Despite undergoing twenty-five centuries of oppression and regression, Israel kept its spirit of nationhood as alive and sparkling as it had begun
The genesis of Israel can be traced back to Abraham. It was he who established the belief of one God and of Him being the creator of the Universe. Israelites consider Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob, who is also known as Israel, as their supreme leaders. Disciples of Abraham under their leader Moses were exiled from Egypt in 1300 BCE, and after living for nearly four decades in the desert of Sinai, Moses led them to the nearby land of Israel. Eventually, the preaching of Abraham crystallised as a religious doctrine that underpinned Judaism.
Since then, it has been sincerely adhered to by the Jews with tremendous pride and respect. They are also known by three alternative names as Hebrews, Israelites and Jews. Modern Israelites share the same language and culture shaped by the Jewish heritage and religion passed through generations, beginning with their founding father, Abraham.
Jews have continually withstood and overcome threats, being present in their Holy Land for the past 3,300 years. In 587 BCE, Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar’s army captured Jerusalem, destroyed its main temple and exiled the Jews to Babylon. The year 587 BCE marks a turning point in the history of the region, as it was from this juncture that the region was successively ruled by foreign powers starting with Babylonian, Persian, Greek Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Empires, Islamic and Christian crusaders, Ottoman Empire, and the British Empire, until it was finally liberated and officially freed for the Jews in 1948. Despite undergoing twenty-five centuries of oppression and regression, Israel kept its spirit of nationhood as alive and sparkling as it had begun.
In 538 BCE, Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, which allowed the exiled Jews to return to their holy land and eventually undertook the restoration of their temple. However, after the conquest of Persians by the Greeks, Israel came under the dominion of the Seleucids. Jews again faced hostility from king Antiochus-4. He banned the practice of Judaism and defiled the restored temple by sacrificing a Pig. This hurt the Jewish pride, and the Maccabees led by Judah revolted. They succeeded in establishing an autonomous rule for a very short period as the Romans again invaded them. The Roman army led by Titus conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE. Jewish people were then exiled and dispersed to the Diaspora across Europe and other nations. Subsequently, the Romans decimated the Jewish community, renamed Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina and Judea as Palaestina to obliterate Jewish identification with the Land of Israel, the word Palestine, and the Arabic word Filastin originating from this Latin name. The handful of Jews who remained there went through horrible experiences at the hands of the occupiers. Some of the most famous and important Jewish texts were composed in Israel at that time.
During the Byzantine era, the Jewish people faced great hostility. The hate propaganda and aggressive Christian techniques of the Byzantines curtailed Jewish dispersion to decline drastically. The administrative mechanism was completely utilised for converting the non-Christians Governor Constantias Gallus had destroyed the major Jewish cities many times, and in the early 5th century, the emperor himself had ordered official persecution of Jews. They were not allowed to build new Jew temples or hold any administrative post. Marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew was legislated as a national crime, as was a Christian converting into Judaism. He curtailed the social rights of Jews and challenged their customary privileges. Violation of his orders were met with corporal penalties, exile and seizure of property. Those who resisted were forced to adopt Christianity, and the temples were converted into Churches.
In 636 CE, Palaestina was captured by the Muslims, and they changed its name to Jund Filastin, ‘the dome of Rock’—a mosque was built over by destroying the second sacred temple of the Jews. Muslims Islamised the entire region, replacing Christianity as the major religion. However, in 1099 CE, the Crusade was flagged off by the Pope in Europe, resulting in the capture of Jerusalem, which converted to Catholicism. Most non-Christians were indiscriminately massacred, and many were taken away as slaves. However, after the Crusaders were defeated for a short span, the Mongols and Ayyubids ruled the region for a few decades which the Egyptian Muslims succeeded.
Meanwhile, the Christians seeking retribution undertook wholesale execution, expulsion, and persecution of the Jews in entire Europe. It took a gruesome shape in countries like England, France, Spain and Portugal. Many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity; however, many secretly practiced Judaism. Others moved to North Africa, Poland and to the lands which the Ottoman Empire ruled.
After the Ottomans took over Israel in the 16th century, the Jewish population increased and gave rise to a new national movement called Zionism. After World War-I, the Ottoman Empire was taken over by the British. During World War-II, the entire Jewish community stood in support of the British fighting Nazi Germany. Most historians estimate that about six million Jews were exterminated in Europe during the Holocaust ordered by Hitler. However, post the Holocaust, Zionist leaders actively promoted the idea of an independent Jewish nation. With the end of Great Britain’s mandate in Palestine and the British Army’s withdrawal, Israel has officially declared an independent state on May 14, 1948. The reverse migration of Jews to their homeland has been termed as Aliyah, and until 1948, there were different waves of Aliyah through which more than a few million Jews have headed back to their motherland.
Zionism was first framed in 1890. Since then, it grew into a mighty nationalist movement that helped liberate the Jews from the clutches of the European Christians and Arab oppression. It gave them the power to re-establish Jewish self-determination on the very soil of the Holy Land, which had given birth to their religion. They consider Judaism to be their religion as well as their nationality. They all carried a strong conviction of reclaiming their ancestral motherland, Israel. Due to this combined effort through political and religious commitment, they were able to bring back hundreds of thousands of Jews from across the globe and succeeded in reclaiming their Jewish identity. Despite being scattered outside Israel, the Diaspora had managed to retain, cultivate and establish a rich cultural life. They followed their culture wherever they resided and passed it on to the succeeding generations. This is the ‘Chiti—the soul’ of Israeli nationhood, which has made them outstanding. The Zionist movement was an apparatus through which Jews have successfully established a Jewish homeland in Israel.
(The writer is an MBA and writes on current affairs and integral humanism)