Israel still stands strongly on 72nd Independence Day

It has not been easy, it has not been without pain and incredible sacrifice, but it has worked.

The Israeli flag is displayed on the Tel Aviv municipality building on Rabin Square, as Israel celebrates it's 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the Coronavirus. April 28, 2020 (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
The Israeli flag is displayed on the Tel Aviv municipality building on Rabin Square, as Israel celebrates it's 72th Independence Day under lockdown due to the Coronavirus. April 28, 2020
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
“We are one people – our enemies have made us one without our consent, as has repeatedly happened in our history. Affliction binds us together, and thus united, we suddenly discover our strength.”
Thus spake Theodor Herzl of the Jewish people in 1896 in his seminal pamphlet, The Jewish State.
And, indeed, Herzl’s words have reverberated with truth throughout the first 72 years of Israel’s history. Hopelessly divided and fractionalized within from the very beginning – religious vs atheist, socialists vs capitalists, Right vs Left, immigrants vs the native born, Ashkenazi vs Mizrahi, haredi vs secular – the country has shown that when external enemies threaten, it rallies together to fend off the threats.
“V’he sh’amda l’avotenu ve’lanu,” goes that Seder song played repeatedly on Israeli radio stations during the Passover season. “In every single generation people rise up to destroy us, but The Holy One saves us from their hands.” The Holy One, since Israel’s birth in 1948, and the country’s ability to rally together and pool its tremendous human resources to face down a common enemy.
It has not been easy, it has not been without pain and incredible sacrifice, but it has worked. Faced with affliction, the People of Israel – as Herzl recognized 124 years ago – discovers reservoirs of great strength to survive and persevere.
If the Muslims would just leave the Jews alone for a few years, goes an old joke, the Israelis would destroy themselves. It’s only unquenchable enmity that unites the country and ensures its survival.
But what if the enemy was not some external army or terrorist organization? What if the affliction did not ride in on enemy tanks or rockets sent by terrorist organizations, but rather on germs spread by a simple sneeze? And what if Israel was not the only target of this enemy?
What if there was a clear and present danger confronting not only Israel, but the entire world? Then what? Then how would the nation fare?
In the midst of the biggest challenge the world has faced since World War II, the answer to those questions on this Independence Day, the Coronavirus Yom Ha’atzma’ut of 2020, is a simple one: “pretty well.”
No, the country should not have starved its health system over the last two decades. Yes, it should have started buying more critical medical equipment when the virus first appeared; should have quarantined those coming from abroad earlier; should have started massive testing sooner; should not have allowed parties on Purim; should be providing small businesses with economic aid at a faster pace.
And, most assuredly, an emergency government should have been set up immediately once the magnitude of the plague became evident. For those, and other errors and miscalculations, a commission of inquiry will certainly be set up once this is all over to point out mistakes in order to be ready for the next pandemic.
But with all those flaws, and with all that there is to criticize, chances are good that the average citizen in Ramle would not want to change his lot right now with a denizen of Rome, that a resident of Lod is better off weathering the coronavirus storm in his home town than in London, and that those in Netivot are safer there during this crisis than were they right now in the capital of western civilization – New York City.
And that says something about the country as it turns 72: That when the same plague hits the whole world, Israel – in relative terms – is not a bad place to be. Little Israel. Scrappy Israel. Who would have thought that, even 25 years ago.
This is not just the subjective feeling of patriots. According to the Worldometer statistics compiled on the virus eight days ago, Israel had conducted more tests per million people of any country in the 35-member OECD with a comparable population of nine million or more, and only eight had fewer coronavirus deaths per million people (21) than Israel.
Those statistics matter not because they play to national pride and give politicians an excuse to puff out their chests and say the country is handling this better than many older, larger, richer, stronger countries. They matter because they show that as difficult as things might seem here under the virus, as many problems as there have been in dealing with it, Israel is still handling it better than most.
There are numerous reasons for this, including the quality of the country’s medical professionals. The hospitals may be overcrowded, the equipment run-down, but the medical staff is top notch, providing top flight treatment.
Another reason is that the country – born and bred in constant battle and struggle – is no stranger to crisis and adversity. This is not the first time that every-day life has had to be radically adjusted because of outside forces over which the individual has no control. Israelis are experienced in demonstrating discipline in times of emergency, and this was true this time as well.
Thirty years ago it was Saddam Hussein, today it is a tiny microbe. The experience of having dealt with major crises in the past gives the population an ability to weather them in the present, knowing that this, too, shall pass, and that as a nation they can handle it. Knowing that the people and the government have fared well during previous crises gives the individual confidence that the state and its institutions will be able to deal with the present one as well.
Israel also benefits mightily from having at its service a huge security apparatus, and that the IDF is able at a moment’s notice to jump into the fray and deal with complex and massive logistical issues.
Israel is wonderful at finding short-term solutions to problems, a trait that is one of the country’s enduring strengths – an ability to think on the go and come up with innovative, on-the-fly solutions to problems that seemingly come out of nowhere.
This characteristic was evident during the present crisis, for instance, in the way a special IDF intelligence unit was able to improvise and use existing material and equipment to produce desperately needed ventilators for hospitals.
And the overall way Israel dealt with the health crisis is more than just a point of national pride – it also sends an important geopolitical message to its foes who are not going to disappear with the virus: Israel is strong and is very capable of weathering all kinds of storms. It is strong not only militarily, not only technologically, not only economically, but also in its ability to deal with natural disasters. In the inhospitable neighborhood in which Israel lives, it is strategically important to project a sense that the country can deal and overcome all forms of adversity.
Remember Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s famous “Spider Web Speech” of May 2000 – 20 years ago – where he celebrated Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon by saying that Jewish state, which “owns nuclear weapons and the strongest war aircraft in the region, is feebler than a spider’s web?” His message: If you blow on the web hard enough, it will disappear.
The way Israel has comported itself during this crisis is yet more proof, if Nasrallah really needed any more, that his words were utter nonsense.
And what has made Israel’s ability to cope so effectively with the virus even more impressive is that the plague did not hit Israel at its most cohesive. Coming off the third inconclusive election in 11 months, Israel’s 72nd year was not a banner year for solidarity.
If anything, the three ugly election campaigns widened existing societal fissures and highlighted the negative. Yet even with that, the country rallied together to demonstrate impressive solidarity, showing that the divisiveness evident in the rhetoric of the country’s politicians did not seep down and infect the population. Israel is well known for its ability to band together and unite in times of crises, and this time proved no exception, despite the hateful campaign rhetoric designed to divide.
Israel’s 72nd year was the year of its people, when they proved better than their leaders. The leaders fought endlessly, divided mercilessly, and were badly derelict in their most basic responsibility: to provide the governed with a stable government.
Yet even without a stable government, the people soldiered on. It was a trying year, this 72nd year of independence, but a year that showed that the Jewish state can handle all kinds of adversity – from within, from enemies along its borders, and from Mother Nature – and still carry on and thrive.