At its 74th birthday (May 4-5), the state of Israel has matured into a strong and prosperous nation. Still, many Israelis, while always complaining about the government’s shortcomings, would not want to live anywhere else. They are proud of their country’s accomplishments in its seven decades of existence as an independent Jewish state. On the eve of Independence Day 2022, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that the population of Israel was 9.506 million, almost twelve times the population as at the establishment of the state in 1948 (806,000). Jews and others constitute 79% of the population, and Arabs 21%. About 75% of the Jewish population is comprised today of native-born Israelis, and more than half are at least second-generation Israelis.
The 74th Independence Day celebration was marred, however, by a spate of terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 19 Israelis and wounded dozens of others. In its 74-years of independence, Israel lost over 24,000 soldiers and civilians in various wars and terrorist attacks. In the 1948 War of Independence alone, Israel lost close to 1% of its population at the time: 6,373 people, about 4,000 were soldiers, and the rest civilians.
Nathan Alterman, Israel’s beloved poet, and chronicler of the War of Independence, a playwright, journalist, and translator, wrote in 1947 his immortal poem Silver Platter: “The state will not be given to the Jewish people on a Silver Platter.” Alterman wrote these wrenching words in 1947, soon after the UN voted on the Partition of Palestine on November 29, 1947. Alterman sought to prepare the Yeshuv (the Jewish community of Palestine) for the painful sacrifices independence would require. He stressed the point that in the coming war, everyone would have to make sacrifices.
Alterman’s touching poem still remembered by this writer’s generation goes like this (in translation): “And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers. As the nation arises, torn at heart but breathing, to receive its miracle, the only miracle. As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy. When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation. Dressed in battle gear, dirty, shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly. To change garb, wipe their brow, they have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field. Full of endless fatigue and unrested. Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head. Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death. Then a nation in tears and amazement will ask “who are you?” And they will answer quietly, “We are the Silver Platter on which the Jewish state was given.”
The annual torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem marked the beginning of the Independence Day festivities. It follows a national day of mourning for Israel’s fallen soldiers and civilian victims of Palestinian-Arab terror. Uniquely in Israel, the entire nation stands still sharply at 11am, as a long siren ringing across the country is sounded. Vehicular traffic stops in the middle of major highways, and buses across all cities come to a halt. Every Israeli knows a friend, a neighbor, a soldier, or a family member who lost their lives to preserve the Jewish state.
In a recorded address to the nation on Independence Day, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated: “We will overcome any threat from the outside, Israel is stronger than ever. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad are growing stronger at an unprecedented rate.” Bennett added, “Israel is growing, high-tech is blooming, the health system is strengthening, and children in the country’s outskirts are receiving opportunities today they didn’t have before. And thank G-d, those who seek it can earn a living.”
To be in Israel during Independence Day is to feel the pride and energy of this old-new nation. Considering where Jews were before 1948, in the early years of the state, and where it is today is to witness a miracle. It is not only the miracles on the battlefields, but in the transformation of the country’s infrastructure. It is a nation with few natural resources, but with the genius of its people, which made Israel into the “start-up nation.” Israeli inventions in medicine, agriculture, military technology, electronics, and high-tech in general, are simply stunning. While most Jews have been exiled from their land for 2000 years, and they have not had a fighting army since the days of Bar Kochva’s rebellion against Rome in 135CE, the exploits of the IDF are nothing short of incredible.
Despite external threats and terror, Israel remains a democratic oasis in the midst of a regional cauldron of barbarism, providing the right to vote to all its citizens, and guaranteeing genuine freedom of religion and freedom of expression. It is a shining example of civility and tolerance in the midst of chaos and intolerance.
Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British expeditionary forces in Afghanistan called the IDF “the most moral army in the world.” Col. Kemp explained: “There are two views of the Israeli Military — what you hear in most of the media, and the truth. I am going to tell you the truth. I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF, does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Dvora Waysman, in a Jerusalem Post piece summarizing Independence Day best, wrote: “There is such a feeling of pride when I see the flags flying from cars and buildings all over the country. When I hear the words of ‘Hatikvah’ being sung even now, there are tears in my eyes.”