In Hebrew, it seems as if there are numerous instructions to live a long and happy life where one’s eye is not dimmed nor natural force abated. Chai, the word for life, becomes l’chaim, ‘to life’, something to be said at celebratory toasts for any occasion, and also Am Yisrael Chai, ‘the people of Israel live’. On someone’s birthday, meanwhile, the proclamation is always, ad 120, in its full form, ‘may you live until 120’.
This Tuesday, the State of Israel shall be 65 – well on the way, then, to the age where Deuteronomy tells us that Moses expired up on Mount Nebo and the children of Israel wept for thirty days in his absence. It is remarkable, frankly, that Israel is here at all, for recall the perilous situation Israel found herself in not only in 1948 but all throughout its earliest years when the nation was dirt poor, struggling to assimilate Mizrahi refugees, and subject to repeated border raids. As Isi Liebler wrote in The Jerusalem Post:
In their wildest dreams, the founders of our state fighting a war of survival could never have envisioned the dynamic and thriving nation of eight million citizens that would emerge from that maelstrom.
But now it is here, and as secure it is has ever been, so thoughts inevitably turn to its future and to the question of what Israel will be like when it reaches 120. Or, more precisely, what it is that I want for Israel by the time 120 comes.
Primarily, by 2068 (the year in which Israel would turn 120), I would very much like for the State of Israel to have recognised borders, drawn upon all the maps of the world, viewed as legitimate even by nations that Israel is now engaged in hostilities with. This might not seem like much, but if that were indeed the case and a map of Israel in Tel Aviv was the same as those in Ramallah, Beirut, and Damascus, then all of the problems that currently beset Israel in terms of its existential security would have been resolved, or at the very least muted.
At the moment, Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and as a consequence its borders along the Sinai and the River Jordan are considered sovereign not only by those states but most of the international community. Elsewhere however, the wars between peoples are plain to see upon the region’s various maps. The Green Line acts as a de facto border between Israel and future Palestine – seen by some but not by others – while the Golan Heights remains a disputed territory. The Blue Line, drawn by the United Nations in 2000, acts as the boundary between Israel and Lebanon, since the latter is yet to recognise the former.
Thus, certifiable borders would mean the resolution of all Israel’s principal battles – in one way or another. By 2068, I hope that in the north, ownership of the Golan will have been settled with Syria through bilateral negotiations, and that Hezbollah will have either concluded its war of annihilation or been placated long enough as to open up an avenue of dialogue with Lebanon. On the West Bank, a democratic Palestinian state will have come into being, the product of talks with the PLO or, in the worst case, unilateral withdrawal to the Security Barrier (with the status of Gaza resolved by the reformation or outright destruction of Hamas). By the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, Israel’s right to exist will have been recognised by the Arab world, a Palestinian state having been formed.
The establishment of permanent, internationally-recognised borders will then create a window of opportunity within which Israel’s main piece of unfinished business can be concluded: the absence of a constitutional settlement. According to the Declaration of Establishment, Israel was intended to have a constitution no later than October 1, 1948, yet by that time Israel was engaged in a war of survival with multiple Arab states and militia, while its residents were residing under a state of emergency.
Since 1950, Israel has developed as a series of Basic Laws, created by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which along with the Supreme Court have done much to guarantee the basic rights of Israeli citizens including the right to human dignity and liberty. Yet the chaotic nature of the state’s formative years, plus the aforementioned security dilemmas, mean that much remains fudged or simply up in the air. If the conflicts with its neighbours are ended or ceased, then with the state of emergency lifted what is presently uncertain within Israel itself can be made certain.
During a debate over a constitutional settlement, or a codification of the Basic Laws, the balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic qualities can be set out clearly, with particular attention paid to the protection of the civil and religious rights of Israeli Arabs, Druze, and Bedouin within a state for Jews. Israelis can also come to an agreement over the future of the status quo. The separation of synagogue and state should be essential, done in such a way as to protect the rights of the religious while getting the rabbinate out of the affairs of state, including civil and same-sex marriage. In other words, Israel’s constitution would firmly establish her place as a light unto the nations, and a democratic and pluralistic refuge for all its peoples.
There are other wishes too: that there will be a great revival of left-wing Zionism as a credible, grassroots movement in Israeli political life; that the place of the kibbutzim as the vanguard of Zionism is made safe for future generations; that Israeli Arabs become a better-integrated part of the national whole, including in the Knesset and the armed forces; that the haredim come to terms with modernity; that Israel remains a place where the rights of gay and lesbian citizens are unparalleled across the Middle East. But above all, I wish for Israel just to make it to 120, as a sovereign state with secure, recognised borders and a constitution that both represents and protects all its citizens – Jewish and Arab; Ashkenazi and Sephardic; religious and secular.
So to Israel, I say: Happy birthday – ad 120!