Israel began celebrating its independence today—and after 63 years, its people still cannot agree on how to approach the world around them.
Like all anniversaries in Israel and in Jewish family life, Israel observes its independence according to the Hebrew calendar of Rabbi Hillel II, who invented it in the fourth century AD. Today is 5 Iyyar 5771. The State of Israel declared independence, one day before the British Mandate of “Palestine” ran out, on 5 Iyyar 5708, or May 14, 1948.
Israel today boasts a population of 7,746,000, or 2 percent more than it had a year ago. About 75.3 percent of Israel’s residents are Jewish, 20.5 percent are Israeli Arabs, and the rest are non-Jewish immigrants and their descendants. Israel began with only 805,000 residents. Many of these had to smuggle themselves in past British blockades in the last months of the mandate. Israel’s population grew the fastest after its military triumphs in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Columnist Elah Alkalay of Ha’aretz says that Israel should be very attractive to investors, for three reasons:
- Israel has discovered 24 million cubic feet of natural gas off its Mediterranean coast. (This is one reason Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to build nuclear reactors.)
- Israel has more of its people than ever actually working, and not on the dole.
- Israel needs many new houses and apartments. Whether it can build them will depend on what the government does.
(One problem that Alkalay did not mention: Israel has a higher proportion of land holding archaeological finds than any other country. Those finds depict the waves of civilizations and invasions that have swept the land for 4000 years.)
Many political issues divide the people of Israel, war and peace especially. Pacifists decry as propaganda the notion that “Palestinian” people do not want peace as much as Israel’s citizens do. On the other hand, the brother of a captured Tzahal soldier cast a sour note on the celebrations by reminding the people that his brother was still alive, and still held captive in Gaza after five years. (Officials of Hamas, which runs Gaza, today denied any talk of an exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit.) And Reuven Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset, told his people that they would have to agree to disagree about many issues, but should never make light of what they have built:
Israel of 2011 is a Jewish democratic state, a shining beacon in the heart of the oppressing and cruel Middle East.
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Rivlin spoke about the “Arab Spring” revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and hoped that “oppressed” people winning freedom from their own governments might want peace. He did not mention that the Egyptians who threw out President Hosni Mubarak might break the treaty that Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar el-Sadat, signed with Israel in 1978, or the Syrian protester who said this about President Bashir al-Assad:
To Israel, a cat; to his own people, a lion!
Nor did Rivlin mention the special relationship of Israel with the United States. The USA gives Israel more foreign aid than it gives to any other country except Iraq. That aid, and that relationship, including acts both real and imagined, was the source of the anger of Osama bin Laden, who left this angry message one week before he died:
America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine. It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity. Accordingly, and with the will of [Allah], our attacks will continue against you as long as your support for Israel continues.
Bin Laden is dead, but the will of the American government (and perhaps even its people) to continue the special relationship might fail. Israel might then lose all or most American foreign aid and will then have to make several hard decisions. Those decisions will likely become more urgent this fall, when the United Nations takes up a new plan for dividing Jerusalem once more, along the line that separated West from East Jerusalem before 1967.
Israel might prepare to answer any further provocation with a full counterattack, as it did in 1967. If Egypt breaks its treaty, and especially if it starts running weapons into Gaza, that alone could start a war.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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