Israel’s Big Day, Under Sun and Cloud (NY) TIMES) By ETHAN BRONNER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/26/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-Top
JERUSALEM — The paradox that is Israel — wealthy, dynamic and safe,
yet mistrusted, condemned and nervous — was on full display on
Wednesday as the country mourned its fallen soldiers and began
celebrating its 64th Independence Day.
Commentators on the left and the right stuck to their scripts, with
the left asserting that the country’s treatment of the Palestinians
and its regional saber rattling have made it isolated and stagnant,
and the right glorifying Israel’s accomplishments: high-tech
innovations, long life expectancies and democracy.
President Shimon Peres, in an interview with the newspaper Maariv,
summed up the sense of wonder that has driven Israel’s belief in
itself, describing the poor odds of the Zionist militia against the
Arab world in 1948.
“Israel, mathematically or tangibly, should not have been
established,” he said. “Prior to the War of Independence, there was
no chance. We were 650,000, they were 40 million. They had seven
armies, we had barely 5,000 soldiers.” He added: “So tangibly we were
on the brink of collapse, but we won anyway, thanks to hidden powers.
Ever since, for all of my life, I have tried to understand those
Yet in the same interview, Mr. Peres warned about Israel’s direction,
saying that without peace with the Palestinians, its economic prowess
and future would be imperiled.
“Israel has been blessed with a lot of talent that manufactures many
excellent products,” he said. “And in order to export, you need good
products, but you also need good relations. So why make peace?
Because if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer
boycotts. There is already an artistic boycott against us — they
won’t let Habimah Theater enter London — and signs of an undeclared
financial boycott are beginning to emerge.”
Israel’s settlement building in the West Bank drew more international
condemnation this week after the government retroactively legalized
three Jewish outposts there. The Palestinians described the move as
another example of why there is no peace. For the two-day
commemoration of Memorial Day and Independence Day, Israel closed
access to the country from the West Bank.
The Arab revolutions of the past 16 months have also felt threatening
to Israel, and talk of regional peace, already fading in recent
years, has nearly disappeared from the national agenda. Instead,
there is a sense promulgated by the government that Israel needs to
hunker down, improve its defenses and wait for the storms to pass.
Egypt announced this week that it was canceling its supply of natural
gas to Israel, and while both governments publicly described it as
merely a business dispute, it was clear that deep political
antagonism was behind the decision as Egypt moves away from the
policies of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Moreover, the Egyptian Sinai has become a source of enormous concern
for Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week calling
it a “kind of Wild West,” and the foreign minister, Avigdor
Lieberman, saying Israel should consider massing more troops along
that border, because Egypt has become an even greater concern than
That led Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi of Egypt to warn that
his country would defend its territory. “We will break the legs of
anyone trying to attack us or who comes near the border,” he said.
A senior Israeli official said that Egypt’s direction — anti-Israel,
Islamist — was clear, and that there was little Israel could do to
change its course. Similar arguments have been waged here in the past
few years about Turkey, once a friend of Israel and now one of its
Zvi Bar’el, a commentator on Middle Eastern affairs for the left-wing
newspaper Haaretz, took issue on Wednesday with that Israeli
analysis, saying that the problem was Israeli policy in the West Bank
and Gaza, and that commercial concerns could not make that go away.
“Both Egypt and Turkey have never given up — neither in exchange for
gas nor for military equipment — their desire to persuade Israel to
conduct its policy in a manner that would enable them to maintain
relations with it, without undermining their relationship with their
citizens and with the countries of the region,” he wrote. “Israel,
which considered these relations a seal of approval for continuing
its policy in the territories, lived with the illusion that the money
index would solve everything.”
But the bulk of the commentary on Wednesday, as befits a national day
of celebration, was self-congratulatory and laudatory.
There were the numbers from the Central Bureau of Statistics: 7.9
million people live here, 10 times the number at the country’s
founding, with 14 big cities. Seventy percent of the inhabitants are
native-born, compared with 35 percent in 1948. Israel’s gross
domestic product per capita would fit well into Western Europe. The
economy is sound.
There was also discussion of what is considered here to be unfair
criticism from abroad. Ben-Dror Yemini, a centrist commentator at
Maariv, devoted his column to writing a letter to Theodor Herzl, the
19th-century Austrian journalist who was the father of Zionism, with
advice if he could visit to see what had become of his vision.
Mr. Yemini recommended to him that he leave aside loyalty to his
profession and not read newspapers, because they are filled with
He added, “Did you know, dear visionary, that Europe, where you
realized that the Jews would have no future, gives more research
grants to Israelis than to any other country on earth?” And, “Did you
know that the yield per acre here is the highest in the world?”
Mr. Yemini wrote: “If we believe academic publications, international
institutions and newspapers, Israel is a terrible place that
manufactures and exports violence to the whole world, a country that
spends all its time oppressing, a country that is at the top of the
list in corruption and human rights violations.
“If we were to examine reality, the picture is completely different.
Israel is one of the safest places in the world, life expectancy is
one of the highest in the world, the percentage of people with
quality higher education is one of the highest in the world, and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict has the lowest number of casualties in
comparison to any other conflict in the world.”
He said that all of this was especially impressive given that Israel
was built by immigrants and had faced conflict for decades. His view
was echoed by a poll conducted for the newspaper Yediot Aharonot —
but so was the skepticism and concern of others. Eighty-eight percent
of Israeli Jews polled said they were proud to be Israeli, yet a vast
majority — 77 percent of secular Jews and 62 percent of religiously
observant ones — said Israel lacked cohesion and suffered from
Still, asked whether Herzl would have been pleased, 63 percent said
the state had come out “just as he intended.” (Copyright 2012 The New
York Times Company 04/26/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY