As Israel celebrates its 73rd birthday on Thursday, it is worth remembering that there are those who have said from the very beginning that it cannot survive.
Pinstripe diplomats in the US State Department said as much in 1948, trying to convince US president Harry Truman not to recognize the nascent state. Arab leaders said it that same year in mobilizing armies to fight the Jewish state. European politicians said it before the Six-Day War as Israel’s Arab neighbors were tightening the noose and threatening to destroy the country.
Over the years pundits and politicians, columnists and authors have all spilled millions of words discussing how Israel cannot survive: how it will be overwhelmed by the enemies around it, torn apart by the divisions inside it, or swept away by pure demographics. For instance, in 2008 the Canadian newsweekly Maclean’s front cover story was entitled: “Why Israel can’t survive.”
Yet here we are, 73 years later, still standing, still kicking, still surviving. And more than that, flourishing in a way that those of little faith in the country, its people or their abilities ever imagined. Not without problems, not without dilemmas, not without blemishes, not without painfully fractured political moments, but still surviving and flourishing.
Those predicting Israel’s imminent demise have always overlooked one important feature: the people dwelling in Zion desire life, and they desire life here in an independent land in this little corner of the world. And that desire for life has compelled them to adapt and improvise over the last seven decades to confront changing demographic, political, military realities and take those steps needed to ensure survival.
Looking at the dry data – the number of Jews vs number of Arabs in the Mideast, the number of Jews vs number of Arabs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, the number of ballistic missiles pointed in Israel’s direction, the depth of the enmity of those surrounding Israel, the percentage of the population that does not work or are not acquiring skills in school to equip them for the 21st-century workforce – one could be excused for concluding that the country’s chances of survival are slim.
But the dry data does not measure the will of the people or their ability to adapt, adjust and flourish. Political, military and demographic realities change, and what Israel has long demonstrated is an uncanny aptitude to change and adjust with them in order to survive and flourish.
While now 73-years-old, many still see Israel as their grandparents saw it: young, few in number, and weak.
But 73-years-old is no longer that young, in fact there are only 75 countries in the UN that have been around longer. While physically small, at 9.3 million people, Israel is ranked 85th in the world in terms of population. And no one can look at this country – with its mighty military and purported nuclear capabilities – and say that it is weak.
Furthermore, the state’s age does not do Israel true justice. Saying Israel is 73 is like saying that Egypt is only 99-years-old because it only gained independence in 1922 from the UK, or that Greece is only 199-years-old because the First Hellenic Republic was only founded in 1822.
The Jewish people’s presence here goes back more than 3,000 years. Israelis got a reminder of that last month when archaeologists announced the discovery of a fragment of the book of Zechariah dating back almost two millennia.
That scroll adds to the vast body of archaeological material showing that Jews walked the deserts, hills and valleys of this land from time immemorial – worshiping the same God, reading the same holy books, living their life by the rhythm of the same calendar as Jews do here today.
The State of Israel is only 73-years-old, a tiny dot on that vast timeline of Jewish history. And that perspective is as humbling as it is inspiring.
Humbling because what is 73 years in the span of Jewish history? A blink of an eye. Yet inspiring because so much has already been accomplished in this blink of an eye, giving a taste of so much still to be realized here in the years to come.