A Taste of Sovereignty

History shows us that Israel has never been a long standing sovereign nation.  It has had tastes, but it has never endured for very long.  It’s a painful truth, but let us acknowledge it. Perhaps we can learn from it.

In its recent history, since 1948, it has had to deal with its existential “validity” through the United Nations.  It is no wonder that the UN has become such a nemesis to Israel, and that Israel has always gotten beaten up there, its ear always to the wall in an effort to hear what everybody else saying.  With the unresolved issue of its Palestinians, its borders have never been internationally recognized as stable. Lacking that stability, it has not been able to fully enjoy the fruits of sovereignty.

Before that, well, going back 2000 years, we know what that was like. Jews in Palestine have been there all along, but in the shadow of the Romans, Byzantines, Christian Crusaders, Ottomans.

During the Hasmonean Dynasty, from about 129 B.C.E. to 63 B.C.E., the Jewish kingdom of Judea was able to flourish with boundaries similar to that under David and Solomon.  Doing the math, this would be 66 years.  Some would say it was a full 80 years, but the Syrian Greeks still had a strong hand in matters prior to their collapse in 129. Could the Hasmonean Dynasty be considered a full fledged sovereign nation? One to last 66 years, only to be overrun by the Romans?  Perhaps it was, but not for very long.  Its sense of belonging to the land and its traditions during this time would no doubt bring about revolts against Rome comparable if not greater than the slave revolts of Spartacus.  Its revolts against the Roman “occupiers” would also give birth to a messianic following that would later become a religion for three quarters of the world.

Going back another thousand years, we see Judea existing as a “client state” under Persian rule for several hundred years, wedged between Persian power to the north and Egypt to the south. It could not be said to enjoy true sovereignty, although it could continue its customs and cling to its Hebrew identity..

This would follow soon after the Babylonians decimated Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E., stripping Judah (as the southern portion of the Levant was called back then) of its political identity and leaving unambitious farmers and pastoral nomads behind.  Again this would be a “client state” identity, existing at the behest of its northern and southern aggressors (Babylon, Egypt).

According to archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, Judah, being a compliant and cooperative client state, could persist as such furnishing much of the eastern Mediterranean with wine and olive oil, While it could maintain a measure of its identity, it could not be said to be a true sovereignty. “Sovereignty” would require firmly established borders with the ability to protect them, Judah during this time could not do that.

Around 722 B.C.E. the Neo-Assyrians would take the northern half of today’s Israel, known at the time, as it is today, as Samaria.  The Biblical account mentions Assyrians making off with 10 of the tribes of Israel (known as the lost tribes). Citing Finkelstein again, from his “Bible Unearthed,” this would occur at the end of the King Omri Dynasty.  Omri and his sons would have had their “taste of sovereignty” for about 40 years, but overreach themselves by making military incursions towards Damascus to the north and (what is now) Jordan to the east.  Such conquests may have attracted the notice of the Neo-Assyrian superpower to the far north, resulting ultimately in the conquest of Samaria. Judah, to the south, would remain a “tributary state.”

Between about 930 and 880 B.C.E., Samaria and Judah would be at each other’s throats, and be known as the “Divided Kingdom.”  Whatever “taste of sovereignty” either of them had would have been short-lived and fraught with usurpers and civil war.

Between 1050 and 930 B.C.E–80 years–we have the estimated time period for the United Monarchy of Israel, This period would include Kings Saul, David, and Solomon.  Saul struggled with what appeared to be severe depression and jealous rages, helping to define an infant Israel through continuous wars with the Philistines and other rival groups. David, the Bandit/Musician King, would be a brilliant military and political leader but with moral problems of his own.  Under David Israel would stabilize as a tiny nation. Solomon would bring Israel to a lustrous shine, strengthening it through foreign diplomacy and trade–only to undermine its strength towards the end of his reign through excessive taxation and overwork.of its people in the building of temples to other gods.

Thus in 748 words we see glimmerings of sovereignty throughout Israel’s history, but never the stolid, plodding, century after century momentum that “more established” sovereign countries enjoy. Rather, Israel has existed in “fits and starts,” never quite emerging with staying power for more than 80 years, but never disappearing either.

I propose that Israel is still struggling, psychologically, with this history, In some instances it is as fractious as the Kingdom on the verge of its division. In other instances it is as aggressive as Omri, catching the eye of even greater powers who would do it harm.  And then at times it is the “client state,” believing it exists at the behest of other powers.

Israel consistently scores in the top 75th percentile economically, technologically, militarily, educationally, among 180 top nations.  It has the wherewithal to be a sovereign nation beyond the 80 year mark.  And as it approaches that bar, in 2027, it will continue to find itself tested, not only by the realities of governments in the here and now, but by the governments of its past.  Let it be said this led to wisdom as well as strength.





About the Author
Victor Salkowitz is a retired Clinical Social Worker with over 30 years experience in prisons, child welfare, and adult mental health agencies. He received his B.A. in Psychology from UC Davis and an MSW from UC Berkeley, becoming licensed in 1991.