Opinion

Israel Is Independent, but Not Free

FILE PHOTO: A girl walks past an Israeli flag in the Golan Heights
Gil Eliahu

Seventy-one years have passed since Israel declared its independence but the country has yet to fully achieve sovereignty.

Its borders were recognized by the international community, yet its people, similarly to Arab countries before the War of Independence, still refuse to accept the Partition Plan. It occupies about 5 million people in the West Bank and Gaza, and has annexed territory it doesn’t own in the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Its control over Gaza is absolute, hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens have settled in enemy territory where they’ve established a quasi-state, it draws its national identity from a violent struggle whose end doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, and its laws are based on an ideology of an insatiable hunger for territory.

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Generations of pupils no longer know to sketch out a map of the country and can’t distinguish between Kiryat Arba and Kiryat Gat, or between Ofra and Gedera, or Shfaram and Nablus. Generations of students haven’t learned and won’t learn about the Palestinian struggle or the Nakba. They have been trained to identify anyone who isn’t Jewish as an enemy and in adulthood they will also point to half the Jewish population as an enemy of the nation and country. They will not know what “love of homeland” is because they have been born and bred in an unfinished skeleton of a country. They will be asked to become shahids of the religion of the territories, which has become the only permissible belief, and in its name they will kill Palestinian children, not because they threaten the country’s security but because they interfere with fulfilling a dream of divine promise.

As it begins the eighth decade of independent statehood, Israel doesn’t yet know the meaning of freedom. It is imprisoned inside a dual siege, the one imposed by the residents of Gaza and the West Bank and the one that is smashing its values from within. The presence of the Palestinians on a Jewish fantasy map requires the state to fortify and arm itself, cultivate threat, justify killing, and above all to halt any attempt to achieve a political settlement or peace. For peace is an explosive that threatens the national dream. 

Peace means demarcating final borders, sufficing with some partition plan, narrowing the realm of illegal sovereignty and giving up most of the nationalist weeds that have sprouted beyond the Green Line. Peace means losing an enemy and smashing the sense of being besieged from without, which has fueled the persecuted people’s consciousness and turned it into a Spartan nation – a nation of “not again” and “only thus,” one that is “prepared for all scenarios,” one that is always ready to return its enemies “to the Stone Age.”

And yet the sense of being besieged from within is much more dangerous. It threatens like a ghost, it crawls and seeps into everything, and lacks any face or shape. It lies in schoolbooks, in racist legislation, hateful demands by rabbis, nasty political declarations, in posts by hate-filled ignoramuses. It’s a siege that disguises itself as culture, Jewish identity and national awareness. It recruits loyal volunteers and gatekeepers who locate and mark those who dare to break through. They screen the teachers’ faculty lounges and lecture halls, human rights organizations, theaters and courts to purify them and rid them of their traitors. These are the revolutionary guards in charge of the creation and cultivation of the new Israeli identity. Their mission is to ensure uniform opinion and national purity.

Don’t get the wrong idea. Israeli citizens must rejoice on Independence Day, wave flags and crowd the squares, bonk their plastic hammers and fan the blazing barbecues. That’s what people do in independent countries. They are really glad their country has passed the age of uncertainty. It has a strong army, a burgeoning economy, its citizens are better educated than the founding generation, its trains provide a fitting answer to the trains of the Holocaust and the U.S. president provides more goodies than it can digest. Israel is under siege, is guarded by thought police, yearns for fresh air but it’s an independent country. Independent, but not free.