The setting sun cast an enchanted glow on the fertile hills. I gazed upon the plush and verdant surroundings. Peach, apple, cherry and pistachio nut trees were plentiful. The fields were cultivated and teeming with life. Some modern structures stood out boldly, dotting the sides of a crude dirt road. I was at a high enough elevation to see part of the Gush Etzion settlements. A vague outline of Jerusalem was visible in the distance some twelve miles away. Gush Etzion played a key part in Jerusalem’s defense when Israel first struggled into statehood.
The entire scene began to blur around me as the impact of its history moved me to tears. The kibbutz (communal farm) on which I stood, K’far Etzion, was a religious one established in 1943 along with three other seedling communities that made up the Gush Etzion settlement.
Today it’s hard to imagine that this hilltop was once barren, but its exposed location in the middle of hostile surroundings on the ancient road between Hebron and Jerusalem has made it vulnerable to attack. During the War of Independence, this strategic little settlement suffered seige after seige, isolating it from help. Somehow the pioneer families managed to hold out for six months until finally the Arab Legion attacked the colony with tanks, armored cars and a huge army. The few surviving settlers with their homemade weapons used their very bodies to block the progress of the enemy toward Jerusalem. Entire families gave their lives in a heroic battle for Jerusalem’s sake.
Jewish man selling on Jaffa Road
The settlement was destroyed but the surviving children of these Jewish pioneers kept in touch. For nineteen years the land of Gush Etzion was in Arab hands and remained desolate. However, in August of 1967, the hills were reclaimed and these children” returned and rebuilt K’far Etzion and the other settlements, bringing to life the dreams and efforts of their fathers and grandfathers.
The struggle that this story illustrates is not over. Israel must still go to extreme lengths for her defense. Defense is the largest item on Israel’s budget: thirty-five percent of the Gross National Product as compared to fifteen percent for the U.S.S.R. and five percent for the United States.
To this day the kibbutzim are not only used to develop the land and make the deserts bloom, but they also serve an integral part in Israel’s defense. Many are surrounded by heavy barbed wire, and each member of the kibbutz is given assigned guard duty.
Even the school buses in Israel require protection. While in Akko, a town along the coast in the Galilee region, I saw a busload of children from Tel Aviv on a field trip accompanied by three armed guards. I asked one of the guards why there was such high security for a grade school class. He answered, “We’ve had too many terrorist attacks on buses and schools. We cannot let our children go anywhere without protecting them.”
Open Jewish market on Mahaney Yehuda
As an American Jew I had difficulty adjusting to the closeness of hostile nations and the constant presence of armed Israeli soldiers. Yet the need for defense to pervade every aspect of life is something to which Israeli Jews are accustomed.
One experience which illustrates this occurred while I was shopping in Jerusalem in the Open Market (Mahane Yehuda). I was preparing to buy some beautiful pomegranates when three Israeli soldiers, submachine guns held tautly in their hands and pressed across their chests, began quickly and authoritatively to clear us backwards onto another street. Fear gripped me as I was herded with the crowd. I frantically tried to ask, “What is it? What’s happening?!” One Israeli fruit vendor answered me with a weary sigh, “It’s another bomb threat.”
Danger from without and danger from within continually plague this tiny country, a country which needs constant protection. However, a look at history, even further back than the early days preceding statehood, reveals that this struggle for survival, this overwhelming need for defense, is nothing new.
It has existed since the time of Abraham. And what’s more, a continued threat was prophesied by the ancient Jewish prophets and recorded in the Bible: When Israel is in a right relationship with God, He will be her impenetrable defense, but when Israel is not obeying her Creator, she will continually and herself in difficulty. For example, it was said of King David that the Lord made all of Israel’s enemies to be at peace on every side because David had a right relationship with God (See 11 Samuel, chapter seven).
The prophet Ezekiel, on the other hand, said, “And the nations will know that the house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity because they acted treacherously against Me, and I hid My face from them…” (Ezekiel 39:23).
It is recorded that when another Jewish prophet approached Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it saying:
“If you had known in this day the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation. ” (Luke 19:41-44)
This prophet accurately described the 70 C.E. destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, well before it occurred. But what “time of visitation” was he referring to? This same prophet was asked by Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” His answer was, “I am” (Mark 14:61, 62).
This man, Yeshua (known as Jesus), who claimed to be the Messiah, was actually claiming to be God’s impenetrable defense, if Israel would recognize him. Zechariah spoke of the Messiah, “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations (Israel’s enemies) as when He fights on a day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the East…” (Zechariah 14:3, 4).
Israel, despite excellent military defense, has and will fail to adequately protect herself. If Yeshua is the Messiah, then his words are true. He, like the other Jewish prophets, has said that we, the Jewish nation, will always have trouble until we recognize the day of our visitation and accept our Messiah. God speaks through Ezekiel of what will take place in the day that Israel turns to her Creator:
“Now I shall restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I shall be jealous for My holy name. And they shall forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid.” (Ezekiel 39:26)
The Scriptures give as the ultimate answer to Israel’s need for physical security—and it is a spiritual solution: The Messiah Himself will cause us to dwell securely when we accept Him. He will be our defense.
*Israel ranks among the top four countries in defense capabilities.
Martha in ruins of Caesarea
Photos taken by Martha Jacobs during her trip to Israel in October, 1982.