The State of Israel will mark its 70th birthday tomorrow. As a small country surrounded by enemies that emerged from the ashes, its status as a military power with a stable economy whose population is 10 times greater than at its founding is indeed a reason for celebration and joy.
But a birthday is also an opportunity for introspection and self-examination. A strong and proud Israel must ask itself where it is headed. Are the achievements of technology, agriculture, desalination, Nobel Prizes and encouraging GNP data enough to erase the sin of the occupation that’s spreading through the depths of its soul?
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For 50 years Israel has controlled millions of people without rights by way of military power. It seized their land while dispossessing its owners and established settlements where hundreds of thousands of Israelis now live; it has also harnessed all the state’s bureaucracies to preserve this disastrous enterprise.
Since U.S. President Donald Trump’s swearing-in, and even more so after his decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, it seems the Palestinian issue has dropped off the agenda. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a decisive contribution to this during his years at the helm by nurturing an obstinate diplomatic approach in an effort to shred the Palestinian national dream.
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As it celebrates its 70th anniversary, Israel is being portrayed in the world as a country with a glorious past that’s mortgaging its present for the benefit of the disastrous occupation. The democratic wonder child has developed into a country with terrific talents – the “start-up nation” – but also some repulsive traits, like obtuseness, self-righteousness, aggression and, above all, rejectionism.
The 70th anniversary celebrations will end in a few days, but the curse of the occupation doesn’t seem about to disappear. Far from it; it seems that with the help of the various distractions that adorn the pages of the newspapers and TV news broadcasts, the disastrous occupation is being pushed to the margins of Israel’s consciousness, to the point where the public is starting to believe the problem’s been solved.
But this dangerous illusion can’t hide the fact that millions of Palestinians aspire to be freed of the Israeli occupation and to establish an independent state. Netanyahu and his coalition colleagues can implement their destructive policies as they wish, but they cannot erase the dreams of other peoples. The desire for freedom and self-determination will not disappear; it will only intensify.
Israel is entitled to celebrate its 70th birthday. It is also entitled to take pride in its many accomplishments over these years. But it will only be able to celebrate true independence when its neighbor, the state of Palestine, can celebrate independence as well.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.