On this 72nd Independence Day (4/29/2020), Israel has become a mature, vibrant, and most successful nation. Called the Start-Up Nation, with Israel’s high-tech sector, its medical breakthroughs, agricultural marvels, and humanitarian outreach have become the envy of the world. Once isolated as a result of the Arab Economic boycott, Israel today works with many of those moderate Arab states who seek Israeli technology, albeit, trade is done “under the table.” Israelis still complain on Friday night get-together’s about bureaucracy, and various inefficiencies, justified or not. Most Israelis, however, are immensely proud of their country and its accomplishments. For a nation under siege for most of its 72 years, Israel has built a world-class military force. It revived an ancient language, the language of the Bible – Hebrew, and melded refugees and immigrants from more than 100 nations into a coherent, vibrant society, whose culture is Hebrew.
Israel, in recent decades, has created a remarkable economy, with few natural resources other than its people’s brain power. Its population rose from 800,000 following independence in 1948, to 9.2 million citizens today, of which 74% are Jewish, 21% Arab, and 5% are Israelis, most of whom came from the former Soviet Union, who have not declared their religion. In 2019, Israel’s population grew by 1.9%, faster than for all other OECD nations. Israel’s per capita income in 2019 stood at $44,000.
According to the daily Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israel’s economy expanded in 2019 at a preliminary rate of 3.3%, capping a 44% increase for the decade.
Last week was marked by two consecutive days that constituted the heart of the Hebrew calendar: Israel’s Memorial Day, (evening of April 27 thru the evening of April 28) followed by the celebrations of Independence Day. Israel Memorial Day is an emotional and solemn day, when Jewish, Druze, and Arab Israeli bereaved families and friends converge on the military cemeteries throughout the country to honor their loved ones who fell in defense of the nation. The cemeteries throughout Israel are filled with thousands of soldiers from all branches of Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF). Each military unit sends out its new recruits to console the families of their fallen comrades. Major government and military figures address the families and provide rationale for the sacrifices made by the young men who died.
In the last few years (because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, all cemetery visitations were canceled this year, and ceremonies were broadcasted), this reporter annually attended the gravesite of his 19-year old cousin, who fell in 1969 during the War of Attrition, and who is buried at the military cemetery in North Tel Aviv. This year, Israel will mourn the deaths of 23,816 soldiers, underground fighters, and terror victims, going back to the 19th century (1860). Also, this year, due to the Coronavirus, only a small gathering took place at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, as a ceremony was held with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and the IDF Chief-of-Staff Aviv Kochavi. Uniquely, and rather amazingly, on the evening to begin Israel Memorial Day, a one-minute siren has the entire country at a standstill. The following morning at 11AM, a two-minute siren throughout the country generates a nationwide stoppage. Buses and trucks stop in the middle of highways, cars stop in city streets, and pedestrians stop in their tracks.
While Independence Day is a joyous day for Israelis, celebrating with patriotic entertainment, dancing, and flyovers by the Israeli Air Force, and displays of naval ships along the Mediterranean seashore, this year the Coronavirus has kept people indoors. Nevertheless, Israelis are immensely proud of their people’s army – the IDF, the most trusted institution in the country. Instead of gathering in parks to watch the fireworks, Israelis are sequestered in their homes with their nuclear families, watching the annual televised ceremony of torch lighters, with just a handful of participants due to the Coronavirus epidemic. The Torch Lighting ceremony honors outstanding Israelis (Jews and Arabs) who have contributed to the betterment of life in all spheres of endeavor.
The novel Coronavirus Pandemic is certain to define the year 2020. Israel responded to the crisis with a great deal of ingenuity, applying many existing technologies and inventing new ones for better prevention, diagnosis, monitoring, and the treatment of Covid-19 patients. Earlier, on January 15, 2020, before the Coronavirus captured global headlines, Israel, in an historic move, began exporting to Egypt (its hitherto enemy) liquified natural gas. The gas came from Israel’s new treasure on the Mediterranean Sea, the Leviathan major natural gas field. Also, as part of Israel’s warming relations with its moderate Arab neighbors, Israel’s professional cycling team competed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Tour in February 2020, becoming the first Israeli team to participate in the Middle East top cycling event.
Last year marked a record-breaking feat for the Israeli economy. In spite of two unresolved elections in April and September, Israeli businesses scored higher in many economic categories. Intel Corporation spent $2 billion to purchase the Israeli company, Habana Labs. Medtronic Corp. acquired Israel’s Mazor Robotics for $1.64 billion. In medicine, Tel Aviv University scientists created the first 3D-printed heart with blood vessels, and Hadassah Medical Center surgeons performed the first-ever live vein transplant. On April 11, 2019, Israel’s SpaceIL unmanned spacecraft made history when it reached the moon.
Continuously under external threat, Israel has been able to maintain its democratic way of life under tremendous challenges. It remains the only real democracy in the region. In fact, democracy in Israel has never been stronger. Although some of its politicians, such as Yair Lapid, and Avigdor Lieberman, may bemoan the “loss of democracy in Israel,” it is only because they failed in their political ambitions. The country’s democratic traditions, its public institutions, and civil society, along with its strong judicial system, and the rule of law, insure the preservation of democracy in Israel.
When we think of the state of the Jewish people in the 1940’s, it is clear that the State of Israel has immeasurably elevated the status of Jews everywhere. While antisemitism may still be with us, and violence against Jews may still occur, Jewish lives are no longer cheap. The long hand of the IDF reaches to the far ends of the world in protecting Jewish lives at home and abroad. In 1960, the Israeli Mossad captured the Nazi architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, in Argentina, and brought him to justice in Israel. The Eichmann trial in Jerusalem informed the world of Nazi Germany’s perpetration of the Holocaust. Who can forget Israel’s heroic rescue operation at Entebbe in 1976, or the bringing of the Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the 1980’s and 1990’s, smuggling them through The Sudan, a hostile Arab country at that time.
In 1981, Israel undertook an incredible operation that destroyed the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor, eliminating a nuclear threat from a cold-blooded killer such as dictator Saddam Hussein. It also saved countless U.S. and allied troops during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. Similarly, Israel’s action that destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor at Deir ez-Zur in 2007, spared the lives of thousands. One can imagine what the Assad regime might have done with an operational nuclear bomb.
Israel is a success story, and a tale of redemption of the Jewish people from powerlessness to self-determination. Israel today is nothing less than a model for emulation.
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