Jewish Journal

Homeless for 1,900 Years… and Then a U.N. Vote

When I left for Israel recently for a quick one-week trip to visit my son, I didn’t expect I’d be experiencing a cross section of Israeli society. We started in a funky hotel in Tel Aviv, where we were surrounded by hipsters, healing spas and fusion restaurants. Then, instead of spending Shabbat in Jerusalem (as I usually do), we were invited by my cousin, the mayor of Dimona, to spend Shabbat in his little town in the Negev Desert.

If Tel Aviv is SoHo, Dimona is Sinai. This is a desert town that looks like a desert town — humble, simple, hardworking. The majority of residents have Sephardic or Russian roots. Building housing is a top priority — there’s construction everywhere. There’s also plenty of faith: In a town of 40,000, there are about 70 synagogues.

After Dimona, we drove north to the mystical city of Tsfat, where we visited the graves of holy men like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Tsfat is one of those places where every day feels like Shabbat. But in the midst of its devout enclaves, you’ll also find hip art galleries that celebrate beauty and not just Torah.

At each stop, we tasted a different Israel. We could have visited countless other places throughout the country and experienced similar diversity. This is part of the miracle of Israel — it changes everywhere you go. How could it not? Jews have come from all over the world to populate the Jewish state, joining the indigenous Jews and Arabs and Bedouins who were already here.

Today, more than 100 nationalities are represented in this tiny country. There’s even a group of African-Americans known as the Black Hebrews, who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many of them live in Dimona, where I got to meet one of their leaders, Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda. The prince told me he grew up in Oklahoma, where his parents taught him the Old Testament and to love the land of Israel. (I filmed our interview and will post it on jewishjournal.com.)

The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning.

In one short week, I tasted the multicultural miracle of Israel, a miracle that would never have happened had it not been for another miracle that preceded it 70 years ago — a vote at the United Nations. This seminal event, which is the subject of this week’s cover story by historian Gil Troy, is not without its complications.

On the Saturday night of Nov. 29, 1947, the newly formed United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York at the Queens Museum to vote on Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. After weeks of endless drama and lobbying for votes, the final tally was 33 member states voting in favor, 13 against and 10 abstaining.

The Jewish state was on its way.

But as you’ll see in our cover story, the drama was only starting. The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning. This rejection was so loud and threatening that the resolution itself expressed concern:

“The [British] Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations. Thus, the Commission will be faced with the problem of how to avert certain bloodshed on a very much wider scale than prevails at present ….”

As the historian Troy writes, the resolution was “cursed” by the adamant Arab rejection of a plan that could have brought “70 years of peace.” Instead, it has brought 70 years of conflict that continues to this day. As fate would have it, Nov. 29 also marks International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually by the United Nations. Just last year, the General Assembly passed six resolutions condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians.

It’s not a coincidence that the Nov. 29 vote does not rank as high as other dates in Israeli lore, certainly not as high as May 14, 1948, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion officially declared the State of Israel, or even Nov 2, 1917, when the Balfour Declaration called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

If anything, the proximity of the 1947 vote to the Holocaust has only fed the false narrative that the creation of Israel came only because of that darkest horror, overlooking the 3,500-year Jewish connection to the land.

“The delegitimizing narrative claims Europeans sinned by killing 6 million Jews from 1939 to 1945, then exorcised their guilt by ‘giving’ Palestinian land to the Jews on Nov. 29, 1947,” Troy writes.

For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.

This delegitimizing narrative has fueled the lingering hostility toward the Jewish state, embodied today by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

And yet, despite all the rejections and wars and condemnations and anti-Israel resolutions and terror attacks and calls for boycotts, here stands Israel — the little country that could, the little country that accepted the Partition Plan, the little country that is still standing, still thriving, still arguing, still creating, still struggling, still innovating, still fighting back, still making do with what it has.

Animosity or not, after 1,900 years of homelessness, the founders of Israel simply could not refuse an offer to return to the land of their ancestors. For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.