Israel celebrates 65 years of independence | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 14.05.2013
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Middle East

Israel celebrates 65 years of independence

"If you will it, it is no dream," wrote Theodor Herzl, a Vienna journalist and the founder of Zionism, in 1902. Less than 50 years later, his vision became a reality: Israel was declared an independent state.

The 14th of May 1948 was a day that shook the Middle East. In a museum in Tel Aviv, Israel was declared an independent state. A few black-and-white images, blurry film clips and scratchy audio recordings pay witness to the event.

The images capture the head of the Jewish Agency in Palestine and the World Zionist Organization, David Ben-Gurion. In his left hand, he holds the pages with the text of Israel's declaration of independence:

"The land of Israel, Palestine was the birthplace of the Jewish people," Ben-Gurion read. "Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped."

"After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom."

"Accordingly, we…hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel," he announced.

Ben-Gurion would go on to become the first prime minister of Israel. In his diaries, he later wrote that the meeting ended with the singing of the Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem. Outside the museum, the people danced in the streets of Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion wrote.

The independence war

But the joy over the founding of Israel was overshadowed by the expectation of a looming war. The Arab states had rejected the United Nations resolution of 1947, which partitioned Mandatory Palestine between Jews and Arabs.

GOLAN HEIGHTS,- JUNE 11: Israeli tanks encounter Syrian soldiers giving themselves up as POWs on the Golan Heights 11 June 1967 during the Six-Day War. Syrian chief of staff General Ali Aslan insisted in remarks published 29 July 1999 in Damascus on full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights as the price for peace, ruling out any compromise with Israel. Syria will not accept a peace which renounces a single inch of (occupied) ground, and a compromise on the total Israeli withdrawal (from the Golan) up to 04 June 1967 line is out the question, he told to daily of the ruling Baath party. (Photo credit should read MOSHE MILNER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Israeli occuption began with the Six Day War

According to the resolution, the Jewish community was entitled to half of Palestine. But that territory was shared by some 500,000 Jews and around 440,000 Palestinians at the time.

That was a sure recipe for the tragedy that was to follow, According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. In order to shift the demographic balance in favor of the Jewish people, Ben-Gurion decided to drive a million Palestinians from the territory. More than 80 percent of the population was forced from their homes.

They fled to the neighboring Arab countries or to the regions that Israel did not yet rule - the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. At the time, 530 Palestinian villages wiped off the map and 11 cities were destroyed.

The Six Day War and its aftermath

Less than 20 years later, Israel expanded its territory to the Gaza Strip and West Bank during the Six Day War. From June 5-10, 1967, Israeli soldiers defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, annexing the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank in the process.

The unexpected and resounding military victory triggered a wave of national and religious enthusiasm in Israel. Above all, the conquest of East Jerusalem and with it the most important Jewish holy site, the Wailing Wall, sparked messianic feelings.

Versöhnender Händedruck zwischen dem ägyptischen Präsidenten Anwar el Sadat (r) und dem israelischen Ministerpräsidenten Menachem Begin (l) am 17. September 1978 in Camp David (Maryland). In der Mitte US-Präsident Jimmy Carter. Die Staatsmänner hatten zuvor nach 13tägigen Gesprächen die Rahmenvereinbarung für einen Nahost-Friedensvertrag unterzeichnet, der innerhalb der nächsten drei Monate unterzeichnet werden soll.

Egypt is one of the few Arab nations to sign a peace treaty with Israel

Shortly thereafter, the first Jewish settlements were established in the occupied territories. The center-left government did not just tolerate the settlements; it directly supported them. The government viewed the settlements as a buffer zone that would keep the Palestinian populations in the Wet Bank and Gaza Strip in check, preventing the development of autonomous structures.

Neither the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt nor the 1993 Oslo peace process nor the 2005 withdraw from the Gaza Strip could stop the expansion of the settlements. Even Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a pronounced opponent of the settlers, did not dare to clear the settlements from the occupied territories. Rabin was assassinated in 1994 by a Jewish nationalist who opposed the Oslo Accords.

Today, around 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among them are many recent immigrants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia, who came to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Israel took in approximately 1 million Russian Jews. And in 1991, the Israeli government brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in a sensational series of operations.

Relations with Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany has maintained diplomatic relations with Israel since 1965. In 1952, West Germany signed the Reparations Agreement, committing itself to pay 3.5 billion marks in restitution to Israel for the Holocaust.

"We have to correct the injustice, so far as it's possible, that was visited upon the Jews by the National Socialists," Chancellor Konrad Adenauer declared.

This photo, released 28 September by the White House shows Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (2nd L); Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (3rd L) ; US President Bill Clinton (C) ; King Hussein of Jordan (3rd R) and PLO leader Yasser Arafat (2nd R) in Washington, DC. Rabin and Arafat are signing maps representing the re-deployment of Israel troops in the West Bank. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read /AFP/Getty Images)

Rabin (left) signed the Oslo Accords and paid with his life

The chancellor met with Israeli Premier Ben Gurion at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on March 14, 1960 for an exchange of personal views. After the meeting, Ben-Gurion declared to the press that he believed Germany had changed since World War II.

"I was glad to meet Chancellor Adenauer," Ben-Gurion said. "I said in the Knesset…that the Germany of today is not the Germany of yesterday. After having met the chancellor, I am sure that that judgment was correct."

The images of the two patriarchs were publicized around the world: Ben-Gurion with his broad smile and untidy crown of white hair and Adenauer with his mischievous eyes and his strictly combed grey hair. A year later, in May 1961, the two leaders met again, this time in Ben-Gurion's humble home in the Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev Desert.

Israel's security as German raison d'etre

Since then, Berlin and Jerusalem have developed an intimate relationship based on mutual trust. Germany is considered one of Israel's most loyal allies, supporting the Jewish State both diplomatically and politically, as well as with weapons deliveries.

In February 2000, then German head of state Johannes Rau spoke to the Israeli parliament. Rau was the first German president to do so.

ARCHIV - Guter Dinge sind der israelische Premierminister David Ben-Gurion (l) und der deutsche Bundeskanzler Konrad Adenauer bei einem Treffen im New Yorker Waldorf-Astoria Hotel am 14.03.1960 (Archivbild). Im Rückblick bedeutete das Treffen vor 50 Jahren das Ende der Eiszeit zwischen beiden Ländern. Das Vertrauen, mit dem Ben Gurion und Adenauer 15 Jahre nach dem Nazi-Terror zueinander fanden, legte den Grundstein für die Annäherung zwischen Israel und der westdeutschen Republik - aber auch für eine jahrelange Geheimpolitik. dpa (zu dpa-Korr. vom 11.03.2010) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Ben-Gurion and Adenauer laid the foundation of German-Israeli relations

"Your decision to invite me, fills me with gratitude," said Rau, who had close personal ties with Israel. "I take it as a sign of the will to never suppress history, and also as sign of the courage to overcome the debilitating horrors of history."

In March 2008, Chancellor Angela Merkel held a widely observed speech before the Knesset. Merkel said that she, like every German prime minister before her, is bound to Germany's historical responsibility for the security of Israel.

"This historic responsibility of Germany is a party of my country's raison d'etre," Merkel said. "That means for me that Israel's security is non-negotiable."

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