The holiest day on the Jewish calendar is called Yom Kippur (“The Day of Atonement”). It is marked by a 25-hour fast and prayer time.
Yom Kippur is a time of deep personal reflection, and it is especially poignant to see this sacred day in Israel, as I did a few years ago.
Standing on the balcony of a high-rise Tel Aviv beach hotel, I watched in fascination as this very Western, free-spirited city shut down. No one operated any kind of vehicle. To see a huge city in a brief moment of stillness was, well, holy.
Every Yom Kippur though, I think about a striking memorial I saw several years ago, north of Tel Aviv, in the heart of the Israeli intelligence community.
A series of giant stone blocks are situated in a sort of maze. At first I didn’t understand what I was looking at, until I realized that chiseled into the stone were the names of Israel’s fallen soldiers, including the date they died.
Turning a corner, I froze upon reading a date. It was identical to many other “dates of death.” Then it hit me.
Yom Kippur, 1973.
On and on it went.
On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1973, Egyptian and Syrian troops and tanks poured across the Sinai and Golan Heights, respectively, in an attempt to conquer Israel.
At home with families, Israel’s active-duty soldiers and reservists alike scrambled to their bases upon hearing the news. Recently retired General Ariel Sharon, on his ranch in the Negev, hurried to the front, as well.
What many of them didn’t know at the time was that in several surrounding Arab countries, Israeli agents had been collecting information. When they realized that a full-scale war was about to erupt, they were found-out and killed. The spy game is one most of us will never know anything about, but those Israelis gave their lives, far from home, and their activities are still shrouded in secrecy.
One wonders what each of the agents thought about in those last moments. They would not know that Israel would absorb initial blows and strikes from the invaders, and on another fateful night a few weeks into the war, Sharon would lead a daring raid across the Suez Canal with a tank division. The raid turned the tide of the war and led to a cease-fire after three weeks.
This year is no different. Yom Kippur is a time of solemn personal reflection. As for me, I’ll reflect on the agents who never came home.
Although I am usually shouted-down, if I say so among liberals who support the Palestinians, I have a different view of their drive for statehood. It is a view seen up-close.
For some time, those who support Israel have pointed out that Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat, when addressing the Palestinian people in Arabic, sing a different tune about statehood.
Officially, via the famous/infamous Oslo Accords of 1993, the Palestinians are to receive a state in the West Bank and Gaza. This would entail carving-up sections of Israel and the Palestinian territories, but officially, both sides have agreed to this.
But what about unofficially? I am of the opinion that this is the only view that really matters.
As soon as he came to Gaza in 1994, from exile in Tunisia, Arafat declared to his own people that they would obtain all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Diplomats, politicians, military planners, and other observers of this two-decade process (Oslo) all understood that this kind of rhetoric meant that Israel would disappear.
It’s just that most didn’t take it seriously.
I have long believed that Arafat meant exactly what he was saying to his own people, in private, as it were. That was confirmed to me during a recent stroll through the Muslim Quarter, in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Amid all the t-shirt designs, I saw several that were bold in their proclamations. Something I had not seen in previous visits.
One particular design I brought back. A simple, primitive map, with the words “Free Palestine.” Chillingly, at the top of the map, two Palestinian flags have been planted. This means exactly what you have surmised: the Palestinian people expect that Palestine will soon comprise all of the land.
This means they intend for Israel to disappear, either literally or as a bi-national state.
One can disagree with me, but I’ve been there and talked to people and seen the new boldness of the Palestinian people, who believe their long dream/nightmare of reversing the “Nakba” is about to be realized.
And that’s scary.
Just some historical detail for you, in light of the drive for statehood by the Palestinians.
On the afternoon of May 14, 1948, Jewish Zionist leader David Ben Gurion rose to speak at a theatre in Tel Aviv, steps from the beach.
Ben Gurion read Israel’s declaration of independence, as an international radio audience listened. He was surrounded by other Zionist leaders. The whole thing lasted just minutes.
The next day, a promised invasion of the new country, by neighboring Arab armies, was launched and a months-long bloody conflict ended with the 1949 armistice lines. Thus, a sovereign Jewish presence in that ancient land of their forefathers was established after an historical gap of almost 2,000 years.
Israel was born, politically, from a vote in the UN on November 29, 1947, in which a majority of the Security Council voted to partition what was left of Palestine, after Transjordan was formed in 1946.
One wonders if we are on the cusp of a new state, literally on top of the state of Israel. Interestingly, Independence Hall in Tel Aviv is today almost an afterthought for most tourists.
If the Palestinians win their bid for statehood, at what symbolic place will they declare it so?