My Word: In our own right

Instead of looking to the thriving Israeli economy as an inspiration and potential role model, Hamas still cannot come to terms with Israel’s existence.

Israelis gather to watch the annual Independence Day flyover. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israelis gather to watch the annual Independence Day flyover.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
My earliest memories relating to Israel surround the 1967 Six Day War, when my parents prepared my two siblings and me for the possibility that my family, living in London, would adopt or at least temporarily offer a home to, an Israeli child. To my shame, I was not happy with the idea. The three of us are close in age and close in spirit, and in my six-year-old opinion, one older sister and one younger brother were enough.
Today it seems incredible that the existential threat to Israel was so great, barely a generation after the Holocaust, that evacuating children abroad could have been contemplated. But The Jerusalem Post photo archives contain pictures of volunteers digging trenches next to tenement blocks in the still-divided capital, where Jordanian snipers occasionally shot at passersby. There are haunting images of a local football pitch being readied to serve as a burial ground for the anticipated mass casualties.
Israel’s stunning victory in that war was miraculous. Not even the ever-changing Palestinian narrative can change that.
Talk of the settlements being the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fails to explain why Israel’s neighbors launched the 1967 war, when there were no settlements and the term “Palestinian” was almost unknown.
The proposed changes to the Hamas charter, as presented this week in Qatar, are cosmetic but far from beautifying. As the Post’s Adam Rasgon noted, the document describes the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state along pre-1967 lines with the “return of refugees” to their homes in Israel – but “rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Instead of looking to the thriving Israeli economy as an inspiration and potential role model, Hamas still cannot come to terms with Israel’s existence. It isn’t the results of the 1967 war that Hamas wants to change, but those of the 1948 War of Independence, when the invading Arab armies were convinced they could wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. Mind you, until the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, and Hamas, in control of Gaza, can solve their most basic disputes – including paying for Gaza to have electricity – the Palestinians’ future looks dark.
Hamas presented its declaration calling for “Palestine’s liberation” as Israel was marking Remembrance Day. The next day, Israel’s Independence Day, UNESCO was up to its old, dirty tricks.
The 58-member UNESCO Executive Board gathered in Paris as Israel celebrated its 69th birthday to approve a resolution submitted by several Muslim-majority countries on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Although the vote reaffirms “the centrality of Jerusalem to world heritage,” it speaks of “the need to confront the dangers posed by the illegal practices of Israel, the occupying power, in the city and elsewhere, which threaten the cultural and historical integrity of these invaluable sites.”
On the positive side, it gained much less support than a stronger-worded resolution that passed with 33 countries in favor last April. This week’s UNESCO disavowal of Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem passed with 22 states supporting it, 10 opposing it, and 23 abstaining (three countries were absent).
The drop in support is due in part to Israel’s intensive diplomatic work and perhaps also by the change in tone at the UN in general, ever since Donald Trump was inaugurated as US president and America’s superstar envoy to the UN Nikki Haley announced the arrival of a new sheriff who would no longer accept the routine bashing of Israel.
Some European ambassadors at UNESCO congratulated Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen, pleased that the numbers in favor of the resolution had dropped. They also apparently thought Israel should be happy that the language was less strident than in previous motions and did not refer to holy sites such as the Temple Mount and the Western Wall only by their Arabic names, in a Muslim-only context.
But why should Israel be satisfied with a less-biased resolution? Why are these declarations being made at all? Last month, I spoke on Radio New Zealand’s Nights show for the first time since that country sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2334 in December. That resolution implied recognition of Palestinian rights to all parts of Jerusalem divided by the 1949 armistice line, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
I had a lot to say with very little time to say it, and struggled to find the right, polite, terms for a live broadcast on public radio.
I raced through some 3,000 years of Jewish history; mourned the naivety of a country like New Zealand sponsoring such a motion after Egypt had dropped it; noted the absurdity of the UN’s fixation on Israel and the Palestinians while hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been massacred by their co-religionists in the six years since the so-called Arab Spring and millions made homeless; and noted it did nothing to further peace. Just the opposite.
At some point the interviewer, playing devil’s advocate, wondered if Israel would have been created without the help of the UN.
Today, I don’t think the UN would agree to the establishment of the Jewish state, but our right to live here predates the UN by thousands of years, I pointed out.
It was only after our conversation ended that I wondered about the legitimacy of the question. Israel, as I noted, was founded in similar circumstances at a similar time as India and Pakistan, both still mired in a territorial dispute, yet the existence of neither state is queried.
If Israel is going to be compared to other countries, it should be on equal terms.
Iraqi-born, Jerusalemite writer Eli Amir, one of this year’s Independence Day torch lighters, penned an opinion piece in Yediot Aharonot in honor of the event. “The State of Israel is the greatest success of the 20th century,” he wrote.
Like Amir, I marvel at Israel’s successes. I see how far we have come on our own terms, in our own right: in hi-tech, agriculture, medicine, technology and culture.
True, there are still social gaps, but the half-empty cup has the potential to be filled to overflowing.
Had Israel not won in 1948, Jews here and around the Arab world would have been slaughtered. If the Six Day War had not ended with Israel’s stunning military triumph, Jewish families abroad would have had to provide homes for the orphans who managed to escape.
Fifty years after the 1967 war and the reunification of Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish homeland, there is reason to celebrate.
When Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas met with US President Donald Trump this week, as Israel got back to work after the Independence Day celebrations, I pondered what the Palestinians lack. This is not so much an independent state as a leader who can help them build one, someone more interested in creating a thriving, viable entity than futilely trying to look big by bringing Israel down.