Beyond Images Challenging Myths and Presenting Facts About Israel
Israeli society: resilience, dignity and democracy
- insights from columnist Hirsh Goodman

Published - 25 April 2004
Beyond Images Ref: 87

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Below we reprint key extracts from an article by Israeli columnist Hirsh Goodman to mark Israel’s 56th anniversary, in which he highlights the resilience of the Israeli people, the preservation of Israel’s democracy in the face of terror, and the dignity with which Israeli society is facing its current challenges. The article, entitled ‘Happy Independence Day, Despite It All’ was published in the Jerusalem Report magazine (dated 3 May 2004)

“… looking at Israel is like going to an exhibition of expressionistic painters. If you look too close, all you see are the daubs of paint. Take a few steps back and you see the picture – and that is what Israel deserves, from its lovers and critics alike, as it turns 56.

If you look at the big picture, what has been achieved is truly amazing: the country’s resilience and ability to adapt, to fight a war and keep functioning – schools open, banks operating, the unions striking. It continues to absorb those refugees and others who choose to come, keeps the streets clean, has its institutions of higher learning turning out world-class scholars in almost every field and is fighting its economic problems in what seems to be a successful way.

And, perhaps most importantly, despite all the pressures to the contrary, the country continues to operate as a democracy, a society based on law and order with a free press and freedom of religion. Those who claim there is discrimination in Israel are probably right, but it’s not institutionalized other than in budgetary terms, and at least whoever feels they’re getting the short end of the stick can say what they like in the Knesset, as the Arab members and those representing the ultra-orthodox demonstrate each and every day.
It’s not that all is great over here, but overall, considering that Israel at 56 is a work in progress that has to still sort out fundamental questions, I would say that the glass is more than half-full. We do not seem to be able to come to terms with rational Palestinians at this point, so we’re consolidating. The fence is one aspect of that, the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank is another. The unilateral withdrawal issue is contentious, as is the question of where the fence will go, but the mechanisms for resolving these disputes democratically are in place and in the end it is the will of the people that will decide.

What is worthy of praise this Independence Day is that Israel has finally matured to the point where it will not let its enemies dictate its agenda, and that Israel now understands that in order to survive demographically it must take its destiny into its own hands, which is exactly what it is doing. Yasser Arafat can prattle on about the Palestinian women’s wombs being his people’s most effective weapon for as long as he likes. If Israel soon withdraws from Gaza, they’ll have a lot more birthing to do to become effective again.

I feel very optimistic this Independence Day despite the knowledge that the security service has some 50 “hot warnings” on suicide bombers trying to get into Israel as I write. There is something about the way and the dignity with which Israel has responded to the challenges of the last three years that makes me proud. Society has come together. The immigrants from the former Soviet Union and the ultra-orthodox have become more part of the mainstream. The country has functioned admirably. And no matter what the criticism abroad, it has behaved with integrity and decency under the most difficult of challenges.

Happy Birthday Israel, and don’t let this or that detract from the overall greatness of the achievements made to date.”

Our comments: Many commentators depict Israel as living in fear, as though Palestinian violence had accomplished something. Goodman suggests that this is false, and instead highlights Israel’s underlying strength. Israel’s democratic system (which continues to protect the rights of Israeli Arabs) and the resilience of its society are the foundations for an eventual peace agreement, and for a more secure and happy future.