Israel’s Year of Strength

There are many ways to reflect on the year past and the year to come.

This year, Israel is celebrating its 56th year of independence. Today’s Israel — a stronghold of democracy, freedom and Judaism — is the ultimate proof of the triumph of the Jewish people. Israel is the definitive statement that the Jewish people can and will survive. Israel is an everlasting victory over the forces of evil that seek to destroy its people.

These forces of evil are still present, however, and constantly face our people. The last three years have tested our will, challenged our beliefs, tried our determination and attempted to break our spirit.

The nation of Israel has endured scores of terrorist attacks and suffered unimaginable pain. Fathers and mothers. Sons and daughters. Loved ones and friends. Our mourning for them will never end. Never.

During the past year, there was yet one more hero taken from us. Col. Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut. In his final mission, aboard the space shuttle Columbia, he lifted the spirits of our entire nation. We were moved to tears when Ilan broadcast to our nation: “I want to say that from here, in space, Israel looks like it appears on the map, small, but beautiful.”

As Ilan soared, we soared with him. As he died, a part of each of us died with him. May he and his fellow astronauts now rest in peace. And may Ilan, who protected us for so many years in this world, continue to protect us from above.

During the past year, we shared the tension of the people of Israel as they donned gas masks in preparation for a possible strike from Iraq. Glued to the news, we wondered if this would be a repeat of the first Gulf War when Israel was shelled. And we waited with hope as Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime fell, opening further possibility for change in the Middle East. We consoled each other as our brethren fell victim to terrorism and inspired each other with hope as world leaders gathered in Aqaba to start the implementation of the “road map.”

We must acknowledge, however, a critical achievement registered in the past year. We have contained the Palestinian military strategy. Terrorism did not succeed. It did not cause us to surrender or capitulate. Israel has long held fast to the principle that peace can result only from diplomatic negotiation. Now, this ideal is not recognized by Israelis alone but also by Palestinians, who in the last year have chosen a new leadership that committed itself to ending the conflict. A commitment was made in English and in Arabic, before the international community and within the Palestinian society itself. Examples of Palestinian leaders condoning terror in Arabic and simultaneously condemning it in English on CNN are no longer the norm.

The road ahead of us will be filled with ups and downs. We are determined to emerge from this crisis and we will fulfill our dreams for peace. The time we still have to wait is unknown. But what is certain is the eventual outcome of this long trail. In the end, we will emerge victorious because ours is a just struggle. Not to dominate, but to survive. Not to control, but to coexist. Not to glorify battle, but to preserve life.

Our success will be measured by the degree of unity of the Jewish people. As we make resolutions for the New Year, I encourage you all to consider how you can play a role in bringing the people of Israel closer together.

While the past three years of violence kept our hearts focused on Israel, it prevented many of us and our children from experiencing firsthand the beauty of our homeland. There is no better guarantee of continued Jewish strength than being in the land of Israel. There should not be a single Jew who has not experienced firsthand the wonders of the Western Wall or the power of Masada. There should not be anyone who cannot take pride in having seen the majesty of Jerusalem, the mysticism of Safed, or the beauty of Eilat.

We need to see you with us. We need to know that we are not alone.

When I look back at the past year’s accomplishments, I am inspired with hope. Together we can realize a new hour for Israel — an hour that will justify the suffering and the long road we have traveled. We can create an Israel that can focus on conquering cyberspace and outer space; an Israel that cultivates a Judaism that is as committed to the future as it is attached to the past. A Jewish model that is a source of pride and devotion to our entire people, from the most observant to the most secular.

When you go to synagogue this Yom Kippur, remember where you were on the exact same day 30 years ago, that fateful Oct. 6, 1973. Remember how you felt when you first learned that Arab armies had taken advantage of the holiest Jewish day to launch a bitter offensive against Israel. Remember what was at stake as the State of Israel fought for its survival. And as you recite the sacred prayer “Oseh shalom b’imromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu, v’al kol Yisrael” (“May the one who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us and for all Israel”), you should reflect on what we as a people must do to prevent the world from not having a safe haven for Jews, from ever becoming a reality again.

Ambassador Yuval Rotem is Israeli consul general for the western United States.