The Holy Land


God didn't pick us because we were weak or would run from danger. We've taken murder and sorrow and humiliation for six thousand years and we have kept faith. We have outlived everyone who has tried to destroy us. Can't you see it, Kitty? … this little land was chosen for us because it is the crossroads of the world, on the edge of Man's wilderness. This is where God wants His people to be … on the frontiers, to stand and guard His laws which are the cornerstone of Man's moral existence. Where else is there for us to be?
– Excerpted from Exodus by Leon Uris 

There is an old song which asserts 'the best things in life are free'. Not true! Utterly false! … Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain... The best things in life are beyond money; their price is agony and sweat and devotion... and the price demanded for the most precious of all things in life is life itself- ultimate cost for perfect value.
– Excerpted from Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
I got back Wednesday from a ten-day trip to Israel. It was, without question, one of the greatest experiences of my life.

I have dreamed of travelling to Israel for literally half a lifetime, ever since I first read Exodus as a boy. For me, visiting Israel meant far more than a fun trip abroad; it meant a chance to see the places that I had hitherto only known through the books of my childhood, and the writings of the Bible. To visit Israel was to see more than six thousand years of history come to life before my eyes- and to truly understand just what Israel means, and why both the land and the idea of Israel are so important.

More than anything else, it was a chance to truly understand what it means to have a land of one's own- and the almost incomprehensibly steep price that must be paid to keep it.

There is a powerful magic to the idea of Israel, and you have to go there to really experience it. The words, “Next year in Jerusalem”, have been the anchor of faith for millions of Jews around the world for nearly two thousand years. Yet, if you actually look at Israel as a land, you would be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is all about. Israel is, at first glance, a wasteland- the Galilee in the north and west is swamp, the hills of Judea and Samaria to the east are barren rock, and the Negev to the south is Sun-blasted desert. Most people would not think twice about abandoning it to seek better pastures elsewhere.

The Jews are not like most people.

To them, Israel is everything. It is the land that God promised them when He made His covenant with Abraham, and that promise has sustained them through sixty centuries of persecution, hatred, and grief. For the desperate refugees who fled the growing darkness of Europe between 1860 and 1939, the idea of Eretz Israel carried them through the horror and tragedy of a world gone mad. When they arrived in the Promised Land, they could have been forgiven for thinking that God had abandoned them, for they found a land as hostile to them as the ones that they had left behind. They found Arab villages wallowing in the same miserable conditions that they had known a thousand years ago. They found little water, almost no readily useful resources, and aside from the support of rich American and European Jews, virtually no support from the rest of the world.

A lesser people would have despaired. The new Israelites did not. Through back-breaking labour, in the face of soul-destroying hardship, with all of the odds stacked against them, they created a good and green land in some of the most inhospitable and dangerous places on Earth. The hard and unforgiving soil of Israel is nourished today by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who gave their lives for the promise that their new country held- and see now how the fruits of their devotion have blossomed.

And that is the magic of Israel. It lies in the way that the land has been transformed by Israeli hands.

Their first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, dreamed that the Negev Desert would one day be a haven and a home to the Israeli people. Today, his dream is being realised. To see green fields and trees and children's playgrounds in the middle of the Negev, underneath the mind-breaking heat of the Sun, can- and does- bring tears of joy to a grown man's eyes.

One would not think it possible to see olive gardens and vineyards and banana plantations in the midst of rock and sand- but on the slopes of Mount Carmel, in the sands of Rosh Ha'Nikra, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, on the hills surrounding Jerusalem, all of this and much more has come to be.

There are parts of Israel that appear as alien to the human eye as the surface of Mars, and every bit as inhospitable to human life- and yet somehow, through inhuman will and unbreakable faith, the Israelis have created a land that not only permits life, but lets it thrive.

The result is a country unlike any other on Earth. In the forge of God, the hammer of War and the anvil of Destiny have created the only truly advanced nation in the region. This is the only nation in the Middle East that actually practices religious tolerance- in Saudi Arabia, for instance, not one Christian church is permitted to exist. Other nations in the region have been blessed- or cursed, depending on how you look at it- with abundant mineral resources, but were completely incapable of exploiting those resources without Western help; by contrast, tiny Israel, with almost no real resources of its own, has found ways to tap into the wealth of the land through ingenuity, perseverance, and sheer guts. Her neighbours remain enslaved to a totalitarian political ideology in the guise of a “religion” that embraces a world-view that remains mired in the backwardness and folly of the 7th Century, and that offers nothing but war, slavery, and death; Israel is a modern nation that pushes the boundaries of what is possible every single day, seeking resources, wealth, and knowledge in places and ways that the rest of us could not even begin to imagine.

The Star of David flies high and proud in its simple glory once again over a God-kissed country.

It is also a land that has come up with some quite unique ways of organising communities and people. In order to really understand the spirit of Israel, you have to understand the concept of the kibbutz. This is a uniquely Israeli idea, created from the pressures and requirements of settling and transforming such a hostile land. It came down to a simple idea: with nowhere else to turn, the Jews of Israel had to depend upon each other. And so the concept of a communal society, with collective ownership of all land and wealth, was created- and only in Israel has it ever been shown to work, even slightly.

Every other nation that has tried this approach- including mine- has seen it fail, always with horrible results. When it was tried in Soviet Russia, the result was a famine that killed millions of peasants between 1919 and 1924. When it was tried in Communist China during the Great Leap Forward, the result was the single greatest man-made disaster in history, in which some 24 million peasants died of hunger and disease. Even in Israel, the kibbutz has not worked out perfectly- socialism inevitably fails because it is based on a complete misunderstanding of human nature and incentives, and so it came to pass with the kibbutz eventually as well.

Yet in Israel, uniquely among nations, the kibbutzim and their more realistic counterparts, the moshavim, have shown that it is possible to create thriving communities dedicated to the goal of the common good. This is an idea that seems as ephemeral as the wind- but it binds more strongly than steel. That is the ethos that has created the modern Israel, a nation that, for all of its many flaws, provides light and hope to a world in desperate need of both.

Sadly, the results of Israel's success have not brought it the peace that it so richly deserves.

Israel is surrounded by enemies on all sides, and constantly has to deal with enemies within. Those enemies seek nothing less than the utter extermination of this upstart state that has defied all expectations and easy explanations, that has created an economic, social, and political miracle in a land that has long grown disillusioned of miracles. The Israelites are a people under daily siege, yet even though I visited Israel at a time of great stress and conflict, I do not recall feeling unsafe for one moment while I was in the kibbutz or at most of the sites that we visited. The only times I ever felt the least bit worried was when I was visiting the Arab quarter of Acre, or the heavily Arab Old City of Jerusalem- and with good reason.

Speaking to the Israelis themselves, one is struck by how remarkably calm they are about the fact that every day is a struggle to survive. Beneath their laconic humour lies a quiet, tenacious resolve whose depth must not be underestimated. The Israelis want nothing more than to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit- to create a good land in harmony with the eternal Laws of God.

To secure this, Israel has tried compromise- and been kicked in the teeth every time. They unilaterally withdrew to the pre-1967 borders, for peace. They unilaterally handed back the entire Sinai peninsula- an area of land greater than the entire landmass of Israel itself- for peace. They unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon, for peace. They unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, for peace. They unilaterally uprooted thousands of their own settlers, demolished hundreds of homes, and withdrew from contested areas, for peace. In response to the mailed fist of its enemies, it has offered charity and brotherhood- and has always been repaid with blood and death. For all of its problems, Israel has shown the best of what Man can aspire to become- but the Israelites must daily fight for the simple right to survive.

They fight- cheerfully, quietly, endlessly- because theirs is a land worth fighting for. This little country- raped and brutalised and tormented for so many centuries, now a green and flourishing land- has earned its right to exist a thousand times over through sacrifice and toil. I had understood this, intellectually, for half my life- but I never understood what it meant in reality until I went there and saw for myself what Israel is today. That is the reality of Israel, from the Gulf of Aqaba in the south to Rosh Ha'Nikra in the north, from Haifa and Tel Aviv in the west to the River Jordan in the East.

This land is, and must forever be, the home of the Jewish race. They have fought and bled and died for it- and in so doing, earned it in the eyes of God and Man.

Comments

  1. One does not get useful, worthy gold when the smelting process is incomplete. And, for the anti-Israel crowd that cannot seem to remove cranium from anal orifices, gold is never perfect, nor is what the human species does with gold, once it has been purified. Israel has her sins, sins for which Yahweh holds her accountable for daily, and forevermore so long as this temporal existence continues. Her judgment is as much a part of the promise of God as her prosperity. For whom God loves He corrects.

    It would be cliche to say that I have longed to see Israel myself. It would also be me lying if I said otherwise. Who are these people whom Yahweh made His covenant with? How do they live? What motivates them? Not difficult to answer from an intellectual level, from outside. But one day, I hope to see it like you have. To see the direct result of Yahweh's influence in that Land is something that I really, quite simply, cannot fathom.

    Congratulations on the trip and thanks for the post.

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    1. Israel has her sins, sins for which Yahweh holds her accountable for daily, and forevermore so long as this temporal existence continues. Her judgment is as much a part of the promise of God as her prosperity. For whom God loves He corrects.

      That's exactly the feeling that I got when I went there. There is no question that Israel messes things up from time to time. Yet on balance, the Jews get it remarkably right, and there is no better proof of just how much they get right than the land of Israel itself.

      To see the direct result of Yahweh's influence in that Land is something that I really, quite simply, cannot fathom.

      It's impossible to understand unless you've been there, as I discovered too. Even when I got there, I had a hard time understanding why the Israelis would live as they do, with enemies on all sides and with nothing but rock and sand and swamp to work with. Now I get it, and I have immense respect for them as a people.

      It is unquestionably a God-blessed land- because He works His blessings through His chosen people.

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