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The Struggle Within the Dream

A look back at over six decades of modern Israel

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9 May 2008
The Struggle Within the Dream

As Israelis prepare to celebrate the 63rd Anniversary of the nation’s rebirth in May 1948, many will think back longingly to when the Jewish State marked fifty years of modern independence.  Those were heady days, when the Oslo process still filled many with hope that the long search for peace with their Arab neighbours was about to bear lasting fruit. In his keynote address at the official ceremonies for Israel’s 50th birthday, then-US Vice President Al Gore struck heart chords with his reference to the Patriarch Jacob who – like Israel today – had to endure the “struggle within the dream”.

Indeed after two thousand years of exile culminated with the Holocaust, the Zionist movement’s objective of restoring the scattered Jewish people to their historic homeland in Eretz Israel still seemed like a distant dream. But it also was a noble dream whose time had come. And so the world held its breath on 14 May 1948 when provisional leader David Ben Gurion declared the founding of the new state of Israel on its ancient soil.

In its Declaration of Independence, he recited the religious, historical and moral bases for reconstituting the Jewish commonwealth. The vision was to revive a nation that in ages past had “created cultural values of national and universal significance, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books”.

Israeli's dancing the "hora"“To build and be built”, vowed the early Zionist pioneers. The re-born Jewish State would seek to bring together the gifts and skills of a talented but battered people that – despite the millennia of wanderings – had still managed to “bless” the world in so many ways. Their collective energies could once again contribute so much more to the benefit of humanity.

Pursuing this dream, the small but determined nation of Israel has produced scientific, medical and technological advances far beyond her size and natural resources. Innovative agricultural techniques have reclaimed wastelands and caused the desert to blossom like a rose (Isaiah 35:1). In more recent times, she has been at the cutting edge of the high-tech revolution, and drawn some of the largest global companies to open research and development branches here that are vital to their competitive success. Once again, Israel is inspiring the world.

Within this dream, however, there is a difficult struggle. In its first three decades, Israel faced an existential threat from conventional Arab armies, fuelled largely by the ideology of pan-Arab nationalism, as championed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. This militantly secular ideology held that the Arab nations were actually one language, culture, land and people that had been artificially carved up by the Western powers. The Zionist movement in particular had planted an alien entity in the heart of this pan-Arab nation, effectively splitting it in two. It was a ‘cancer’ that had to be forcefully removed for the Arab peoples to realise their own destiny, and a series of wars were launched to that end.

Yet a young and vulnerable Israel somehow mustered the strength to withstand the onslaughts. Each time – in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 – the IDF took the battle to enemy territory and away from the country’s civilian population. Its bold military doctrine demanded that the commanders lead the citizen army into the front lines. Ordinary men like Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon became living legends. Some Arab states like Egypt and Jordan finally realised they could not defeat Israel on the battlefield and decided to make peace with her.

But then a new and even greater peril to Israel’s existence emerged. Over the past 30 years, the nation has faced the scourge of suicide terrorism and the growing threat of missile arsenals potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction. The new ideology driving her adversaries is radical Islamism, which preaches the unity of the same Arabic peoples but under a religious banner promising a new ‘Golden Age’ for Islam that will be heralded by the eradication of the same ‘cancerous’ Israel.

Yet the region in which Israel lives is notoriously unpredictable and recent months have witnessed unprecedented waves of political protests seeking to throw out long-serving Arab rulers. Some forecast these oppressive regimes will be replaced by democratic leaders, while others predict more of the same military-backed dictators or even worse – radical Islamists.

How well Israel confronts the daunting challenge ahead will affect her own course as well as the entire world in the years to come. Her people have proven resilient and resourceful. They are being forced to live in a bubble of security barriers and anti-missile defence systems, but still the dream carries them onward. We can take encouragement that the Bible promises the destiny of this long journey is not Israel’s annihilation, but rather her ultimate redemption in God.