Israel and the Holocaust

Everyone acknowledges that the Holocaust was a major factor in the founding of the State of Israel. Certainly the justification accepted by the world after the end of WWII was that the time had come for the founding of a Jewish State, if only to compensate the Jews for what had been done to them in the absence of such a protection. The voting in the UN in 1948 was a clear reflection of the European and other “Christian” nations guilt for their complicity in the murder of 6 million Jews.

But, on the other hand, it is my contention that the State of Israel would have come into existence anyway, even without the major factor of the Holocaust, perhaps not as early and perhaps not as popularly, but into existence nevertheless. All the aspects of the State were already there even before WWII. Immigration had started in the 1870’s with the first aliyah. There were sizable Jewish communities in Haifa, Jaffa and especially Jerusalem, where Jews constituted an absolute majority over all other groups since the early-1800s. Jewish towns were founded in the 1880’s, Gedera, Hadera, Rishon Lezion, Zichron Ya’akov, Yemin Moshe (outside the Jerusalem walls), Neveh Tzedek (outside Jaffa), and so on. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 and grew significantly. Then after WWI with the Balfour Declaration the community continued to grow in size and strength.

It was the opposition of the British after their turnaround of the White Paper of 1939, not the Arabs, that prevented the formation of a State. Unfortunately the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv, never managed to establish enough credibility to have any effect on the Holocaust itself. Golda Meir describes how powerless she felt when the Conference in Locarno called by the powers to discuss Jewish emigration from Europe was controlled and limited by the British. British intransigence against emigration to Palestine led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews. But through the years of WWII the Palestinian Jews prepared themselves, mainly by training in the British Army, for the coming conflict. When it came they were well prepared, they defeated first the British in 1946-48 and then the Arabs in the War of Independence.

One factor that is often neglected is how did the survivors of the Holocaust affect the formation of the State. The fact is that few of them had a major role. Some became leaders of the nascent IDF, but it took most of them several years to be repatriated from the DP camps in Europe through the British blockade, from camps in Cyprus, etc. until they were actually in Israel. The fact is that the 650,000 Palestinian Jews fought the Arab armies for independence without a massive influx of the survivors of European Jewry, most of whom arrived only in the early 1950s, after the State had been founded.

One brave example where survivors of the Holocaust played a role was in the battles for Latrun. The Haganah was desperate because the Jordanian Arab Legion under Gen. Glubb and British officers, was given the huge British police station at Latrun, from where they controlled the road to Jerusalem and prevented supplies getting to the city. They were on the heights overlooking the road to Jerusalem, and they were bombarding the Jewish parts of the city. Ben Gurion decided that they must try to capture the Latrun police station, and ordered that new immigrant survivors be sent immediately off the boats into the battle. Many died without even a rifle, but they fought hard to secure Latrun. After three battles failed, the Jews were forced to give up. But, the battles allowed convoys to reach Jerusalem and relieve it. Jewish Jerusalem remained in Jewish hands and was incorporated into Israel. The Latrun area was only captured by Israel in 1967, and now the police station is a museum for the IDF Armored Corps.

That is to say that although survivors played a role, it was a relatively small one in the actual events that led to the founding of the State. The role was more psychological in the minds of Jews and non-Jews alike. But, it was the sacrifice of the Zionists who preceded the Holocaust into Palestine that brought about the birth of the State of Israel.

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