UPDATE: JUDEA AND SAMARIA REMAIN CLOSED. SOUTHERN ISRAEL REMAINS ON HIGH TERRORIST ALERT.
Having just heard the shofar being blown on this Rosh Hashana morning, your humble servant is going to coin a new phrase: the Israel paradox. The paradox describes the fact that the more Israel is criticized abroad the stronger Israel becomes within.
Israelis have always been resilient, but in recent years this resiliency has taken on a bemusedly confident tone. Last year, in a different venue, I described an Israeli TV report on an article that had appeared in a Scandinavian newspaper under the scathing headline: “Israeli Disregard For the Law”.
When you see that headline, dear reader, what springs into your head? Will you see Israel being castigated yet again for building homes in Jewish communities, or for erecting checkpoints to stop Palestinian terrorists, or for bombing Palestinian Hamas missile launchers–what do you think the article was about?
The article was about an Israeli man who had been fined for walking his dog without a leash on a sidewalk in Haifa. As I watched this being reported on Israeli TV, the reaction among Israelis in the room was just to laugh and scratch their heads (not that walking a dog off-leash isn’t important!).
But Israelis know that the world magnifies everything that happens in Israel out of all proportion and have grown increasingly amused and toughened by being criticized and blamed by world leaders and the world press for anything and everything.
This mental toughness is accompanied by important demographic trends on the ground. Two days ago, the subject of this blog was the return of one of the lost tribes (the Bnei Menashe) to Israel.
The Menashe are part of a wider movement. Statistics released earlier this week yesterday by the CBS (Central Bureau of Statistics) show that there was a 14% increase in new immigrants to Israel in 2010 with 16,633 new arrivals–major countries of origin were Russia (3,404), the U.S. (2,530), France (1,775), Ukraine (1752), and Ethiopia (1,655).
The population of Israel has grown to 7,797,400 people–the two largest groups of which are 5,874,300 Jews, and 1,600,100 Arabs (in terms of population progression: Israel had 806,000 citizens in 1948, increasing to one million by 1949, and two million by 1958).
166,255 babies were born in 2010 with the Jewish birthrate standing at 2.97 (this number is a significant rise and reflects the rapidly growing number of orthodox women of childbearing age), while the Arab birthrate is at 3.75 (a continuing decline). The Jewish birthrate is projected to overtake the Arab birthrate by the year 2025.
The statistics also reveal something about the vitality of Israel--a vitality that manifests itself in scientific and technological innovation and, interestingly, in protest marches for lower housing prices and ‘social justice’. Israel is much younger than most Western countries with 28% of its population under the age of 14. Only 10% of the population of Israel is over 65 years old.
What all of this adds up to on this Rosh Hashana 5772 is an ancient country full of young and vital Israelis brimming with confidence and full of optimism for the future.