The Miracle of Number 65
Remarks by Ambassador Michael Oren
Israel Independence Day Celebration
April 16, 2013
You can always tell when it’s Independence Day in Israel. The air is thick with the smoke from dazzling fireworks and from barbecues, lots of barbecues. There’s music—Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop, Middle Eastern music—rocking the streets. On every stage, on every parking lot, it seems, is host to dance companies, contemporary bands, and comedians. The very atmosphere, it seems, is electric with raw Israeli talent. And in Jerusalem, my hometown, there is this peculiar custom in which young people go out in the streets at night with large plastic hammers and gleefully bash one another on the head. Go figure. But one of the most tangible and unusual features of Israel independence day is the prominent exhibition of numbers.
Numbers. I don’t mean house or apartment numbers. They don’t appear on doorways or on mailboxes. Rather these numbers are placed atop the tallest buildings, they’re emblazoned on facades, and they’re back-lit above our airport and above our Parliament, the Knesset. And the numbers, friends, the numbers are all the same. They are numbers of the years which Israel has enjoyed its independence.
This, too, as far as I know, is uniquely Israeli. Each July 4th, Americans also have parades, they have barbecues. But this July 4th, how many buildings in the United States will sport the number 237? How many of you knew that number? In France, this July 14, will the Eifel Tower be crowned with the number 224? Major league baseball is now celebrating its 144th anniversary. I ask you: How many baseball stadiums in the United States will have the number 144 up in lights? But in Israel, everybody knows the number and they can see that number proudly displayed. And nobody asks why, for the reason is simple, painfully simple.
For two thousand years, we were not a free people in our own land. We were a dispersed and exiled people. We were subjected to persecution, inquisitions, and expulsions, culminating in the largest mass massacre in history. Yet we never forgot our land and, finally, we returned to that land and forged our freedom.
Still, enemies arose to deny us that liberty—armies, terrorists— rose against us. They sought to drive us into the sea or to wipe us off the map. But we learned to defend ourselves—like the Minutemen in early America, we became a vigilant nation at arms. And we learned freedom’s cost. That is why Israel’s memorial day, a day of profound sadness, immediately precedes our independence day, that is to remind us of that cost.
Even today, the Middle East is rife with regimes and movements dedicated to our destruction. One of them, in Iran, is developing nuclear weapons for the purpose of doing just that. We will not let it happen.
We are grateful to President Obama and the Congress for their commitment to Israel’s security. We appreciate their determination to prevent Iran from developing those nuclear weapons. And we also thank President Obama who, during his recent historic visit to Israel, and I was honored to accompany him on that visit, we thank him for reaffirming our right to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any Middle Eastern threat. “The security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important,” the President declared in Jerusalem. “Because it can never be taken for granted.”
Indeed, we don’t take a single moment for granted. Israel this year is 65 years old. Now by some countries’ standards, we’re merely teenagers. Yet, at 65, we’re older than about two-thirds of the member states of the UN. Believe that? A vibrant democracy, Israel is older than more than half of the democracies in the world.
Given our neighborhood, in light of the fact than we’ve never known a second of real peace, those statistics are astonishing. So, too, are our accomplishments in virtually every field of science, technology, medicine, and the arts. We are a nation of 8 million, the second-most educated population in the world, a global leader in health care and innovation, and we have more Nobel Prize winners than Olympic gold medal wearers. I like to brag about that. And in the Middle East, we are the only country that is stable, militarily and economically robust, fiercely democratic, and unreservedly, unabashedly, proudly pro-American.
Back at the time of our founding in 1948, Israel was a penniless backwater of swampland and sand, with a population less than that of this city, less than that of Washington, D.C. Now imagine what it feels like to our founders today, most of them are in their 80s at their youngest, imagine what it feels like for those founders to gaze up at the radiant skyline of Tel Aviv and see, blazing at the top of skyscrapers, the number 65.
Numbers are prominent on Israeli Independence Day, but so, too, are flags. Now, we’re not unusual here, most people celebrate their national day with one flag, but in Israel we are unusual, we celebrate it with two flags. The flag first is blue and white, it’s somewhere behind me, and has a one star and the second is blue, white and red and has fifty stars on it. Together they flutter—you can see them from car windows, balconies, and lampposts.
Those banners represent a multi-faceted alliance, ardently democratic shared values, deep spiritual ties, and the firmest bonds possible of friendship. That is friendship that will accompany us and help us remain strong as our numbers atop our buildings increase into three digits and beyond. Israel today is 65 years old and celebrating our independence, our most joyous moment, is for us inextricably linked with love and admiration for the United States of America. Thank you.