“There is no question that this year, our Yom Ha’atzma’ut celebrations are different,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said in an Independence Day message to Jews abroad. And indeed, the Jewish state’s transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day—as the former ends, the latter begins—was by all accounts less abrupt this evening, since the solemn and subdued atmosphere continued from one into the other.

The past seven months have been filled with fear and mourning, he said, but they “have reminded us, also, of our core qualities, of our power as a people to stand up, again and again, against hatred. To survive and speak our truth. Of our deep and sustaining caring for one another.”

Israelis used this moment to wrestle with what independence actually means to them, highlighted by two alternate takes on the traditional torch-lighting ceremony.

Forgoing the regular torch lighting in Jerusalem, reports i24 News, torches were “lit in Gaza border communities affected by the October 7 attacks, as well as in IDF bases that have suffered losses in the ongoing conflict. The individuals chosen to light the torches this year are being honored for their heroism during the October 7 attacks or their bravery in the subsequent war.”

One of those torches, notes the Times of Israel, sits “next to a giant stack of burned cars destroyed on the highway during the Hamas attack.”

As depressing as that scene sounds, it does well represent the state’s original idea of independence. As I noted in November, Israelis who lived in the Gaza border towns were raising their kids and their crops on the same land on which settled brave Jewish pioneers through the state’s birth pangs. Every inch of the land, right up to the borderline, had to be defended; anything that wasn’t guarded would be taken—some of the land that was guarded was taken anyway.

Then there is a fascinating, flipped version of the ceremony where torches are extinguished. Not torches representing Israel as a state, mind you—these aren’t anti-Zionist ceremonies. But they are harsh in their implicit and explicit criticism of the government. Relatives of hostages or victims, as well as survivors of the October 7 attacks, extinguish torches they hold that are symbolic of “sins” that led to the slaughter.

“I hereby extinguish the torch of the sin of conceit,” said one participant whose daughter was killed during the attacks. Two survivors extinguished the “the torch of indifference,” in their words.

Some were more profound than others, needless to say. But the theme seemed to be winning independence from assumptions that put the state in danger.

There is another aspect to the debate over independence that is made newly relevant by the events since October: independence from allies.

To be sure, this is always a complicated calculation. No man is an island, and in international relations no island is an island, either. Nobody relies on nobody. So the operative question in each situation is: Does this particular example of dependence reduce national sovereignty in meaningful ways?

Vladimir Jabotinsky once warned that a Jewish state that relied on the generosity of the Jewish diaspora to buy Jaffa oranges in perpetuity was doomed to fail; a state must innovate in ways that make it a beneficial economic partner. (He would no doubt be pleased with Israel’s status as the “start-up nation.”)

Aside from economic dependence, there is security: Even before the Biden administration announced it would withhold certain weapons from Israel in a bid to micromanage IDF policy from afar, there were rumblings in Israel of the need for its own increased weapons development in case Washington went wobbly. The intra-Democratic Party debates over conditioning aid to Israel have been going on for months. Israel reportedly initiated the process of domestic production of certain rifles commonly used in the IDF, as well as a line of bombs for its air force. There are reasons other than dependence on allies to make this change—for one, it would streamline weaponry throughout the IDF and make training and transfer easier—but reliance on others has now come into sharp relief.

It’s also hard not to wonder if the Western discourse on war is messing with Israel’s strategists. The “light footprint” so beloved by Americans and Europeans is not always workable, and the fear of the ever-expanding term “occupation” can be self-defeating. For example, the IDF has bisected the Gaza Strip for the course of this war with an east-west military corridor. The IDF’s presence there has had obvious effects: About ten miles north of the corridor, Palestinian bakeries are reopening. A few miles south of the corridor, Gazans crowd the beach on hot days. Wartime “occupation forces” clearly aren’t the problem in Gaza.

These are difficult questions faced by Israel on this Independence Day. And if history is any guide, Israel will answer them in ways both profound and inspiring.

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