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Israel: 74 years young and thousands of years old



The history of the Jewish people can be summarised in four words: we are still here.

Across two millennia, we sojourned around the world and prayed for a return to Zion and Jerusalem. We mourned the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE and the loss of our sovereignty. We wandered, and were pursued, throughout the diaspora but never forgot our home. Seventy-four years ago, our prayers and deeds were answered. Our beloved Jewish state of Israel was reborn. Israel is the embodiment of our tenacity as a people.

This year, Israel turns 74 years young and thousands of years old. In 1948, our old-new land was revived with a mere 600 000 Jews. Today, it has grown more than tenfold to a mighty nation of 6.9 million Jews alongside 1.9 million Arabs. Israel remains the only democratic state and pillar of hope in the Middle East. To the world, she beams out the prophet Isaiah’s words as a light to the nations.

The South African Jewish community will come together in thousands this week to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. We will celebrate the rebirth of our Jewish homeland alongside the astounding fact that she continues not only to exist, but to thrive.

Israel is an economic miracle with more start-ups in the technological and medical arena per capita than any other country. In a new record, Israeli technology companies have raised more than R88 billion in the first quarter of this year alone. What a spectacular failure the antisemitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement has been.

Israel is among the happiest nations on earth (much happier than the United States, Germany, Japan, and unfortunately, South Africa). Israelis have a far longer life expectancy than most other people, more than 82 years on average, and the highest birth rate in the developed world.

It has produced the most efficient desalination programme in the world, which has enabled it to overcome crippling water shortages and give assistance to other nations. And after 30 years of shrinkage, the Sea of Galilee is finally overflowing its banks.

The Jewish state has achieved all this in spite of 14 wars, countries bent on her destruction, international boycott movements, countless hostile United Nations resolutions, and a growing trend of worldwide antisemitism which has been further exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

Incredibly, the past two years have effectively ended the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel has normalised relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, as well as Sudan and Morocco here on the African continent.

The infamous 1967 Khartoum declaration of “three nos – no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation” has been transformed into the “three yeses” between Israel and the Arab world: yes to peace, yes to recognition, yes to negotiation.

A few weeks ago, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, Bahrain, the United States and Israel travelled to the Negev desert in southern Israel to create a forum to further the historic Abraham Accords, which has led to a warm peace between Israel and the Arab world.

This metamorphosis within the Arab world, after decades of hostility towards Israel, has opened up new possibilities and opportunities unimagined until recently. This is just the beginning.

I’m optimistic about the future of Israel, and look forward to the next 74 years. May Israel make us closer, stronger, and prouder as a people.

  • Rowan Polovin is the South African Zionist Federation’s national chairperson.

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