Israel - Celebrating 60 Years
By Julie A. Sergel
This May we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the State of Israel’s existence, although it is certain, her origins stretch much further back than a mere six decades.
"Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago. You dig the soil and you find pottery from Davidic times, coins from Bar Kokhba (revolt), and 2,000-year-old scrolls written in a script remarkably like the one that today advertises ice cream at the corner candy store,” describes Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer.
So, rather than 60, we’ll skim back 3,300 years to approximately 1300 BCE when Abraham’s descendants took possession of the land promised them by G-d. After exodus from Egypt, 40 years in the Sinai Desert, and getting equipped with the Torah and The Ten Commandments, descendants of the great patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob took possession of the land, which at the time was known as Canaan.
- 1250 BCE Israelites rule the land under conquests of Joshua.
- 1000-587 BCE “Period of the Kings” King David rules, establishes Jerusalem as the capital city, and his son Solomon builds the first Temple there.
- 587 BCE The Babylonian army, under King Nebuchadnezzar’s charge, captures Jerusalem, destroys the Temple, and Jews are exiled to Babylon (modern day Iraq).
- 520-515 BCE Exiled Jews return from Babylon to construct second Temple.
- 333 BCE Alexander the Great takes over the land, King Antiochus IV orders the Temple to be desecrated. The Maccabees arise and establish independent rule for nearly a century.
- 70 CE Titus and the Roman army conquer Jerusalem and destroy second Temple. 135 CE Bar Kokhba revolt. Jews flee to Europe and Northern Africa.
- 636-1099 After Byzantine rule, Arabs build the Dome of the Rock on grounds of destroyed Jewish Temple.
- 1099-1291 Crusaders from Europe try to capture Holy Land by appeal of Pope Urban II. Non-Christian population massacred.
- 1520-1566 Walls of the Old City of Jerusalem are rebuilt under reign of Sultan Suleman the Magnificent. European Jews grow heavily populate Jerusalem.
- 1820 Zionist Movement causes many Jews to settle in homeland.
- 1917-1948 British rule of the territory, referred to as “Palestine.” Mandate to split land into Jewish and Arab state. (UN Resolution 181)
- 1930’s Jews persecuted by Hitler’s regime flock to Palestine.
- 1938-1942 Hitler’s genocide of 6 million Jews; increased international interest in Zionism, the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
- May 18, 1948 Jewish people, under leadership of David Ben-Gurion reestablish sovereignty over ancient homeland. State of Israel established. British forces exit.
- 1948 War of Independence. Surrounding Arab countries challenge Israel’s statehood. Other wars follow: 1956 Sinai War, 1967 Six day War, and 1973 Yom Kippur War.
- January 7, 1949 Israel increases territory by fifty percent. Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion become Israel’s first president and prime minister.
- May 11, 1949 New government of Israel is admitted into the UN.
A February 2008 press release highlights sustained tensions amongst Israel and her Arab neighbors--contrasting Israeli anniversary preparations alongside the Palestinian’s “Nakba,” a day of mourning following Israel’s celebration. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni responds, “I believe that the solution of two nation states serves the interests of both sides. Not every celebration of ours is cause for sorrow on the other side, and vice versa. I say to my Palestinian colleagues: Do not bemoan the establishment of the State of Israel; establish your own state, rejoice in its establishment and we will rejoice with you, since for us the establishment of the Palestinian state is not our Nakba, or disaster--provided that upon its establishment the word 'Nakba' be deleted from the Arabic lexicon in referring to Israel."
Israel’s Declaration of Establishment states that Eretz Yisrael, the “Land of Israel,” is open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles. In 1950, the Israeli government adopted the Law of Return—legislation that granted every Jew automatic right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen of the state. From 1848-1951 the Jewish population nearly doubled with over 600,000 new immigrants making Israel their home. The resolution created a more lenient stance regarding Jewish identification, allowing citizenship to anyone with either a maternal--or paternal--Jewish grandparent. Traditional Jewish Law dictates that lineage be traced strictly by maternal descent, or conversion. However, easements were made in light of the horror of Hitler’s Nazi regime to enable survivors of war crimes to find refuge—figuring, if individuals were determined Jewish enough for Hitler, certainly, they should be Jewish enough for Israel.
Today, making Aliyah, or immigration to Israel, continues from many countries, with greater amounts streaming in from Russia, Ethiopia, France, and the US. However, exact determination of Jewish identity continues to be a sore spot. Ultimately, maintaining a Jewish homeland under democratic rule remains the objective.
The government of Israel is a representative democracy, with the Prime Minister serving as head of government and the Knesset, as the legislative authority. The PM is elected by nationwide vote for a four- year term, as are the 120 members of the Knesset. The President of the State of Israel resides over more ceremonial obligations and is not included in the three branches of government (legislative, executive, judicial). At present, Ehud Olmert serves as Prime Minister and Shimon Peres as President.
Israel’s economy holds high ranking in the Mid-East region and worldwide. Last year it was 44th on the list of highest gross domestic product (US $232.7 billion) and 22nd for highest gross domestic product per capita (US $33,299). Technologically, Israel has excelled and become a forerunner in the market of computer software and related hardware, medical electronics equipment, telecommunications systems and has even become a world leader in fiber optics and electro-optics based robotics manufacturing systems. Computer based imaging, innovative graphics and educational programs are also involved.
Polished diamonds are also a definite component of the Israeli economy. Although most of the precious gemstones are imported from South Africa, advanced computer software helps to cut the diamonds to maximum specifications for export sales. Additionally, petroleum, chemicals, plastics, and minerals, often times from the Dead Sea, are big export items. Flowers, fruits and vegetables are exported primarily to Europe. Tied in with agriculture, typical of Israel, is the technology to utilize it. Israel exports advanced agro-technology robots to pick the fruit, electro-optical equipment to monitor quality, and genetically grown seeds to produce highest quality crops.
Still, there has been a predominantly heavy influx of imports over exports. Recent demand for kosher goods has been helping to shift that balance and generate a more equal flow of exports. Due to the rigorous requirements involved in kosher certification, North Americans and Europeans alike are requesting kosher products—especially vegetarians and those with allergies, as kosher items are clearly listed out and perceived by in large as healthier, cleaner food.
Israel is also a frontrunner in water conservation and geothermal energy. In 2007, Israel was asked to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—which encourages global cooperation via democratic principles and free market economies. The State of Israel is also going green. The government recently backed a reportedly “ambitious plan” by a private entrepreneur to install the world’s first electric car network by 2011. This includes half a million recharging stations to be dispersed throughout the country. Of course, these actions are to help promote responsibility in light of global warming and energy dependency. The government also provides financial incentives for the construct of more sustainable building projects. There are plans for a 250 MW solar power plant.
CULTURE & DEMOGRAPHICS
Because of the Disapora and then Zionism, the expansion and then contraction of Jews from so many parts of the world has produced a rich and varied profile, taking into account the various cultures of so many lands coming to one. Immigrants from Europe, North Africa, and Asia have been melding with those influenced by the Arab Palestinian culture. Premiere Prime Minister David Ben Gurion hoped to foster a blending of all peoples to make something new of it—a new nation, new country—with no separation of citizenry. He instated such concepts into both the military (Israel Defense Forces) and educational system with the intent of solidifying the people. Some criticized the “melting pot process,” especially Mizrahi Jews (descendents of Middle East) and Holocaust survivors, who felt forced to shed indigenous ways of life or identity.
Israel is one of the most multicultural and multi-linguistic societies in the world. Languages spoken include official dialects of Hebrew and Arab, as well as English, Russian, Yiddish, Romanian, Ukrainian, Amharic, Turkish, French, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, and Polish. So, who is an Israeli today? Of the 7,116,700 inhabitants recorded by the 2006 Israeli census, 5,394,400 are Jewish (75.79%), 1,413,300 are Israeli Arab (19.86%), and 309,900 are unaffiliated (4.35%). Of the Jewish population, 68% are Sabras (second or third generation Israeli born) and all others are Olim (Jews who make Aliyah [immigration to homeland of Israel]) from Europe and US (22%), and from Asia, Africa and Arab countries (10%).
Religiously, the Jewish profile is just as varied. A 2004 Israeli poll logged 43% as “secular,” 27% as “non-religious traditionalists” who partially abide by Jewish Law, or Halakha, 12% “religious-traditionalists” largely observing Halakha, 9% “religious” (orthodox, Zionist), and 8% listed as Haredim, or Ultra-Orthodox. Up to a quarter of the group is unaffiliated or atheist in belief. (The Old City of Jerusalem is home to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.) The bulk of the population (64.2%) falls between the ages of 15-64, with a smaller percentage (9.8%) ranking over the age of 65, and just over a quarter of the population under the age of 14 (26.1%). The average life expectancy (as charted from 2006 records) is 79.46 years.
Israel’s diverse presence has been inducted onto the World Wide Web with her own myspace page: www.myspace.com/state_of_israel. Israel’s profile looks something like this: She is a single female, nearly 60 years old, under the zodiac sign of Taurus, and living in the Old City (sans the prefix) of Jerusalem. Israeli pop singer Miri Maskia’s “Achshav Ata Chozer Bechazara” plays to welcome visitors. Visuals are rich and vibrant. So far, 2117 have logged in as friends of the Jewish State. Facts listed explain that although Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey, accomplishments include more museums than any other country per capita, second highest output of new books per citizen, more patents per person than citizens of any other nation, and also, that more than 85% of solid waste in Israel is treated in an environmentally sound manner.
Another interactive forum, an official blog for Israel can be found at www.isRealli.org where anyone can catch up on activities—from Jerry Seinfeld’s meeting with President Shimon Peres, to coffee, concerts or Israel’s green machines (consulate officials in NY switching to hybrid-electric vehicles). Also, www.israelpolitik.org was created to feed those hungry to figure complex issues taking place in the Middle East and serves as a forum to facilitate dialogue. Making Israel and her culture available to so many can be largely attributed to Consul for Media and Public Affairs David Saranga and his crew at the Israeli Consulate in New York.
Saranga’s sturdy push to make Israel more relevant may be deeper work than most might realize—especially in light of the intifada (Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, beginning in 1987) and faltering global public opinion. Israel’s military policy toward the Palestinians is perceived by some as apartheid-like. A recent article in the Israeli Haaretz press discusses a growing trend of anti-Semitism—especially in Europe--in relation to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Israel is beginning to be perceived as racist and unjust towards the Palestinian people. Strong Muslim and ultra-leftist perceptions are infiltrating European countries and reinforcing such ideas. One said the Palestinians have used the intifada to uproot the Israeli identity as moral and humane to one that is just the opposite. Concern is that solid US support of Israel may too become tainted if images of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict don’t soften.
A recent poll by The Israel Project reports that the State of Israel holds little weight in current US elections. It seems Americans are more concerned with the economy and jobs, the situation in Iraq, affordable health care, terrorism and national security. Project founder, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi states, ”Three quarters of the American Jewish community say that there are other issues more important than Israel—only 23 percent of the Jewish population listed Israel as a top issue.”
Still, apart from election concerns, this is all not bad news. Mizrahi notes a 60% increase in US support for Israel. Results from the poll show a thorough backing (71%) of Israel in the Palestinian conflict, and votes for a two-state solution run high (80%), which most believe will not only benefit Israel security-wise, but Palestinian people as well—economically and so forth. Half of the respondents, however, curtailed ideals of lasting peace. Ninety percent of Americans hold fast to Israel’s military defense of its people and land and liken actions to their own (response) should a similar intrusion occur. Americans see the Gaza humanitarian crisis as fault of Hamas leadership and the overview of conflict as more about ideology and religion, than blatant territorial disputes.
Strengthening the context of Israeli stamina are words reported by Yishai Fleisher on IsraeliNationalRadio.com. Fleisher shares that Jewish birth rates are rising—while Arab rates have leveled off—and that Israeli decision-makers should take this into account and “not give away Jewish geography in favor of Jewish demography.”
NEXT YEAR, IN JERUSALEM!
With Passover taking place shortly before the State of Israel’s 60th Anniversary celebration, the “Next Year, in Jerusalem!” salutation has the potential to resonate with a few added vibratory tones, should awareness occur. It is ever important, amidst tumultuous reports, to not lose sight or support of Israel’s formidable beginnings and admirable continuation of existence. To Israel, on May 18th, 2008, L’Chaim!