68 Years – Independence Day, May 2016

Im Folgenden möchten wir einen Text veröffentlichen, den Gabriela W. anlässlich des 68. Unabhängigkeitstages Israels geschrieben hat. Die Autorin wurde 1931 in Berlin geboren und floh mit ihren Eltern aus Deutschland 1938 nach Argentinien. Gabriela wanderte 1946 – vor siebzig Jahren – dann nach Israel ein, damals noch das britische Mandatsgebiet Palästina. Sie erlebte von Beginn an die wechselvolle Geschichte des Staates Israel, die in ihrem Text anschaulich gewürdigt wird. Gabriela arbeitete bis zu ihrer Pensionierung zuletzt am Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science an der Tel Aviv University und lebt heute in Tel Aviv.

If Israel’s Rip van Winkle had gone to sleep in 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, and awoken in 2016 …

Rip van Winkle

He would have found that the Jewish population has grown from 600,000 to more than 10 times that number. He could have observed good and wonderful things to arouse his admiration and strengthen his love for the country as well as things to arouse his sorrow and fear for its future.

First the good things:

Ongoing peace with Egypt and Jordan. At the time of the Declaration of the State of Israel – unthinkable. Both countries invaded the country with the aim of destroying it. Today, despite the surrounding turmoil the borders with two of Israel’s former enemies are quiet and relations, although not as warm as was envisioned, are beneficial to all.

An Israel Defense Force, both strong and disciplined, subject to civilian rule, yet sufficiently independent of political pressure to declare its positions openly and articulate the moral and ethical values that govern its behavior and mode of operation.

Ample Foreign currency Reserves and a Strong Economy. 1948 Rip had to contend with a colossal lack of funds to buy even the barest necessities. He woke up in 2016 to find 95,685,000,000 US$ sitting in his kitty, composed of items such as earnings from exports, grants (in the form of such „toys“ as US fighter planes, or German-built submarines), income from the investments in start-ups, and various international loans. Israel’s diversified economy resulted in the production of approximately US$ 33,000 for each member of the population. Desalination projects have solved the perennial water shortage, even permitting export to Jordan. In addition to milk and honey, the land, or better said the sea is (or will be) producing natural gas. The high-tech sector led the list of industries that contributed to this economic well-being. In 1948, Rip exported Jaffa oranges. His descendants sell genetic developments, cyber secrets and water conservation solutions.

Diplomatic, commercial relationships with China and India. Then these two countries were part of the anti-Israel alignment established and promoted by Arab leadership. Today, both countries look to Israel for its innovative abilities, invest in Israel’s economy and bi-directional tourism flourishes. In 2016, the whole world, with a few exceptions, maintains open or discrete relations to Israel.

Immigration. From all the corners of the earth, from Europe, Yemen, North Africa, Russia, Ethiopia, the Americas, name the country and there will be someone from it in Israel. Some came as refugees fleeing from horrors and persecution. Others because of their love for the country and the wish to be part of it. All have contributed to make this a vibrant society, continually arguing, vociferous and noisy, a delight to those who know how to enjoy it.

Equality of non-Jewish Population. The situation in 1948 was different. The Arabs, especially the Muslim population, for the most part wanted the Jewish entity destroyed, were hostile to it and consequentially at least in part suffered martial law. In 2016 the non-Jewish population, willy-nilly has become part of Israel’s society. All are equal before the law; enjoy all civic rights, including the right to vote and to be elected. The Druze and Cherkessians have integrated better. The Muslim Arabs are still torn between their loyalty to the State and sympathy to their Palestinian neighbors.

A Judiciary System that has imposed values of equality in law upon all sectors of society. A Supreme Court of Justice that watches like a hawk to prevent corruptions and infringements of civil rights.

Universal Health Care Systems. Rip would think that it could be improved but overall, not as bad as pictured in the press. Hospitals have grown and their number increased (insufficiently some claim). Despite income differentiation, there is a universal Health Insurance law enacted so that no individual is left without the right to health care. Several Health Care Funds throughout the country ensure that the population receives the care to which it is entitled.

Jerusalem. Rip was truly happy to see that despite seven decades Jerusalem has retained its reputation of being a city of gold and copper as the evening sunlight shines on its houses. True, the former carefully dressed granite stone walls have been replaced by artificial stone-like material, yet the effect has been maintained. From a small town Jerusalem developed to an impressive city, proud of its buildings and its heritage. The Old city too has grown and adapted itself to the thousands of tourists and pilgrims of all religious denominations that flock each to their own holy places. The ultra-orthodox Jewish population in their black East European clothing and hats is still there in the small alleys with dozens of small prayer houses. Nothing has changed there. Yet counter to declarations of a „united“ Jerusalem, the Arab sectors of the city remain separate units—perhaps they should remain boroughs, similar to those that exist in other countries.

Tel Aviv. In 1948, the city in which Independence was declared was proud of being the „first Hebrew City“. It still is, the sea is as blue as it was but has a much improved beach promenade. Rip must be amazed at Tel Aviv’s skyline. Instead of modest 3-4 storey houses, tall towers scrape the sky and grand hotels offer the tourist the best of everything. It is still as vibrant as it was then, generally noisy, choc-full with half- finished projects, and now has impossible traffic jams. In short, a fun city offering low and highbrow culture to every taste imaginable.

Haifa. In 1948, it was the only port available. In 2016, its competitor is Ashdod. The panorama from Mt. Carmel is as beautiful now as it was then. The only thing that has changed is that the distance to Tel Aviv has been reduced from a two hours‘ drive to one hour by train.

The back of the beyond Negev has developed beyond recognition and the Galilee in the north has become within easy reach of the center. There are new towns, new villages. The drab little port Eilat is now a booming tourist town, Mecca to scuba divers and port to the Far East. Beer Sheba, Abraham’s sleepy little town, now boasts a flourishing university and science park. The Hula lagoon in the north, once source of malaria is now a world center for bird watchers as they observe and count the migrating birds that overfly the Holy Land.

****

Rip van Winkle rubs his eyes. So much has happened since he fell asleep, but, sadly, many things have gone wrong. Some of them pose real and concrete threats to the very fabric of Israel’s society. Some, with a little thought and goodwill can and should be repaired.

Dominion over a foreign people and the land on which they live.

How did this happen? Rip was slumbering in 1967, when in response to a three-pronged attack by Egypt, Syria and Jordan, Israel fought, overcame and took over large chunks of territory beyond its border. The West bank then was, as its name, the west bank of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. No one, at the time talked about any legitimate rights of the Palestinians to a state of their own. In fact, when the UN had offered it to them in 1948 they refused. Give those territories back, let’s have peace, cried some. We need security and the land was promised to us, others cried. The result 50 years later is a rule over people who hate and intend to use every opportunity to hurt anything to do with Israel. Within Israel, the absolute power over a non-Jewish population has become a cancer in society. To a certain extent, the population benefited from Israel’s more developed services. Yet slowly, force, degradation, injustice began to spread. The old adage „power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely“ is realized. From being a „light unto nations“, Israel is denounced as a cruel oppressor. Both claims are blatantly untrue. Two things are required to unravel the Gordian knot of the Arab-Israel conflict: Each side must recognize, sincerely and publicly the other’s right to exist on the land and the fact that no one will disappear or go away to please anyone. From that basis start negotiating the knots and unpick them step by little step.

Economic inequality. The gap between the very rich and the very poor has grown to monstrous dimensions. The number of rich people and their wealth has increased to an extent that threatens society’s health. The resulting inequality touches all aspects of life: education, health, housing, job opportunities. Consequently, there is growing frustration and anger that incites violence in the home and on the streets. Politicians who should arouse admiration as role models arouse disgust and mockery at their ineptness to solve any problem. Can the problem be addressed? Sure, adopt and carry out the motto „where there’s a will there’s a way“ and the situation will improve.

Ethnic Rift. Rip doesn’t really understand whether it actually exists or whether it is blown up by self-seeking politicians, the media or anyone else who is seeking trouble. In his opinion, the so-called „rift“ or „chasm“ is mostly the result of long-acting economic inequality. The so-called Ashkenazis, i.e. Europeans and Russians came to Israel equipped with better education and more money. The North African immigration came later and was poorer and less educated. Certainly, in 1948, society was more homogenous than it is today. Rip sighs. Israel is Europe-oriented. So, the ones should stop being snobs and the others stop feeling continually humiliated. Time will heal. Already 75% of the population is Israel born and the multi-cultural character of Israel’s society in 2016 offers enormous potential.

Growing Religiosity invading every aspect of life. Rip knows that in 1948 the country was definitely secular, respectful of traditional Judaism. Sabbath morn go to pray in the synagogue and in the afternoon go to cheer your favorite soccer team. The few hundred ultra-orthodox received exemption from the army to rebuild „the burnt surviving stump of European Jewry“. By 2016, the number of exemptions had risen to the thousands, becoming symbols of parasites. In parallel, the political leverage of religious factions increased and the demands for „Jewishness“ have been successfully imposed on schools, army, restaurants. The effect has been further polarization between the different sectors. Rip would advise the religious factions to be more moderate in their demands and recognize the fact that forbidding women to sing has absolutely nothing to do with believing in God or in the Bible.

Inadequate Education System. Israel’s greatest asset is its human capital, yet not enough is done to enhance it. The very multicultural character of Israeli society requires imagination and judicious distribution of budgets to the various sectors. School classes are generally too crowded to permit effective teaching and it is here that economic inequality has its effect. More efficient planning of higher education would benefit the country as a whole and attract students to professions needed in the state.

Alienation from Jews in the Diaspora. In 1948, Rip had close family and friends throughout the world, especially in the USA. Their warm and unswerving support of Israel helped through every crisis the state faced. The generation of 2016 „does not know Joseph“. The establishment of the State and the period leading up to it, the horrors of the Holocaust are history. Cousins have become second and third -degree family members. There is sympathy and support, but Israel is now judged by its present policies and behavior. Israel must stop taken this support for granted and increase its efforts to reach out to strengthen the ties.

The list of things to mend and correct seems endless.

Rip van Winkle gets up in 2016, determined not to fall asleep again, brushes his teeth and full of optimism, sets out to correct what he can and to maintain everything that is good in his beloved Israel.

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