“None of the men in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry really meant to be taken literally in threatening to ‘drive the Jews into the sea’. But they failed to remember that their foes had just seen six million of their kind driven into Hitler’s oven.”
– (O Jerusalem!)
Some countries fight for their freedom while some, like Israel, for their birth.
I cannot even begin to tell you the gem this book, O Jerusalem!, is. With more than three years of it lying in my to-read section of the closet, it is now, in 2018, that I picked it up, only to finish it with a sigh, a sigh not of relief or soreness, but of admiration, of wonderment.
Not many of us realize the struggle, the sacrifice, the rigor that goes behind building up a nation. You might not realize it, I might not realize it, but, I reckon, there won’t be a single Jew who wouldn’t know what took their nation, their Israel, to come into existence. Why is that? Read “O Jerusalem!”.
History-lovers would love this book, and if you’re not one, mind you, this book might turn you into one.
Israel is a country that came into its being in 1948. But it was at the expense of thousands of lives, months of struggle and loads and loads of passion. What a daunting task it is to own even a small part of land; imagine the struggle that must have gone into owning the land for a full-fledged country. For me, it’s beyond my comprehension.
Now, if the book is about the birth of Israel, why is it named “O Jerusalem”, not “O Israel” or simply “Israel”? A valid question. If Israel was the girl-child, who was intended to be killed by everybody right in the womb of her mother, Jerusalem was its heart; a body cannot survive without its heart, right?
Jerusalem, due to many religious reasons, is considered one of the holiest cities not only by Jews, but by Moslems and Christians too. And therefore, it still is an ongoing debate and, perhaps, an unending struggle to decide who owns Jerusalem, that who has deeper roots in the city, that who can finally claim Jerusalem as their own city – Jewish, Muslims or Christians.
Even though the book doesn’t answer this question, it seems the only and an apt choice to name “O Jerusalem” as “O Jerusalem”.
Now, like “Freedom at Midnight”, this book too spans over the period of a year, here, from November 29th, 1947 to July 17th, 1948.
It all started on 29th November, 1947, when UN declared the partition of Palestine among Arabs and Jews, allowing Jews, who have been struggling for centuries to have their own country, to have their own nation in their part of Palestine, after English rule would end in 1948. This proposal was considered the only wise resolution to the thirty years of struggle between Jews and Arabs for the control of Palestine.
Arabs, with hatred and abhorrence for Jews (feelings were mutual though), couldn’t even stand the thought of giving up their land to Jews, to allow them to make their nation. Jews, on the other hand, couldn’t have wished and hoped for a better proposal. But Jews knew it was the time between this declaration and Britishers’ departure that would decide if the UN’s resolution will be realized, if Jews will get their own country. And thus started the preparations for an inevitable war between Arabs and Jews.
Not what the future of Palestine’s impending days held appeared in the streets soon after UN’s declaration. Jews rejoicing the promise of their nation in the streets of Palestine, Britishers joining them, even some Arabs who have been living with their neighboring Jews for years joined the celebration. It was an illusion for some eyes, to witness all the existing communities in Palestine dancing, enjoying and rejoicing at the same place, at the same time and for the same news. But it wasn’t. It undoubtedly was a rare sight but, certainly, not an illusion.
Soon, it all came to an end, never to appear again, ever, on the Palestine’s streets, which soon would be doomed to months of rubble, debris, wounded bodies and stench of deads.
David Ben-Gurion, the founder of Israel, soon after the UN’s declaration, knew what they were heading to. It was a do or die situation, which either will mark the culmination of a community’s two-thousand-years old hope or the death of a community itself.
What the community of Jews wanted was a reasonable wish; to own one’s own country in the world where almost every community has its own. But, since centuries, Jewish are the people who have been the victims of oppression and cruelty. Be it Germany, where millions of them were killed in the horrendous way possible by infamous Hitler, or any other country like Poland and Russia, Jews have suffered, yet, somehow, always survived what could have led to the extinction of a community. And now was the time, Gurion knew, to own what they deserve.
Not that Gurion was unaware of their community’s shortcomings; there were not enough people to combat, not enough ammunition to fight with, not enough funds to buy some, not enough allies they could rely upon for any help, not enough food and water to sustain its civilians in the coming days of war. Everything was against Jews, expect one – their passion and desire to own a country. And today, there, amongst Arabic and Islamic nations, stands Israel, strong and fierce.
Where Jews had nothing in their favor, Arabs couldn’t ask for anything more. Possessor of enough people, enough ammunition, enough funds and enough support (from Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Egypt), Arabs had everything that could possibly be needed to win a war, except one thing – the passion and desire that Jews had. Which doesn’t seem amusing if looked at, as one community involved in the war had its existence and survival at stake and the other had its pride.
As soon as could have been possible, both – Jews and Arabs, got engaged in arranging what they would be needing the most in upcoming days, ammunitions and trained people.
Jew’s community, which wasn’t even half of Arab’s, turned their weakness into strength by not restricting their army to be inclusive of just boys and men. Jewish army had, more or less, as many girls and women as it had boys and men. A man as old as fifty and a girl as young as twelve, played significant roles during the war. There’s a reason why it is said that it took the sacrifice of an entire Jewish generation to bring a nation of theirs into existence.
Golda Meir, another significant figure in the history of Israel, took into her hands for arranging funds and if it weren’t for her, Jews would never have gotten enough of their artillery and ammunitions and, also, the food and water. It was those funds that got the Jewish soldiers their jackets to survive the cold months of Palestine.
But the greatest fear looming over Jews during 1947-1948 was even graver, that was of food and water. There neither were enough sources nor enough funds to get food for the entire Jewish community, including their soldiers, and be stored in warehouses. And those gravest of fears did come true. There was a phase when soldiers were surviving the whole day on a cup of tea and loaves of bread. Civilians were in poorer condition.
Once Britishers left Palestine in May of 1948, and the Zionist leadership announced Israel’s birth along with its independence, the hell broke loose in Palestine. It was not that life was any easier with Britishers’ presence but the situation steeped down to as low a point as possible.
Why is it that wherever English rule ended, it left the bloodshed and massacre behind? It was in India in 1947, then in Palestine in 1948.
The war, without any British intervention, started and so did the death toll. Both the communities used the tactics of threatening the other community of fleeing from their villages and evacuating them, which otherwise would be massacred; many of these produced the desired and required results too. What made evacuation tougher for Jewish civilians was the absence of any other place they could go to. Arabs had the neighboring countries but Jews had none, and thus, even if they wanted, they couldn’t leave.
Lives of civilians became hell living underground and in basements. Constant shelling by Arabs made it impossible for Jews to even move out on streets. Electricity of the Jewish villages was gone for entire nights, as any light would give Arabs the hint of their location, making it easier for them to shell the place. Water, which before was at least enough to sustain, had soon become meager and insufficient to meet even the least of the requirement levels. Children kept on crying of hunger and thirst. The wave of starvation was looming over Jews.
Insufficient meals weakened the Jewish army too. Many, deprived of food as well as sleep, fainted in the battles, which led to Jewish surrenders in many areas. But they fought; they fought, with their blood, sweat and lives, despite every possible hurdle and obstacle.
In fact, there was the mention of a fight in the book which took me by complete surprise. Refugees, who had just gotten away from a concentration camp, were shipped to Palestine. They were the people who had just escaped the tormenting camps in the hope of getting to their Promised Land, Jerusalem. But, to their dismay, they were to become the part of a Jewish force, which was to battle the Arabs. None of those refugees knew Hebrew, the only language the Jewish leader over there knew.
The only enemy that Jews couldn’t win against was time, and here too, time was what Jewish leader was short of. Yet, a resolution was reached upon. Those refugees, now the soldiers, were taught few Hebrew words that would help them to understand the orders of their leader during the battle.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this incident, like many others, as much as surprised me, inspired me too. And this was another element that Arabs lacked – unity. Even Glubb, the British soldier who lead and trained Transjordan’s Arab legion, had said, ‘It makes it terribly difficult to operate a war against an external enemy when you are under the constant menace of hysterical riots by your own people.’
Arabs suffered casualties too. Their civilians suffered too. There soldiers died too.
In spite of having the best of everything they lacked the drive, passion and unity, which eventually led to the loss of their people. If they had not underestimated the Jews, there was no chance that Jews could win and Israel could arise.
Jews were on the verge of surrender, when UN’s intervention saved them and offered them what they lacked the most – time. If it weren’t for a 30-day ceasefire in the June-July of 1948, Israel might not be standing there where it’s today. The moment the proposal was accepted by both the communities, Jews knew they could finally realize their centuries-old dream, and Arabs (some of the Arab leaders who were against accepting the ceasefire) knew they had given their enemy the opportunity of defeating them.
One of the Arab leaders noted – *‘If we could not defeat them when they lacked everything, how can we win when they will have everything.’
And as it turned out to be true, during the pause of those 30-days, Jews got everything they needed. Ammunitions reached Israel, untrained soldiers were trained, Israeli fighter-planes took their first flight, warehouses were filled with food that would last for a long one year. As deprived and weak Israel was before the pause, as stronger it turned into once the ceasefire ended.
And then it was just a matter of time that Jewish army’s organized and proper training got Israel its land. But what Israel wanted the most, Jerusalem, couldn’t be taken by its people. What Jews, mostly, had with them, a plan B in case of failure of plan A, they didn’t have one while fighting for Jerusalem. And absence of plan B made Jerusalem slip out of Jewish hands during the July of 1948.
Finally, UN’s ultimatum got issued to the warring parties in Middle East calling for an immediate and indefinite end to the fighting, which Arabs accepted, and fixed ceasefire in Jerusalem for 5 AM of July 17th, forty-eight hours before it’d take effect in the rest of the country.
And even though only for some time, but the raging fire (the undivided and then divided) Palestine was burning in ceased.
What other name was pondered over for the Jewish state, which other country’s area was considered to have Jewish state on, how and why a new road was created to Jerusalem by Jews amidst the war, were Arabs’ allies its foes, and many other such interesting stories and facts are hidden in this treasure. I was told that reading this book would be one of my biggest investments and I’m glad so was the case. It took me a month to finish it but, in the end, it was worth it.
Though, unlike in “Freedom at Midnight”, I found a few typos in this book. But such minor issues can be overlooked as the knowledge the book provides and the extreme extensive research that must have gone behind writing it surpasses, at least, my uptake.
Another element that I loved about the book was the heading of every chapter. Even though, in some cases, it gave out the crux of the subject matter of that particular chapter, the names of all the chapters were so precise and apt in context of the subsequent content, that they made me realize the significance of headings.
Below statement in the book says a lot,
“‘The Holy Places,’ said the Syrian, ‘are going to pass through long years of war, and peace will not prevail there for generations.’”
– (O Jerusalem!)
*Not the exact words as mentioned in the book. But the context remains same.