Opinion |

A Small 70th Birthday Gift

The West Bank has become Israel’s identity card. For her 70th, Israel should build strong borders - and stop capitulating to the settler minority

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Jewish settler children walk together near a forest in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin, south of Bethlehem.
Jewish settler children walk together near a forest in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Bat Ayin, south of Bethlehem.Credit: REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The State of Israel is celebrating its 70th birthday as if it’s merely a candidate for statehood; that’s how deeply concerned it is about its existence, and not just because of its external enemies, both real and imagined. It maintains the strongest army in the Middle East and what it claims is the best intelligence agencies in the world. It is accepted internationally as a worthy, developed, flourishing, high-tech country. And yet it could be compared to a luxury mall, full of prestigious stores, with the highest level of security – but crowded with shoppers who are bitter, disappointed, frustrated and basically feel cheated.

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They were promised a culture palace, a center for promoting values, a new society and appropriate compensation for the high price they paid. Instead, they are watching anxiously as their investment and hope are tumbling fast down the slope. From a multicolored society it has become a country of black and white, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, its citizens divided into nationalist “patriots,” traitors and Arabs.

Military service, which was supposed to serve as a melting pot, has become the sole test of citizenship and belonging. The Holocaust – that is, the need to prevent its recurrence – has turned Israeli society into a human memorial and has become its raison d’etre as a unique community. Fundamentalist legislation threatens to take Israeli society back to the days of the Bible, Mishna and Talmud, with the state’s identity dictated by a handful of people who are certain they’ve been chosen by God.

After 70 years Israel is still trapped in a cage, an actual cage. Thick, threatening barriers close it in from all sides. Only one barrier has yet to be built; the one between the land of the settlements and the state that was established 70 years ago by the United Nations.

This hilly land, the West Bank, has become Israel’s identity card. From an independent state it has twisted its culture and laws around the messianists of the unrecognized, biblical Land of Israel, the main threat to Israel’s existence as a civil state. The enormous, vicious effort to block the entry of black asylum seekers, lest they contaminate the identity of the Jewish state, ignored the corruption, distortion, injustice and perversion that has swept the country to its east.

Israeli politics is determined to fulfill the wishes of the residents of this foreign country. The national identity of the Israeli state depends on the approval of benighted rabbis, barons of illegal real estate and racist assailants. Israeli democracy is deeply flawed because people who chose to live in a land that isn’t theirs are setting its foundations. The judicial system has turned into a doormat only because it doesn’t satisfy the regime of the settler minority. Cultural institutions, textbooks and literature are threatened with a budgetary whip that tears at their flesh because they deviate from the definition of patriotism that is formulated on the hills of Eli and Bat Ayin.

This is the punishment for a country that achieved greatness when it won recognized borders that gave it a historic opportunity to create an Israeli nation, but gave it up and preferred to live without borders. It marketed the idea of “secure borders” that rested on a large territory, on a barrier of terraces and a divine promise. But these “secure borders” are sucking up the state’s considerable assets and turning it into a satellite state that orbits around its own moon. The Promised Land has crushed the promised state, which is being absorbed into that insatiable black hole.

A 70-year-old country deserves better. It deserves to have borders not because of international law or recognition; it needs them so that it can define its identity, its essence and its future. Borders are needed for the country’s citizens to be the proprietors of their culture, laws and dreams. Borders, not barriers, are the wonderful gift Israel could give herself and its citizens for its birthday.

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