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April 17, 2011
Wash. Post erases 3,000 years of Jewish indigenous history in Holy Land
In an article about a growing tide of African migrants sneaking into Israel, Joel Greenberg, the Washington Post's Jerusalem correspondent, draws a false parallel between Israelis as a nation of recent refugees seeking to cope with a new wave of refugees from Sudan and Eritrea ("In Israel, flow of migrants poses dilemma -- Some fear state's Jewish character is threatened amid an influx of African refugees" page A8, April 16)
"Their presence," Greenberg writes, "has created an acute dilemma for Israel, a state founded as a haven for Jewish refugees." And he adds:"The controversy over the African migrants touches on core questions of Israel's self-definition as both a Jewish and democratic state -- a nation of immigrants created as a shelter for Jews after the Holocaust."
A nation of immigrants created as a shelter for Jews after the Holocaust?
Greenberg simply has his history wrong by a margin of 3,000 years. The roots of Jewish nationhood go much deeper and cover a far longer historical span than the arrival of Holocaust survivors after World War 2. Jews ruled the Holy Land for a thousand years before the Common Era -- with only a brief, half-century exile in Babylon. After the Roman conquest, there was a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine until modern times.
Israel as a post-Holocaust shelter for Jewish refugees? Think again. Jews have rightful claims to the Holy Land as its most indigenous people since David conquered Jerusalem.
A few historical samples that illustrate Israel's historical ties to the land -- not as immigrants, not as refugees, but as permanent local residents:
--In the 6th Century of the Common Era, there were 43 Jewish communities across all parts of the Holy Land
--In the 11th Century, Jews were among the fiercest local fighters in defending Haifa against the Crusaders.
--From 1,267 on, there were an unbroken Jewish presence in Jerusalem until Jordan briefly seized the city in 1948.
--In the 16th Century, Kabbalists flourished in Safed, whose Jewish population grew to 30,000 by the end of that century.
--By mid-19th Century -- a hundred years before the Holocaust -- Jerusalem was preponderantly Jewish.
When Jewish survivors of the Holocaust arrived in Israel, they were welcomed in Israel by a vibrant local Jewish community whose roots pre-dated the Holocaust by many centuries.
Jews as migrants or refugees in their own land? Greenberg needs a refresher course in Middle East history. Jews aren't migrants or refugees when they come to settle in Israel. They may be refugees or immigrants elsewhere, but once in Israel, they've come home.
Thus, there's no parallel between African migrants who cross into Israel and Israelis as a supposed post-Holocaust "nation of immigrants."
If there's a moral quandary in Israel about what to do with these African migrants, it's not because both Israelis and Sudanese arrivals can be lumped together as foreign immigrants.
Rather, Israelis -- as locals with an indigenous identity of three millennia -- are commanded by their Creator to always be mindful, respectful and sensitive to the needs of the "stranger in your midst for you also were strangers when you were slaves in Egypt."
As usual, the Bible has it right, while Greenberg has it wrong -- Jews have been strangers, migrants, refugees not only in Egypt but around the world. Except in one place -- the Promised Land. There, they have been and remain fully at home