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What are we really celebrating as Israel turns 70?

Student Nina Morris-Evans argues that love for Israel should not be unconditional

    (Gorsh13/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

    Israel’s turning 70 - and there is much to celebrate. This amazing country has come so much further than Theodor Herzl could have possibly imagined: it’s now the tech capital of the world, a nation of innovative start-ups with an exciting, progressive culture. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is by far the most economically successful - and still the only democracy.

    But, as a British Jew, I’m constantly reminded of the flipside. Right now, the headlines scream of the terrible number of Gazan casualties at the hands of the IDF. Meanwhile I’m pummelled with story after story about the antisemitism row in the Labour Party, often dismissed under a guise of "just being anti-Israel". It’s an upsetting shambles of mixed messages - and I don’t feel like throwing on my party shoes for any birthday celebrations. 

    Should the less appealing traits of Israel be ignored, and the unprecedented success of the Jewish Homeland blithely celebrated? Surely the more difficult, and far braver response is to face up to the facts and become an agent for change.

    And the facts are indisputable. Palestinians living in Israel have much lower life expectancy and much higher poverty levels than their Jewish fellow-citizens. And I have seen with my own eyes how much worse things are in the West Bank.

    There, families must get by with a faulty, intermittent water supply, while just over the road in the neighbouring Jewish settlement, water gushes out of lawn sprinklers. Parents are kept waiting for years for planning permission to extend their homes as their families grow - or else risk building without a permit, only to see their entire home torn down. Children as young as nine are arrested in the middle of the night, separated from their parents and brought before a military court; whether or not they have committed a crime, they know they must plead guilty, or face the ordeal of a tortuously long trial during which they cannot return home. 

    There is another side to the story.There have been many hundreds of Israeli casualties and deaths at the hands of Palestinians, and it is the duty of the country to protect its citizens from the very real threat that pervades daily life. However, acknowledging this does not make the mistreatment of human beings acceptable, nor does it make it something to ignore. The last decade in particular has seen continued support for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, for rampant violation of human rights, and, at worst, for the deaths of innocent people.

    Unless we want to disassociate ourselves from Israel - and I do not - we must acknowledge the responsibility that comes with our connection. The Occupation is not what I want the Jewish Homeland to be known for. As Israel turns 70 we must take this opportunity to speak out in our desperation from the diaspora: We want to love and support Israel, but our love is not unconditional, and Israel must do more to deserve it. Let’s hope that when Israel turns 80 we have more reason to celebrate wholeheartedly.


    Nina Morris-Evans is in her first year, studying PPE at Oxford University

    Update: Read a response from another student, Gabriel Cohn

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