Forget Herzl. Forget Ben Gurion.
The other great Zionists?
Forget them too.
None of them can hold a candle to Israel Kligler. Without Kligler there would be no Israel.
He defeated the biggest enemy that Israel ever faced, and he did it quietly, in the background. But, even though he never sought fame or recognition for his work, it is still a travesty that few know of his vital role in the creation and survival of Israel.
What enemy was he responsible for defeating?
More importantly, it was the anopheles mosquito – the one that carries malaria. And yes, malaria was the single greatest enemy. It killed thousands every year and made what was then called Palestine a place of terrible devastation and poverty.
In fact, it appears that the mosquito was a part of God’s judgment on Israel:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.
– Isaiah 7:18
Could it be that Israel Kligler helped end a curse on the Land of Israel?
But, one thing is clear. There is absolutely no way that Israel could exist today without malaria having been defeated first. Let me repeat that in a different way.
Without Israel Kligler there would be no Israel.
And, no one knows.
Israel Kligler is one of the reasons Israel exists. So why have you never heard of him?
By Matti Friedman, April 25, 2012, Times of Israel
Ninety-two years ago, a diminutive and determined young scientist stepped from a boat onto a “notoriously malarious” patch of Levantine land and into the middle of a losing war against a tiny, deadly enemy ravaging the population.
Israel Kligler – university professor, Zionist and public health pioneer – played an outsize role in defeating malaria in Palestine beginning in the 1920s. Countering the mosquito-borne disease was not a minor medical success but a crucial victory that paved the way for the growth of Jewish settlement and the eventual establishment of the State of Israel.
Today, Kligler and his role in Israel’s history have been forgotten. April 25 is a fitting date to remember him: This year, it happens to be both the eve of Israel’s Independence Day and World Malaria Day, marked every year by the UN’s World Health Organization. Thanks in large part to Kligler’s efforts, malaria was eradicated in Israel, but the global battle against the disease has been remarkably unsuccessful: Every year, according to the WHO, malaria infects 216 million people and kills 655,000.
Kligler has a small number of vocal boosters, and they believe his success should both earn him a place in the Zionist pantheon and be studied anew as the world continues to grapple with the disease he confronted nearly a century ago.
Born in what is now Ukraine in 1888, Kligler moved with his parents to New York City when he was 9. In 1920, having completed a doctorate in microbiology in New York and research on yellow fever in South America, he gave up a promising academic career in the US and arrived instead in British-ruled Palestine, committed to putting his scientific knowledge at the service of the Zionist project.
He found a land devastated by malaria. The illness was, a British report said in 1921, “by far the most important disease in Palestine.” Much of the territory Jews had purchased for settlement was in lowlands infested with malaria — that was one of the main reasons it was available — and the disease was decimating the ranks of the Zionist pioneers and the country’s other inhabitants. Some settlements had been abandoned altogether as a result.
One visitor in 1902 remarked that the Turkish soldiers at one border garrison had to be replaced monthly because all would contract malaria in little over a week. A report from 1917, the year the British arrived, noted that Palestine was “notoriously malarious,” and an estimated 90 percent of British soldiers at the town of Beisan — today’s Beit She’an, in the Jordan Valley — were ill within 10 days.
“There is little doubt that the static condition of Palestine during the last several centuries is due almost entirely to malaria,” Kligler himself wrote a decade after his arrival.
“The once famous city of Beth Shan, standing in the midst of an intensively irrigated plan, was in the course of time completely surrounded by water-logged marshes, became one of the most malarious points in a highly malarious area, and dwindled to a small village,” he wrote.
Describing the coastal plain, he wrote: “One sees large stretches of richly watered, potentially cultivable land inhabited only by a few Bedouin tribes, all infected with malaria, and eking out a precarious existence from the proceeds of baskets made of marsh reeds, and from the milk of buffaloes which wallow in the marshes.”
If the Zionist project was to succeed, this had to change.