Today, Israel celebrates the 65th anniversary of its independence (Yom Haatzmaut).
On 14 May 1948, the day in which the British Mandate over Palestine expired, the Jewish People’s Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Museum, and David Ben Gurion who became Israel’s first Prime Minister, read out the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. (Israel’s independence is celebrated today rather than next month because it goes according to the Jewish calendar. May 14, 1948 was was the Fifth of Iyar, which is the same Jewish calendar date as today.)
The Declaration began with these words:
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland…”
On that day, the Jewish ‘hope’ to be a free people in their ancient homeland became a reality – recalling the famous words of Theodore Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, who said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” That dream also included a vision for a free society where all people are treated equally irrespective of race, religion and gender.
The realisation of the State of Israel has not come without tears and that is why on the night before Yom Haatzmaut, Israelis mark Yom Hazikaron, a day to mourn the country’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. According to Haaretz, there are 23,085 fallen Israeli soldiers and 2,493 other victims of hostile activity.
But with immense gratitude to the sacrifices of those who fought for Israel and those who helped build Israel, it has become a homeland for the Jewish people from over 100 countries. Its existence has been a refuge for the Jewish Diaspora – welcoming Jews from Europe who fled antisemitism and/or survived the Holocaust, an escape for Jews fleeing the discrimination of the Soviet Union, hunger in Ethiopia and persecution across North Africa and the Middle East.
Israel faces many challenges both domestically and in terms of security threats, but Yom Haaztmaut should be a time primarily for reflection of its many achievements.
It is worth pausing to recall that overall, Israel has surpassed the wildest of expectations, to become not only a prosperous homeland for the Jewish people but a vibrant democracy, a strong military force in the Middle East, and an innovative world leader in technology, science and medicine. Israel’s agricultural know how is also being used to assist the developing world.To celebrate Israel’s birthday, ISRAEL21c published an article – “65 ways Israel is saving the planet” which noted contributions including: Israel’s invention of drip irrigation, which revolutionised agriculture; a toilet that requires no water; a water purification system that delivers safe drinking water from almost any source, including contaminated water, seawater and even urine; and Israel’s program “Eye from Zion” that sends eye doctors from Israel to do free cataract removal operations in places such as Vietnam, China, Myanmar, the Maldives and Azerbaijan. Israeli culture is also booming with the formidable revival of the ancient Hebrew language, a renaissance in Torah studies and Israel’s films, literature and music gaining international acclaim.
In addition, international surveys repeatedly show that, despite all the insecurities, violence and controversy that has been a part of the Israeli story for the last 65 years, Israelis are, compared to people in other Western countries, among the happiest in the world. How can Israelis be so happy when they are surrounded by conflict? In an article in Haaretz, Allison Kaplan Sommer writes that she asked positive psychology expert Dr Tal Ben Shahar how this could be, and he explained that this was also part of the Israeli success story:
“Ben Shahar believes that the top predictor of happiness is spending time with people we care about and who care about us. With Israel being so geographically small, there is little that stands between Israelis and their close friends and family. Friday night dinners with extended family are a matter of course, even for the young and hip. And in the typical Israeli community, there are a lot of people who care about us – if anything, who care too much. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, the guy who runs the corner store, often feel too close, too ‘in our face,’ and we often wish everyone would butt out of our business, but, apparently, it’s a good thing in the long run; human connection is human connection, even when it’s extremely annoying. At least this contact prevents utter isolation, which seems to be a leading cause of unhappiness.
Another Shahar-ism is that ‘happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning.’ Even when Israelis run low on pleasure, they are never, ever short of meaning. We overdose on meaning. The national narrative means that simply living in the state of Israel and making it through any given day is meaningful…”
Little Israel, a third of the size of Tasmania, has achieved so much despite facing ongoing security concerns and an international campaign to delegitimise its existence.
Perhaps that is why Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has referred to Israel as a ‘modern miracle’ in her Yom Haaztmaut message, she stated:
“On behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, I extend congratulations and good wishes to the people and Government of Israel on the celebration of Yom Haatzmaut – Independence Day. Israel is 65 years young, even as the State fulfils a dream of faith and rebirth that is over 3000 years old. Just last month, President Shimon Peres, a founding father of the State captured modern Israel with these words: ‘We have a rich heritage and a great dream. As I look back, I feel the Israel of today has exceeded the vision we had 65 years ago. Reality has surpassed the dreams.’ Israel is a modern miracle…”