcely a Jew to be found in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the other Moslem countries. Again, exactly as foretold as happening during the "latter days" by the prophet Zechariah in Chapter 10, verses 9-10--check it out for yourself.
What had been a barren wasteland for centuries was now being transformed into a Mideast garden. In 1910 Mark Twain toured Palestine and wrote on his return that "This is the most desolate and Godforsaken dustbowl I've ever seen, where even the grasshoppers starve to death." Rainfall was so scarce as to be virtually negligible. But, since then, something happened. The Pilgrim Bible records an amazing change that has taken place in this very century-- "There always used to be two rainy seasons in Palestine, one in the spring, the other in the fall. The second rain God withheld while Israel was scattered, but He promised in JOEL 2 to send it again when Israel would be returning. It is interesting that the fall rain began again, lightly, at the beginning of the 20th century, and has been increasing ever since." You can check out this prophesy for yourself by reading JOEL Chapter 2, verses 23-25.
Most recently, the Jerusalem Post ran a first-page story headlined RAINIEST WEEK IN 50 YEARS. Reporting that six people, including two soldiers, were killed by resulting floods, the Post noted that "the rainfall reached an intensity not matched in half a century. Only once previously in this century, in December 1941, were comparable rains registered. The depleted level of the Sea of Galilee rose again dramatically after four years of semi-drought. On the average, more than 200 mm. (7.87 inches) of rain was reported in seven consecutive days. Between 50% and 70% of the entire annual average quota has fallen already in north and central Israel."
The last time such intense rainfall was recorded in Palestine, the Nazi death camps were just preparing to launch their gas-and-cremation genocide, seven years before modern Israel was reborn. Can these rains be the forerunner of other Latter Days events about to take place? Or is all of this, including the resurrection of Israel after two thousand years, nothing more than sheer if uncanny coincidence?
In a nutshell, can any rational 20th Century mind seriously consider such ideas as mystical signs, natural wonders, Biblical prophesies and Divine Plans? That is surely the great question of our times, the one question every single human being alive today is being forced to answer one way or the other. For the stakes involve nothing less than physical survival now, and the ultimate eternal destiny of every living soul on planet Earth.
What about it? Is there really such a thing as Divine Prophesy? And, if so, can it actually be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt?" I challenge you, if you are really a true "seeker of truth," to explore the articles on fulfilled Biblical prophesies designated by God Himself to come to pass in these, The Last Days of this stage of human history.
FOOTNOTE # 1 The best part of Hezzi Sachar's story happened in the 1980s during the time he worked for the Israeli Tourist Agency promoting travel to Israel and promoting Israeli bonds. In the course of his work, Hazzi met many Christian tourists to his country. Some of them became his friends, encouraged him to study the Scriptures. To make a long story short, in 1988 Hezzi became a born-again child of God in Yeshua Hamaschiach, Jesus Christ. Hezzi came to the United States in 1989, continued to study and give his testimony here to whomever would listen, and just when he was ready to go back home to evangelize his own people in Israel, the Lord took him home with a sudden heart attack. Evidently, from God's perspective, Israel's time of redemption had not yet arrived. But the Bible tells us that the best is yet to come for His own Chosen People.