Being a Zionist is usually thought to be restricted to the Jews themselves; but not in my case. So how I came to be a Zionist might be worth telling.
Once, when I was much younger, I took a train journey from my then home in Arbroath in Scotland, to Falmouth in Cornwall. The purpose was to join the crew of a new, semi-submersible oil-rig which had just crossed the Atlantic from Texas. It’s a long way from Arbroath to Falmouth.
In those days, trains had compartments and were comfortable. There was some privacy and one might even sleep. For part of the interminable journey, I shared a compartment with a young woman, blonde and attractive. We chatted about many things but mainly, as travellers do, about where we were going. My tale was easy to tell and seemed to me mundane, but hers was interesting.
She, whose named has long since dropped out of memory, was going to Israel. She planned to work on a kibbutz, a communal farm, but unlike most young people who did this, she had no intention of ever returning.
‘For me,’ she said, ‘It’s going home. It’s where I belong.’ This surprised me; her accent was educated north of England, Yorkshire perhaps. She must have seen my confusion or had experienced this reaction before.
‘Don’t let my looks fool you,’ she continued. ‘I’m a Jew.’ There was a flash of defiant pride in her eyes as she said this.
‘But your family — aren’t they all in Britain?’ We had not then been indoctrinated into thinking of ourselves as English or Scottish first: we were just British. As far as I was concerned, my companion was as British as I was.
‘Yes,’ she replied, her eyes flashing again — they were crystal blue — ‘But I’m Jewish and a Zionist.’ She reached into her blouse and drew out a Star of David on a chain. ‘Jewish and a Zionist. I’m going home.’
It was the first time I’d met an overt Zionist, though I knew many Jews. I was puzzled. Zionist? What was that, exactly? When we got to Birmingham New Street, I got down to await the train for Plymouth. We never saw each other again.
That was in 1974. I was eighteen. Only the year before, Israel had fought a desperate war against a cowardly Arab attack that began on the holiday of Yom Kippur. Apparently the Arabs had been paying attention, when the Viet Cong similarly used a festival to disguise an attack. This had been the infamous Tet Offensive in 1968, when they had severely compromised both South Vietnamese and US forces.
The Arab plan was simple: obliterate Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. Spare no-one. Fortunately, the Israeli forces prevailed and after a vicious war during which the world held its breath, the Arab attack collapsed. I was delighted.
I had, throughout my life, as long as I could remember, supported Israel. For me, young as I was, it was simple. Israel was the price the world had paid for Adolf Hitler’s evil. If you didn’t like it, tough. It was a postage stamp of desert and the Arabs had almost limitless land resources — and still do. Jews had a right to a home and Israel was the home they had been given back, to salve the guilty consciences of the rest of us. We did not act to thwart Hitler soon enough, even though we knew full well what he planned to do. After all, he had spent years telling everyone. This was our penance. It was at once our confession of the terrible wrong we had done, our sin of omission, and our redemption. We could feel righteous about ourselves, as long as Israel stood.
I too was a Zionist
It was only after I met the mystery woman on the train that I realised that I too was a Zionist; I had to be. I totally support the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign, Jewish nation, within defensible boundaries, on the ancient homeland of this people, and I always have.
I for one did not give a hoot about the Arab claims. As far as I was concerned, they were not legitimate. It is axiomatic that what is stolen does not become the property of the thief or his successors. The Romans had stolen Israel, but it was still the property of those whom they had robbed: the Jews. I was too young and unsophisticated, then, to understand why the Arab claims existed, though later, after I travelled in their lands, I began to comprehend them.
Comprehend, not accept.
It turns out that I am a Zionist too and perhaps I should thank that blonde woman with the flashing blue eyes. She brought to my attention something that I had never before even considered. It has to do with what Lawrence Durrell called ‘Spirit of Place’. We are all of the place we come from, as should be obvious. What was not then, and did not become so for many years, to me, was that spirit of place might persist: that it might be like a ghost inside all of us. More, that it might persist down the generations, like a marker on our genes, except here, our cultural ones.
I have travelled widely in my life and not one part of that do I regret. But I am still and always shall be, British and specifically, Scottish. It is part of me, my identity. But look how lucky I am. I can close my eyes and see the lowering whalebacks of the Grampians, through whose heather I have so often walked; I can wander, in imagination, through the beech woods of my youth. I can hear the roar of surf on the silver strands and taste the salt spume on my lips, because I have been there. I have lived that and nothing can ever take it away. No matter what I do, or where I go, or even where I lay my mortal corpse and depart this life, a part of Scotland and of Britain will always be with me.
How much more piquant, how much more galling, must it be to have never experienced Home. To have always been the outsider. To have spent millennia dreaming of a far-off land, with its glades of olive trees and the ancient cities of one’s people.
Two thousand years of exile
For the Jews, the exile lasted almost two thousand years, during which time they suffered terribly. They could never carry the image of the shimmering Sea of Galilee or the hallowed walls of Jerusalem in their minds, for they had never seen them. What they did have, however, was a book that told all about them. And this book sustained them throughout their exile, through all the pogroms, the discrimination, the Kristallnachts and the genocides. It held them together and gave them an identity. You are Jews, it told them, and your home is Israel.
More, it said ‘Cleave to me, your only God and I will deliver you unto the Promised Land. I will take you home if you keep faith in me.’
This land, once called Judah and Galilee, belongs to the Jews. The Old Testament is the title deed and countless archaeological studies have backed this up. When the Romans exiled the Jews, their lands did not become Roman; that would be the logic of criminality. So, after Rome fell and the lands were again stolen, this time by Moslem hordes, they did not become the possessions of those Moslems. They remained, as they always had been, Jewish. There can be no legal dispute about this. All those who settled in them, save for returning Jews, were squatters.
The Arabs did not originate in the Holy Land and the cities there were not involved in the creation of that cult. The Moslem Holy cities are Mecca and Medina, hundreds of miles away. Israel is coveted by Moslems precisely because it does belong to the Jews.
Mohammed’s visceral hatred of the Jews stemmed from the fact that they refused to accept him as the new Messiah. In his pretence to be the latest prophet of the same God, Mohammed ordered his followers to rape their cities. This they did, but Moslems have no right to the Holy Land, for Mohammed was a false prophet. The only god he ever represented was that of avarice and evil.
We have listened enough to the lies and sophistry of anti-Semitic voices. Our politicians have too long denied the truth of the Holocaust and countless other abuses, seeking to justify their shameless and continuing, acts of betrayal. We have compromised our integrities, as European nations, to Islam in return for oil. We have equipped Moslem factions with weapons, not only for them to kill, which they have always done, but also to advance our own interest in the region. We divide and conquer with blood and death.
At first, the culprits were Italy, France and Britain; latterly the imperial actors have been the USA, Russia and China. Israel is the key to all of this, the bait we have used to feed the yapping dogs of Intifada, Al Qaeda, Daesh and countless others, but it doesn’t matter: Israel is for the Jews. It is not for the machinations of petty politicians and the benefit of their career trajectories, nor for semi-literate ‘celebrities’ whose unelected voices stifle the media and Internet. And no, it is not for the Muslims either, whose leaders conspired with Hitler to eradicate the rightful owners.
So I say: keep your soiled, sordid little hands away from it.