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Israel at 75

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Israel at 75

When will God fulfill Isaiah 40:2 and tell the nation its constant warfare and conflict is finally over?

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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The contradictions that make up Israel—its economic and military prowess and its deep divisions and rancorous politics—were on full display as the country mourned its fallen soldiers and began celebrating its 75th Independence Day.

The jarring transition from Memorial Day on April 25 to Israel’s landmark anniversary ceremony the next day was meant to be a stunning display of unity that transcends the usual noise of Israeli politics. But it came as the country faces one of the gravest crises in its history. What transpired reflected the troubles of a nation preoccupied not only with external enemies but also with its internal conflicts.

A plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government to overhaul the judiciary has stoked widespread discontent and spurred weeks of protests that have brought cities to a standstill. Critics fear the changes would weaken the Supreme Court and erode the country’s democratic character. Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters argue that the overhaul is needed to rein in a liberal and overly interventionist court of unelected judges.

The proposed changes have garnered widespread pushback. Fighter pilots have threatened to stop reporting for duty. High-tech investors have considered relocating. The nation’s leaders have openly warned of civil war.

The nation must be yearning for the fulfillment of God’s words in Isaiah 40:2: “Speak you comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished…”

Memorial Day—which honors Israel’s 24,213 war dead and 4,255 victims of militant attacks—is meant to be the most solemn day on the nation’s calendar. This year it was anything but.

At a cemetery in the southern city of Beersheba, hardline National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir attended and addressed a Memorial Day ceremony, even after bereaved families appealed to him to stay away—or at least not speak on behalf of the government. When he was 18, Mr. Ben-Gvir was banned from compulsory military service on the grounds of his extremist ideology and conviction for incitement to racism and support for a terrorist group.

Even before Mr. Ben-Gvir turned up at the graveyard, scuffles and insult-laden shouting matches broke out between his supporters and opponents. Some attendees threw water at each other after the ceremony.

In Tel Aviv, a group of bereaved families held a separate ceremony to avoid visiting cemeteries and interacting with right-wing politicians whose presence drew shouts of “Shame!” from protesters.

“This year, the Israeli nation is torn between extremists,” said Israel Shur, who attended an alternative ceremony in Tel Aviv near the building where Israeli independence was declared 75 years ago. “We don’t want to confront the politician bringing their agenda inside our sacred place.”

Divided Nation

As is customary on Memorial Day, people across Israel came to a standstill for two minutes when the whine of air raid sirens sounded late in the morning. Motorists and pedestrians froze in the street, got out of their cars and stood with heads bowed. Bereaved families visited cemeteries while television and radio programming shifted to somber music and documentaries about slain soldiers.

“Citizens of Israel, the siren this year, the intensely Israeli signature call, is a wake-up call for all of us. The cost of internal strife is heavy,” Israel’s figurehead President Isaac Herzog said.

In a speech at the ceremony at a Jerusalem military cemetery, Mr. Netanyahu recalled the lives of several fallen soldiers. He spoke of the “brotherhood” of the Israeli people, a kinship fortified by military service that is compulsory for most Jews.

“We will stand together as brothers and ensure our independence from generation to generation,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “We will bow our heads to the bravery of the fallen.”

After sundown on April 25, the country shifted from melancholic contemplation to exuberant celebration, kicking off its 75th Independence Day as trumpets blared and drums rolled. The doleful ballads performed at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl became pulsating dance tunes. The dark space became illuminated by flashing blue and white lights.

Mr. Netanyahu emphasized national unity in his pre-recorded address at the mass commemoration. “Doing it together means crying together in memorial services and rejoicing together at Independence Day,” he said.

Yet even as the party got underway and the speaker of parliament, Amir Ohana, began lighting the first of 12 torches, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, crowds of anti-government protesters poured into the streets of central Tel Aviv. They unfurled a massive banner featuring a blazing torch labeled “Democracy.”

Protesters also marched the following Saturday—the 17th consecutive week of demonstrations.

The Independence Day celebration went smoothly despite swirling fears of disturbances. Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who oversaw the ceremony, had directed the event’s organizers to cut away from the live broadcast in the event of anti-government protests, Channel 12 News, Israel’s top television program, reported.

Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, but the holiday, like all national holidays, is observed according to the Hebrew calendar. Palestinians generally commemorate what they call the “nakba,” or the “catastrophe,” of May 15, 1948, in which hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s creation.

This year’s commemorations came as Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the occupied West Bank has surged to heights unseen in years. Just before the sirens wailed on Memorial Day, the Israeli military said a Palestinian shooting attack in the West Bank wounded an Israeli.

A day earlier, Israeli security forces killed a Palestinian man in a West Bank raid. Five people were wounded when a Palestinian rammed his car into pedestrians near a popular Jerusalem market before being shot and killed.

Over 90 Palestinians and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners have been killed since January.

Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has undoubtedly lived up to the words of Isaiah 40:2—“her warfare” has been perpetual. The nation has fought half a dozen wars with neighboring Arab countries, battled two Palestinian uprisings and endured scores of deadly militant attacks over the last 75 years.

At the Center

Israel views Jerusalem as its “unified, eternal” capital, and the city is at the center of the nation’s conflict. It captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians want those territories for a future state, with east Jerusalem serving as their eventual capital. Many in the international community refuse to recognize Israel’s annexation of the area.

The fate of east Jerusalem has been one of the thorniest issues for the Middle East peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.

Most often, clashes occur near or around Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City. The mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam and sits on a sprawling plateau that is also home to the iconic golden Dome of the Rock. Muslims refer to the compound as the Noble Sanctuary.

This walled plateau is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it was the location of biblical temples. Romans destroyed the Second Temple in AD 70, with only the Western Wall remaining. The mosques were built centuries later, and the site has been under Muslim care for 1,300 years.

Neighboring Jordan serves as the site’s custodian. It is operated by an Islamic endowment known as the Waqf. The site is open to tourists during certain times, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray.

In recent years, groups of religious and nationalist Jews escorted by police have been visiting the compound in greater numbers and holding prayers in defiance of rules established after 1967 by Israeli, Jordanian and Muslim religious authorities. The Palestinians view the frequent visits and attempted prayers by Jews as a provocation, often igniting scuffles or more serious violence.

After increased clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in April of this year, Mr. Netanyahu barred Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Even attempts to keep the peace are contentious in Israel. Commenting on the prime minister’s decision, Mr. Ben-Gvir said it was “a serious mistake that will not bring peace, but may only escalate the situation” (Haaretz). His thinking was that the move “will automatically lead to the dilution of the police force stationed on the Mount, which will create a fertile ground for huge demonstrations of incitement to murder Jews.”

Ancient History

To truly understand modern Israel requires a deeper look into the past. The Temple Mount remains the focal point.

Christianity and Judaism claim the site is Mount Moriah, the location of Solomon’s Temple. Muslims say it is where the prophet Muhammad took his night journey to heaven on his horse to receive the mandate to pray five times per day. Christian heritage also connects to the Mount, which carried the footprints of Jesus Christ and the apostles. In addition, it was a site of Catholic cathedrals during the Crusades.

BBC broadcast journalist Tim Franks put it this way: “If Jerusalem is the crucible of the Middle East Conflict, then the Old City is the crucible of the crucible, and the [Temple Mount] is the crucible of the crucible of the crucible.”

The land, which rises 2,428 feet above sea level between the Kidron and Tyropoeon valleys, has passed through the hands of great civilizations and empires.

Yet it all started with the biblical patriarch Abraham. The first recorded mention of Mount Moriah comes from the book of Genesis. After rescuing his nephew Lot from four Canaanite kings, Abraham met with King Melchizedek at the base of the mount.

After a meal, Melchizedek blessed Abraham (Gen. 14:19-20).

Later, the patriarch returned to the same spot after God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. “And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood” (22:9).

God spared Isaac and blessed Abraham for his faithfulness.

Divided Family

Abraham has even more ties to Moriah. He had two sons: first, Ishmael (by Hagar, a handmaid), then Isaac (by his wife Sarah).

Though Abraham passed the birthright to Isaac instead of his firstborn, Ishmael was also blessed. His offspring became the modern Arab people. Ishmael’s 12 sons (Gen. 25:16) went on to form major Arab nations, not insignificant nomadic tribes as some believe. These peoples intermarried primarily with the Egyptians and were located southeast of Canaan, in the region of Arabia.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah had twins: Esau was the eldest, and Jacob the younger. However, Esau lost his birthright to Jacob.

Esau married Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael (28:9). The house of Esau, also known as the Edomites and Amalekites, gave rise millennia later to the Ottoman Turks, as well as the Seljuk Turks, who conquered and held most of Asia Minor, and the Caucasian Osmanli Turks, who controlled the Holy Land from AD 1070 until they surrendered it to the British in 1917.

Both Ishmael and Esau remained bitter for not getting the birthright blessing. The jilted brothers jealously despised the descendants of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel.

How Will It End?

Conflicts among Abraham’s descendants, and the religions that have ties to him, have driven events in the Middle East for millennia. Yet ironically, those same ties influenced the name for 2020’s “Abraham Accords,” the U.S.-brokered process to normalize relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and other Arab nations.

The accords declaration states: “We encourage efforts to promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue to advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions and all humanity.

“We believe that the best way to address challenges is through cooperation and dialogue and that developing friendly relations among States advances the interests of lasting peace in the Middle East and around the world.”

It continues: “We pursue a vision of peace, security, and prosperity in the Middle East and around the world.”

These are noble intentions, yet they will inevitably end the same way all manmade peace processes do.

Stop and consider. The world’s greatest politicians and thinkers have not found the solution to unending Israel-Palestine violence. Even more, Israelis cannot even agree among themselves how to move forward as a nation.

Consider this question on a larger scale. Why has mankind never been able to bring lasting peace throughout history? A major part of the answer is human nature gets in the way.

Notice what the God of Abraham says about mankind in His Word: “…the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).

Isaiah 59:8 more bluntly states, “The way of peace they know not…”

The 75 years of the modern nation of Israel have seen only war, conflict and strife. Same for Jerusalem and the surrounding Holy Land throughout the centuries. The Old Testament shows ancient Israel fared little better than its modern counterparts.

But God will soon intervene in world affairs. He will bring an end to war in Jerusalem, which is just one element of Him setting up a Kingdom that will never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44)—bringing peace to the Middle East and the entire world.

The Bible is filled with how God will cause war to cease across the globe. Read How World Peace Will Come! for more.

This article contains information from The Associated Press.

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