Struggles and Achievements
Abridged from an article by His Excellency Zvi Gabay, Iraqi born Ambassador of Israel to Ireland.
Fifty years ago, for the third time in history, we proclaimed our independence, in a part of what was known as mandated Palestine. Fifty years ago, we restored national sovereignty in our ancient homeland. Throughout the dark days of 2,000 years of dispersion we dreamt of the day when we would renew our national life in the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel.
The renewal of our statehood is one of the great ethical affirmations of our time. An age-old wrong had been righted. Around the same period, 22 Arab states came into being simultaneously in the Middle East and North Africa in far more generous dimensions. In the vast area conquered by the allies from Ottoman - Turkish domination, we were offered a little corner, which covered only 30% of the original territory of mandatory Palestine, promised to us.
We set ourselves to develop it in peace and co-operation with our neighbours. Unfortunately, failure to achieve that complete peace has been costly to Arabs and Jews alike.
Ingathering of Exiles
The primary objective of Israel, set out in the Declaration of Independence of May 14, 1948, was, and still is, to provide a home for every Jew who needs a haven. With diverse backgrounds, speaking 78 different languages and dialects, Jews assembled from 102 different nations. The speed with which communities from varied backgrounds became one nation, testifies to the unique historical bond that ties the Jewish people to the land of Israel and also to the future aspiration of living a genuine Jewish life in one form or another.
An Egalitarian Society
A deep contrast exists between Israel and most of its neighbours not only in the political aspect, but also in the economic and social ones. Israel as a democratic state pledged in its Declaration of Independence to '...uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion race or sex; guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture...'
Israel, as a self-declared Jewish State has been struggling with the question of what role the Jewish religion would play in the formation of the government of the secular state. Undoubtedly, the status of religion in Israel will continue to be debated.
Regarding equality before the Law, the position of the government and the people of Israel has remained unchanged for more than 3,000 years. The basic tenets of Judaism, as enshrined in the Bible, are irreconcilable with any form of racism or discrimination. The dictum that 'G-d created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27) applies to all people of all races. These, of course, are but a few characteristics of the society of Israel today.
In Israel, the demand for the arts, entertainment and literature is out of proportion to its size and population.
Proportionally, Israel ranks among the top countries in the world of newspaper readers, scientific publications and concert goers. The same is true for theatrical performances; their number is almost equal to that of cities like New York, London, and Paris. Furthermore, unlike the tragic paradox that made liberated nations revert to the language of their colonial occupiers as the only means of communication, the Jews who gathered in Israel revived their ancient language, Hebrew. A language that was exclusively the language of major books was transformed and modernised to become the main language of daily communication.
It became a language as playful in the kindergarten as it is precise in the institutes of higher learning. It has now grown from the 8,000 word vocabulary of the Bible to the approximate 120,000 words in use in Israel today. Moreover, the upsurge in artistic creativity particularly in the composition of plays, songs and pop songs attests to the successful revival and the vitality of the Hebrew language today.
Hebrew became the cornerstone of our national and political rebirth, and the unifying factor of the Jewish people and its heritage.
It is evident that Israel is not a melting pot, for that theory clearly envisages a process of assimilation into one group, but rather a tapestry of cultures from the East and the West who came together united by their common history and religion to form a mosaic full of variety. Rather, one can describe Israel as a place where events take place with great rapidity, without any clear notion as to the characteristics of its new generation.
With all its tremendous tasks of building, Israel has translated a distant dream into solid reality. It has brought to fruition the labour of pioneers who, since the turn of the century, gave their lives to transform a barren soil into fertile farmland and flourishing villages.
Because Israel is poor in natural resources, it must rely on its brain power. In many technological areas it has shown impressive results. Some of its products compete with those of the most sophisticated economies in the world. Israel became a leader in micro electronics, computer hardware and software, biotechnologies, diamond polishing and scientific discoveries. This year our high-tech production reaches $7 billion and we expect to double that in 4 years time.
Furthermore, since 1957 Israel has co-operated with scores of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in such critical areas as agricultural technology, irrigation, food production, construction, health and regional planning.
We would have been glad to use our energy in the more rewarding tasks of solving problems instead of worrying about military preparedness. We are still suffering from a deficit in our balance of payments, which last year dropped by $32 billion, which proportionally is considered one of the highest in the world, higher even than industrial countries like Japan and Germany. In addition, foreign investments reached $3.8 billion in 1997. Israel is currently a member of the group of 25 countries with the highest per capita national incomes in the world. In 1996, Israel's GDP per capita was $17,200.
International economic interest in Israel and in the Middle East has grown with the signing of peace agreements. As the region appears to be moving towards co-existence, many friends around the world are helping cement the Peace Process and profit from the advent of a new era. A similar situation is actually happening here in Ireland.
Israel's Desire For Peace With the Arab World
Israel is facing an image dilemma which is rooted in the fact that it is a frontier state, located between diverse political cultures: the Western and the Middle Eastern worlds, the latter marked by social and political instability and religious fundamentalism.
The Jews and the Arabs, who have been in close contact with one another for thousands of years, sometimes as different religions, sometimes even as different civilisations, are now confronting each other in a totally new and most complex situations.
The ingathering of Jews in Israel and the re-establishment of the State of Israel have been regarded by most Muslim Arabs as a contradiction to the logic of Arab-Islamic history. Still the Arab image of the Jew, and in our case, the Israeli, is rooted in the clash between the prophet Mohammed and the Jews in the 7th century Arab peninsula. Pan-Arabism of modern times inherited its negative attitude and translated it to the present political and military actions.
Last year, we marked the 25th anniversary of the historic initiative of the late Prime Minister of Israel, Menahem Begin and the late President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. These leaders, in their historic decision, and their courageous leadership, pioneered the way towards the first peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
I was happy to witness this first crack in the wall of Arab hostility towards Israel. A year after we signed the peace treaty, I was privileged to represent my country in Egypt.
The comprehensive peace we yearn for will not be achieved until we reach peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon. We wish to see a sovereign, free and independent Lebanon acting determinedly against the terrorist organisations which operate from its territory. It should be emphasised that, for Israel, peace with all of our neighbours must create a reality of normalisation: open borders, freedom of movement and commerce for the benefit of the entire region.
Normalisation is essential to maintain peaceful relations and economic progress for all. Israel's experience and know-how in high-tech industries, together with its history of co-operation with many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, constitute an immense opportunity for progress to the whole region of the Middle East.
The countries of the Middle East who are party to the peace effort have a common interest in regional stability, and the advancement of prosperity and well-being for all the nations of the region. We face together the growing shortage of water, and the ever-expanding desert. We are also faced with threats which could undermine the stability of the regimes of various nations and which threaten to plunge the entire region into violence and war.
After the establishment of peaceful relations between Israel and every country in the region, it will be possible to bring about the establishment of a regional security system, which would provide multilateral and shared solutions to a range of security problems in the Middle East.
Scribe: Some of the difficult problems facing Israel with the negotiations with the Palestinians will be - the return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, and the status of Jerusalem as the eternal and the indivisible capital of Israel.
It has always been our strong contention that there was, subsequent to the war of Independence between the Palestinians who left Israel and the Jews who were forced to leave the Arab countries. Successive Israeli governments ignored this formidable equation, thus exposing Israel to - one-sided - Palestinian demands. Shimon Peres who recently visited the Saatchi Synagogue for a Shabbath service followed by lunch, stood up and said at the Knesset, when he was Foreign Minister, that the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries were not refugees but Olim. Thus, in typical fashion, he put his foot in one of Israel's major negotiating trump cards.
The fact is that the Jews left the Arab countries definitely as refugees having suffered intolerance, discrimination and persecution, even if they may have become Olim on arrival in Israel. The movement of Jews from one country to another is dominated by two forces - a push and a pull. In the case of Jewish migration of the fifties, the push was much stronger than the pull resulting in the entire Jewish population of Iraq of over 120,000 leaving their country of sojourn of 25 centuries.
When Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Israel 2,500 years ago, there were exactly the same number of Jews in Babylonia. But of the 120,000 then, only 40,000 chose to return, while 80,000 preferred to remain in the Land of the Rivers, becoming the centre of Jewish life and Torah learning for over 1,000 years where the Babylonian Talmud was created.
Moreover, the Jews who came to Israel from Iraq and other Arab countries were treated very much as refugees who were made to stay in crowded tents in transition with minimal facilities where they suffered untold hardship for over two years. As an example, my bank manager ended up peddling oranges in the streets of Tel-Aviv. While Israel finally absorbed her refugees, the Arabs have kept theirs for political bargaining.
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