24 September 2010

Our unique history with Israel

It is a very little known fact that for two brief but significant moments, our history intertwined with the Jews' own: at the onset of the Second world war, and at Israel's declaration of Independence.

In the first instance, our Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon allocated 10,000 visas for Jews fleeing the Nazi tyranny in 1939. About 1,200 were able to make it to Manila and escape the concentration camps. But in 1941, the Japanese attacked and occupied the city of Manila. It was a trial the Filipinos and the Jews alike had to endure and ultimately survive.

When other countries closed their doors to the European Jews, the Philippines opened theirs.

The second event happened in 1948, when President Roxas instructed Philippine representative Carlos P. Romulo to vote in favor of the independence of Israel before the United Nations, breaking the tie between those for and against. Israel then declared its Independence on 18 May 1948, a celebration which Roxas sadly would not witness as he would die of a heart attack on 15 April.

Who would have thought that our humble country, the Philippines, was instrumental to such world events?

On 21 June 2008, a seven-meter high sculpture called Open Doors designed by Filipino artist Junyee (Luis Lee, Jr) was inaugurated at the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon LeZion, Israel. The monument commemorates the 1939 event when Filipinos provided shelter to the Jews in the face of racial discrimination.

Learning about these made me proud to be a Filipino. Inherently, I believe that we have compassionate hearts and great courage, and that we have the ability to become better citizens of our country and of the world. We were a great nation once; if we work together we can be great once more.

Due credit must be given to then Philippine Ambassador to Israel Antonio Modena who launched this campaign to remember the Philippines' humanitarian support for the Jews. Sadly, he passed away only a year before and was not able to see his work come to fruition. Let us not forget again these momentous events in our history.

Read / watch these related stories from Inquirer.net:

Pinoy Holocaust Sculpture to rise in Israel
Envoy pays homage to Roxas role in Israel independence
Monument in Israel honors Filipinos

Youtube: Philippine Monument in Israel
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