Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Israel at 62

Today is Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) in Israel. While it shares many similarities with Independence Day in the US (July 4), including warm weather, BBQs, flags, fireworks, and a general day off, it has many differences.

Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) - is the day before Independence Day, and actually includes the country remembering its lost (as opposed to the US where the vast majority of citizens simply treat it as a vacation day). In the US, even now, many of US in certain socioeconomic spheres know only a handful of people who served in the military. Here, the vast majority of people served in the military, and those who didn't and don't even live here know dozens of people who did.

Israeli Independence Day is also different because it has a religious component. For most Jews, today's morning service were expanded, making them more like other post-Torah holidays, such as Hanukah. The idea is that in 1948 God really did intervene and save a ragtag, underarmed band of Jews, many of them Holocaust survivors, from the surrounding Arab armies. This was a miracle on the level of the Maccabee's victory in 165 BCE, and should be celebrated as such.

Despite this celebration, Israel is still a land of contradictions. Many parts are fervently secular (with Jews who have never set foot in a synagogue) yet others are fervently religious, almost theocratic. Its people are warm and hospitable yet often impatient and loud. It is full of Hebrew, the language of the commandments, prophets, rabbis, and commentators, yet also full of natively spoken English. It is democratic, yet it differentiates among fundamental characteristics of its citizens, with different laws applying to citizens based on their religion

It is also a land that needs to think past tomorrow. Israel has been scarred by Palestinian terrorism for decades and is obfuscated by their intransigence at negotiations, most specifically in 2000 at Camp David. A large portion of the society wants a second disengagement, this time from the West Bank, yet it is all too aware that its last two wars (in Lebanon and Gaza) have have fought to protect its civilians from enemies that have filled the vacuum left by its withdrawals.

And then there is the anti-Obama rhetoric. President Obama is so reviled here that he should consider running for Prime Minister. The fact that the blank check that former President Bush extended is no longer good has incensed Israels. General Petraeus' comment that “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests....Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world” became construed as "Obama blames American deaths in Iraq on the Jews."

Many of these individuals were not particularly large fans of the President to begin with, either because of the color of his skin or because they have been Giuliani Republicans for years. Nevertheless, is entirely overlooked here that Obama has not proposed cutting a cent of foreign aid, or removing the exemption that allows American citizens to serve in the Israeli Army and not lose their citizenship for joining a foreign military, or reducing any of the intelligence sharing, or diminishing in any way the trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.

The President is pushing the Israelis to start acting like adults. Is the blanket building freeze a blunt instrument? Yes. Are there reasonable situations where some of the settlements in the West Bank (the Gush, Maale Adumin, Ariel) will likely remain part of Israel? Yes. Will Jerusalem almost certainly remain a unified city? Yes. Is Israeli being asked to do more than any other country in recent history that won territory in defensive wars? Yes. But, should Israel begin to do whatever it can to create a viable, contiguous block of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, including adjusting its financial incentives and subsidies? Yes.

Israel cannot continue the current situation. Consider what happens if it does: The Palestinians areas in the West Bank will continue to be more and more densely populated. The international community will continue to turn away from Israel and not give it the benefit of the doubt. And this great Jewish state, vital for the worldwide existence of the Jewish people, will be left with more settlers to forcefully relocate and an even more radicalized, frustrated Palestinian population.

This only gets harder from here. Israel is nearly a senior citizen. It's time to think seriously about creating a legacy that will last, and not just provide for tomorrow's breakfast.

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