On this 63rd Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Jewish State I offer these extracts from the original Declaration, and some comments.
Readers can also find my sermon from Shabbat, which addressed these issues, on my blog at http://tinyurl.com/3h2xan3.
‘The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.
‘After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.
‘THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
‘WE APPEAL - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
‘WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
‘WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream - the redemption of Israel.’
This extraordinary document retains the vibrancy of its earliest days – a time of visionaries and pioneers.
The most remarkable thing about the 63 year old State of Israel is that it has survived in the face of invasions, terror attacks and other aggressions. Actually survival isn’t a strong enough word. Israel has flourished in so many spheres, from political to social, from technological to spiritual. There is so much to celebrate.
The greatest disappointment of these last 63 years must be that the hand extended in the Declaration of Independence and so many times since ‘in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness’, has been spurned so many times by ‘neighbouring states and peoples.’
The greatest challenges for the year to come are, I think, three fold.
Firstly Israelis, Palestinians and all who support either or both nations, must actively pursue the establishment of a Palestinian State in borders which allow both Israelis and Palestinians safe self-determination. Of course the Palestinians wish for self-determination, but Israel is also hurt by occupation. She cannot become a force for ‘peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel’ as an occupying force. Regardless of who is to blame for the failures of Peace Processes of the past there must be a commitment to a two state peace process in the present no matter how high the obstacles of history or contemporary reality which stand in its way.
Secondly Israel is challenged to engage and re-engage with some of the major social challenges she faces. Too many Israelis live below the poverty line, too much of Israeli society is bifurcated, split between races, faiths and national origin. I feel particular pain watching sections of Israeli orthodox and ultra-orthodox society exercise a heavy-handed self-interest designed to protect only their own interests while depriving other forms of Jewish identification from being able to flourish in a State in which all Jews have a stake.
Thirdly the ‘Jewish people throughout the Diaspora’ must commit, again, to the love and support of Israel. This is not the time to turn our backs on our birthplace as a nation and the home of our deepest national aspirations. I have, this year, made three charitable contributions on this Independence Day; to www.ujia.org because of my commitment to the renewal of the Northern Galil; to www.newisraelifund.org.uk for their work in civil and human rights, social and economic justice and the environment and http://www.masorti.org/ the Israeli Masorti movement, who create the kind of Jewish communities I believe in. I would urge every reader to pick the organisations they believe do most to create the Israel they wish to see, and support them to the extent they can.
Happy Birthday Israel.