Written in December 2016.
2017 will be the anniversary of the following events in the recent history of Israel:
120 YEARS SINCE THE FIRST ZIONIST CONGRESS.
120 years ago the First Zionist Congress took place in Basel, Switzerland, chaired by Theodore Herzl. On August 30th 1897 the Congress stated: ‘Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.’ Following this Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary (September 3, 1897): ‘Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word – which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.’ Remarkably it was fifty years later in 1947 that the UN General Assembly voted in favour of the partition of Palestine which led to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14th 1948 by David Ben Gurion.
100 YEARS SINCE THE BALFOUR DECLARATION IN 1917.
When Herzl said in 1897 that the idea of a Jewish home in Palestine would be greeted with ‘universal laughter’ he was no doubt thinking of the fact that at that time the whole area was under the rule of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. As Sunni Muslims they were not likely to want to plant a Jewish homeland within their territory. However in 1917 the Turks joined the German side in World War One and found themselves on the losing side as the British army under General Allenby defeated them and took possession of Jerusalem in 1917.
At the time Lord Balfour was the Foreign Secretary. Balfour became friends with Chaim Weizmann, a leader of the Zionist movement in Britain, who persuaded Balfour of the case for a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. In November 1917 the famous Balfour Declaration was issued:
‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’
The Balfour Declaration and most of its wording were incorporated into international law in the San Remo Declaration in 1920 and Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. This was to prove a crucial factor in the next decisive event in the rebirth of Israel, the UN decision to partition Palestine and allow the State of Israel to come into being. Historians say this would never have come about without the Balfour Declaration and its incorporation into the Covenant of the League of Nations. Abba Eban, Israel’s one time Foreign Minister and most articulate advocate, described it as ‘the authentic starting point of the process that led to the State of Israel.’
70 YEARS SINCE UN RESOLUTION 181 ON THE PARTITION OF PALESTINE.
The British administration in Palestine failed to follow through on the Balfour Declaration, finding themselves caught between competing Jewish and Arab claims to the land. Arab opposition to Jewish migration into Palestine caused them first of all to restrict Jews from entering the land and then close it off altogether in 1939, stranding hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, many of whom became victims of Hitler’s Final Solution. After the war, the British refused to allow the survivors of the Nazi nightmare to find sanctuary in Palestine.
Facing a growing conflict with Jews and Arabs in the land, the British finally turned the issue over to the United Nations. On 29 November 1947, 50 years after Herzl’s declaration at the Basel Zionist Congress, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions (including the British), the resolution to partition Palestine. This led to the creation of the State of Israel when David Ben Gurion proclaimed on May 14th 1948, ‘By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the basis of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine to be known as the State of Israel.’
The next day five Arab armies from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded. Palestinian Arab leader Jamal Husseini promised, ‘The blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East’. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, said: ‘We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in’. Arab leaders virtually quoted the words of Psalm 83.4 ‘Come let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.’
Yet against all the odds Israel pushed back the Arab armies seeking their destruction. At the end of the War of Independence in 1949 its borders were fixed at the cease fire lines, giving Israel more territory than originally allocated to it by the UN. Jerusalem was divided between the western half of the city in Israel and the eastern half in Arab hands. In 1950 King Hussein claimed the area for Jordan, renaming it ‘the West Bank’. During this time Jews were expelled from the historic Old City of Jerusalem where the holy places are and prevented from visiting them.
50 YEARS SINCE THE SIX DAY WAR AND JERUSALEM COMING UNDER JEWISH CONTROL.
In June 1967 Israel faced attack once more from her neighbours, with the threat coming particularly from Egyptian leader Nasser to make an end of the Jewish state. Instead of being ‘driven into the sea’ Israel emerged from the Six Day War victorious, defeating the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan and ending up in control of the whole of Jerusalem, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), the Golan Heights, Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.
For Israel, taking the West Bank meant taking possession of the biblical region of Judea Samaria which contains the most significant places in their history from a biblical point of view, including the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron. When the Israelis entered the Old City of Jerusalem on 7 June 1967, the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Force, Moshe Dayan, stood at the Western Wall and said: ‘We have regained our holiest place, never again to depart.’ Since that time Jerusalem has been run as a united city with Jewish settlement expanding around it on all sides. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in the area of the West Bank, generally preferring to use its biblical name, Judea and Samaria. In 1980 Israel issued its Jerusalem Law, stating that united Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel.
ACCIDENT OF HISTORY OR FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY?
Behind all these events we see the hand of God, overruling human opposition and bringing to pass the birth of the State of Israel in fulfilment of biblical prophecy. Christians who believed these prophecies were involved in supporting their fulfilment. ‘Balfour 100,’ a Christian group which seeks to celebrate the centenary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, has produced a leaflet which says ‘Christians and biblical teaching were instrumental in the events leading to the Declaration, going right back to the Reformation. This gives Christians who love the Jewish people and the state of Israel a desire to celebrate the centenary of this short but vital document along with the Jewish community.’
There were many examples of past Christian support for Israel’s restoration. In 1897 Herzl was encouraged by William Hechler, an Anglican clergyman who read his book ‘The Jewish State’ and declared to him ‘Your book is inspired. … You are of your people; and your prophets, involved for all time in the sufferings of Israel … God is calling you to your long forgotten Jerusalem. And I say to you with deep emotion, and will repeat it without ceasing, God is with you and you will succeed, whatever happens.’ (‘Hear O Israel’ by Grattan Guinness p 79). Hechler’s high level contacts as a diplomatic chaplain enabled Herzl to gain valuable patronage for Zionism and helped envision influential leaders, giving much needed support and encouragement which helped to birth Zionism as a political movement.
In 1917 as he produced the Balfour Declaration, Lord Balfour was not just influenced by Jewish Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann, but also by his upbringing in a Christian home where ‘belief in the Second Advent of Christ and the preceding return of the Jews to Palestine were part of these convictions and many a chapter of Isaiah was read at the regular family reading.’ (Hear O Israel p 89). Other leading politicians of the day including Prime Minister Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were similarly influenced to look well on Zionism and support the Balfour Declaration because of a biblical Christian influence. Across the Atlantic President Wilson confirmed United States support for the Balfour Declaration, which was vital to its acceptance. He attributed his support to his Christian upbringing, writing to Rabbi Stephen Wise, ‘To think that I, a son of the Manse, should be able to restore the Holy Land to its people.’
Many prominent Christians in the 19th century including well-known 19th century evangelical leaders such as William Wilberforce, Lord Shaftesbury, Bishop J C Ryle and Charles Spurgeon, believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still has a special love for his chosen people, and that the nation that blessed Israel would be blessed of God. Bishop Ryle wrote: ‘In at least ten prophets the gathering and restoration of the Jews in the latter days are expressly mentioned. They all predict the final gathering of the Jewish nation from the four quarters of the globe and their restoration to their own land.’ Some relevant passages on this subject from the prophets are these:
‘He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.’ Isaiah 11.11-2, see also Isaiah 43.5-6. This would be a sign to the nations of the world: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’ Jeremiah 31.10. Ezekiel 36 prophesies a time when the ‘mountains of Israel shall shoot forth your branches and yield fruit to My people Israel for they are about to come’ and the Lord will ‘gather you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.’
Jesus also spoke the parable of the fig tree, seen as a symbol of Israel’s national life, being revived as a sign of His return. This is interpreted to mean that Israel will be restored as a nation before His second coming: Matthew 24.32-33: ‘Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!’
OPPOSITION TO BALFOUR 100.
On the other hand there are those who wish to use these anniversaries for anti-Israel purposes. Palestinian Authority President Abbas called on the UK to apologise for the Balfour Declaration during a speech at the United Nations in New York. ‘We ask Great Britain, as we approach 100 years since this infamous declaration, to apologise to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, misery and injustice this declaration created and to act to rectify these disasters and remedy its consequences, including by the recognition of the state of Palestine.’ A Balfour apology campaign has been launched calling for the UK Government to ‘officially apologise for its past colonial crimes in Palestine’.
For this opposition, Israel is seen as the ‘naqba’, the disaster. Apart from preventing the aims of Arab nationalism, it is seen as contradicting the Muslim view of history. In 638 the Muslims took control of Jerusalem, building the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa mosques on the Temple Mount. Jerusalem is seen as the third holiest city in Islam (despite the fact that it is never mentioned in the Koran). Apart from the brief Crusader period different Muslim empires ruled Jerusalem and the area until 1917. According to Muslim belief once a territory has come under Islamic rule it should remain so until the Day of Judgement.
The UN and most of the nations of the world want Israel to accept the ‘two state solution’, which means setting up a Palestinian state in the territories occupied by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967. This includes the Old City and eastern side of Jerusalem which has been a central issue in discussions over the division of the territory. Many in Israel see this as a hostile proposal which would give the Palestinian Authority territory to use as a springboard from which to destroy what remains of Israel.
Some on Israel’s side, like right wing Israel Home leader Naftali Bennett, are saying that it is time for Israel to abandon the ‘two state solution’ and to annex the West Bank. On the other side Turkish leader Erdogan has said that ‘it is the common duty of all Muslims to embrace the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem’ and that ‘safeguarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque should not be left to children, armed with nothing but stones’. This has been interpreted as a call to arms for all Muslims to bring Jerusalem back to Muslim rule. Iran has been more direct saying that Israel will be destroyed within 10 years. It is arming and equipping itself and terrorist groups, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, to do this. Iran is already infiltrating the West Bank and intends to supply arms for the ‘war in the West Bank.’ If Israel were to pull out of the West Bank, it is likely that Hamas would take over and open the way for Iran to infiltrate the region, setting off the next war.
This situation ties in with the prophecy of Zechariah:
‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.’ Zechariah 12.3.
This means that there is a time coming when the status of Jerusalem is going to be a matter of concern to all nations and that those who come against it are going to suffer as a result. The prophecy of Joel 3.1-2 tells of a time when the nations of the world will ‘divide My land,’ leading to a world war over Jerusalem:
‘For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land.’
As we see all these anniversaries coming together in 2017 (5777-8 in the Jewish year), we should watch this space for more developments in the countdown to the return of the Messiah Jesus to His land and His people! He is coming again in fulfilment of prophecies in both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, this time to take up His kingdom and rule the world in righteousness and peace from the restored Temple in Jerusalem.
‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2.2-4)
For more on this subject send for our booklet, ‘Messiah, Israel and the End of Days.’