My flight arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. I walked through the long spacious arrivals area and saw a series of 60 striking panels mounted on the wall — each illustrating a significant event for every year of modern Israel’s existence.
On 14 May 1948, the new State of Israel was proclaimed. It was conceived by the United Nations in a vote in November 1947 to partition Mandate Palestine — the segment of the former Ottoman Empire entrusted to Great Britain after the First World War by the League of Nations — into a Jewish state, an Arab state and an international city of Jerusalem.
Its gestation took only six months. As soon as the British high commissioner withdrew, Israel was born — like all births, in blood and violence, cut off from the matrix in which it had developed.
As the new blue and white Israeli flag proudly flew and the well-prepared and armed Zionist (Jewish nationalist) militants took possession of as much of the land as they could, the relatively unprepared Palestinian Arabs were appalled.
Although the armies of neighboring Arab states came to their defense, when several months later the dust settled and major hostilities ceased, Israel possessed most of Mandate Palestine — the core of the Holy Land — except for the West Bank (the areas of biblical Samaria and Judea) and the coastal Gaza Strip.
For the first time since the conquest of Judea by the Babylonians (the forefathers of modern Iraqis) in 587 B.C., there was a truly independent Jewish state — a land for the Jews, the ancient People of God.
Not all Jews are Israelis, of course, but almost every Jew in the world looks fondly and proudly at modern Israel and its incredible achievements during the brief three score years of its existence.
Surprisingly, not all Israelis are Jews. Although many Palestinian Arabs fled or were driven from what is now Israel, many stayed and are now Israeli citizens. For a while, there was a generation of Israeli Arabs who were proud of their new nationality.
But, as events continue to unfold in the Palestinian areas occupied by Israel since 1967 — the remainder of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan River — the pride of many Israeli Arabs has eroded.
Increasingly, they share the sentiments of their confreres in the occupied territories, who look back on 1948 as a catastrophe, a catastrophe of 60 years duration.
Paradoxically, the fierce nationalism of the Zionist Jews nurtured an increasingly fierce nationalism on the part of Palestinian Arabs.
For this 60th anniversary, one people celebrates the triumph of their new land and state; the other mourns the loss of their land and their status as a stateless people.
I wonder was the dream of the framers of the UN partition resolution naïve? Was “partition” meant to be a division of Mandate Palestine or a formula for two peoples to share one land?
Was the special status of Jerusalem which hardly exists in practice — meant to be a way to keep the jewel from either people’s crown or a way to ensure that it remain a common patrimony for the three great Abrahamic faiths?
To borrow words from a U.S. anthem, “God shed his grace on thee.” May it also be said that he “crowned thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern