Study Equates Zionist Pioneers with Arab Terrorists

February 26, 2013 2:15 am 0 comments

Israeli President Shimon Peres places flowers on the grave of early Zionist activist Yosef Trumpeldor in Tel Hai, Israel on Feb. 21, 2013. Photo: Mark Neyman/GPO/Flash90

The film is grainy and amateurish, but the image is stirring: one-armed Yosef Trumpeldor, Zionist national hero, ploughing a field in the Galilee in 1913.

By coincidence, the 100-year-old film clip of one of the most remarkable figures in Israel’s history was posted on YouTube shortly before Trumpeldor’s name appeared in the news in connection with the controversial study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that was released in February.

The study, titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives?,” was funded by the U.S. State Department and carried out by a Jerusalem-based group, the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Staff researchers examined books used in Israeli and Palestinian schools and concluded that both sides are equally guilty of incitement against the other.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad praised the study, which he said “confirms that Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement.” The study’s co-director, Prof. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, said it was “amazing” that Palestinian textbooks are not harsher, in view of what he called “the atrocities that Palestinians are living under.”

Yosef Trumpeldor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Israeli Ministry of Education, however, called the study “biased and unprofessional,” and three members of the international Scientific Advisory Panel overseeing the study rejected their colleagues’ methodology and conclusions. Yale University professor Bruce Wexler, who designed the study, responded that Israeli officials who have questioned the study “make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

One of the most controversial sections of the study dealt with the textbooks’ promotion of “martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” The study found passages in Palestinian books such as: “Every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!” and “With all this, the call to raise the overall performance to the level of shedding one’s blood becomes a sacred national right which it is difficult to relinquish or be lenient on.”

The study then argued that Israeli textbooks likewise promote “the value of martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” As evidence, it cited two books that described Yosef Trumpeldor as a hero and quoted his dying words, “No matter, it is good to die for our country.”

“Trumpeldor’s heroic defense of his home is a very different kind of ‘martyrdom’ from that frequently associated with the Palestinian movement,” Prof. Gil Troy of McGill University, author of the book Why I Am a Zionist, told JNS.org. “To overlook that point, and implicitly compare Trumpeldor’s death in defense to suicide bombers or any kind of terrorism in offense—which Palestinians frequently call ‘martyrdom operations’—is like comparing a policeman and an armed robber because both have guns. Trumpeldor died defending his home and country, not slaughtering innocents to advance a political goal.”

As a teenager growing up in Russia in the late 1800s, Trumpeldor was attracted to Zionism as well as the pacifism and communalism of the philosopher Leo Tolstoy. “He did not have a trace of militarism in his character,” Prof. Anita Shapira, a leading Israeli historian of Zionism, has written. Nonetheless, Trumpeldor served with distinction in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, suffering wounds that cost him his left arm. Despite his injuries, he requested and was granted permission to return to the battlefront. While held captive by the Japanese, Trumpeldor formed a Zionist group in the P.O.W. camp and began making plans settle in Turkish-ruled Palestine.

Trumpeldor arrived in the Holy Land in 1912 and, together with a small group of likeminded pioneers, settled at the Migdal farm, a fledgling Jewish settlement in the Galilee, on the site of what had been a Jewish town in biblical times. (A British visitor to the area in 1879 reported seeing a gravesite that was said to be that of Dina, daughter of the biblical patriarch Jacob, but there are no signs of it today.) A harsh environment and primitive living quarters were the norm.

One hundred years ago this spring, a movie camera captured images of those remarkable early days of Zionism. “To the best of my knowledge this brief film clip is the only existing footage of Trumpeldor,” the noted Israeli filmmaker Moshe Levinson told JNS.org. It was originally part of a documentary made in 1913 to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Petach Tikvah. Lost for many decades, the film resurfaced in a Paris archive in 1997 and was included in an Israeli documentary about life in pre-World War I Palestine. In one 10-second sequence about “the firsts furrow after Passover,” Trumpeldor, distinctive because of his handicap, is seen ploughing a field. It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL4z3IOIP-U

After the Migdal project broke up in 1913 over ideological disagreements and other problems, Trumpeldor traveled to Europe as a Zionist emissary. He served as a delegate to the Eleventh Zionist Congress, in Vienna, and then organized Zionist cells in Russia. Returning to Palestine in 1919, Trumpeldor volunteered to work at an Upper Galilee settlement called Tel Hai.

The small kibbutzim and other Jewish settlements in that region had few residents and fewer weapons, making them easy targets for local Arab terrorists. Attacks ranging from robbery to arson and murder were commonplace.

One of the Tel Hai pioneers, Aharon Sher, wrote an article in the Labor Zionist journal Kuntres in early 1920, appealing for men and weapons to be sent to Tel Hai, on the grounds that “A place once settled is not to be abandoned.” That phrase became a popular slogan, especially after Sher was gunned down by Arab terrorists while ploughing a field on Feb. 1, 1920.

Yosef Trumpeldor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Some Zionist leaders favored sending aid to the northern border towns. Yitzhak Tabenkin argued, “If we withdraw from Tel Hai, we will retreat all the way to the desert.” But Menachem Ussishkin, chairman of the Zionist Commission, warned that “we would, by sending young men with arms, anger the Arabs unnecessarily.” Ussishkin eventually changed his mind and reinforcements were sent, but they arrived too late.

On March 1, Arab forces entered Tel Hai on the pretext of searching for illegal weapons, and a battle ensued. Six of the Jewish defenders, including Trumpeldor, were killed.

The last stand at Tel Hai, and Trumpeldor’s dying words, became an inspiration to the young Zionist movement. “This was the first time in Jewish history for two thousand years that Jews had preferred to die in battle rather than to retreat,” Prof. Shapira notes. Yosef Haim Brenner, an early Zionist intellectual and ardent advocate of Jewish-Arab coexistence, called Trumpeldor “a symbol of pure heroism.” Brenner himself was murdered by Arab terrorists just one year later.

In sharp contrast with today’s Arab militants, the Zionists glorified agricultural work and advocated the use of force only as a last resort. “It is not with blood that we wish to redeem our land, it is not by the sword that we wish to conquer it, but, rather, by physical toil,” the journal HaPoel HaTzair asserted. “Yet we will not give up one handful of the soil of our homeland, we will not abandon even one position. And where one has fallen, thousands will come to take his place.”

Interestingly, many of the songs and poems about Tel Hai that were written in the years to follow did not even mention the Arabs. A famous poem by Berl Katznelson, called “Yizkor,” spoke movingly of Trumpeldor and the other fallen defenders without ever identifying their killers.

Because Trumpeldor lived in the era before the major right vs. left ideological splits in the Zionist movement, he was embraced as a hero by both camps. Labor Zionist youth movements made pilgrimages to Trumpeldor’s gravesite, as did the nationalist Betar youth movement, which is named after him. (“Betar” is an acronym; the T stands for Trumpeldor.)

Trumpeldor’s final words have special meaning for Moshe Brodetzky, an American volunteer in Palestine who in 1947 was hospitalized with malaria. “One afternoon, I noticed that one of the nurses who was treating me had been crying,” Brodetzky told JNS.org. “She said she had been at the bedside of a man who was on one of the illegal immigrant boats. He had been doused with burning oil by the British soldiers when he resisted arrest. As he lay dying from his wounds, he had repeated Trumpeldor’s words, ‘No matter, it is good to die for our country.’”

“That man wasn’t comparable to a suicide bomber,” Brodetzky said. “He didn’t want to die and he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone else. Like Trumpeldor, he just wanted to live his life in peace in the Jewish homeland. Those few seconds of film of Trumpeldor working in the field really sum up the difference between him and the Palestinian terrorists to whom he is now being compared. His idea of ‘sacrifice’ was to plough and revive the land that had been neglected by the Arabs, while their idea of ‘sacrifice’ has been to teach their children to hate and kill and be killed, instead of trying to lead productive lives.”

Dr. Rafael Medoff is coauthor, with Prof. Chaim I. Waxman, of the “Historical Dictionary of Zionism.”

The film is grainy and amateurish, but the image is stirring: one-armed Yosef Trumpeldor, Zionist national hero, ploughing a field in the Galilee in 1913.

By coincidence, the 100-year-old film clip of one of the most remarkable figures in Israel’s history was posted on YouTube shortly before Trumpeldor’s name appeared in the news in connection with the controversial study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks that was released in February.

The study, titled “Victims of Our Own Narratives?,” was funded by the U.S. State Department and carried out by a Jerusalem-based group, the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Staff researchers examined books used in Israeli and Palestinian schools and concluded that both sides are equally guilty of incitement against the other.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad praised the study, which he said “confirms that Palestinian textbooks do not contain any form of blatant incitement.” The study’s co-director, Prof. Sami Adwan of Bethlehem University, said it was “amazing” that Palestinian textbooks are not harsher, in view of what he called “the atrocities that Palestinians are living under.”

The Israeli Ministry of Education, however, called the study “biased and unprofessional,” and three members of the international Scientific Advisory Panel overseeing the study rejected their colleagues’ methodology and conclusions. Yale University professor Bruce Wexler, who designed the study, responded that Israeli officials who have questioned the study “make for poor and dangerous national leaders.”

One of the most controversial sections of the study dealt with the textbooks’ promotion of “martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” The study found passages in Palestinian books such as: “Every stone is violated, every square cries out in anger, every nerve is abuzz, death before submission, death before submission, forward!” and “With all this, the call to raise the overall performance to the level of shedding one’s blood becomes a sacred national right which it is difficult to relinquish or be lenient on.”

The study then argued that Israeli textbooks likewise promote “the value of martyrdom-sacrifice through death.” As evidence, it cited two books that described Yosef Trumpeldor as a hero and quoted his dying words, “No matter, it is good to die for our country.”

Trumpeldor’s heroic defense of his home is a very different kind of ‘martyrdom’ from that frequently associated with the Palestinian movement,” Prof. Gil Troy of McGill University, author of the book Why I Am a Zionist, told JNS.org. “To overlook that point, and implicitly compare Trumpeldor’s death in defense to suicide bombers or any kind of terrorism in offense—which Palestinians frequently call ‘martyrdom operations’—is like comparing a policeman and an armed robber because both have guns. Trumpeldor died defending his home and country, not slaughtering innocents to advance a political goal.”

As a teenager growing up in Russia in the late 1800s, Trumpeldor was attracted to Zionism as well as the pacifism and communalism of the philosopher Leo Tolstoy. “He did not have a trace of militarism in his character,” Prof. Anita Shapira, a leading Israeli historian of Zionism, has written. Nonetheless, Trumpeldor served with distinction in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, suffering wounds that cost him his left arm. Despite his injuries, he requested and was granted permission to return to the battlefront. While held captive by the Japanese, Trumpeldor formed a Zionist group in the P.O.W. camp and began making plans settle in Turkish-ruled Palestine.

Trumpeldor arrived in the Holy Land in 1912 and, together with a small group of likeminded pioneers, settled at the Migdal farm, a fledgling Jewish settlement in the Galilee, on the site of what had been a Jewish town in biblical times. (A British visitor to the area in 1879 reported seeing a gravesite that was said to be that of Dina, daughter of the biblical patriarch Jacob, but there are no signs of it today.) A harsh environment and primitive living quarters were the norm.

One hundred years ago this spring, a movie camera captured images of those remarkable early days of Zionism. “To the best of my knowledge this brief film clip is the only existing footage of Trumpeldor,” the noted Israeli filmmaker Moshe Levinson told JNS.org. It was originally part of a documentary made in 1913 to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of the town of Petach Tikvah. Lost for many decades, the film resurfaced in a Paris archive in 1997 and was included in an Israeli documentary about life in pre-World War I Palestine. In one 10-second sequence about “the firsts furrow after Passover,” Trumpeldor, distinctive because of his handicap, is seen ploughing a field. It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NL4z3IOIP-U

After the Migdal project broke up in 1913 over ideological disagreements and other problems, Trumpeldor traveled to Europe as a Zionist emissary. He served as a delegate to the Eleventh Zionist Congress, in Vienna, and then organized Zionist cells in Russia. Returning to Palestine in 1919, Trumpeldor volunteered to work at an Upper Galilee settlement called Tel Hai.

The small kibbutzim and other Jewish settlements in that region had few residents and fewer weapons, making them easy targets for local Arab terrorists. Attacks ranging from robbery to arson and murder were commonplace.

One of the Tel Hai pioneers, Aharon Sher, wrote an article in the Labor Zionist journal Kuntres in early 1920, appealing for men and weapons to be sent to Tel Hai, on the grounds that “A place once settled is not to be abandoned.” That phrase became a popular slogan, especially after Sher was gunned down by Arab terrorists while ploughing a field on Feb. 1, 1920.

Some Zionist leaders favored sending aid to the northern border towns. Yitzhak Tabenkin argued, “If we withdraw from Tel Hai, we will retreat all the way to the desert.” But Menachem Ussishkin, chairman of the Zionist Commission, warned that “we would, by sending young men with arms, anger the Arabs unnecessarily.” Ussishkin eventually changed his mind and reinforcements were sent, but they arrived too late.

On March 1, Arab forces entered Tel Hai on the pretext of searching for illegal weapons, and a battle ensued. Six of the Jewish defenders, including Trumpeldor, were killed.

The last stand at Tel Hai, and Trumpeldor’s dying words, became an inspiration to the young Zionist movement. “This was the first time in Jewish history for two thousand years that Jews had preferred to die in battle rather than to retreat,” Prof. Shapira notes. Yosef Haim Brenner, an early Zionist intellectual and ardent advocate of Jewish-Arab coexistence, called Trumpeldor “a symbol of pure heroism.” Brenner himself was murdered by Arab terrorists just one year later.

In sharp contrast with today’s Arab militants, the Zionists glorified agricultural work and advocated the use of force only as a last resort. “It is not with blood that we wish to redeem our land, it is not by the sword that we wish to conquer it, but, rather, by physical toil,” the journal HaPoel HaTzair asserted. “Yet we will not give up one handful of the soil of our homeland, we will not abandon even one position. And where one has fallen, thousands will come to take his place.”

Interestingly, many of the songs and poems about Tel Hai that were written in the years to follow did not even mention the Arabs. A famous poem by Berl Katznelson, called “Yizkor,” spoke movingly of Trumpeldor and the other fallen defenders without ever identifying their killers.

Because Trumpeldor lived in the era before the major right vs. left ideological splits in the Zionist movement, he was embraced as a hero by both camps. Labor Zionist youth movements made pilgrimages to Trumpeldor’s gravesite, as did the nationalist Betar youth movement, which is named after him. (“Betar” is an acronym; the T stands for Trumpeldor.)

Trumpeldor’s final words have special meaning for Moshe Brodetzky, an American volunteer in Palestine who in 1947 was hospitalized with malaria. “One afternoon, I noticed that one of the nurses who was treating me had been crying,” Brodetzky told JNS.org. “She said she had been at the bedside of a man who was on one of the illegal immigrant boats. He had been doused with burning oil by the British soldiers when he resisted arrest. As he lay dying from his wounds, he had repeated Trumpeldor’s words, ‘No matter, it is good to die for our country.’”

That man wasn’t comparable to a suicide bomber,” Brodetzky said. “He didn’t want to die and he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone else. Like Trumpeldor, he just wanted to live his life in peace in the Jewish homeland. Those few seconds of film of Trumpeldor working in the field really sum up the difference between him and the Palestinian terrorists to whom he is now being compared. His idea of ‘sacrifice’ was to plough and revive the land that had been neglected by the Arabs, while their idea of ‘sacrifice’ has been to teach their children to hate and kill and be killed, instead of trying to lead productive lives.”

Dr. Rafael Medoff is coauthor, with Prof. Chaim I. Waxman, of the “Historical Dictionary of Zionism.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.