“What’s past is prologue …”

Israel doesn’t do Halloween, so there were no flash sales on every kind of candy and no wild costume parties.  Chanukah donuts are now showing up at bakeries though, which is pretty much like seeing Christmas decorations in September.  It doesn’t feel right.

Instead, this week Israel did what Israel does best, we marked historical occasions.  This week was the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, 100 years since the historic ANZAC battle in Beer Sheva, and 22 years since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.


The Balfour Declaration is a one-page letter written by Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild.  The main paragraph says:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Since Jews had been coming to settle in the area since the 1880s, the Balfour Declaration was not permission, but was rather an international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went to London for a ceremony, many historians and commentators have written or spoken about the Balfour Declaration, and the Palestinians have demanded an apology and threatened a law suit over the document.  So pretty much just like any other day in Israel.


Source: By Niv Singer from Tel-Aviv, Israel (Yitzhak Rabin’s Grave) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The commemoration of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was apparently quite different this year. The theme was national unity with the slogan “We are One Nation.” From the little I read, it seemed that everyone was united in not liking the way the commemoration was planned.  Israel and the Jewish people are quite skilled at remembering, so I think it will be quite a few more years before the heat of emotion cools enough for national consensus about how to commemorate and remember Rabin’s assassination.  It’s not simply remembering the life and work of a national leader, but his assassination represents a tear in the national fabric that has yet to be truly repaired.


I’m reminded of my trip to Gallipoli while reading about the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) reenactment of the Battle of Beer Sheva. Descendants of ANZACs come to famous battle sites on pilgrimage to honor their ancestors.  I’m sure that they’ve come before to Beer Sheva, but because this is the 100th anniversary, it’s a much bigger commemoration with a delegation of 100 descendants visiting Israel.  The news stories have made a special point of Aboriginal soldiers making up about a quarter of the fighting force and because it was a cavalry battle, it was their expert horsemanship that helped win it.

Maori War Dance for PM Netanyahu for 100th anniversary ceremony (video)

History in the making

What I learned from my Facebook experiment last week is that I have to have a good first sentence hook and an interesting first picture.  Alternatively, I should start my post in the middle or the end.  That said, here’s the end: We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

National Archives and a great quote from Shakespeare

History in the making

This week marked the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.  Bill came.  Yes, Bill “Shalom, Haver” (goodbye/peace, friend) Clinton.  He spoke at a memorial rally in Rabin Square (renamed to honor Rabin after his assassination there).  The week was filled with what-ifs:  What if Rabin had lived? What if Oslo had really worked? What if, what if, what if.

I’m a little cynical about what ifs.  The truth is that no one knows what would have happened if events unfolded a different way.  As an idealist, I understand the desire to spin what-ifs and wouldn’t-it-have-been-great-ifs.  But as a historian, I believe it is more important to analyze the past and learn lessons from it.  Otherwise, you end up in a spiral of history, revisiting in different ways the events of the past, and repeating them over and over.

This is not to say that I’ve analyzed the past and have come up with a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but I’m pretty sure that if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll continue to get the same results.  (A similar quote was attributed to Einstein, but apparently he didn’t say it.  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Viva la Revolution!

I’ve been thinking about history as a spiral because of the events in Romania this week.  Since I was there in September and I asked a lot of questions about the revolution in 1989, I was stunned to hear the news that the government stepped down this week after protests over a nightclub fire.  The fire was representative of the corruption of government agencies and the disregard the government has for its citizens.  I also spoke to a friend in Timisoara about it – not that I have a deep understanding about it now, but at least I feel a little more informed.

Here’s a video of the protest this week in the same square that the 1989 revolution took place in (and the square that I passed through every day I was in Timisoara).  My friend tells me that some of the chants and songs in the video were part of the revolution in 1989.  Here’s a LINK.

Telling the stories

I’m a historian by training, but the part of that word that is important to me is “story.”  Not just a collection of facts in a particular order, but an understanding of the events of the past that speak to us as human beings.

A few weeks ago, I saw a German film called “Labyrinth of Lies” about the guy who brought German citizens to trial in Germany for war crimes at Auschwitz.  This is not a Holocaust movie.  It is a story about having the strength, even when you barely have the will to go on, to tell the truth about the capacity of humans to be inhuman to each other. Here’s the trailer.

A documentary that caught my eye was “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”  Evgeny Afineevsky, the director, was in the middle of the uprising in Kiev and documented it.  When he spoke about it in the interview I saw, he said something that stayed with me: “The history is happening.”  Here’s a trailer.  And an interview with the director.

History is now

Film today is yesterday’s book.  History is remembered when it touches our souls.  And hopefully, we can learn from it and do things differently.

I remember the events of 1989.  I remember Rabin’s assassination.  These are events that took place in my lifetime that are now history.  We have to keep telling our stories because our lives, even at this moment, are history in the making.