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Thoughts of Independence
We were born two weeks before the State of Israel. Our father was active in the Zionist underground in Iraq and chose our names to express the hopes for a Jewish State, our third home that would be a light unto the nations.
Every Independence Day, we look at the state as if she were our sister or daughter. We all have high expectations from our state, some based on European Liberalism or the Socialist promise of universal redemption, and others express the yearning for the Messianic age. Like an artist, we try to walk back from our unfinished work and examine it from a distance: Was this the original intent when the creative process began? The Zionist founding fathers had a variety of dreams. This reminds us of the story about the parents who argued which name to give their son, so they went to the Rabbi and asked for his ruling.
"I want the child to be named Israel, after my grandfather," said the mother.
"And I want the child to be named Israel, after my own grandfather," said the father.
"Well," said the Rabbi, "congratulations! Call him Israel."
Both parents protested: "But which Israel should he be named after, his father's grandfather or his mother's? Whose path should he follow?"
The Rabbi smiled and said: "Let him grow up and we shall see which Israel he would choose to be…"
Let us remember that our generation has witnessed the miracle of returning to Zion. The Jews first met the Land of Israel when the liberated slaves came from Egypt to find redemption here. They were 600,000 men, 12 tribes, who came to fulfil the promise given to their ancestors. We then saw the rise of a flourishing commonwealth that was later split into two kingdoms. After the first destruction, our people met the land again, when King Cyrus called the exiles to return to Zion. But the first Return to Zion also exposed the crisis of realising the dream. Only 40,000 Jews returned, although they were exiled for only 70 years. Most Jews remained in exile and abandoned the dream. Prophet Haggai addressed the exiles: "Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your cieled houses, while this house lieth waste?" (Haggai, 1:4).
This dilemma is repeated during the second Return to Zion. Zionism succeeded in reviving our language and fulfilling the dream of Jewish statehood. Yet many Jews remain in exile.
During the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897), Herzl said: "Zionism means first and foremost, a return to Judaism, even before we return to our land." Despite his assimilated background, Herzl saw the importance of the Jewish tradition and continuity, especially the legacy of social solidarity and justice.
Today, we face a critical social crisis. Huge, dark waves are threatening our community. Having seen all the experiments, all the magic solutions, we now know that floods cannot be stopped with cardboard dams. As shown in the movie 'Titanic', we see euphoria and parties, while our ship is approaching the ominous iceberg. The slaps on the shoulder - "We are strong", "We can meet the challenges" - are insufficient if we do not face reality and seek honest solutions. The strength of a nation is not measured only by the economic power of the mighty and a stable national currency, but also through caring for the weak and fostering social solidarity.
We created the state to secure the existence of the Jewish people, but it is now clear that we still live under threat. Yet today we have power and sovereignty and we don't have to rely on the good will of others.
Our security problems are different from those of other nations, since the rules of the game are entirely different here. Similarly, our history and our links with our land are different from those of other nations. Our return to settle in our land is different from any other historical process.
The constant threat from the ongoing Arab hostility demand that we unite and stop all internal rivalries. The time has come to put aside unrealistic dreams and return to our roots. Even when we stretch a hand of peace to our enemies, we must remember that we have no margin of error and we must secure the safety of our country and its people.
The aspiration for "normality" may have blurred our vision, since it led us to forsake unique symbols and adopt certain indifference toward parts of our land and our heritage. Many Israelis have embraced Western secularism and abandoned other values. Many worship ideals like "work", "peace" and "individual freedom". All these are important, but let us remember our own culture. Before being a light unto the nations, we must be a light unto ourselves.
While idolising these notions, we have hurt the workers and underprivileged communities and reduced the chance of true peace. We have used "Liberalism" to hurt individual citizens. The messianic perception of peace, the over-westernised portrayal of the new Israeli, the ruthless pursuit of economic achievements - all these damaged our capacity for realistic understanding of various needs, including the recognition of different cultures in Israeli society. We have not yet reached the goal of one Israeli identity; we still have much work to do. We cannot discard all our cultures at once to create a single-dimension Israeli.
We face years of struggle with our hostile environment, with our culture and with the forces that seek to erase our unique identity and damage our internal unity. We must remember that Arab hostility is not over yet and therefore, we must keep our eyes open and remain cautious.
Throughout the generation, our people's strength was in its wisdom, its experience and in fostering personal responsibility. It is written in our history and in the prophecies that taught us to go against the stream and see reality clearly. Despair and false utopias are the friends of the iceberg that awaits the Titanic. We have a land but no calm. We have much in common to unite us on our way to redemption. We have built our third home and we are responsible for its safety, since this is our last home.
Herzl and Balfour Hakak, 12/May/2005