Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Israel at 61

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Dear readers,
Wed is a bank holiday in Israel. In fact, it is the ONLY day off that is not connected to a religious holiday that I can think of. (I work on election day.) And because we don't have a paper on Wednesday, if I play my cards right, I can do my Thursday writing today and have a real day off. Yipee!
Happy independence day.
elliot

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Tears and joys

Do you want to understand this country? Accompany us during the 48 hours that take in Remembrance Day and Independence Day.

There's a joke that says most Jewish holidays can be summed up thus: "They tried to kill us, they didn't succeed, let's eat." Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut are different. The reality is more like: "They're still trying to kill us. We won't let them win. Let's eat."

Remembrance Day commemorations began yesterday at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, where one of bloodiest battles of the 1967 Six Day War was waged. The fortified Jordanian police station that stood on the hill had to be overcome to help clear the way to Mount Scopus, the campus of the Hebrew University and the Old City. Thirty-six men gave their lives to achieve that mission.

At 8 p.m. last night, a siren ushered in memorial services throughout the land. Television and radio broadcast the main ceremony from the Western Wall plaza. Stirring our emotions, the cameras showed the memorial flame being lit, our flag at half-mast and the honor guard at attention, with the Wall illuminated in the background.

When our dispersed people began their return to this land in the 1880s, who could have foretold that the culmination of that homecoming would be too late for millions of them? Who, moreover, could have known that the 1948 War of Independence would be but a down payment on further wars to come?

Another siren will pierce our heart this morning at 11 o'clock in remembrance of the 22,570 men and women - of the defense forces, police, secret services and the Jewish undergrounds - who fell defending our national renewal; from 1860, when those Jews already here first began trying to build their lives outside the Old City walls, up to Operation Cast Lead this year.

What a lot has changed in 61 years. Iran, once friendly, is now an implacable enemy racing to build a nuclear bomb and threatening our annihilation. Egypt and Jordan once warred against us; now there is peace.

But the elusive peace is the one denied us 61 years ago. The Palestinian Arabs call our achievement of self-determination their catastrophe - nakba. In his latest book, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, historian Benny Morris writes: "Put simply, the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement, from inception, and ever since, has consistently regarded Palestine as innately, completely, inalienably, and legitimately 'Arab' and Muslim and has aspired to establish in it a sovereign state under its rule covering all of the country's territory."

In other words, even if one has a skewed view of the conflict in which the "occupation," "settlements" and "east Jerusalem house demolitions" block out every other reality, Morris is implying that were these seemingly burning issues made magically to disappear, Israel would still be at fault - for existing.

This explains why, in late 2008, the most moderate of Palestinian moderates, Mahmoud Abbas, spurned Ehud Olmert's overture to create a Palestinian state on the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, plus Gaza.

It also explains why the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is predicated not just on forcing Israel back to the hard-to-defend 1949 Armistice Lines and on swamping us with millions of Palestinian "refugees," but also on the Arab League's unwavering refusal to accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. Why? Because to do so would be to admit that the Jews have a connection to this place that predates the arrival of the Arabs and the birth of Islam.

It would be an admission that the Jews have a right to share this land.

INDEPENDENCE Day celebrations begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. For many, the transition from somber commemoration is jarring. Yet there is no better way to demonstrate the link between the tears of sacrifice and the joys of independence.

And so, we wipe away our tears and begin counting our blessings: In 1948, this country started out with 600,000 Jews; today there are 5,593,000. Since Independence Day last year, more than 150,000 babies were born; more than 12,000 Jews made aliya.

Keep counting, and Hag Sameah.

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