Not such a happy 75th birthday for Israel

Seventy-five years ago, a fantastic event occurred, establishing the state of Israel. It was the rebirth of the Jewish Homeland after some 2,000 years. The United Nations carved the State of Israel out of Palestine, a former region of the Ottoman Empire. It had been under the supervision of the British, who had been given the mandate in 1923 to administer this territory by the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 stated that Britain would facilitate the formation of a national homeland for the Jewish People. There were many reasons why the British sought to accomplish this, from having genuine sympathy for the Jewish People who were suffering discrimination to wanting to have a nation established with strong ties back to the United Kingdom, a country of Europeans based in the heart of the middle east. This was all before the rise of Nazi Germany. In 1923, the Jewish population of Palestine was about 90,000, just 11% of the area’s total population. The Jewish population of Palestine had grown to more than 650,000 by the time Israel was created, about a third of the total population of Palestine. Now, it is almost twelve times larger.

The United Nations partition plan divided Palestine into two sections, with 56% becoming the state of Israel, 43% becoming a new Arab state, and 1% for Jerusalem, which was supposed to be an international city. The majority of Israel was dessert. While the Jews accepted the plan, the Palestinian Arabs rejected it. A war ensued, with the newly formed Israel attacked by seven neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinian Arabs. Amazingly, nascent Israel not only survived but expanded the land it held to about 77% of what had been Palestine. During this war, some 800,000 Palestinians left the area to become refugees in other Arab lands. May of their defends are still refugees as they were not accepted as citizens in the countries where they fled. The creation of Israel resulted in the expulsion of almost the same number of Jews from Arab countries, most of who came to Israel to live. 

The population of Israel grew as Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and the many Jews from Europe that survived the holocaust sought refuge in Israel. Now almost half of the world’s Jews live in Israel. 

In the 75 years since its formation, Israel has accomplished much. It has defended itself from many wars, becoming a world-class military and economic force. Its per capita income is comparable to the UK, France, and Germany. It has become a leader in early-stage companies giving the country the nickname “Start-Up Nation.” 

I was born in San Francisco in 1945, before the establishment of Israel. I grew up feeling a strong affinity for Israel and consider myself a Zionist because I believe that the Jewish People must have a homeland and that Israel is that homeland. I lived in Israel in the 70s and then returned in 2017, where I currently live. I am proud to be an Israeli but not proud of the Israeli Government. And also, I am very concerned about their authoritarian policies. Israelis are not united for the first time since its birth 75 years earlier. The Netanyahu Government has divided the country as never before. We have constant protests.  

It is essential to separate feelings for the Government from those of the people. The current Government of Israel, led by Netanyahu, won the election by about 30,000 out of 4.6 million. That would not have happened if Israel’s Arab population had mobilized their voters or Israel’s left parties had gotten their act together. Now the Government would lose if there was an election today. It does not represent the views of most Israelis who believe in democracy (at least in Israel proper).  

I would be remiss if I did not mention Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Today is understandably not a day that they celebrate, and it is not a day that Israeli Arab Citizens celebrate (although they have significantly benefited from the formation of the State of Israel). 

I do not support the settlement movement. I consider it a cancer on the body of the nation. Most Israelis do not want settlements in the West Bank except for the major ones located in what would become part of Israel if there was a settlement with the Palestinians in exchange for land now part of Israel. Frankly, most Israelis don’t care. They do not think about the West Bank or Gaza. It is like asking someone in San Diego when they last thought of Tijuana. They don’t. The only time Israeli Jews think about the “territories” is when there are terrorist attacks or military action. Few believe in a two-state solution, and even fewer would support a one-state solution in which the Jewish population would become a minority.  

Democratic is being threatened all over the world. I hope Israel will overcome the current situation and perhaps emerge more robust because of this test.

Today, I will go out in the streets of Tel Aviv and celebrate the miracle that is Israel. But I will do it with a heavy heart. I am hoping that we can maintain our democracy, but I fear that we might not. I long for peace with poor neighbors. 

2 thoughts on “Not such a happy 75th birthday for Israel

  1. I think the Settlement Movement is driving much of the pain that is being felt throughout the region. Using people as the weapons rarely has good outcomes.


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