Recently, after guiding members of the Shayetet 13, Israel’s Navy Seal Commando unit, during a Mifgash for Birthright, I was extremely privileged to be allowed access to their top secret base. Inside the base compound there are the formidable remains of a massive Crusader castle. The image of the elite commandos training in the shadow of the ruined fortress led me to contemplate our connection with the Land of Israel.
Anyone who saw this mighty edifice in its prime would have thought that the Crusaders were here to stay in the Holy land. Yet their presence lasted less than two centuries. They came in fire and blood and they left in fire and blood.
Many pan-Arab nationalists venerate Saladin as one of the greatest leaders of the Arab people. In the decisive battle at the Horns of Hittin in the Galilee in 1187, he decimated the Crusader army and captured their king. Today many of these Arabs view the Jewish people as the modern Crusaders and the role of the Arab people – to “cleanse the land of the infidel.”
When one analyses the fundamental causes for the decline and fall of the Crusaders and contrasts it to the Jewish national renaissance in Israel, the gaping flaws of this argument are apparent.
The Crusaders were essentially an outpost of a foreign civilization. They did not view themselves as a deeply rooted native population with a unique native culture. The Jewish people, by contrast, have roots stretching back to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs almost four millennia ago. Our entire faith is based on our connection to the Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the God of Israel
The Crusaders were a small minority in the land. In contrast , the Jewish people starting with massive waves of immigration (aliyot) at the turn of the previous century, and continuing to the huge waves of immigration at the end of the twentieth century, and the “Aliyah by Choice” phenomenon of the twenty-first century, the Jewish “ingathering of the exiles” has created the “facts on the ground.” Jews constitute almost 80% of our homeland
An additional factor is that the Crusaders did not work the land themselves. Others did this work for them. The modern State of Israel was built by the sweat of “Jewish Labour.” Thousands of pioneers reclaimed the land, one brick at a time and one tree at a time.
Yet there are also points of concern where important lessons can be learned regarding the Crusaders’ failure to hold the Land: Christians in Europe gradually lost interest in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and the movement of men and money gradually diminished. In addition, the Crusader society became very corrupt, divisive and self-seeking. In short, the Crusaders were not a people, a nation with a fundamental sense of unity, but merely a collection of members of the same religious group. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of complacency, arrogance and lack of Jewish unity.
Seeing the physical and spiritual power of the young commandos reminded me how far we have come, where once again the Jewish people are in control of their land and their destiny. It is important for us to contemplate the contrast between the failure of the Crusader kingdom and the success of the Jewish people as we celebrate the sixty fourth year of the independent Jewish State, and above all to continue to strive for Jewish unity: “All of Israel are friends.”