By Rich Walter | Center for Israel Education
One hundred twenty years ago, in August 1897, nearly 200 delegates from across Europe and as far away as the United States gathered for three days in Basel, Switzerland, to attend the First Zionist Congress.
The delegates, representing a variety of Jewish backgrounds and interests, had been convened by Theodor Herzl, a journalist, lawyer and author.
The congress would create the World Zionist Organization from disparate musings about Jews reconstituting as a nation in their ancient homeland. The meetings set in motion the political and practical building blocks that led to the creation of Israel as a Jewish state in May 1948.
Addressing the delegates, Herzl proclaimed: “We want to lay the foundations of the edifice which is one day to house the Jewish people. The task is so great that we may treat of it in none but the simplest terms.”
That year, 1897, marked the beginning of the organized movement toward Jewish self-determination, but it is far from the only important milestone we will observe during this year of the “7.”
One hundred years ago, in November 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, articulating support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Marking the achievement of the international legitimacy that Herzl so desired, the contents of the 1917 Balfour Declaration were included in the 1922 League of Nations Articles of Mandate for Palestine.
Seventy years ago, on November 29, 1947, the Zionist movement received a further bolstering of international legitimacy when the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181, calling for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. In just 50 years since the historic gathering in Basel, the movement had achieved success, and six months later the state of Israel was born.
Fifty years ago, in June 1967, Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War led to a fivefold increase in its territory as well as control over more than 1 million Palestinians.
Israel’s victory in six days has affected the country in a variety of ways. The results of the war have shaped domestic and foreign policy and Israel’s relations with the Jewish Diaspora.
These are just three examples of why 2017 is an important year of reflection on many milestones in the history of Jewish self-determination.
Over the course of the year, our Center for Israel Education will highlight these and other important “7” milestones on our website, ww.israeled.org. Included will be educational materials for learners of all ages so that they may immerse in the valued context of a special history.
Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education (www.israeled.org).