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In uncertain present, reflect on Israel’s resilient past

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Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, is a time to celebrate the birth and resilience of the state of Israel. This year, marking the 76th anniversary, is particularly poignant as it follows the tragic events of 7 October. While it’s easy to get lost in discussions about geopolitics, internal Israeli debates, and the looming elections in the United States, perhaps this Yom Ha’atzmaut calls for reflection on more fundamental ideas about Israel and its enduring spirit.

A fascinating historical parallel emerged from archaeological research several years ago. Letters from a Jewish military commander named Hosea, defending the kingdom against Babylonian invasion, were found. One letter, written in Hebrew, requested at headquarters “send the four species” – referring to the lulav and etrog used in the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Centuries later, during the Yom Kippur War against Egypt, another commander named Yeshoua sent the exact same request. Both messages are exactly the same, written in the same language, for the same festival, by commanders with similar names, fighting an existential enemy on its border, and highlight a profound continuity in Jewish history.

Fifty years after the Yom Kippur War, during another holy time, we’re reminded that Israel’s enemies have always sought to undermine its existence. From the Babylonians to modern-day adversaries, the Jewish people have faced attempts to destroy their homeland. If our enemies succeed, it results in death, destruction, and dispersion.

The enemies of Israel have historically used all means at their disposal to achieve their goals. The Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and exiled the Jewish people. The Egyptians during the mid-20th century enlisted ex-Nazi officers to bolster their military efforts against Israel. Today, accusations of genocide are levied against Israel, in spite of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) not making such a finding, not even a finding of “plausible genocide”, something confirmed by the former chief justice of the ICJ, Joan Donoghue, in a BBC interview just a few weeks ago.

This leads us to another important lesson of these dispatches. That we can and should fight back against our enemies until they no longer pose a threat. But that this can be done within the ethics of the Israel Defense Forces and the morality of Jewish law. The current conflict, taking place in densely populated urban areas, has resulted in a challenging and tragic civilian-combatant casualty ratio. In the Swords of Iron operation, the ratio is roughly one Hamas combatant to 1.5 civilians, a stark contrast to the operation to rid the world of ISIS (Islamic State) by the most advanced military in the world, which had a ratio of 1:9 according to the Institute of Modern Warfare. Perhaps that’s why the United Nations has begun revising its civilian casualty estimates downward.

As we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, it’s essential to remember these historical and contemporary realities. The requests for the four species from two military commanders centuries apart remind us that the Jewish people’s connection to their land and traditions is deep and unbroken. In spite of facing relentless adversaries, the spirit of Israel endures, anchored in a rich cultural and religious heritage.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s take a moment to think beyond the immediate political and military issues. Let’s appreciate the enduring spirit of Israel, the continuity of its traditions, and the profound resilience of its people. In a world where the future can often seem uncertain, the story of Israel serves as a powerful reminder of hope, perseverance, and the enduring importance of cultural and national identity.

As we celebrate this 76th Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s remember the lessons of history, honour the sacrifices made by those who defended the land, and cherish the enduring legacy of a nation that continues to thrive against all odds. Let’s also do our part to support the Jewish people in Israel and the world with our prayers, money, voice, vote, and a continuous campaign for the immediate release of the hostages and a proper permanent peace in the holy land.

  • Benji Shulman is an executive office bearer of the South African Zionist Federation.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Johan

    May 18, 2024 at 7:07 pm

    Although I am a South African from Dutch descent I believe I have jewish blood flowing through my veins. I unconditionally stand with Israel and will defend God’s chosen people to the very end. Am Yisrael Chai🇮🇱🇿🇦

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