Jewish Once and Forever
S. Alfassa / 2 Feb 04
Today it was
announced Gaza will become stripped of its Jewish inhabitants and
be handed over to sworn enemies who seek nothing but Jewish destruction.
The land will be given to the enemy as a de-facto reward for the murder
of Jews. The day is swiftly coming when the Arabs will dance in the
streets and celebrate this "victory" over the Jews, and
the United States will sit back and smile in queer accomplishment.
The latest we hear is that Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has indicated
that the removal of the Jews of Gaza commence in June or July of 2004,
little more than 120 days away. Reporting on issues related to Gaza,
a well-known Fox News reporter in America declared that Gaza is one
of the, "Worst hell holes on earth." Easy for an American
to say, one whom has never been there and is emotionally and intellectually
marginalized from the place. But his comments have the risk, like
all propaganda does, to subtly influence viewers. So this demands
a response. What is Gaza, what is its history, and why are the Jews
so attached to it.
The history of Gaza goes back to remotest antiquity and is mentioned
18 times in the Torah. Gaza is where Samson toppled the Philistines,
arch-enemies of the Jews. Like Judea and Samaria, Gaza had its Jews
expelled, and has been occupied by numerous foreign civilizations.
The Israelites who had been in Gaza before the time of Samson (Judges,
16:1), were still in possession of it in the time of Solomon (Kings
I:4:1). After the Babylonian captivity (the first Diaspora and one
we have not recovered from), the Persians had occupied Gaza, which
at the time a large coastal trading city. It was there along the coast
in Gaza where the shekels Nehemiah spoke of in the Tanakh were minted.
In 332 BCE the Persian empire collapsed, and Judea became a Greek
province. When Alexander the Macedonian went from Tyre to Egypt, he
savagely took Gaza putting to death all the men and selling the women
and children as slaves. He left a garrison of soldiers in Gaza, but
eventually the city repopulated and thrived.
Even though the Greeks had been occupying Gaza, Jewish hopes of regaining
the land were always there, just as they were with other cities in
Erets Israel. When Gaza and most of Erets Israel was occupied by the
Syrian Hellenists who had set in motion the destruction of Judaism,
it was Jonathan Maccabee the Kohen Gadol and Jewish warrior who ordered
Gaza to open its gates. When the Greeks refused, Jonathan and his
army of Jewish soldiers destroyed the suburbs around Gaza by burning
them down, and by 143 BCE the city was open to him. From Gaza to Damascus
Jonathan had fought to liberate Jewish cities of idolatry. Unfortunately,
it was short lived, it did not take long for Hellenism to resurface
and once again spread down to Gaza.
In 96 BCE the pro-Hellenist Jewish king and Kohen Gadol, Alexander
Jannaeus, razed Gaza, which then became an empty city. Alexander was
a man who committed horrendous atrocities upon his own people. In
88 BCE the Pharisees and other Torah patriots were so outraged by
the violent and blasphemous behavior of Jannaeus, that they asked
the Greek king of Syria to help destroy him. When the Hellenists came
and defeated Jannaeus, some of the Jewish rebels who had originally
invited them changed their minds, and fought on Jannaeus' side, driving
the Greeks back to Syria. However, Jannaeus resumed power, and subsequently
crucified 800 of the religious Jews who criticized his ways. After
a brief recovery only four decades later, Gaza, as well as all of
Judea, was once more wrested from the Jews, this time by the Romans.
The city was rebuilt and fortified in 57 BCE, and in 30 BCE it was
given by Augustus to King Herod, however it was completely destroyed,
during the same period as the siege of Masada. It was 66 CE and the
large Jewish population of Gaza revolted against the Romans, fiercely
fighting them with intention of liberating the city. Though their
efforts were noble and a true Kiddush Hashem, they were no match for
the large Romans legions who soon instituted pagan gods and placed
the Jews into slavery. The destruction of Gaza was thus complete at
the beginning of the last "Jewish war." After the division
of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine administrations dominated the holy
land from 313 till 636 CE. In the Talmudic period, residence there
was permitted to Jews, though its inhabitants were mostly pagan. Gaza,
like most of Erets Israel, became home to others over subsequent centuries.
Gaza was part of the Jewish homeland long before Islam arrived and
took root. As evidence of the highest order, archeologists have documented
remains of a Roman-period synagogue in Gaza which are found inscribed
on a column located today in the major mosque of Gaza. There is a
Hebrew-Greek inscription complete with Jewish motifs that mention
Hananiah, the son of Jacob. The inscription has been dated to the
second or third centuries, this of course is long before Muhammed
lived. Modern Gaza City is home to a seventh-century synagogue, demonstrating
Jews remained in Gaza at least until Islam arrived. Muslim domination
took place from 636 and lasted till the Christian Crusader period.
It was 1095 when this latter group arrived, bearing swords on order
of the Pope. After the Crusades, the Egyptian Mameluks (Muslim slave-soldiers
used by the Caliphs who on more than one occasion seized power for
themselves) occupied Erets Israel and Gaza as conquers from 1291 till
1516. Occupation continued with the Ottoman Turks from 16th to the
20th century. The Jews of Gaza fled when Napoleon's army marched through
in 1799, but they later returned. The Jewish community in Gaza was
destroyed during the British bombardment and occupation in 1917, but
later it rebuilt itself.
Throughout this long history there had always been some Jews existent
in Gaza. Italian sojourning Rav Obadiah of Bartenura mentions a man
named Moses of Prague serving as rabbi of Gaza in 1488, he had come
from Jerusalem to lead the community. Gaza became home to the great
Damascus poet and kabbalist Rav Israel ben Moses Najara who wrote
the well known Shabbat tune, "Ya Ribbon Olam V'almaya."
He had lived and died there in the middle of the 16th century, as
did Rav Abraham Azulai the kabbalistic author and commentator originally
from Fez. Like many Jews in 1619 who were suffering under a plague
in Erets Israel, Azulai relocated to the shelter of Gaza. Rav Eliezer
Yitshak Arha became the Chief Rabbi of Gaza during this period, and
as late as 1839 the Ottoman census of Jerusalem demonstrated Jews
were still being born there. As much as any other city, whether it
be Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberius or Safed, Gaza, is a part of the holy
land of Israel; it is part of the divine land which was decreed to
the Jewish people.
This week we
celebrate the holiday of Tu B'Shevat. Many don't realize it, but it
was in Gaza where the ancient revival of Tu B'Shevat was again celebrated
by eating fruits instead of only planting trees. Nathan Benjamin of
Gaza arranged a special kabalistic seder known as "Pri Etz Hadar"
(Fruit of the Beautiful Tree) for the night preceding the 15th of
Shevat. It consisted of a collection of excerpts on the subject of
trees and fruits, taken from the Tanakh, Talmud, and Zohar, and ending
with a special prayer. As we celebrate this holiday in just a few
days, let us say an additional blessing for our brothers and sisters
who are living in our holy Gaza. Let us pray for the Almighty to intervene
and stop this unforgivable transaction the Sharon-Shinui party is
Sephardic Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, shelita said it perfectly, "All
the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and no citizen has
the right to cede it and even more importantly to give even a grain
of it to an alien regime."