Saturday, May 14

Independence Day and its Aftermath

Independence Day has come and gone. Israel has just celebrated its 57th Independence Day. Usually during this time, many of us ponder as to what direction Israel will be taking. There are many disturbing developments in the social, political and economic spheres. Many of these spheres will also affect future peace with the Palestinians.

Israel was established in 1948 on the ashes of the tragedy of the Holocaust – the greatest tragedy ever to have occurred in the history of the Jewish people. It was prior to Israel's establishment that the members of the newly established United Nations showed a great amount of sympathy for the establishment of the Jewish State which was essential for helping the Jewish People rebuild their future after the awful tragedy of the Holocaust. Notable exceptions to this universal support were the Arab states that were never willing to recognize Israel's right to exist let alone its establishment. Even the Soviet Union had supported the resolution for partition.

The attitude of the nations of the world was one of great sympathy for the Jewish people as evidence of Nazi cruelty and bestiality towards the Jews became known. Zionism had reached its zenith and the Jewish people in the Diaspora were unwavering in their support of the fledgling state. Financial support came from many affluent Jewish Communities and the U.S. had taken the lead in supporting Israel.

However, as the years passed and Israel had to fight for her existence due to wars foisted onto her by the Arab states with Egypt, under Gamel Abdul Nasser, taking the lead. The War of Independence of 1948 created a Palestinian refugee problem that defied solution even to this day. This problem had been utilized successfully by the Arab states in their attempt to delegitimise Israel's right to exist. It was an excuse to wage war to destroy Israel. While Israel was fighting these wars, she had received support. This support waned in June 1967 after the Six Day War, when Israel had occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. She was viewed as an "occupying power and colonizer that usurped Palestinian lands and rights" by the Arab World who then used the oil weapon to threaten the Western World if they continued to support Israel. The world, largely dependent on Arab oil, decided to adopt a policy of expediency by not showing too much support of Israel. This expediency still is very noticeable today. The encouragement of settling Israelis in the occupied territories added grist to the mill of anti-Israel propaganda. This was one of Israel's greatest errors, of which she has paid a very heavy price in blood.

It is understandable that if Israelis are encouraged to settle in lands conquered by war one is creating facts on the ground that amounts to colonization no matter how one views it. All successive Israeli Governments had legalized settlements in the "occupied territories". This gave a further reason to the Arab states and the Palestinians to continue their aggression against Israel, including the War of Attrition in the early 1970's, which culminated in the October War of 1973. Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt managed to regain some territory and thus some lost pride after that war.

It is debatable as to whether Egypt would have been in a position to become the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel had she not regained her lost pride.

Many years had passed until the next milestone towards peace with the Arab World gained momentum. The Madrid Conference in 1991, the Oslo Accords (which had proved a failure) in 1993 and the signing of a Peace Treaty with Jordan under King Hussein in 1994 occurred later.

After many attempts at jump-starting the peace process had failed, the intifada terror with its suicide bombers created new facts on the ground. This was a factor causing the ruling Likud party under Arik Sharon to conclude that disengagement from Gaza for starters must become the national agenda. The Israeli settlers in Gaza must return to Israel within the green line.

All these developments had taken a heavy toll on Israel's citizens and the economy. Israel, which had always been a welfare state, had become a less caring society as unemployment had surged upward. Erosion in democratic values had become evident. People were working for less salary and those in the public service had another tax – "growth and support tax" - added onto the draconian overburdened and complicated tax system. This tax is unaccountable. There are institutions who take this tax off their employees' salary and nobody knows where it goes. The cost of living goes up and the weaker segments in society carry the burden. No salary increments and people start new jobs receiving the basic minimum wage without much chance of promotion. The basic minimum wage of just on 3 000 shekels a month is a prescription for eternal poverty.

Members of the ruling party have become providers of jobs for friends who support them. Salaries for bank directors and company directors have reached astronomical highs. These people gain these coveted positions by being friends of government ministers. The average citizen is told that he must work harder and for far less. Education has taken a knock with about 6 000 teachers due to be fired. The reason – the Dovrat Report – is an attempt to cut down and dovetail education expense. As it is, education has taken a downward turn with youth crime and drugs on the increase.

Politically, there is not much to rave about. There is a strong possibility that the Israeli government will postpone the Gaza disengagement indefinitely, as the government will try to find a reason for not carrying it out.

Israel, which tries to encourage immigration, will not be able to cope with the influx. The policies of the present government are not immigrant friendly.

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