Men reading selichot -- Jewish penitential poems and prayers said leading up to the High Holidays -- at the Western Wall before Rosh Hashana.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ahead of Rosh Hashanah 5779, the Central Bureau of Statistics published its annual survey of Israelis, showing that 89% of Israel’s 8.9 million citizens say they are largely satisfied with their lives.
Interestingly, exactly the same percentage of Israeli Jews see the chances of a positive breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian track as low, according to the Peace Index published by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University. How can we reconcile these two trends?
The 2018 World Happiness Report – which ranked 156 countries by their self-evaluated happiness levels – placed Israel in 11th place, even ahead of the world’s top super power, the US, which was in 18th place.
The “Palestinian Territories,” unsurprisingly, were way down the list in 104th place, with low employment, income and standard of living.
The report attributed Israel’s high ranking to its solid health system, relatively high standard of living and high life expectancy rate, which has risen steadily from 69.7 in the year 2000 to 72.8 in 2015.
In an interview with Mark Levin of Fox News, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that Israel was beating most Western countries, and it was no fluke. “People say, ‘How can it be? It’s a country in this horrible neighborhood, you’ve got terrorism, you’ve got radical Islam, you’ve got challenges,’ but it comes up ahead of most countries in the world,” said Netanyahu.
No one is disputing that Israel is a world leader in innovation and hi-tech, and has made immense contributions to the world in a range of other fields – from science and medicine to agriculture and water desalination. There is no doubt that many Israelis enjoy a relatively high standard of living and quality of life, even though the gaps between rich and poor, and between the government and the people, remain large.
Israelis’ high degree of satisfaction with their lives is a positive sign. Israel is a country that has only been around for 70 years and has achieved the impossible. It took a people scattered across the globe, and brought them together against all odds, defeating army after army that tried to destroy it. Still today, Israel is the only country in the world which another country – Iran – openly calls for it to be destroyed.
Israelis should be commended for not letting this situation get them down and for embracing life and optimism. This is not an easy feat. It is a unique ability among Israelis to not let despair overtake their lives.
One example is along the border with the Gaza Strip where, while the threat posed to Israel by Hamas has increased in recent years, so have the number of residents. In other words, people move there despite knowing that it is a volatile region. That is because they can distinguish between the difficult periods that will undoubtedly come, but also the quality of life that will mostly prevail.
The high number of Israelis who are satisfied with life could be a reason for a government to conclude that there is no need for change. Still, we would urge Netanyahu and his government, not to rest on their laurels and sit by complacently as if there’s no urgency to explore any opportunity for a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu might want to take a closer look at the Peace Index findings, which show that half of Jewish Israelis and 94% of Arab Israelis still believe that the Palestinians are entitled to an independent state.
Some 64% of Jewish Israelis think that the past year was a good one for Israel, and want the government to focus on closing socioeconomic gaps (22%), while Arab Israelis, who comprise more than a fifth of the population, believe that the goal of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians is the top priority (22%).
Israelis certainly deserve to be happy, but we – as well as our leadership – shouldn’t take that feeling of wellbeing as an excuse for complacency. There is still so much to be done, from socioeconomic challenges and the conflict with the Palestinians, to the need to upgrade infrastructure and our educational and medical systems. Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of a new year, but we also need to reflect on the changes that need to be made and how each of us can be a part of making them.
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