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Israel at seventy: time to celebrate and time to lament

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Thursday, 17 May 2018

Israel has forgotten its own history as a people driven from their homes, facing discrimination, expulsion, and death. By deporting mostly African migrants fleeing starvation and war in their home countries, Israel is forfeiting its moral obligations.

Demographically, Israel faces imminent danger of losing its Jewish majority, particularly because of decreasing immigration, increasing emigration, and low birth rate compared to the Palestinians. Many young Israelis are leaving mostly because of the government's policies in relation to the unending conflict with the Palestinians. Between 1990 and 2014, over 526,000 emigrated from Israel, and only 229,000 returned.

What is most lamentable of all, however, is that after seven decades of existence Israel is still haunted by the ongoing and persistent conflict. It has won many wars and battles against the Palestinians, but failed to win the peace.


As the Israelis celebrated on Monday the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, the festivities were marred by the deaths of over 60 Palestinians in Gaza. They have come to demonstrate along the border with Israel not as much because of the opening of the embassy, but because of the subhuman conditions under which they have been living for the past 11 years.

Gaza is an open prison, only few can enter or leave; the lack of electricity, drinking water, scare resources, and joblessness fills the air with despair and despondency. Many came to the border ready to die, for they have little left to lose.

The situation in the West Bank does not fare much better. The freedom of movement of Palestinians is restricted, night raids are common, unemployment is rampant, and expulsion, incarceration, and demolition of Palestinian homes is commonplace. Languishing under military occupation, human rights abuses often become fair play. Mutual hatred, enmity, and distrust has made the days of reconciliation an ever more distant pipedream.

For these horrifying conditions to exist seventy years later is tragic-a travesty of historical proportions.

The Palestinians are not blameless for their miserable conditions. They have missed repeated opportunities to solve the conflict but failed time and again, clinging to their old and tired narrative, making untenable demands while resorting to violent resistance and threatening Israel's existence, which has only played into the hands of right-wing Israelis.

Every Israeli must remember that a two-state solution is not a gift to the Palestinians. It is the only way by which Israel can preserve its independence, democracy, and the Jewish national character of the state. But sadly for successive Israeli governments, maintaining the occupation and building new and expanding existing settlements assumed priority over peace.


If Netanyahu and his government are truly concerned about Iran's existential threat, he should focus on the home front and settle the conflict with the Palestinians. Why not deal with the inevitability of coexistence now and find a solution when every day, week, month, and year that passes makes the conflict ever more violent and intractable?

Yes, Israel has every reason to be proud of its incredible achievements, but as long as it remains shackled by the occupation, all of its accomplishments mean little. The current state of affairs in Israel defies the vision of its founding fathers-a vision of a Jewish home living in peace with itself and its neighbors; a prosperous, progressive, and secure home that offers refuge for the Jews while adhering to the highest moral standards.

No military might, fences, or walls will provide Israel the safety and security it seeks. Only peace forged from a position of strength would guarantee Israel's survival and make future Independence Days a day to celebrate with joy and pride.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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