u_topn picture
flashome picture
Atlantic Unbound Sidebar
Israel at 50
May 1, 1998

Fifty years ago the State of Israel established itself with a formal declaration of sovereignty -- followed by a bitter struggle to save itself from destruction at the hands of its Arab neighbors. The years since have been distinguished by phenomenal agricultural, economic, and cultural development, but also marred by hatred and brutality. "Together in hope, together with pride," proclaims the formal slogan of the anniversary celebration. That Israel has much to be proud of is undeniable -- it has become a regional military superpower with an open, democratic society and an extraordinarily high standard of living. But despite its great strides in many areas, what many Israelis want most -- harmony in the region and at home -- has so far been unattainable. Through the years a number of contributors to The Atlantic Monthly have reported on various aspects of the spiritual-national project that is Israel. What most of these pieces emphatically convey is the depth of meaning that Israel holds for its citizens, and the depth of their commitment to its well-being.

In "A Jewish Palestine" (July, 1919), H. Sacher explained the scriptural and historical basis of the Zionist impulse. "'With him who dwells outside Palestine it is as though God were not with him,'" he quoted from rabbinical works. "'To live in the land of Israel outweighs all the commands of the Torah.'" All of Judaism, Sacher claimed, is tied together by the "triple thread of God, the Jewish people, and the Jewish land."

Rabbi Milton Steinberg, in "The Creed of an American Zionist" (February, 1945), argued for the formation of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. In the wake of the Holocaust, he asserted, the revitalization of Hebraic culture would require a safe haven "where the homeless Jews of the world shall have found rest; where the Jewish spirit shall have been reborn; whence shall flow to the Jewries of the Dispersion inspiration and the stuffs on which it feeds."
From Atlantic Unbound:

Books & Authors: "A Century of Zionism" (November, 1996)
In an Atlantic Unbound interview, Geoffrey Wheatcroft discusses The Controversy of Zion, winner of The National Jewish Book Award, and takes stock of Theodor Herzl's "mad idea."

Related links:

  • Israel at Fifty
    A compendium of historical and cultural information about Israel presented by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, featuring selected documents from the fifteen volume Israel's Foreign Relations.

  • Virtual Jerusalem
    This site presents information on Holocaust survivors who built the State of Israel in 1948, Americans who came to fight for the country's independence, articles from the Encyclopaedia Judaica, and an interactive poll on Israel's future.

  • In "Israel: Young Blood and Old" (October, 1949), the American artist George Biddle recounted his visit to Israel a year after its official establishment. What impressed him the most was the sense of mission and spiritual purpose that animated its citizens: "The real excitement has been to watch in its early germination a social and moral experiment in government.... Often I think, too, of the same mental eagerness, democratic simplicity, pride, and prophetic sense of fulfilling a world mission that shine through the writings of Americans at the birth of our country."

    David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, explained, in "The Kingdom of the Spirit" (November, 1961), that far more than a mere "national and political unit," Israel would become a spiritual arena in which "a new way toward freedom, peace, justice, quality, and the advancement and redemption of humanity will be pointed out to the world."

    Jon Kimche's "Israel in 1965" (November, 1961) speculated about what Israel's national and international status would be in four years. He pointed out that prime minister Ben-Gurion had emphasized from the outset that Israel is an ongoing project, and that its citizens must not become complacent lest they find themselves unprepared to address some new adversity.

    In "Israel and the Arabs: The Myths that Block Peace" (January, 1969), political scientist Charles Yost argued for the feasibility of Arab-Israeli peace. He suggested that if each side could only be persuaded to relinquish its cherished myths -- the sense each had, for example, of its own innate superiority and divine right to control the Holy Land -- then the conflict could be approached as a purely political, logistical matter, and a workable compromise could be devised. Should the two sides stubbornly refuse to listen to reason, he argued, then outside intervention on the part of the United Nations would be required to work out a compromise.

    New adversities have arisen with regularity throughout Israel's brief history -- not surprising for a nation surrounded by enemies in a politically unstable region. However, in "Lions in Winter" (January, 1993), Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari suggested that three Middle Eastern leaders might finally be capable of achieving a workable compromise. "Whether or not . . . negotiations will end the long and brutal Israeli-Arab conflict essentially rests in the hands of just three people: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization ... Yasser Arafat."

  • Discuss this feature in the Global Views forum of Post & Riposte.

  • See the Flashbacks archive.

    Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
  • Cover Atlantic Unbound The Atlantic Monthly Post & Riposte Atlantic Store Search