Israel At 70 – As seen by the Gentiles
Israel’s 70th independence day was just celebrated last week and in a couple of weeks we will be celebrating Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of the Liberation of Jerusalem during the 1967, Six Day War. I thought it would be relevant to cite two interesting sources, one by the historian James Parkes, and one a letter by Napolean Bonaparte to the Jewish people. Enjoy!
James Parkes, Whose Land?, Oxford University Press, 1949
For Moslems the issue is not Palestine as a Holy Land, but Jerusalem as a Holy City. For, according to Muslim belief, the Temple of Solomon was miraculously built, and it was to and from Jerusalem that Mohammed was transported in order to make his ascent into heaven where his vocation was recognized by his prophetic predecessors. Jerusalem is therefore the third holiest shrine in Islam. For Jews the Land is a Holy Land in the sense of being a Promised Land, and the word indicates an intensity of relationship going beyond that of either of the other two religions. The common phrase that Palestine is the Holy Land of three faiths is not strictly accurate. It is not appropriate to the Islamic relationship, for the land which corresponds to its position in the thought of Jews and Christians is for Muslims Arabia.
The difficulty of the historian is still further emphasized by the fact that the nature of the ascension of Muhammad is such that it is entirely useless as historical evidence. The association of Jews with The Land is a historical fact, whether one believes that association to be the result of a divine decision or not. The association of the Founder of Christianity with Galilee and Judea is a historical fact, whether or not one accepts the Christian theological claim as to His nature, or even the ecclesiastical claim of authenticity for the Holy Places. But the association of Muhammad with the country rests on willingness to believe that in a single night, and on a winged horse, Muhammad flew to and from Arabia in order that he might then mount by a ladder for a personal view of the heavens; while his remarkable mount, al-Burak, remained tied near to that point in the whole area which stood above the only remaining Jewish Holy Place, the Wailing Wall. The event is not the poetical or theological dramatization of an incident which, stripped of the miraculous element, rests on solid historical foundations. It has to be accepted as it stands, or there remains no evidence whatever associating Muhammad with Jerusalem other than the early choice and quick rejection of that city as the direction towards which Muslims should pray; and this choice, in any case, rested on a veneration for Judaism and Christianity and not on a personal experience of Muhammad.
Napolean Bonaparte, Quoted by Franz Kobler: Napoleon and the Jews, Schocken Books, New York, 1976, pp 55-57 April 20, 1799
Bonaparte, Commander in Chief of the Armies of the French Republic in Africa and Asia, to the rightful Heirs of Palestine:
Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny were able to deprive of the ancestral lands only, but not of name and national existence! Attentive and impartial observers of the destinies of nation, even though not endowed with the gifts of seers like Isaiah and Joel, have also felt long since what these, with beautiful and uplifting faith, foretold when they saw the approaching destruction of their kingdom and fatherland: “…that the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion, and the enjoyment of henceforth undisturbed possession of their heritage will send an everlasting joy upon their heads” (Isaiah 35:10). Arise then, with gladness, yea, exiled! A war unexampled in the annals of history, waged in self-defense by a nation whose hereditary lands were regarded by her enemies as plunder to be divided, arbitrarily and at their convenience, by a stroke of the pen of Cabinets, avenges her own shame and the shame of the remotest nations, long forgotten under the yoke of slavery, and, to the almost two thousand-year-old ignominy put upon you; and while time and circumstances would seem to be least favorable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression, and indeed to be compelling their complete abandonment, she (France) offers to you at this very time and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony! The undefiled army with which Providence has sent me hither, led by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my headquarters, and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David’s city.
Rightful Heirs of Palestine! This great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those who sold your ancestors unto all peoples (Joel 4:6) hereby calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony, nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation’s warranty and support, to maintain it against all comers. Arise! Show that the once overwhelming might of your oppressors has not repressed the courage of the descendants of those heroes whose brotherly alliance did honor to Sparta and Rome (Macc. 12:15), but that all the two thousand years of slavish treatment have not succeeded in stifling it. Hasten! Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of your rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations and the unlimited natural right to worship God in accordance with your faith, publicly and likelihood forever (Joel 4:20).