Seventy-four years ago, this month, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence. Immediately following the declaration, surrounding Arab countries attacked Israel and despite being outnumbered, Israel was successful in its defense. Other wars followed in 1956, 1967 and 1973 – which led, eventually, to peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan and other Arab countries.
In the Middle East, where dictators and autocrats rule and place limits on freedom of speech, the press, and opposing political views, Israel stands out as the sole democracy. While it has held negotiations and signed various peace agreements with the Palestinians over the last 30 years, it still faces a tall task in reaching a comprehensive peace – which many have called an intractable conflict. Major obstacles stand in the way, such as the bifurcated Palestinian leadership: Hamas, a militant theocracy committed to destroying Israel, rules Gaza and has held several wars with Israel in recent decades; the Palestinian Authority oversees the West Bank – thus, creating two ruling factions that are archenemies. Until the Palestinians unite under one form of leadership, it is likely that the status quo will continue.
Israel is hardly perfect. It has the same issues that America and other Western countries have – much of the country’s wealth is controlled by a small percentage of the population; modest apartments fetch over $1 million in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, making it almost impossible for young adults to purchase property. About 25 percent of the country live below the poverty level, lacking essentials like housing, education, healthcare and food.
Even with all of its economic, social and military obstacles, Israelis love the country. In this year’s World Happiness Report, Israel ranked ninth as the world’s happiest country. Maybe it’s because there’s still a sense of unity and community in this tiny nation where everyone seems to know each other’s business. And, despite worldwide antisemitism that demonizes Israel, there is a beating heart in the country that welcomes and protects Jews and almost 2 million Palestinian citizens of the country – along with asylum seekers such as Ukrainians.
For much of the last 2,000 years, Jews sought a homeland where they would could live without fear of persecution and violence. Israel provides a sense of place and security. Israel’s creation and achievements are remarkable given the country’s short history. Let us salute Israel on its 74th Anniversary. Am Yisrael Chai.