Independence Day, 1948.
By Paul Johnson
In May 1998, the eminent British historian Paul Johnson published an essay in Commentary to mark Israel’s 50th birthday; marking its 63rd, we re-publish the essay here.—The Editors
The state of Israel is the product of more than 4,000 years of Jewish history. “If you want to understand our country, read this!” said David Ben-Gurion on the first occasion I met him, in 1957. And he slapped the Bible. But the creation and survival of Israel are also very much a 20th-century phenomenon, one that could not have happened without the violence and cruelty, the agonies, confusions, and cross-currents of our tragic age. It could even be argued that Israel is the most characteristic single product, and its creation the quintessential event, of this century.
Certainly, you cannot study Israel without traveling the historical highroads and many of the byroads of the times, beginning with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. That great watershed between an age of peace and moderation and one of violence and extremism set the pattern for all that followed, and marked a turning point as well in the fortunes of Zionism.