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Israel remains an epic response to the world’s worst intentions

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Israel now celebrates its 66th birthday—a young country sprung from a land as old as the Bible and as new as this morning’s Internet edition of The Jerusalem Post.

I was born there just a few years after its inception in 1948. My father and mother were there, however, as the British withdrew on May 14 of that year, lowering the Union Jack over the port of Haifa, and raising the stakes considerably for the 600,000 Jews in mandatory Palestine now left to confront a host of Arab nations planning to invade and destroy the nascent Jewish state.

Israel's birth in 1948 was a heroic and healing reply to the politics of murder.

I remember living in that idyllic place as a child. It was long before suicide bombings, murderous plots laid out by dictators who trade oil for blood, and before dreadful skyjackings in Europe and America that had nothing to do with the sweet osprey birds that flew about the desert of our little homeland.

Many of my classmates in the then-dusty village of Kfar-Saba were the children of Holocaust survivors who had been rescued by Haganah soldiers like my own father, smuggled into Palestine from Cyprus and other places in the wake of the Nazi insanity.

The names in my fourth grade classroom hailed from Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Poland and Yemen. We all planted onions and sunflowers in the reddish earth around the schoolyard and we sang songs in the free language of Hebrew.

There was a time when you could easily recite the meaning of Israel's birth, and it's worth remembering now. Israel only came into being because Europe had slaughtered the Jews and then because the United Nations had a stunning vote in its Security Council: By a tally of 33 to 13, the UN partitioned Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.

The Jewish Agency, still heaving from the genocide and desperate to create a sanctuary for the exiles, agreed. The independent Arab nations, manifold times larger than Israel, declared their intention to finish what the Nazis had started. These are the facts; even as the ensuing Arab invasion of the Jewish territories served to displace the parallel victims of this blunder – the Palestinian people.

Whether or not the leaders of the Palestinian people still want that separate state or not, or even if they indeed covet the full region and would still plan to consume the sovereign state of Israel, the Palestinian people themselves still need to feel they belong somewhere – just as we Jewish children of the remnant felt we belonged somewhere back in the days following Israel's birth.

But before either one of us, Arab or Jew, can plan the future, we must learn the past. We were both always there in that land, even as the wind brought the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the British, and so many others into the land to help set us against each other.

My childhood memories include the thick citrus smell of orange groves that lay between Kfar-Saba and the minarets of the neighboring Arab village of Qalqilya. We actually lived in peace; there was no fear in the air – till the distant Egyptians and Syrians decided to exterminate the Jewish state in 1967 and suddenly every orange tree, every brook of water, every synagogue and every mosque would become a flashpoint.

Israel's birth in 1948 was a heroic and healing reply to the politics of murder.

The death of Israel, now actively sought by hatemongers from Argentina to France to Egypt to Iran, would disavow every good instinct that was found in humankind after Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Israel's emergence was supposed to have been merged with the emergence of a free Palestine in the first place; who can blame those of us in the Jewish community who truly care about the children of both Kfar-Saba and Qalqilya enough to require Israel's continuity as much as we seek a just solution?

The parents who would send their children to blow themselves up in Jewish pizza parlors and at Passover gatherings, the men and women who would applaud the inferno of 9-11, and who would suggest that the Jews that made the desert green again are some kind of Nazi incarnation are people who never breathed in the fragrance of oranges across a warm valley of conciliation. They certainly never read a book that tells the true story of a people who survived and just want to live.

www.benkamin.com

Order my new book, 'DANGEROUS FRIENDSHIP: Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King Jr., and The Kennedy Brothers'

[This article is revised from an original edition that appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune.]

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