January 20, 2019

Celebrating Israel’s global humanitarian impact on its 69th birthday

When a car bomb went off in the town where he had evacuated to, shrapnel ripped through Fadi’s leg, making it nearly impossible to walk on his own. A father of four, Fadi has lost 25 family members, his village, and his way of life in Syria’s brutal civil war. Yet, he says he may be able to run again, thanks to the world-class medical treatment he is receiving from Israeli doctors.

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 69th birthday, the Jewish state stands out on the international stage for its thriving democracy, diverse and dynamic society, and innovative humanitarian work, which makes a global impact well beyond the country’s tiny size.

In Syria — a country officially at war with the Jewish state since its independence — Israel has responded to its neighbor’s six years of devastating conflict with an outstretched hand and an open heart. More than 2,600 Syrians have received medical care in Israel since 2013.

Within a month of the outbreak of hostilities in Syria in 2011, the Israeli organization IL4Syrians began sending fresh water, food, medical supplies and post-trauma care specialists, who covertly crossed the Syrian border to provide care. In addition, the Israeli humanitarian organization IsraAID has been providing medical and psychological support since 2011 to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Iraq, Greece, Turkey and Germany. The Israeli government is now constructing a plan to absorb Syrian children who have no home, including victims from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s horrific gas attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun.

As Israel prepares to celebrate its 69th birthday, the Jewish state stands out on the international stage for its thriving democracy, diverse and dynamic society, and innovative humanitarian work.

Israel’s humanitarian intervention in Syria illuminates the dream its founders long envisioned: that a modern Jewish state could not only serve as a homeland and haven for the Jewish people, but also as Or LaGoyim — a light unto nations.

At Israel’s founding, the future of this vision was far from certain. Surrounded by hostile neighbors — with swamps in the north, deserts in the south, very little water and no natural resources — the new country had to fight for its survival.  

Against all odds and in the face of constant threats, Israel has not only survived, but thrived. In 68 years, we have transformed from a developing country into a high-tech powerhouse, earning the nickname “Startup Nation.” Israel has turned arid desert into blooming farmland, built tiny towns into thriving cities and gathered a scattered people into a modern nation. With a population of just 8 million, it has produced 11 Nobel Prize winners and has 83 companies listed on the NASDAQ — more than any country except the U.S. and China.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Israel as the eighth-most powerful country in terms of international influence and leadership, and Bloomberg ranks Israel as in the 10th-most innovative economy in the world. For the past four years, Israel consistently has ranked as the world’s 11th happiest nation.

Israeli innovation is lifting up people in all corners of the world — whether on the plains of Africa, where Israeli-designed sustainable bio-sand filters give residents long-term access to safe drinking water, or in the tropical forests of South Asia, where advanced agricultural techniques are helping farmers to move from poverty to prosperity.

While Israel’s journey has been nothing short of remarkable, as our nation begins its 69th year, we still must fight for our freedom and legitimacy — not only against threats of terrorism and the specter of enemies such as Iran — but also against a coordinated campaign to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.  

Israel’s enemies have turned college campuses into anti-Israel bastions of hate, and international forums like the United Nations into theaters of the absurd, where demonizing the Jewish state takes precedence over everything else, including pressing issues like the conflict in Syria. Each year, the U.N. Human Rights Council spends more time investigating and criticizing Israel — the only free and democratic country in the Middle East — than the rest of the world combined, as brutal dictatorships like Iran and North Korea get a free pass.

After 2,000 years of being a people without a state, and without a voice, we have once again become a sovereign nation that can speak up for itself, and that cannot only defend itself, but also help others and shine as an example for humanity. Although we may not always get credit for it in the international arena, Israel will never cease to pursue our values, striving to be a light unto the nations. On this anniversary of Israel’s independence — and the many more to come — we celebrate not only the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland, but the way that the modern Jewish state continues to make a difference in the world — one innovation, one invention and one refugee at a time.

Sam Grundwerg is the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.