Israel-Hamas War 5784: Home again, to stay

Israel is simply not an imperialist settler colonial state, for 19th-century Zionists first purchased, and then settled and worked their homeland (Behar)
Pioneers build a new settlement in 1949. (Courtesy KKL-JNF/Avraham Malovsky)
Pioneers build a new town in 1949. (Courtesy KKL-JNF/Avraham Malovsky)

This week’s Torah portion, Behar, talks about redemption of ancestral land. Land in those days was wealth, and would only be sold out of dire financial necessity. Once in possession of the land, the Children of Israel were to count 49 years. In the 50th year, called the “Jubilee” year, land would revert back to its original owners. The cycle would repeat itself every 50 years, with the Israelites who had sold their ancestral holdings regaining them.

This practice ended when sovereignty over the land was lost to a long line of conquerors and most (but not all) Jews were dispersed to other lands. But when Zionists began returning to their former homeland, then controlled by the Turks, in the 1850s, they purchased, settled, and worked the land. They made a conscious decision to redeem the land, inspired by these this week’s Torah verse: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is Mine.” (Leviticus 25:23)

These days, it is popular to call Israel a settler colonial state, a last gasp of imperialism. Yet there is no other nation in history that came into being other than by war and conquest. No other modern nation purchased land rather than conquering it. Early Zionists paid inflated prices for the land they bought, so eager were they to redeem it and return home. The word translated as “Jubilee,” yovel, has cognates in Akkadian and Ugaritic that meant “home-bringing.” These early Zionists and those who came after them saw themselves as going home and as bringing the land home from a long line of foreign occupiers, from the Babylonians to the Ottomans. They had their home in the land, and the land had its home in them.

Now that Israel, homeland of the Jews, is a reconstituted nation recently turned 76 years old, why hasn’t this practice been reinstated? Most rabbinic authorities look to this verse:

“And you shall sanctify the 50th year and you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants; a Jubilee year it shall be for you, and you shall return, each man, to his ancestral holding…” (Leviticus 25:10)

The rabbis interpret “all its inhabitants” to mean all who are meant to be living there — either descendants of all 12 tribes, or at least partial representation from each tribe.

Of course, other than the descendants of the Tribe of Levi, Jews today do not know from which tribe they descend. (The distinctive genetic markers of the descendants of the Levites can be identified because we know who is a descendant based on surnames that are variants of Cohen or Levi.) And the descendants of many tribes have been lost to history and may not even know from whence they came.

So when will we know all the tribes are ingathered and the Jubilee year can be reinstated? That day is yet to come, and we do not know how or when it will.

But we do know this: Israel is not a colonial enterprise, and Israelis are not settlers. They have redeemed the land, bringing it — and themselves — home at long last. Neither barbaric pogroms such as on October 7th, nor attacks by hundreds of Iranian rockets as on April 14th, nor ICC arrest warrants for Israeli leaders, nor lies bandied freely by propagandists and their useful idiots, will force them out. Israelis, and the land of Israel, are home to stay.

About the Author
I was born in Washington, DC, and raised in the suburbs, but now reside in the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. I am a retired editor and proud Zionist. I can be found at and @KosherKitty1.
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