Happy Birthday, Israel!
From Surviving to Thriving: The State of Israel Turns 70
For years I had a dream. I wanted my hometown baseball team (the Cleveland Indians) to play the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. I had adopted the Cubs when I lived in Chicago. Both teams excelled at losing.
Cleveland’s last World Series championship was in 1948. It was worse for the Cubs, who last won in 1908. The likelihood of the Cubs and Indians winning their leagues at the same time was more than a longshot; it was nearly impossible.
Then, in 2016, the impossible happened. Cleveland and Chicago faced each other in the World Series, and the Cubs ended their 108-year championship drought by beating Cleveland 8 to 7 in the final of seven games, in the 10th inning. My dream had come true.
In 1896, another man had a dream— one far more significant and far less likely to come true than mine. His name was Theodor Herzl, and his dream was the State of Israel.
That year Herzl wrote the pamphlet Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), which made the case that a Jewish state in the Promised Land, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire, not only would benefit the Jewish people but also the world. A year later, the Austrian-Jewish journalist organized the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Herzl was so sure of his dream that he wrote in his journal, “In Basel I founded the Jewish State….In five years, perhaps, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”
Today everyone does know it, as Israel celebrates 70 years of independence. Earlier this year, Culture Minister Miri Regev promised 70 hours of amazing festivities that would bring Israelis together from around the country “in varied and joyous events.”
And why not? No other people group that has been exiled from its land has returned as Israel has. Not only has Israel been reborn and survived against all odds, but it is thriving.
Israel is a leader in innovation. Its pioneer work in the medical field alone has produced less invasive treatments for a multitude of conditions, including cancer. The ISRAEL21c.org website is filled with information about Israeli medical advances. The country’s drip-irrigation technology has helped turn deserts into gardens, and its computer technology is used daily around the world by people who have no idea it was invented in Israel—including the facial-recognition feature in the new iPhone X.
American billionaire Warren Buffett, who has invested millions in Israel, declared, “If you’re going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel. If you’re looking for brains, look no further.”
The Long Haul
Israel has come a long way in 70 years, but the journey has not been easy. From 1517 to 1917 the land God gave the Jewish people lay in the hands of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled from Constantinople. In 1917, Britain defeated the Ottoman Turks in World War I and gained control of the area, which it ruled under a mandate from the League of Nations and then the United Nations until May 1948.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the partitioning of what was then British Palestine into two states: one Arab and one Jewish, with Jerusalem as an international city. Although the League of Nations had tasked Britain with the job of preparing the region as a homeland for the Jewish people, Britain gave 77 percent of the land to the Arabs and created the country of Jordan.
Since international Jewry was still reeling from the Holocaust of World War II in which the Nazis exterminated 6 million helpless, innocent Jews, the Jewish leadership in British Palestine was willing to accept whatever it could get.
The next step would be acquiring international recognition. But what countries would recognize the Jewish state?
Certainly not the United States, at least not if then-Secretary of State George Marshall had his way. Marshall was highly regarded by President Harry Truman, who called him the “greatest man of WWII.” Marshall authored the European Recovery Program, referred to as the Marshall Plan; and his White House team, dubbed the “wise men,” set a standard for foreign policy that lasted decades. When it came to recognizing Israel, Marshall and his wise men said no.
According to the 1991 memoirs of Clark Clifford, Truman’s political advisor and a supporter of recognizing Israel, Marshall gave Truman three reasons he opposed recognition a mere two days before the British were to vacate:
- He did not like the odds in the likely event war would erupt: 30 million Arabs against 600,000 Jews.
- He did not like the fact America would be opposing the side that controlled the world’s oil supply.
- He did not like the idea recognition probably would further exacerbate an already volatile Middle East.
Clifford’s memoirs say Marshall became so irate during the meeting to discuss recognition that he vowed he would not vote for Truman for reelection.
Despite his deep respect for Marshall, Truman issued the order to recognize Israel. America became the first country to do so—11 minutes after Israel declared its independence. A contributing factor in the president’s decision may have been the fact he was raised on the knee of a mother who read the Scriptures to him. He wanted to emulate King Cyrus of ancient Persia who issued the decree for the Jewish people to return to their land in 539 BC.
As it turned out, Marshall’s assessment was partially correct. Israel’s chances for survival were slim. The country was fiercely outnumbered and out-supplied. In fact, that would be the case in the next seven wars, as well.
Yet Israel survives. It has weathered two intifadas and ongoing terrorism, including regularly defending its citizens from the thousands of rockets launched against them. Groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and ISIS work tirelessly to destroy Israel, and many countries are trying to strangle its economy through the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), which is spreading around the world.
Israel is unjustifiably hated. A BBC survey measuring public opinion in 22 countries found Israel ranked as one of the world’s most negatively viewed nations—equal with North Korea and slightly ahead of Iran and Pakistan. In the European Union, negative perceptions of Israel exceed 60 percent among countries like Spain, France, Germany, and Britain.
Yet Israel thrives. As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel stands as a testament to the reality of Theodor Herzl’s impossible dream. Its rule of law protects all its citizens, Jewish and Arab. Whereas in 1948 Israel had virtually no weapons, today it has the most powerful military in the Middle East. In 1948 its total economy was about $3 billion; today it exceeds $300 billion and is listed third on NASDAQ, behind only the United States and Canada.
Israel had a single radio station in 1948 and no television until 1966. Today Israel is a top five high-tech and cyber power. In 1948 the nation had to import all its needed energy. Today it is drawing close to exporting natural gas.
Israelis are world leaders in recycling waste water and producing computerized irrigation, among many other things.
For many Bible-believing Christians, Theodor Herzl’s dream coincided with God’s promises in His Word. On December 6, 2017, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said evangelicals have “crazy ideas about Israel,” calling the ideas “mythical.” Crazy? Mythical? Hardly. Christians know something Chris Matthews doesn’t: God’s Word and His promises are sure.
In his book Altneuland (Old New Land), Herzl penned his famous statement, “If you will it, it is no dream.” God willed it. And today Israel celebrates 70 years back in its own land. Congratulations! And happy birthday, Israel!