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How Time Spent in a Japanese POW Camp Created a Zionist War Hero

The one-armed Russian veteran and Zionist pioneer Joseph Trumpeldor distinguished himself for his courage in fighting in the Jewish Legion during World War I; he may be best known in Israel today for his death defending the Galilean village of Tel Hai from Arab attack in 1920. According to legend his final words were, “It is good to die for our country.” But less well known is the story of how Trumpeldor’s commitment to Zionism was shaped by his experience in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5). As Dor Saar-Man writes, Trumpeldor was captured by the Japanese in the battle of Port Arthur, during which he had been hit by shrapnel and Russian doctors had amputated part of his arm:

The Japanese physicians re-operated on his amputation injury and managed to prevent a life-threatening infection. Wishing to demonstrate [to the West] their proper treatment of Russian prisoners of war, . . . the Japanese allowed the Jews among them to have a somewhat autonomous community life within the [POW] camp. The Jews resided separately and held their own events and cultural activities, including some Zionist activities.

Trumpeldor had been drawn to Zionism even before the Russo-Japanese war, but [his attraction to the movement] intensified during his captivity. Until then he had been exposed primarily to assimilated Jews. . . . But in captivity, surrounded by Jewish and Zionist comrades, he became a zealous Zionist. He devoted his energies to establishing and maintaining a Jewish community in the camp, and began correspondening with Zionist leaders.

He arranged various activities: Trumpeldor had the prisoners publish a newspaper in Yiddish, which was distributed inside and outside the camp and was quite successful; he [also] organized a school for Jewish soldiers. Though he was not religious, and was not particularly concerned with holidays and prayers, Trumpeldor made sure that all the prisoners’ religious needs were met. This included prayers, holidays, kosher food for Passover, Rosh Hashanah cards, and the like. . . .

When the war ended, Trumpeldor was released. He was determined to come to the land of Israel to continue Zionist activity.

Read more at Museum of the Jewish People

More about: History & Ideas, Japan, Jews in the military, Russia, Zionism

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy