Ancient Israelite law included a year of jubilee every 49 years, in which lands were to be restored to their original, proper owners. The jubilee is described in Leviticus 25 (I will use the Bible published by the Jewish Publication Society of America as a translation used by Jews). The land of Israel was divided into areas for each of the 12 landed tribes, and each family had a permanent homestead. If land was lost because of debts, the land was to be returned during the jubilee. Thus, land could not be sold or foreclosed permanently, but only until the jubilee, for as is written in Leviticus 25 verse 23, "And the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and settlers with Me." Verse 24 continues: "And in all the land of your possession, ye shall grant a redemption for the land."
Verse 8 says that the time period of the jubilee shall be seven times seven sabbaths of years, or 49 years. Verse 9 tells the Israelites to "make proclamations with the blast of the horn on the tenth day of the seventh month." The word "jubilee" comes from "yovel" meaning the ram's horn used to proclaim the jubilee.
The State of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948. Its 50th anniversary will be on May 14, 1998, although in Israel, the anniversary was celebrated on April 30 in accord with the anniversary date by the Jewish calendar. The jubilee could not be carried out in Israel while the land was under foreign occupation from the days of the Roman conquest through the occupation by the Arabs, the Turkish Empire and then the British mandate of Palestine until 1948. Hence, the count for the jubilee could begin again in May 1948 with the restoration of self-governance by the Jewish people in their homeland, Israel. The 49th year therefore began on May 1997, and the tenth day of the seventh month after that, according to the standard calendar, fell on December 23, 1997. On this day, the biblical jubilee should have begun again in Israel!
On December 23, 1997, there were indeed world-wide celebrations of Israel's jubilee, including many presidents, prime ministers, the Pope, and Jewish communities. This global celebration has been documented in the web site maintained by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs: www.israel-mfa.gov.il/mfa/israel50/
The occasion for the celebration was Hanuka, which coincided with the biblical jubilee, starting on the evening of December 23! Hanuka is the Jewish holiday celebrating the liberation of the Jewish people from Greek domination, and it was celebrated globally as the start of Israel's 50th anniversary, which is being called Israel's jubilee. But the restoration of lands has been ignored.
Verse 10 of Leviticus 25 says, "And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof..." The words "proclaim liberty throughout the land" is also inscribed in America's Liberty Bell. And note that the text says that liberty shall be for "all the inhabitants" of the land. "All" therefore includes the Arab Palestinians as well as the Jewish Israelis, for they too are inhabitants. But the Palestinians are not celebrating, since they still seek liberty. To them, the founding of the State of Israel was the "nakba," a disaster and catastrophe.
Verse 10 continues: "and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family." Each person whose land was given up shall have it restored, and each person shall be back with his family. Applied to the Palestinian Arabs as inhabitants, their diaspora, the refugees and those who left and could not come back, these too should be able to return to their families in the Holy Land.
How could the jubilee be implemented in Israel today? Most of the ancient tribes were lost after the conquest by Assyria, leaving Judah as the dominant remaining tribe, hence the renaming of the people as Judeans or Jews. (Some from the non-landed priestly tribe of Levi also were also left in Israel, from which some Jews descend.) After the Roman conquest and destruction of Jerusalem and the flight of the Jews to Europe, Africa, and throughout Asia, land ties to the original homesteads were lost.
Starting in the early 1900s, much of the land in Israel was acquired by the Jewish National Fund for permanent Jewish ownership, and much of the land of Israel today is held under the title of the government and the Jewish National Fund, individuals having leaseholds at a tiny rent, hence in effect having personal ownership.
The new jubilee, based now on the founding of the State of Israel, could and should proclaim liberty to "all the inhabitants" by restoring the land equally to all the residents of Israel. Israel's first jubilee should make land the common property of all the inhabitants, making all equal owners. Individual leaseholders and title holders could retain their rights of use and transfer, as only the land and not the improvements should be subject to the jubilee. Equality would then be implemented by having all land possessors, including the Israeli and Palestinian governments, pay the market rent to a fund for the benefit of all the inhabitants. As I wrote in my first Progress Report editorial in September 1997 (see the archive or www.progress.org/archive/fold01.htm), the rent could be collected by a confederation of Israel and Palestine.
Verse 17 says, "And ye shall not wrong one another..." The King James puts it as "Ye shall not therefore oppress one another." This should apply also to the relations between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs: they should be equal in governance and in land. A confederation of two equal states would help accomplish this equality. Verse 18 tells us that if we keep to God's statutes, then "ye shall dwell in the land in safety." Israelis seek security, but they shall not find it until they establish justice, in accord with the jubilee. Verse 19 then says, "And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat until ye have enough, and dwell therein in safety." If the land is shared and there is peace, then the land will yield plenty for both the Israelis and Palestinians, and with justice and prosperity will come the true security, true safety, that the Israelis have sought all these years.