Thursday, April 22, 2010

Israel at 62: Liberty and Independence in Focus

by Kasey Barr

My husband and I attended the festivities at Park Ra'anana this week as Israel celebrated her Day of Independence or Yom Haatzmaut. It is preceded by somber days of remembrance - for the Holocaust and for the fallen soldiers. The celebrations of Independence are always festive, boisterous and joyful - not despite the days leading up to the birthday of the nation, but because of it. The whole country remembers the sacrifice and goes through a process of reflection that leads the people of Israel, especially the younger generation, to remember what this freedom and national holiday cost.

There seemed to be a million and one families at the park with children everywhere. Energetic music pumped through the park and a smorgasbord of food stands filled the air with the aroma of flame grilled meats that seems to accompany every event worth attending. The Mayor of Ra'anana, whom I like very much for his frequent visits to programs at the Absorption Center where I took ulpan, opened the evening with a moving prayer and then the residents of Ra'anana were treated to a ten-minute display of fireworks.

I caught something out of the corner of my eye that made me regret leaving my camera at home. In the swarm of Israeli flags and patriotic anthems sat a small group of Muslims. It isn't strange to see Muslims in Park Ra'anana, but it was interesting to see a family at an Independence celebration. The women wore headdresses and one of the men pulled out a rug and began praying - toward Mecca I imagine since it is not Jerusalem they consider their most sacred location.

My husband and I had a brief conversation about whether the Muslim man was thanking Allah he was in Israeli territory where his wives and daughters had more freedom and protection and where he has more opportunities and government services, or whether he was he pleading with Allah to cast the infidel nation into the sea? Who knows. We didn't try to ask. But we did take an additional moment to marvel at the nation we were celebrating.

Thousands of Israelis were commemorating the birth of their nation after 2,000 years of exile. Each Israeli is evidence of prophecy fulfilled, hopes realized and freedom found. There, in the middle of it all sat a group of religious people that, for the most part, feel Israel has no right to exist. Still, they are welcomed, they are undisturbed and they have the same freedom to dance, eat, buy and even cast down their prayer mats and ask Allah for who knows what. I find it extraordinary and exceptional here in Israel where there are daily threats of terrorist attacks monitored by the Israeli military. A few weeks ago a Palestinian sniper shot at a car on road number 443. Still the Muslims are welcome to attend Israeli Independence Day celebrations.

The international news focuses mainly on the fact that Netanyahu's government will not stop construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem while ignoring the fact that the Palestinian leadership of Hamas and hostile neighbors like Hezbollah still refuse to acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist. My home country, under the leadership of Obama, is now pushing to move Israel behind the 67 cease-fire lines and insisting on the establishment of a tolerant Palestinian state free of any Jewish presence and most likely bound for a government built upon Sharia law.

All this while Israel, inside the 67 borders has multiple thriving Muslim villages and allows freedom of worship, benefits and employment. There are Arabs in Israel's government and High Court.The narrative on Israel around the world is skewed and unjust. I love this country and am proud that one day I will have dual citizenship for two of the greatest nations in the world. Israel and America have been shining beacons of hope and strong bastions of freedom for immigrants around the world.

U.S. Presidents of both parties have expressed the deep convictions that bind the nations together. John F. Kennedy stated, "Israel was not created in order to disappear-Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom."

Ronald Reagan conveyed with conviction that "the people of Israel and America are historic partners in the global quest for human dignity and freedom [and] will always remain at each other's side."

William Clinton declared, "America and Israel share a special bond. Our relations are unique among all nations. Like America, Israel is a strong democracy, as a symbol of freedom, and an oasis of liberty, a home to the oppressed and persecuted."

And George W. Bush, while visiting Israel stated, "Our two nations both faced great challenges when they were founded, and our two nations have both relied on the same principles to help us succeed. We've built strong democracies to protect the freedoms given to us by an Almighty God. We've welcomed immigrants, who have helped us thrive. We've built prosperous economies by rewarding innovation and risk-taking and trade. And we've built an enduring alliance to confront terrorists and tyrants."

The affinity for and fraternity with the Jewish nation was felt not only by recent presidents but by those who served before the state of Israel had yet to be reborn.

Calvin Coolidge expressed his "sympathy with the deep and intense longing which finds such fine expression in the Jewish National Homeland in Palestine."

And in a letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah in 1819, The second president of the United States, John Adams wrote, "I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites . . . & marching with them into Judea & making a conquest of that country & restoring your nation to the dominion of it. For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation."

The values between the two nations are deeply shared and fiercely held in a way that made it not so very strange that many Israelis would hang the Stars and Stripes right next to their beloved flag on Israeli Independence Day. A significant number of Israeli drivers would put an Israeli flag on one window and an American flag on the other. I always appreciated it, though never quite understood it until it was conspicuously absent this year. I did not see one American flag on a car, apartment or business this year and I began to ask myself why it had been there in the past and why it was not there this year?

Without going into a list of political fall-outs between the two nations this year, I think it is obvious that America has pressured Israel in a way it has never done in the past. While Iran is threatening to "wipe Israel off the map" and Syria is allegedly sending Scud missiles to the region that can target any place in Israel, the President of the free world is scolding Israel for allowing "natural growth" in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem while Arabs in West Jerusalem have full rights to rent, buy, build and expand.

Something is awry and it is deeply disturbing. I know the decision by Israelis not to fly American flags means, in no way, that they are anti-American. I think it is more of a statement that they are prepared to go it alone if the United States fails to support the ideals and values upon which both nations were founded. They are exhibiting the same revolutionary spirit that once gripped America and every American should be proud...this one is.

Netanyahu stopped just short of making such a bold announcement. He opened the cabinet meetings this week with a quote by the founder of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl, "Don't rely on the help of foreigners, nor on benefactors. And do not expect stones to become soft because benefactors give humiliating donations. A nation that wants to stand upright must rely on itself alone"

I wish to encourage the Prime Minister for his stand and direct the nation of Israel on her 62nd birthday to this quote from one of the great American founders and voice of true classical liberalism, Benjamin Franklin: "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I am on my way to obtaining Israeli citizenship, but I have always considered myself and American first and Israeli second. However, thinking through this Independence Day has made me feel differently. I am a citizen of freedom first - wherever the boundary lines are drawn. I love America deeply, but I love the values that shaped her more. I hope the two nations will always stand shoulder to shoulder on the worldwide battlefront for freedom, but if not I refer again to Benjamin Franklin who wrote in a letter to Benjamin Vaughn in 1783, "Where liberty dwells, there is my country."

Here's hoping that I will always be holding the passports of both countries!

This article first published by Travelujah and post by Jerusalem Post.