Israel Turns 71: What Israelis May Be Thinking About

In this 71st year since statehood, Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Day of Remembrance – is May 8, followed on May 9 by Yom Haatzmaut, Independence Day. In Israel there is major recognition of these events.

The Day of Remembrance is experienced by quiet observation, no movies or theatres will play. Radio stations broadcast programs that recall the loss of life in all of Israel’s wars. A siren announces the arrival at dusk of Yom Hazikaron. It sounds again at midmorning and all traffic and activity halts for two minutes of silence to mark the sacrifices.

At sundown Israelis achieve an immense change of pace and mood. Yom Haatzmaut includes dancing all evening and into the wee hours of the night at the Wall, and partying in Safra Square (outside Jerusalem’s city hall) and at block parties across the nation.

A token group of pre-cleared Palestinians have been invited to the Remembrance Day ceremonies in past years. This year the government has a complete shutdown on travel for the holiday and Palestinians are not invited (in fact, disinvited according to Haaretz).

This year the holiday finds Israel between governments, although there is no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will once again form a government and continue as P.M., setting a record for lifetime service in that post.

Despite the P.M.’s tight hold on the government, this holiday comes at a time when Israel is at the center of a worldwide storm: a dispute over the continued growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Concern over the lack of progress in reaching any peace with the Palestinians living there and in Gaza. And a movement of young people and university academics away from support of the Government of Israel is happening, particularly in the U.S.

Through astute politicking, the American Jewish community and Christian religious groups have secured the unwavering support of the Trump Administration for the Netanyahu policies.

So Israelis might, during their celebration, toast the imminent declaration of annexation of portions of the West Bank. They might celebrate the American support of their permanent occupation of portions of the Golan Heights. They will be pleased at entrenchment of their sole possession of all of Jerusalem, marked by the move of the official address of the American embassy in Israel, and the closure of our separate legation to the Palestinian Authority.

A “Greater Israel” is closer at hand than ever.

Yet the Israelis ought to hold a measured celebration. Israel is in an arms race with Iran, which has the backing of Russia and could potentially secure the support of China as well – the latter being an increasingly capable designer and maker of armaments. The Trump Administration is a firm friend, but unlike the Israeli P.M., Trump faces a serious reelection challenge and, beyond that, a term limit.

So those of us who recall the history of the State, from an assemblage of islands in the United Nations Partition Plan to the present military power from the river to the sea, may say a prayer for a Smarter Israel, as soon as possible.