Last week Jews in their homeland and throughout the Diaspora celebrated Israel’s 70th birthday. They revelled in this small, young country’s amazing achievements – its military prowess, economic strength, vibrant culture and breakthroughs in science, technology, medicine and more. Despite its precarious beginnings, four major wars and the constant threat of war, the nation thrives. Yet not everyone was content to merely “kvell.” Some voiced grave concern over short-sighted, hyper nationalistic trends and the failure to make progress on the Palestinian issue. Here’s a small sampling of the more sober reflections.

Peace Now celebrated Israel’s 70th with a special “Shalom” flag to stress the need for peace.

A hard-hitting lead editorial in Ha’aretz asks whether Israel’s achievements are “enough to erase the sin of the occupation that is spreading through the depths of its soul”.
“For 50 years Israel has controlled millions of people without rights by way of military power. It seized their land while dispossessing its owners and established settlements where hundreds of thousands of Israelis now live; it has also harnessed all the state’s bureaucracies to preserve this disastrous enterprise.”
“… the disastrous occupation is being pushed to the margins of Israel’s consciousness, to the point where the public is starting to believe the problem’s been solved….”
“Israel is entitled to celebrate its 70th birthday. It is also entitled to take pride in its many accomplishments over these years. But it will only be able to celebrate true independence when its neighbor, the state of Palestine, can celebrate independence as well.”
Author David Grossman evoked similar themes in his eloquent speech to bereaved Israelis and Palestinians at an alternate Memorial Day gathering. (The Grossmans lost their son Uri in the 2006 Lebanon war.)
“Israel may be a fortress,” Grossman declared, “but it is not yet a home.”
“Home is a place whose walls – borders – are clear and accepted; whose existence is stable, solid, and relaxed; whose inhabitants know its intimate codes; whose relations with its neighbors have been settled. It projects a sense of the future.”
“….The solution to the great complexity of Israeli-Palestinian relations can be summed up in one short formula: if the Palestinians don’t have a home, the Israelis won’t have a home either.”
Grossman concluded his moving address with his dream for a better future, in words that seem to echo those of the late Martin Luther King.
“And I wish that in 70 years’ time our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, both Palestinian and Israeli, will stand here and each will sing their version of their national anthem. But there is one line that they will be able to sing together, in Hebrew and Arabic: ‘To be a free nation in our land,’ and then maybe, at last, it will be a realistic and accurate description, for both nations.”
For the full speech, click here
Another powerful speech was recently delivered by Justice Rosalie Abella at the Hebrew University’s Minerva Center for Human Rights. The address was not directly related to Independence Day, but it was reprinted as part of the Times of IsraelIndependence Day coverage. Justice Abella is the senior judge on the Supreme Court of Canada and a daughter of concentration camp survivors. In a moving cri de coeur, she spoke about the importance of an independent judiciary to democracy and her concern that this principle has been under attack in Israel.
“As a Jew, it made me particularly proud to watch how the Israeli judges became icons internationally. And so, as a Jew, it has made me particularly sad to see the judiciary’s noble mission and legacy under rhetorical siege here. To me when an independent judiciary is under siege, democracy is under siege, and when democracy is under siege, a country’s soul is being held hostage.
What is most alarming to me about this ongoing attempt to delegitimize the reputation of the judiciary is that it is being done in the name of patriotism. This, to me, seems somewhat perverse. Patriotism means upholding the values on which your country is based. Those values in Israel are Jewish and democratic. They include respect for human rights, tolerance, equality, and dignity. That is what being patriotic means. Yet in championing those values, the Israeli judiciary finds itself demonized by some for being independent from political expedience and immune to political will.
Independent judges who are not politically compliant are not anti-democratic, they are doing their job; those critics, on the other hand, who think patriotism means doing only what politicians want are the biggest threat to Israel’s values, because they misconceive democracy as majoritarian rule.”

For her speech as printed in the Times of Israel, click here

We conclude with a message from our sister organization, Peace Now/Shalom Achshav in Israel.

This Independence Day, Israelis have been asked to reflect on what there is to be proud of. In honor of this theme, we want to express our pride and appreciation for the hundreds of dedicated activists and tens of thousands of Israelis who took part in our our activities this past year.

We are proud to live in a country where concerned and caring citizens go out to the streets and exercise their civic duty, particularly those who do so to push their government to pursue every avenue for peace.
Even in its 70th year, we at Peace Now struggle for Israel’s future, which can only be secured with a coordinated end to its rule over the Palestinians and a negotiated two-state solution.