Sherwin Pomerantz

Israel’s 76th Independence Day

By a rare coincidence, Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israeli Independence Day, falls today, May 14, which is also the anniversary on the Gregorian calendar of the day David Ben-Gurion and his government-in-exile announced the creation of a sovereign Jewish state 76 years ago. It is also the 221st day of Israel’s retaliatory war against Hamas, the terrorist organization controlling Gaza, so it is appropriate for me to ask myself, why am I here? That is, why have any of us who grew up in other lands chosen to live our lives in this cauldron of simultaneous pride and fear called Israel? Why does Israel even exist? Why indeed?

The short answer for those of us who are believers, is that we are enjoined by God in Leviticus 20:24 to live here where it says: “So I said to you, You shall possess their land, and I shall give it to you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the Lord your God, Who has distinguished you from the peoples.

Contrary to the what is often said in diplomatic circles, Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust. While that event may have created sufficient guilt among the member nations of the UN so that it felt compelled to move forward with authorizing the partitioning of Palestine, Jews have been saying next year in Jerusalem for 2,000 years, in accordance with the dictates of the bible passage above. Thus, the establishment of Israel was the culmination of a long-standing dream to say the least and our being here is in response to God’s direction to do so.

Gaza and the Hostages

According to remarks on Tuesday by Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, talks over a ceasefire in Gaza have reached a stalemate due to Israel’s operations in Rafah. Israeli activity in Rafah, which started this month, have closed a main crossing point for aid from the border with Egypt a move humanitarian groups say has worsened an already dire situation. “Especially in the past few weeks, we have seen some momentum building but unfortunately, things didn’t move in the right direction and right now we are in a status of almost a stalemate. Of course, what happened with Rafah sent us backward,” Sheikh Mohammed said at an economic forum in Doha. Sheik Mohammed said the fundamental difference between the two parties was over the release of hostages and ending the war.

While the White House recently leveraged intelligence information in hopes of stalling an IDF operation in Rafah, it has now begun denying withholding information from its ally, the New York Post reported on Monday. The initial report that the US attempted to leverage information came from four anonymous sources speaking to the Washington Post. According to the Post, the information offered by the US includes details regarding the whereabouts of Hamas leaders and the terror group’s tunnels. In addition, the proposition reportedly involved the supply of shelters for the Palestinians of the Strip and US aid in building delivery mechanisms to provide water, food, and medicine for Gazans. “We’re not holding anything back,’’ a US representative insisted. “We believe [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar should and indeed must be held accountable for the horrors of the October 7 attack.”

Now it also seems that the Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has for years overseen a secret police force in Gaza that conducted surveillance on everyday Palestinians and built files on young people, journalists and those who questioned the government, according to intelligence officials and a trove of internal documents reviewed by The New York Times. The unit, known as the General Security Service, relied on a network of Gaza informants, some of whom reported their own neighbors to the police. People landed in security files for attending protests or publicly criticizing Hamas. In some cases, the records suggest that the authorities followed people to determine if they were carrying on romantic relationships outside marriage.

Hamas has long run an oppressive system of governance in Gaza, and many Palestinians there know that security officials watch them closely. But a 62-slide presentation on the activities of the General Security Service, delivered only weeks before the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, reveals the degree to which the largely unknown unit penetrated the lives of Palestinians. The documents show that Hamas leaders, despite claiming to represent the people of Gaza, would not tolerate even a whiff of dissent. Security officials trailed journalists and people they suspected of immoral behavior. Agents got criticism removed from social media and discussed ways to defame political adversaries. Political protests were viewed as threats to be undermined.

Egypt as a relief valve for Gaza

What is really interesting is Egypt’s having taken the position that Gazans who want to flee the war zone cannot do so by temporarily occupying the Sinai desert on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. This is just another example of how, when Palestinians become victims of oppressive measures taken against them by their Arab brothers, the world does not care a bit.

About a decade ago, when Egypt demolished dozens of houses and buildings in Rafah as part of a campaign to combat terrorism, no one said a word against the Egyptians — or even bothered to look. If the Egyptians actually cared about the Palestinians, instead of blocking the entry of Gazans into Sinai, they would create a temporary camp on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing and permit Gazans to fell to do so in coordination with Israel. Instead, they threaten to abort the peace treaty with Israel if Israel goes after the Hamas battalions headquartered in Rafah.

As I close on this Independence Day, a day less joyous than in the past because we are in the midst of a war of survival, there is always hope and, as well, gratitude for the life we have here and the honor of being in this land. To get a sense of this feel free to look at this short clip from the 70th anniversary of Israel in 2018 where Naomi Shemer’s song Al Kol Aleh (All these Things) was sung in a packed arena. You can see it here and, while it is in Hebrew there are English subtitles as well…….

Hope you are inspired by the spirit which carries us forward each day as we live out the dreams of our forebears.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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