May 16, 1948 edition of The Palestine Post > Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday was Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. This year marks a particular milestone as Israel celebrates its 75th birthday!

Formal celebrations

national ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem led celebrations of yesterday’s anniversary, as government officials, security leaders and other prominent Israelis gathered for a ceremonial torch-lighting honouring citizens for their contributions and sacrifices for the Jewish state. The event included speeches, choreographed military marches, musical performances and fireworks.

Speaking in a prerecorded message broadcast at the ceremony, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for unity amid widespread divisions and protests against his government’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary, and other policies. Opposition leader Yair Lapid boycotted the ceremony, citing the deep societal divisions over the now-paused judicial reforms and plans to cut away from the live broadcast if protesters interrupted.

The first 75 years

The history of Israel’s first 75 years of existence has been a story of empowerment, self-defence and innovation.

1948: State of Israel declared by David Ben-Gurion.
1949: Israel joins the United Nations.
1950: Law of Return passed by the Knesset, granting every Jew in the world the right to settle in Israel.
1953: Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Centre established in Jerusalem.
1958: Negev Nuclear Research Centre founded with French support.
1967: Israel defeats a coalition of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War, capturing East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the process.
1969: Golda Meir becomes Israel’s first and thus far only female prime minister.
1972: Palestinian terror group Black September kills 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympics.
1973: Israel defeats surprise attack by Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War.
1976: Successful operation to rescue 102 hostages from Palestinian terrorists at Entebbe Airport, Uganda.
1978: Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt; first ties with an Arab country.
1987: Start of the First Intifada, which over 5 years saw 200 civilians killed in Palestinian terror attacks.
1993: Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO create the Palestinian Authority.
1994: Peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, becoming the second Arab country to recognise Israel.
2000: Start of the Second Intifada, which over 4 years saw nearly 800 civilians killed in Palestinian terror attacks.
2005: Israel unilaterally withdraws from the Gaza Strip; Hamas seized power 2 years later.
2011: Iron Dome missile defence programme inaugurated to protect against Hamas rocket attacks.
2018: Israel wins the Eurovision song contest for the fourth and most recent time.
2020: Abraham Accords normalise relations between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco for the first time.
2021: Israel leads the world in rolling out the Coronavirus vaccine.
Israel’s achievements

The unlikely success of the Jewish state, established within a matter of months of the end of the Holocaust, has seen Israel make a significant positive contribution to the world.

  • Israel has provided a safe haven for Jews from around the world, forming a cultural melting pot of Jewish immigrants from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and elsewhere, alongside non-Jewish Arab and other communities.
  • Israel is the only country in the Middle East marked as Free by Freedom House in 2022.
  • Israel is the fourth happiest country in the world, according to the UN’s 2023 World Happiness Report.
  • Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population, reflecting its traditions of freedom of religion.
  • Tel Aviv Pride is the largest LGBT+ Pride event in the Middle East and Asia, and is among the world’s top 10 largest.
  • Israel’s TUC, the Histadrut, is one of the world’s most powerful trade union movements.
  • Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 140 per 10,000.
  • Israel hosts over 100 R&D centres and has the highest number of per capita multinational corporation R&D centres in the world.
  • The first mobile phone, voicemail technology, and USB stick were developed in Israel.
  • More than 90 percent of Israeli homes use solar power to heat their water.
  • Israel was the only country in the world to enter the 21st century with more trees than it began the 20th.
  • Israel has produced 13 Nobel Prize winners in a number of fields.
  • Israel has the highest number of university degrees per capita in the world.
  • Israel has more museums per capita than any other country, including Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and MadaTech.

International celebrations

US president Joe Biden led birthday wishes to the State of Israel on Tuesday, describing himself as a “lifelong friend and supporter of Israel”. In a statement, Biden highlighted his administration’s ongoing work with Israel to “create a more prosperous, peaceful, and integrated Middle East” and described how the US and Israel were “working together to build new alliances to meet 21st century challenges like climate change and global health”. Similar messages of best wishes came from German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Latvian president Egils Levits.

Domestic context

The Israel 75 celebrations have come at a time of political uncertainty in Israel, as massive protests have emerged in response to the government’s proposed judicial reforms.

  • Following months of protests in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken part, the Israeli flag itself has become intimately associated with the protest movement, which has enthusiastically adopted the flag as a symbol and made efforts to avoid being seen as unpatriotic.
  • The Israeli flag has become so associated with the protest movement that Zichron Yaakov, a city north of Tel Aviv, briefly banned the flag and images of Israel’s Declaration of Independence from its Independence Day parade.
  • The shift comes following years of right-wing association for the Israeli flag, particularly in relation to the religious nationalist ‘flag march’ in Jerusalem’s Old City which has frequently increased Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
  • “It’s a symbol that had been hijacked for way too long by the right,” Roy Rob, a graphic designer at the Tel Aviv rally, told the Times of Israel. “Now it’s being democratised again. It makes sense that the people who really care about the origin of Israel, what Israel is all about, use the original symbols of it.”

Looking ahead

Amid domestic political instability and a dangerous regional picture, Israel 75 represents a reminder of all that the Jewish state represents and has achieved. Yom Ha’atzmuat Sameach!