Tuesday, April 28, 2009

happy birthday israel

Tomorrow, actually tonight, is the 61st Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut) on the Jewish calendar. Being only eight years younger than the state, I can remember any number of more significant anniversaries, ranging from 15, when my mother walked me to some kind of office in Manhattan to get a shirt pin; to 30, when I was in Israel, and the Likud Party ran ads playing on the presence of the letter Lamed (30 in Hebrew) in both Shalom (Peace) and the party's name; to 50, when the peace process had not quite completely fallen apart, and there was rather more hope for an agreement than there is today. Perhaps, come to think of it, it is nice to have an odd-numbered anniversary for a change, which one can enjoy without undue thought or reflection.

There's a lot to complain about in Israel, and most Israelis--even (or perhaps especially) the Jewish ones--do so quite regularly. Yet it is easy to lose sight of what has been accomplished. The country's growth--there is almost ten times the population there was in 1948--has been more rapid than China, India, or virtually any country on the globe. A nation whose economy was the butt of jokes is among the five leading high-tech centers in the world. Even on the issue of peace with the Arabs there has been--if not sufficient material process--at least a recognition of the problem and the first steps to resolve it. When I lived in Israel in the 1970s, it was common to deny the existence of the Palestinians, and a man named Yitzhak Rabin said the only place to meet the PLO was on the battlefield. Now Rabin is remembered as a martyr to the cause of peace, and even a conservative Prime Minister argues not about the necessity for resolving the problem but the best means to accomplish it.

The next few years will witness a lot of controversy about Israel, and that is not entirely a bad thing. But the existence of the state appears secure, and its problems--how to balance a modern state with religious traditions and how to protect itself without negating the rights of others--are, in the end, merely more intense versions of the problems faced by all nations. For 61 years, that isn't bad. Happy Birthday.


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