Sixty years is a short time in the life of a state. Our own young United States has just had its 219th anniversary; the unified state of England goes back roughly 1,000 years. But to think of Israel as 60 years old may be wrong when its enemies seek to portray it as an alien usurper. In fact, the Jews have lived in the land of Israel for over 3,300 years since 1312 B.C. (or B.C.E., before the Common Era, for those who dislike tying the calendar to Christianity). They had lived there at least 1,800 years before the Arab conquest of 635 C.E., which lasted only 22 years.
The heroic theme of Jewish history—survival of the people and their values—was best exemplified recently in a gathering connecting ancient Israel, the Holocaust, and the present-day predicament of Israel, beset by aggressors. The meeting was in the tunnels under the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the last remnant of the Second Temple dedicated in 515 after King Solomon's First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586. The Israeli Air Force chief spoke of his role as lead pilot in a three-plane F-15 flight over the Auschwitz concentration camp, the pilots carrying with them the names of Jews murdered there more than 60 years ago. He ended by justifying Israeli military power as a first line of defense against any repeat of what happened in Auschwitz, closing with the now famous phrase, "Never again." Another Israeli general pointed to the archeological illumination all about the group, illustrating the history of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, going back to the First Temple. He said, "You heard what we are determined to fight against, but this is what the Israelis are fighting for."
Ancestral home. Jerusalem was the Jewish capital for over 3,300 years and never was the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity. King David founded Jerusalem; Muhammad never set foot in it. Jews pray facing Jerusalem, and Muslims face Mecca. Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Old Testament and not once in the Koran. The Jews have never had any other national homeland. When the Roman Empire later extended its rule to Israel and colonized the land, the Romans decimated the Jewish population and exiled the Jews to Europe and other parts of the empire. In A.D. 70, the Second Temple was destroyed by Titus, who returned to Rome in 71 with 14,000 Jews as slaves and forced them to build the Roman Coliseum. But the Jews never lost the connection to their ancestral home.
Through the centuries of Ottoman rule and the years of the British mandate after World War I, the Jews kept faith in their history and came back—to the displeasure of the others ("Arabs" for short) who had moved in. Deadly Arab riots against Jews occurred in 1920, 1929, and 1936-1939. In World War ii, the Jews themselves fought on two fronts, fending off attacks by the Arabs who favored the Nazis and serving alongside the British against Hitler. There was not one inch on all the surface of the Earth that the Jews could call home until the 1947 vote of the United Nations in favor of the establishment of Jewish and Arab states. The United States under President Truman was the first to recognize the new state. In his book Counsel to the President, Clark Clifford describes how Truman sometimes cited Deuteronomy 1:8: "Behold, I have given up the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord has sworn unto your fathers through Abraham, through Isaac, and through Jacob."
Thus ended the longest exile ever endured by a people. After almost 2,000 years of homelessness and wandering since the Romans sacked Jerusalem, the Jewish people came miraculously home.
This is a story without parallel, of a love of a people for the land of Israel. In this land in ancient times, the Jewish people were born. In this land in modern times, the Jewish people were reborn. They have never left Israel voluntarily and returned when they could, from more than a hundred countries speaking more than 80 languages, a modern-day gathering of the exiles. More than 3,000 years earlier, Moses had prophesied, "Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back." And so it was.
The day after the vote for partition, Arab gunmen began ambushing Jews, and then five Arab armies invaded. That marked the start of the tragedy that persists today. The Palestinians who were urged by Arab leaders to leave Israel have never been integrated with their coreligionists. All these years since 1948, their "host" countries have held them hostage in camps (and the integrated refugees have now grown to several million people). They cannot be returned, for if that were to happen, there would be no state at all for the Jewish people. The Republican nominee for the presidency in 1940, Wendell Willkie, summed up the competing claims this way: "The Arabs have a good case in Palestine. There is only one thing wrong with it—the Jews have a better case." Time and again, the Palestinians have been offered an Arab state next to Israel: first, in the partition plan of 1947; then, in the Oslo accords; then at Camp David in 2000; and finally, in countless declarations since then by both Israeli and international leaders. All have met with a violent rejection by the Palestinians and by the Arab countries.