At the end of World War II (1948) the Allies decided to create the state of Israel to give the Jews a country of their own. This was done, in part, to try to make up for the Holocaust and restore the Jews to their historical home. Prior to this time, the Jews were living in diaspora. This means, they were “dispersed” throughout the world. There was no Israel except in ancient times, so this new nation had to be carved out of the existing nation of Palestine, which was an Arab country. Jews everywhere could return to their historical homeland, now called Israel. Some believed that all Jews MUST do this. This movement was called zionism. In this novel, Reuven and his father are zionists. Not all Jews agreed with the creation of Israel, however, because the new country was going to be a secular state, not a religious one. Reb Saunders was extremely opposed to zionism and because Reuven was a zionist, he forbade Danny to talk to Reuven for several years. Reb Saunders was opposed to a an Israel that was going to have a democracy, with no “required” state religion, even though most of the people that lived there would be Jews. The people of Israel would not be required to be Jews (such as some Muslim nations today that have “sharia” law – which means Islam is the official religion of the country and no other religions are allowed).
The Palestinians, naturally, were against giving up any of their land and many wars broke out, which are continuing to this day. There was a huge Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The Irgun was a paramilitary group that believed that force was necessary to achieve zionism in Israel. Irgun believed that every Jew had the right to enter Palestine and only active retaliation would deter the Arabs. Only Jewish armed force would ensure the Jewish state. So Irgun participated in terrorist activities such as bombings, kidnappings, murders to achieve this goal. The Irgun was active in Palestine before Israel was created – from 1931 until 1948. After the state of Israel was created, many of the Irgun became part of the Israeli Army that fought in the Arab-Israeli war. The Irgun is also referred to as Ertzl (this is clear in the novel). The new state of Israel declared the Irgun as a terrorist organization after 1948. The Irgun was an extreme right-wing group. The conflict between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East goes back to Biblical times and it is still going on today. There is no peace between Israel and Palestine to this day. The Irgun has morphed into the right-wing Likud party, which is pretty powerful in modern-day Israel.