Next Tuesday evening at sundown, folks here are going to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the departure of the British High Commissioner from Eretz Yisrael and the declaration in Tel Aviv by David ben Gurion of the State of Israel. In Hebrew, this day is known as Yom Atzma'út - Independence Day.
The first time I came to this country was for a parade on Yom Atzma'út, the 25th celebration of the country's independence. The parade ran down King George V Street in Jerusalem and featured tanks, half-tracks and missiles, many of them captured from the Egyptians or Syrians (and therefore the Russians) six years earlier. It was very controversial in the world's press and with the leaders of the world who fulminated that the arrogant Sheenies dared show off their weapons of war in Jerusalem, a place they had no right to be in.
The locals didn't care. Photographs of the heroes of the day, flags and soft plastic hammers all sold by the millions, and pride ran high in the Land of Israel. There was a practice parade along King George V Street a couple of nights before and a crowd came out to watch. I was in that crowd. Standing nearby was a young kid with a Canadian accent whose family had moved here to live. He was watching also and explaining to me in detail all the different weapons he saw and what they could do. It astounded me then that a nine-year-old boy could have that much knowledge of weaponry. Now such a thing does not astound me.
This was in 1973. It was several months before Yom Kippur and the war that changed the character of this nation permanently, the war that brought great powers to closely focus their attention on this tiny sliver of real estate in a manner they had never done before. Rumors of war were sweeping the country in the spring. The rumors were that there would be war that summer or fall. The fellow whose family I stayed with said cryptically as I left for the airport to return to New York, "I'll see you in the fall." The news didn't necessarily report in detail the massive Egyptian and Syrian arms build-up taking place but folks knew. The government didn't want to report the truth, but you can't really keep a secret here. Not in this country.