” … it is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?” ~ ‘Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations‘
Let us take a look at where Israel is today and will be on her birthday date.
Since the Roman expulsion of the Jews from their land and for centuries since, Jews around the world prayed for their return to Zion, to Jerusalem. And let us believe that those prayers were answered.
On May 14, 1948 the members of the Jewish nation were legally back in their promised land where they began their third Jewish commonwealth. An extraordinary period in the Jewish nation’s modern history and its Jewish sovereignty; as the words of the state of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, reads, “to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
I must mention that this story of Jewish nation-Jewish commonwealth-building is entirely without precedent.
We are speaking about people who were brought to the brink of almost utter destruction by the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and its allies; we are speaking about people who were utterly voiceless and powerless to influence a largely indifferent world to stop, or even slow down, the Nazi Final Solution plan. A full nation, though dispersed on many lands, stood hopelessly naked to its fate.
And when the Nazi war on the Jews, which left one of every three Jews in the world dead, was over, Jews, numbering barely 600,000, lived in the land of Israel. They existed under harsh conditions and with no significant natural resources other than human capital, with often hostile Arab neighbors and under unsympathetic British occupation, in what was then Mandatory Palestine. But they stood against the tide.
And more unfathomable, that tiny community of Jews, including survivors of the Holocaust who had somehow made their way to British Mandatory Palestine, despite the British White-Paper decree and blockade and British detention camps in Cyprus, managed to successfully defend themselves against the onslaught of five Arab standing armies.
The establishment of the Jewish state, Israel, in 1948, was the fulfillment of the vision of a home and a refuge haven for Jews the world over. The first leadership embraced the democratic system and the rule of law.
The blue-and-white flag with the Shield of David in its center of the sovereign state of Israel could only be waved on this land, to which the Jewish people had been intimately linked since the time of their forefather, Abraham. It truly boggles one’s mind that this took place just three years after the end of the Holocaust – and with the support of a decisive majority of United Nations (UN) members at the time – 33 in favor, 13 opposed, with ten abstentions.
Remarkably, the gathering of the Jews after WWII did not end the anti-Semitism and the perpetual need to attack Jews. Israel’s Arab neighbors were and still are determined to destroy her through any means available to them – from full-scale wars to wars of attrition, diplomatic isolation, international delegitimization, sortie of economic boycotts, terrorism, law fare, and let us not forget the ongoing spread of anti-Semitism, often thinly veiled as anti-Zionism. No matter how hard the world come down on Israel, the country and the people remain resilient and have become all the more remarkable.
No other country faces the constant threat of destruction shrieked by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas while the Arab states remain opposed to her. No other country has ever faced a constant challenge to her very right to exist on her land even though, in the annals of history, the age-old biblical, spiritual, and physical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel is unique and well-documented.
No other country has ever faced overwhelming odds against her very survival, or ever experienced the same degree of never-ending international disrespect for her sovereignty and demonization by too many nations ready to throw integrity and morality to the wind, and in a servile manner follow the will of the oil-rich and of greater number Arab states.
And that Jewish nation’s connection to the land, on either side of the Jordan River, has a totally different character from the basis on which the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the bulk of Latin American countries were established in ‘their’ lands, by European invasion of all sorts, with no legitimate historic claim to those lands.
The Europeans who ruined the indigenous populations then proclaimed their own authority to these lands. And for that matter, the case of North African countries that were conquered and occupied by Arab-Islamic invaders who, by force, by killing, by intimidation totally redefined their national character. And nations like Iraq and Jordan were artificially created by Western powers for self-serving reasons.
Yet, with all the bumps on the road and a history of millennia of pain and sorrow, no other nation could attest to have ever faced, Israelis shouldered the wars, the negative environment their country had to navigate through and progressed forward. They never succumbed – physically and mentality – never abandoned their deep yearning to be a nation among all other nations, to live in peace with their neighbors and have showed the unprecedented willingness to take extraordinary risks to achieve that yearned peace.
And in 1979 they broke peace with until-then hostile Egypt and in 1994 they brokered peace with Jordan, until then a hostile nation. Israelis never lost their hopeful zest for life, never recoiled from their determination – against so many odds – to build a vibrant, Jewish-democratic state. And they have done it. Now have got just that, a vibrant state!
To understand the essence of the meaning of the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel, one may ask some questions. ‘How would the history of the Jewish people have been different if they had their own state in 1933, in 1938, or even in 1941?’ ‘If Israel had control of its borders and the right to permit entry instead of mandatory, prejudice Britain since 1922? ‘If Israel had a voice thorough her own embassies and consulates throughout Europe?’ ‘How many more Jews might have escaped and found sanctuary in their own homeland?’
But instead, Jews had to rely on the goodwill of world leaders, embassies and consulates of other countries and, with woefully few exceptions, they found there was neither the “good” nor the “will” to assist them, to save Jewish life.
And with the establishment of the state of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, we have witnessed what Israeli embassies and consulates meant to Jews drawn by the zest to reach Zion or the push of hatred to escape to Zion. It is the story of the Israeli embassy in Moscow, then USSR, when thousands of Russian Jews were seeking a quick exit from a Soviet Union in the throes of unpredicted and alarming change, fearful that the unpredicted change might go the direction of renewed chauvinism, Stalinist anti-Semitism.
It was fascinating to watch the never faltering Israel, not even for a moment, in transporting Soviet Jews to the Jewish homeland, even as, in 1991, Scud missiles launched from Iraq traumatized the nation. Israel did not retaliate – by USA request. It says volumes about the behind the Iron Curtain’s circumstances these Soviet Jews were leaving behind when they continued to board planes for Tel Aviv while missiles were indiscriminately exploding in Israel’s population centers. It says much about Israel that, amid all the pressing security concerns, managed to continue to keep its vow to Shivat Tzion – the Return of All Jews to Zion, to welcome new immigrants without missing a beat.
And how can we ever forget the surge of Jewish pride and the world’s awe, when on May 8, 1972, Belgian national airline Sabena Boeing 707 Flight 571, a scheduled passenger flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv, captained by British pilot Reginald Levy, DFC, was hijacked by four members of the a Palestinian terrorist group Black September Organization. Following their instructions, Captain Levy landed the plane at then called Lod Airport.
On May 9, 1972, the rescue operation by a team of 16 Israeli Sayeret Matkal commandos, led by Ehud Barak and including IDF officer Benjamin Netanyahu, both later future Israeli Prime Ministers, approached the aircraft. Disguised as aircraft technicians, in white coveralls, they convinced the hijackers that the aircraft’s hydraulic system needed repair which allowed them to storm the aircraft, kill both male hijackers, capture the two women hijackers and rescue all 90 remaining passengers.
Or another Jewish pride case, when, on June 27, 1976, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda, by two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. On July 3, 1976, Israel’s astonishing and daring rescue operation of the 106 Jewish hostages, approximately 2,800 miles distant from Israel’s borders. The unmistakable message was, is and will remain for eternity with the state of Israel carrying the message’s banner: Jews in danger will never – again – be alone, without hope, and totally dependent on others for their safety, NEVER AGAIN!
Until today, people who plan to visit Israel or arrive in the Holy Land for the first time do not know what to expect.
Today, I still do not know what to expect when I visit my birth place as often as I possibly can.
The view of Israel’s coastline and its blueish Mediterranean Sea is exciting when it is seen from the plane’s window as the plane begins to lower its landing gear. I become rather emotional from the moment I land.
Often you see a Jew kissing the ground on which he or she landed first, when his or her yearning for Zion became a reality.
And there is much to marvel at. It is not a country of a few palm trees and camels as some envision it to be. It is speeding to achieve modernity 101 each moment of each day.
Necessity brought about impressive scientific, cultural, and economic achievements. These are accomplishments beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
Construction cranes are seen everywhere. Highways are being built to crisscross the country. In just about 70 short years, when much of those years could be described as upheaval, the trodden upon Jews build homes for approximately 7 million Jews, schools, universities, government and scientific institutes, community centers and public parks; they developed vast and competent agriculture, industries, efficient bus and train services, sea ports and developed a new culture, Israeli culture, which they export all over the world in various forms to include, films, sports, music, and the arts. The Israelis are the model of tomorrow’s Jew: confident and resilient.
After centuries of Spanish Inquisition and expulsion, endless persecutions, Pogroms, exiles, ghettos, blood libels and anti-Semitism, forced conversions, discriminatory legislation, Holocaust and immigration restrictions – much was overcome by centuries of prayers, yearning and dreams – the Jews had come back home and once again became the masters of their own fate.
The latest Israel-Jewish presence in the world began unfolding 70 years ago and that was only the new beginning. The presences of the Israelites, the nation of Judea, in the Holy Land, diminished for 2000 years, has been taking its rightful place again and is seen and heard loud and clear.
It is overwhelming to grasp the mix of people in Israel, their backgrounds, languages, and lifestyles, and by the intensity of life itself, all gathered into one, the nation of Israel.
Israel has become the nation of the book and there almost everyone has a compelling story to tell. Stories from the descendants of the first Jewish immigrants to Israel, in the 19th century, the Holocaust survivors’ stories, the Jews who were expelled from the Arab countries, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt stories, or stories told by Jews who arrived from then USSR seeking repatriation in the Jewish homeland. Today, there are the Sabras – native-born Israelis – creating the future story to tell.
And there are the local minorities of Druze and Maronite, the Arabs, some Christian some Muslim, to tell their story about the land they chose to be part of.
There are no words to describe the sight of Jerusalem when one enters the city, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. When standing by the Western Wall, it is as if the spirit of the Divine Presence enters one’s soul. Jerusalem, old and new, each stone has a story to tell. In Jerusalem the antiquity authority is excavating, unfolding 3,500 years of civilization’s history.
On the IDF
Israel is a nation of soldiers; each citizen – boys and girls – enlists in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) to protect their homeland. The Israelis are unabashedly proud of their country, eager to serve in the military, and, in many cases, determined to volunteer for the most elite combat units in order to make sure the defense of the country is in the hands of the very best.
Israel has today among the world’s most powerful militaries – always under civilian control – military that ensures her survival in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood where she is nestled. Israel has shown the world how a tiny nation, today of just over 6 million people, living on land the size of New Jersey or Wales, can, by sheer ingenuity, will, courage, and commitment, defend herself, by herself, against all odds. Against those who would destroy it through conventional armies or armies of suicide bombers. And the Jewish state has done all this while striving to adhere to a strict code of military conduct that has hardly any rival in the democratic world, much less elsewhere, in the face of an enemy prepared to use its civilians as their shield and send its children to the front lines while seeking cover in mosques, schools, and hospitals.
The IDF has raised the military operation bar to its highest in order to ensure that Israel – forced to function in the so often morally ambiguous world of international relations and politics, especially as a small, still endangered state – will never fall short to defend the people of Israel.
With almost 70 years of statehood under their belts, Israelis are among the newest practitioners of statecraft. Their democratically elected government has many challenges to face today, including some stubborn social inequalities and stark political divisions. And Israel cannot be, for instance, compare to the United States, a vast country blessed with abundant natural resources, oceans on two-and-a half of its sides, a gentle neighbor to the north, and a weak neighbor to the south. Israel is surrounded by failed Moslem-Arab dictatorships their rulers have made hate of Israel and the wish to destroy her their governing point, a tool to hide their own failure and the neglect of their population over whom they rule by and with force.
Like any vibrant democracy, Israel is in a permanent work in progress position. Admiring Israel does not mean overlooking its shortcomings, whether it is the intrusion of religion into politics, the dangers to democracy, posed by her judiciary institutes, her political and religious zealots, and the unfinished, if undeniably complex, task of integrating Israeli Arabs into the mainstream.
And it also does not mean to disregard and overshadow Israel’s remarkable, marvel achievements, all accomplished under the most difficult circumstances.
One can only say that in 70 years, Israel has built a thriving democracy – Judicial, legislative, executive and media – sometimes too democratic, as we often see in the feisty Knesset-parliament’s conduct in the plenum.
On the economy
Israel can easily claim an enviable economy, increasingly based on mind-blowing innovation and cutting-edge technology and science. The country’s per capita GNP exceeds the combined total of its four contiguous sovereign neighbors – Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Israel has built an agricultural sector that offers much from which the world can learn and emulate, especially developing nations, about turning an arid soil into fields of fruits, vegetables, cotton, and flowers. Teaching the world that a country that has no water can become water secured, that has minimal land can become food supply secured.
Israel invests like no other country in her future, the young generation, giving them education to be prepared for the next century. The country’s universities and research centers have already contributed much to advance the world’s frontiers of knowledge in countless ways, and Israelis won a slew of Nobel Prizes in the process. Even Hollywood enjoys from Israel’s huge content contribution to the movies and TV industry.
On quality of life
In Israel they built of quality and HAPPY life that ranks among the world’s healthiest nations, with particularly high life expectancy, indeed higher than even of the U.S.
The country is proud of thriving culture, its musicians, writers, and artists are admired far beyond Israel’s borders. Israel has been doing so, with its ancient language, Hebrew, the language of the Bible and the Biblical Prophets, modernizing the language to accommodate the vocabulary of the contemporary world.
On being the center for monotheistic religions
Setting aside all the display of disrespect for Judaism, the eyes of billions in the world, whether they are members of the Baha’i, Christianity, and Islam faith, look toward Israel as their religious center and one of their most important place of worship.
There is no other country that makes the headline almost each day. The country has learned to set aside the deception told about her and all the twists and turns of the daily information overload coming from the Middle East and keep on steering the national ship positively, as it has been doing these past 70 years.
I call the world to recognize the light-years Israel has traveled since the devilish darkness of the Holocaust, and marvel at the miracle of dispersed and decimated people returning to their ancestral land, the tiny sliver of land along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea – the land of the Jewish nation’s Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land of Jerusalem, of Zion. People who, successfully have been building, based on ancient principles, but so very appropriate and applicable today, a modern, vibrant and HAPPY people’s state, truly against all the odds.
The story of the ancient Israelites, the courageous Judah Maccabee and Simon bar Kokhba, the visionaries Theodore Herzl and David Ben Gurion, to name a few, the phenomenal realization of over 3,500-year of a faith, a language, a people, and a vision all linked to a land.
I just told you in brief a story of unparalleled proportion of daring, tenacity, determination, courage, and renewal and G-D-ly luck. If it is not all just reality, it could play the ultimate role of a metaphor for the gusto to endure and achieve, for hope over the so very tempting inclination to despair and give up.
Nurit Greenger: Celebrating 70th Birthday on Top of Ancient Masada, Israel-August 31, 2017
The State of Israel is by no means perfect, but she is perfect in her thriving for perfection.