On Israel’s Birthday, Wishing for Peace and Vowing to Advance it

Jerusalem’s municipality is reportedly planning the erection of a 100 yard tall flag pole, twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, to hoist a blue-and-white Israel flag that is 108 feet long and 79 feet wide. The goal, according to the report, is for the flag to be seen from every corner of the city. It will, not coincidentally, be most visible from the Old City and its surrounding East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods.

We honor the flag of Israel and what it means to us. With a population of 9.5 million people, 74 years after its establishment, Israel's accomplishments are breathtaking. Israel is no less than a technological, academic, medical, cultural, artistic, and scientific super-power.
One of Israel’s chief accomplishments is serving as the workshop for the revival of the Hebrew language. As it tried to adapt to a modern world, modern Hebrew found that it lacked words to denote basic concepts. One of them was a term for independence. Until the early 1930s, there was no word in the Hebrew language to denote political independence. At that time, with a growing momentum around the yishuv's state-building enterprise, Eliezer Ben Yehuda's son, Itamar, coined the Hebrew neologism atzma'ut (whose root, "a.tz.m," denotes among other things "self," and whose suffix, "ut", denotes an abstract concept).

Literally, the word translates into "self-ism" (as in self-reliance). But colloquially it means independence. This newly coined word immediately became ubiquitous and for the next two decades dominated the pre-state yishuv's discourse. Once it achieved political independence in 1948, Israel made self-reliance a cardinal ideal and a primary objective.

But Israeli extremists are distorting the positive concept of atzma'ut. They are stretching it beyond its reasonable boundaries of self-reliance, and turning it into exclusionary, supremacist "self-ism." In the name of atzma'ut, they are turning disregard of the other -- both Israel's neighbors and the international community -- into a value. They are turning "self-ism" into a national ethos.

We celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday by doubling down on striving to make Israel truly independent, to liberate it from the occupation and its woes. We celebrate by vowing to continue advocating for a peace agreement that would liberate the Palestinians and grant future generations of Israelis the true independence that was the dream of their country's founders, and that Israelis are yet to experience.

On this Israeli Independence Day, we are waving our small blue-and-white flag, one that champions the word shalom, peace, to assert our vision of a future Israel that lives in peace with its Palestinian neighbors and with itself.