This column is being written on May 3, which is 5 Iyar on the Jewish calendar, which is Israel’s 58th birthday.
On this day in 1948, as the British Mandatory Government was sailing out of Haifa harbor, David Ben Gurion, the head of the Zionist movement and the People’s Council, stood in the Tel Aviv Museum and proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.
The Proclamation of Independence is a fine document which has withstood 58 years of war and peace. It is worth studying and remembering. For purposes of clarity I have divided it into four sections.
The first section describes in colorful language how Jews have striven, generation after generation, “to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland.”
Numbering only 600,000 and surrounded by twice as many Arabs and British officials, they “created a thriving community controlling its own economy and (Hebrew) culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to a country’s (Arab) inhabitants and aspiring towards independent nationhood.”
In the second section, the People’s Council, representing both the Yishuv and the Zionist Movement, proclaimed the “establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel to be known as the State of Israel.”
The third section declares the principles that will guide the new state. Here they are with my comments on how they have been implemented.
Number one is the state will be open to Jewish immigration. Remember that for three years the survivors of the Holocaust have been clamoring at the gates of Palestine and have been shunted off by the British to camps in Cypress and elsewhere.
Jews have arrived by the millions and with them their non-Jewish spouses and relatives. The Jewish State has not been kind to the non-Jewish immigrants.
The second principle promises the Jews and the Arabs living in the Jewish State “full equality of social and political rights … irrespective of religion, race or sex, it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
On the whole this broad promise of civil and human rights has been implemented better than in most democracies, including ours. Sex was inserted at the last moment, according to the legend, at the insistence of Ben Gurion’s wife, the indomitable Paula. It was used by Israel’s Supreme Court to overthrow various traditions of Israel’s macho society, such as forbidding women pilots in the air force, and granting widow’s rights to the surviving member of a gay couple,
But every fifth Israeli citizen is an Arab. They do not serve in the Army, which leads to various inequalities and discriminations. Worst is the quality of Arab education, alleviated only by private schools, such as the Hope Flower School for Peace and Democracy in Al Khadr.
Jewish-Arab schools, which teach in both Hebrew and Arabic, also take up part of the slack. Despite last year’s Dovrat Report, which recommended that the Ministry of Education foster Jewish-Arab schools, the ministry has not set up a section for Jewish-Arab education. One of the four Jewish-Arab schools is now classified as an Arab school by the ministry, and the others come under the Jewish section. It is hoped that the new minister, Yuli Tamir, will rectify this problem
American charitable organizations such as the New Israel Fund and the American Friends of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam have long recognized that the inequality of its Arab citizens harms the state. But not until the conclusion of Israel’s 58th year did mainstream Jewish organizations finally decide to deal with it. A few weeks ago, a conference was held in New York on Arab inequality. Abe Foxman of the ADL and the heads of the President’s Conference and the New Isabel Fund, the Abraham Fund and other organizations attended. They can help if they will.
Only one paragraph in this 58-year-old document is completely outdated. This is section three, which deals with relations with the United Nations. The document says:
“The State of Israel is prepared to cooperate with the United Nations in implementing the General Assembly resolution of the 29th November 1947 and will take steps to bring about the economic union of the whole of Eretz-Israel.”
This resolution, which is commonly called the 1947 Partition Resolution, called for the partitioning of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with an economic union between them. I covered this Assembly for the Palestine Post, which after independence became the Jerusalem Post.
The Arab state was never formed. The war, which was ongoing when the Jewish State was proclaimed, ended with the occupation of the Arab sections by Jordan and Egypt. When the Israel Army kicked out the Jordanians and Egyptians in 1967, the occupation was transferred to the Israeli Army.
Under the Israeli occupation, the Israeli shekel is the currency for the entire area of the British Mandate for Palestine. But it would be nonsensical to call it economic union. All decisions are made in favor of Israeli companies or for the quarter million Jews who have built settlements in what was the West Bank of Jordan.
The evils of the occupation are matched only by the suicide bombers. According to B’Tselem the Israeli human rights organization, in the guise of security Palestinian lands have been stolen for the Wall, thousands of homes have been demolished and unemployment and poverty prevail with no end in sight.
The final section of the Independence Declaration is an appeal to the Arabs in Israel and to the Jews in the Diaspora to assist in building the State. The Arabs have assisted negatively. No fifth column has been formed, and the Arabs have become a loyal national minority with ten seats in the Knesset, although they would prefer a different flag and another national anthem. They celebrate Independence Day as La Nakba, the disaster.
The Diaspora Jews have assisted positively with billions of dollars annually for 58 years and counting.
By the time this column is published, Ehud Olmert will have announced his cabinet. My next column on May 23 will deal with the new government’s strengths and weaknesses and with Olmert’s first visit to the Boss in the White House.