Updated on the 1st and 15th of every month
An Upside-Down History of the World [Japanese]
[Chapter 3] The Origins of Monotheism

Part 1: A Human Hypothesis
44 The Arab–Israeli Conflict

About six million Jews were murdered in the genocide of the Holocaust carried out by Nazi Germany. Anti-Semitism, however, was not isolated to Germany. Countries across Europe—even those in opposition to Germany—were not free of anti-Jewish sentiment.

illustrator: Masato Kumagai

Often described as the Arab-Israeli conflict, a spat of political and military flare-ups between several Arab countries and Israel plagued the Middle East—a total of four times, to be exact—between 1948 and 1973. The First Arab–Israeli War erupted on May 14, 1948 when, after the Israeli Declaration of Independence, the surrounding Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon) decided to crush Israel’s ambitions with a coordinated attack. Israeli forces may have been thirty thousand strong, but awaiting them was an Arab infantry totaling some hundred fifty thousand. By sheer number, the Arab troops had the advantage. But they were also out of sync, despite their allied interests.

The Israelis knew their future hinged on the battle that was about to unfold. In a last-ditch effort, and with American and European support, Israel managed to clinch an overwhelming victory in its War of Independence.

The victory struck a stark contrast to a recent and especially painful past—the Holocaust. Ever since the Roman Empire had destroyed the Kingdom of Israel, the Jewish people spread throughout Europe, becoming the new minority in their respective countries. Meanwhile, many European Christians still harbored the deep-seated prejudice that saw the Jews as murderers of Christ. In Central and Eastern Europe, the antisemitism fueled the emergence of Zionism, a national movement that called for a return to the “Promised Land.”

The movement, however, wasn’t a sweeping success with Europe’s Jewish population. Throughout the continent, the Jewish people were coexisting with Christians—as members of the military, as college professors, as ordinary citizens.

Zionism grew out of Jewish journalist’s Theodor Herzl (1860-1904)’s response to the anti-Semitic discrimination and persecution that was sweeping Christian Europe. Having witnessed the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl had been turned into a Zionist. The great writer Emile Zola (1840-1902) blamed the French government for falsely accusing Captain Dreyfus and was eventually able to exonerate Dreyfus, renewing for many Jews their faith in European society. There was a real sense of optimism among the Jewish people living in America and Europe at the time—that, while prejudice no doubt existed, things were and would get better.

The Holocaust and a Papal Declaration

But hope was shattered with the arrival of the Holocaust led by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Experts estimate the number of Jewish victims exceed some six million. And from the Jewish perspective, the massacre nearly wiped out their people.

But there’s something else to keep in mind: Silent supporters of the mass slaughter were not isolated to Germany. Countries across Europe—even those in opposition to Germany—became tacit partners in the perpetration of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Pope John Paul II (lived 1920-2005, papacy 1978-2005) acknowledged this on his official to Jerusalem in March of 2000. Even Ann Frank (1929-1945), as she lived in hiding from Nazi forces in Amsterdam, did not seek help from the Christian Church. But John Paul II broke the mold. While still a priest in Poland, John Paul II helped many Jews escape the Holocaust, Jews who, years later after he had become pope, came out to express their thanks to Karol Wojtyła for having saved their lives.

John Paul II traveled to Jerusalem to remind us all that, while there were those who did not discriminate against and harm Jewish believers, these individuals did not make up the majority. It was also a proclamation, not an apology, upsetting many Israelis. Still, in retrospect, it seemed it was the best the Catholic Church could muster.