israeli independence .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Today, as we remember Israel's fallen, our thoughts go especially to the 233 families who have joined the circle of bereavement over the past year, including the 119 families who lost soldiers in the Second Lebanon War.
Since 1860, the year that the first Jewish settlers left the secure walls of Jerusalem to build new neighborhoods, 22,305 men and women have died in the establishment and defense of the Jewish state.
This is a staggering toll. It is hardly consolation that during the Holocaust more Jews were slaughtered over a few days than in this entire struggle, or that more Israelis have died on our roads than have lost their lives to war or terrorism.
Every life lost represents the destruction of a world. Yet life - impossibly, sometimes it seems - goes on, leaving the rest of us to remember, and to contemplate what such sacrifice means for us as individuals, as a people and as a nation.
It is this thread, from sacrifice to its objective - a country that is free, secure, and striving to be a light unto itself and the nations - that connects today's commemorations with the celebrations that begin tonight.
This year, as our 59th Independence Day begins, it is more difficult than usual to contemplate such lofty aspirations. We are in a strange and debilitating situation in which the government enjoys a large parliamentary majority and yet seems to have lost its popular mandate.
The combination of a drumbeat of police investigations of senior politicians, the perception of a failed war, and the sense that our leadership is defying the popular will by tightly gripping on to power is shaking confidence in our political system and the direction of our country.
Our leadership crisis is made worse by the fact that it does not come at a time of international stability, but of intensifying threat. Hamas, Hizbullah and perhaps even Syria are, according to security officials, preparing for the next war, while Iran is racing to achieve nuclear weapon capability.
Despite all this, it is neither healthy nor warranted to focus only on rot and weakness. Much needs to be done, but there is much to build upon. A rational observer would not choose the place of our enemies.
The war in Lebanon, for starters, did change the status quo ante, and in some aspects, so far, for the better. Before the war, Hizbullah was openly bristling with weapons on our border, and seemed, by holding much of Israel hostage to missile attack, to constitute an Iranian-controlled deterrent against any Israeli act of self-defense.
Today, the deployment of the Lebanese army and bolstered UNIFIL forces in the south have forced Hizbullah underground. Hizbullah's long-range missile arsenal has been destroyed and not fully replaced, and the UN has just voted to investigate Syrian weapons smuggling. Further, Hizbullah, which lost something like a third of its fighting force, cannot easily afford to plunge Lebanon into another war, even if its power seems to have increased within Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the Iranian threat looms, but we are not alone in confronting it. Unlike the run-up to the war in Iraq when America and Europe were on divergent paths, this time the UN Security Council has been slowly but significantly tightening sanctions on Teheran. The Sunni-led states of the Arab world, far from opposing this process, are quietly egging the West on.
Though Iran is betting on Western division and self-doubt, the Iranian regime itself is riven itself by growing popular opposition. Its high stakes game raises the risks in case of Western failure, but also the potential benefits of victory.
In this context, we need to keep in mind the resilience the Israeli people exhibited during the war, the bravery and commitment of our soldiers, and the value of what we have built over the past 59 years. This country must not measure itself solely by its leadership. Ultimately, it is the strength of the people and what we have achieved here that is enduring, and will prevail.