The single most often asked question that I get from Indians when I speak about Israel and Jews is “So what can we learn from them?”
In our history, one of the main reasons the Native North Americans lost was our inability to unite, to find common ground aside from “They want to take all our land.” We had a few chiefs who attempted to unite local nations and tribes and some even found limited success like Big Bear of the Cree, who somehow managed to get the Blackfoot and Cree to cease killing each other and even wanted to have our treaty-based reserves placed side by side. But on the whole, we were too fractured to truly unite to fight the enemy. We lost.
What does this have to do with Jews and Israel? In 1947, a broken and fractured people prevailed against enormous odds to defeat multiple armies. In many cases, people still thin and sickly from the Holocaust camps were handed rifles and told “In Europe you were not given this choice. There you were told to die. Here you can fight and most likely die, but it will be on your feet not on your knees.”
So they fought alongside their brothers who had been fighting since the 1930’s. But even as miraculous as their victory was, it came at a cost. They secured a homeland, but they lost the old city of Jerusalem and Hebron, the two most sacred places in the world for Jews. Why? My opinion is because they were not united. An alliance based on “They want to kill us all” is only workable to a point. The Arabs learned firsthand that alliances where you are keeping one eye on your own guys is not going to be as successful as it would be if there was genuine trust. With each of the Arab factions having their own agendas they ended up losing a fight where they had monumental numerical and tactical advantages.
During WW2, the Jews in the Palestinian Mandate were divided, not just politically but ideologically. Even in the Zionist camp there were factions who wanted to fight alongside the British to defeat the Nazis, and worry about liberating the ancestral home of the Jews afterwards. There were also groups who understood that by limiting immigration the British were essentially condemning Jews to death, and they wanted the immediate expulsion of foreign rule.
This ended up becoming violent on several occasions (like the Altalena affair), and no historical Israeli figure has clean hands in that conflict. Thankfully, however, both sides ended up with significant victories. The ones who wanted to side with the British did and served with distinction against the evil of the Nazis, and the ones who wanted Britain to leave managed to accomplish this, albeit not until after the war and not soon enough to save millions of Jews who perished due to the closure of the mandatory borders.
Obviously there are good arguments on both sides of that coin, but neither side was 100% correct. The problem is that in war there are no grey areas, there are winners and there are losers. War doesn’t care about nuance, it doesn’t give a damn about fairness, you either emerge victorious or you lose. Yes there can be pyrrhic victories that end up really being defeats but long term you either win or you lose.
Fast forward 20 years. In 1967, the Israelis now understood that it didn’t matter if you were a lefty kibbutznik socialist or a right-wing capitalist, the entire Arab Muslim world was baying for your blood and the saying “Push the Jews into the sea” was common place. The open calls for genocide didn’t ring hollow to people who had tattoos on their arms, nor the people who were forced from their homes in the Muslim world following 1947. Twenty years of watching the Arabs destroying the graveyards on the Mount of Olives, watching them turn synagogues into barns and outhouses, denying Jews access to the western wall, not allowing them into the Cave of Machpelah, showed them exactly what the Muslim world thought of them and their nascent state.
This time the Jews fought united, united by the fact that this was not theoretical. They KNEW what a loss would mean. It was not a possibility that the Arabs would kill them, it was an empirical fact. Even the most stubborn irredentist peace-loving Jew knew and understood that when someone tells you almost daily they want to kill you, they mean it.
Israel did not just win in 1967, they left no room for doubt. Jordan ended its illegal occupation of Judeah and Samaria, Israel took the Golan Heights away from Syria who had been using it to shell Israeli communities almost daily since 1947, but most importantly, they liberated Jerusalem and Hebron, and showed that when united they were a force to be reckoned with.
So you asked me what we could learn from the Jews and Israel? We learned that united we can stand against almost anything, that we can overcome what seem to be unbeatable odds and that no matter what anyone tells you, indigenous people can achieve self determination on our ancestral lands and build a thriving nation.
That’s what I learned from being at Jerusalem Day and I will be forever grateful.