As Israel turns 76, little to celebrate… except resilience and a unique history

Israel has never had the luxury of taking its survival for granted, as Oct. 7 proved again. And yet, through millennia, it is always those who try to destroy the Jews who disappear

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Family members and friends of fallen soldiers visit their graves on Memorial Day at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
Family members and friends of fallen soldiers visit their graves on Memorial Day at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, May 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Usually, there is an awkward, complex transition as Israel moves from mourning the fallen on Memorial Day to, with what feels like indecent speed, celebrating the start of another year on Independence Day.

Not so, this year.

The pain, grief and anger of the first Memorial Day since Hamas’s October 7 slaughter was so profound and overwhelming that there could be no remotely full-throated celebration of the 76th anniversary of our independence.

The anguished ceremonies throughout Memorial Day underlined the abiding nightmare — with Doris Liber, a representative of the fallen, whose son Guy Illouz was murdered and his body abducted to Gaza on October 7, tearfully appealing to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Monday’s main gathering on Mount Herzl to bring the hostages home. “I don’t have a grave” at which to mourn, she said.

But so, too, did the official state ceremony on Monday night ushering in Independence Day — distinguished by the presence, as torch lighters, of some of Israel’s heroes on and since October 7, many of whom saved lives that day and others who dealt with loss with extraordinary nobility.

The event was prerecorded, without an audience, ostensibly for security reasons but also, it was widely suggested, so that Netanyahu could deliver a message without risk of more of the heckling that he and his ministers had received in the course of Memorial Day.

Participants at an alternative Independence Day ceremony hold up sings reading “no hostages, no independence” in Binyamina on May 14, 2024. (Oded Engel / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Simultaneously, vast crowds of Israelis gathered in solidarity with the relatives of the hostages in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, while in Binyamina, in northern Israel, an alternative “extinguishing the torches” event was held at which many participants held banners proclaiming “No hostages; no independence.”

Modern Israel has never had the luxury of taking its survival for granted, and the ongoing struggle on multiple fronts since the catastrophe of October 7 has shown, again, that it dare not allow its guard to slip, dare not allow itself complacent assessments about its enemies and their intentions, because the consequences are devastating.

Israel turns 76 with its war to dismantle Hamas near-stalled, and with the United States, our one vital ally, increasingly wary of Netanyahu’s strategy or lack thereof. It marks the anniversary with 128 of the October 7 hostages still held in Gaza, and with Hamas professing to have delivered a ceasefire document which is, in fact, a cunningly constructed framework designed to end the war and secure the release of a great many murderous terrorists into the powder-keg West Bank in exchange for a very few hostages.

A visitor mourns at a memorial for Israelis who were killed or abducted in the Hamas attack on the Supernova music festival on October 7, at the site of the festival near Kibbutz Re’im in southern Israel on May 13, 2024.(JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The northern border remains a ghost region, from which tens of thousands of Israeli residents remain internally exiled. Iran, openly dedicated to Israel’s destruction, recently attacked with hundreds of drones and missiles (almost all of which were intercepted), and is closing in on the bomb, to the undisguised despair of the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog organization.

Chronically incompetent on the “second battlefield,” with the PMO-run National Public Diplomacy Directorate underprioritized and overwhelmed and the Foreign Ministry marginalized, official Israel has barely tried to explain the context of the war and the cynicism of a Hamas literally fighting from behind and beneath Gazans. But even if effective public diplomacy might have nudged the needle of international sentiment a little in its favor, Israel has faced, since almost immediately after October 7, growing intolerance of its very right to defend itself — a carefully orchestrated intolerance that is morphing increasingly into plain old antisemitism.

Torch lighters at a prerecorded state ceremony on the eve of Israel’s 76th Independence Day, May 13, 2024. At center is Iris Haim, whose son Yotam, taken hostage by Hamas on October 7, was killed in error by IDF forces on December 15, along with Alon Shamriz and Samar Talalka, after they had escaped their captors. (GPO screenshot)

Internally divided, globally isolated, there are precious few crumbs of comfort for Israel this birthday.

Except perhaps, that is, for the extraordinary resilience of the Jewish nation — through the 76 years of our modern existence, and the preceding millennia. Always, there have been those who rose to destroy the Jewish people. Always, they faded from history and the Jewish people did not.

Judaism, in its essence, has something divine to offer humanity — a code of life that we ourselves must ensure we exemplify. An ethos, enshrined in a faith, that values empathy and respect for others and that sanctifies life. It has surely been key to the Jews’ survival through the ages. And now again, so long as we maintain it, it retains the potential to sustain the beleaguered Jewish state.

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