Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut 5771/2011

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Sixty-three years ago, the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine declared the establishment of a Jewish state, the State of Israel. After two thousand years of exile, the Jewish people were once again sovereign in their own homeland.

The Zionist dream was far from achieved, however. The fledgling Israel still had monumental tasks ahead of it: to build up the state, to absorb immigrants from all over the world, to revive the Jewish people after two thirds of their numbers and the majority of their communities in Europe had been destroyed in the Shoah, and to restore the Jewish nation to an ethos and consciousness of sovereignty.

These goals would have to wait, however, because immediately after declaring independence, Israel was invaded by armies from seven Arab countries, and was forced to fight for its very existence.

Sixty-three years later, Israel has much to be proud of. It has become the center of world Jewry and risen to the top of the ranks among the nations in all measures of political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and social achievements. It has established a sense of self-determination and security for the Jewish people, both in Israel and in the diaspora, which was only a dream the century before. And it has successfully defended itself from repeated Arab invasions as well as terrorist attacks against its civilians.

But on a day when we celebrate what we have accomplished, it is strikingly obvious what we have yet to achieve: peace and security. And not for lack of trying. Israel has been aggressively pursuing peace with its neighbors since 1948 when it announced in its Declaration of Statehood:

"WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land."

Unfortunately, even today, Israel still has to fear for its security. And Jews, because we so deeply desire peace, are often quick to believe that we ourselves have not done enough to achieve it. But the sad reality is, that no matter what we do, we will never have peace until our enemies accept the fact that the Jewish people is indigenous to the Land of Israel, that we have returned to our land and to our sovereignty, and that we are here to stay. There will be peace when our neighbors and the world accept peace on the terms we offered in 1948, peace "with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land."

Unfortunately, even today, the Palestinian Arabs are unwilling to accept this. The terrorist organization and governing body of the Gaza strip, Hamas, believes that "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it." It also believes that "there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." (Hamas Charter) And the Palestinian Authority has just signed a unity deal with Hamas, shattering the facade that it was moderate and dedicated to peace.

Yesterday was Yom Hazikaron, the Israeli day of remembrance for soldiers who have fallen and for victims of terrorist attacks. On this somber day, we reflect on the heavy cost that sixty-three years of war have taken from us: sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. Every Israeli is aware of this cost, and wants to be free from it. But they understand that surrender is not an option. To surrender means the end of the Jewish state.

When the Zionist leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine called for the creation of a Jewish state and a Jewish army, they knew what the cost would be. The state was not given to the Jewish people on a silver platter, and it persists and thrives by our own sweat and blood. On this Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, we should be proud of what we have accomplished, dedicated to continue the work, and cognizant that the price is worthwhile, because the martyrs of Israel have not died in vain.