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Keep the beacon bright

Israel was born into war and has lived for 50 years in grinding insecurity. The future promises peace of mind and even greater prosperity, but only if the nation can make the transition from warrior to peacemaker.

Today, the tiny nation of 5-million Jews (and 1-milllion Arabs) surrounded by former and current enemies, may be fraught with internal divisions, but it is still a living beacon to Jews around the world that their religious heritage is welcome and protected in at least one place on this earth. Despite our current exasperation with the pace of peace with the Palestinians, it remains the duty of the United States to keep that beacon lit.

That Israel made it to 50 is something of a miracle. Since its founding on May 14, 1948, Israel has been a nation under siege. On the day of its creation, its Arab neighbors vowed its destruction and attacked the next day. In its short history it has fought for its survival in four wars and against persistent terrorist attacks. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel exhibited its superior military prowess by defeating in short order Syria, Egypt and Jordan, and gaining East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and much of its Palestinian refugee population in the process.

There is nothing hyperbolic about Israel's security concerns. It has reason to step cautiously into any new arrangement with former enemies. But there is no long-term prospect for the nation's security or continued prosperity without taking some risk for peace.

Some of those risks have already paid off. Thanks to the courageous work of Israel's past leaders, most notably Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, the threat of attack by neighboring Arab nations is much reduced, although certainly not eliminated, as it enters its sixth decade of existance. Israel now enjoys an awkward peace with Egypt and Jordan. But even those compacts are jeopardized if Israel doesn't come to terms with some of the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people.

Beyond that, Israel's growing pains are that of a modern, industrialized country open to an annual flood of ethnically diverse immigrants with the added complication of running a theocracy. In recent years, the ongoing power struggle between Orthodox and secular Jews has become more acute as the unifying sense of shared purpose in Israel's founding and defense diminishes over time.

But despite its persistent internal and external headaches, Israel will persevere. It will because it must. Israel is not an invention of Diaspora Jews feeling nostalgic; it is a creation of self-preservation. The history of world civilization can be read with a sub-heading: the expulsion, forced conversion and genocide of the Jewish people. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Russian pogroms to Hitler's final solution, the world's evil intolerance for the Jewish people has forged the need for Israel. A need that is not yet extinguished.

The United States has a moral duty to stand by this country. Not because every decision it makes is defensible, but because it is a refuge against religious persecution suffered on a scale unique in human history.

However, even with the United States guaranteeing its longevity, if Israel wishes to age gracefully, it must work harder at diplomatic solutions to its security problems.