Today, May 14, is a “red-letter day” for the State of Israel and its supporters. First of all, it marks the 70th anniversary of Israeli Independence Day, formally known as the “Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.” (The equivalent date on the Hebrew calendar, 5 Iyar, was celebrated throughout Israel as Independence Day last month.) Secondly, today the US embassy officially relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The US embassy relocation was a long time coming. To paraphrase President Trump, a very staunch supporter who, make no mistake about it, was the driving force behind the move, every country has the right to designate its capital city, and foreign embassies should be located in the capital city. In reality, Jerusalem is and has been the real capital of Israel, so the US is merely recognizing reality. Every other President promised to relocate the embassy, but it was President Trump who delivered.
Critics will wring their hands and complain that it hurts the peace process, but, in truth, the peace process between the Jews and the Arabs in the region has been languishing for years. Some would characterize it as DOA. Animosities go back thousands of years. Hardliners like Iran have denied Israel’s very right to exist and have vowed to crush it. For all intents and purposes, a constant state of war has existed between Israel and most of its neighbors for the entirety of its existence. President Trump has reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the peace process, and I believe him. Today’s Hamas-inspired violence was unfortunate, but it fell far short of the chaos and mayhem that some had predicted.
The birth of the State of Israel can be traced to the Zionist movement of the late 19th Century. Two of the early leaders of this movement were Theodore Hertzl and Chaim Weizmann. The Zionists’ goal was to re-establish a Jewish state in the land area that is now the State of Israel.
It picked up steam following WW1. The Middle East had been part of the Ottoman Empire. After their defeat, the British took control of the area. The Brits issued the controversial Balfour Declaration, named for Foreign Secretary Alfred Balfour, which among other things, called for the establishment of a home for the Jews in Palestine. That gave Zionists hope. A land of their own free from the scourge of anti-Semitism.
The problem was, the Declaration was vague on details, and it may have contradicted certain promises the Brits had made to Arab chieftains in exchange for their support against the Turks in WW1. Also, there was a large majority of Arabs living in the area who wanted no part of a Jewish state. The powers that be essentially “kicked the can down the road.”
The situation simmered until after WWII when, in response to increasing violence the Brits dumped the matter into the hands of the UN. The UN passed a resolution to partition Palestine, as it was called, into three areas – an Arab state, a Jewish state and a “Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.” The Jewish state was to receive some 56% of the area’s landmass.
Unlike the Arabs, the Jews were willing to accept the terms of the resolution, except for the borders. The Arabs wanted all of the area and were willing and eager to take it by force. Consequently, the Jewish leader, David Ben-Gurion, famously stated that if the Arabs would not agree to the borders neither would the Jews. “Why should we obligate ourselves to accept boundaries that, in any case, the Arabs don’t accept?” If Israel won a war, he said, it would keep whatever additional land it captured. When the dust had settled, Israel was in control of an additional 60% of the land that the UN resolution had originally awarded to the Arabs.
Meanwhile, on May 14, 1948 Israel issued a declaration establishing itself as a Jewish state. There was some discussion regarding the name of the state. Some of the other names considered besides “Israel” were “Ziona,” “Ivriya,” and “Herzliya.” “Israel” was Ben-Gurion’s choice, and I believe it was a good one.
In my opinion, the State of Israel has much to be proud of. As stated above, it had to fight for its very existence against very long odds. Furthermore, it has had to maintain a constant state of vigilance and fight several wars and skirmishes just to survive. According to an editorial in the National Catholic Reporter it is “an event to celebrate in a part of the world where democracy remains rare,” (I would say, “unique.”)
Israel’s only reliable ally over the past 70 years has been the US, although I believe that some Administrations have been less supportive than others. The US was the first country to recognize Israel as a state. (It took President Truman about 11 hours to do so.) In return, Israel has been the US’s only consistent and reliable ally in the region.
I maintain that Jews should be very proud of this country. Even non-Jews should admire its ability and determination to continue to survive in a hostile world.
70 years! Congratulations, Israel! Well done!