Suzanne Fields
The line between life and death is always a thin one, and never more, literally and symbolically, than in the tiny state of Israel, which celebrates its 63rd birthday this week. (That's a lot of bar mitzvahs.) No sooner had the sirens sounded across the promised land of milk and honey, marking Memorial Day for the soldiers who have died fighting for Israel's survival, than fireworks splashed across the heavens recalling that moment in 1948 when Israel declared its independence. The two commemorations are not unrelated.

President Harry S. Truman, after days of bitter argument with his own State Department, announced just minutes after the declaration of Israeli independence that the United States would be the first to recognize the new state. As Israel took its first steps as a state, armies from four Arab countries marched in with guns ablaze, opening the first of several Arab-Israeli wars. This year's Israeli Memorial Day honors the 23,000 men and women who have died in those wars, and the 2,500 Jews slain by Palestinian terrorists.

At a ceremony at the Wailing Wall (as it is usually called) in Jerusalem, Israeli President Shimon Perez spoke of the thrill of recovering access to the wall after the Six Day War in 1967. Jews had been denied access to it for the two decades of Israel's existence.

"To this holy place, a remnant of our Temple, our fighting sons the first paratroopers came, and touched the stones of the Western Wall in the midst of the Six-Day War," he said, bringing attention again to Israel's insistence on keeping a united Jerusalem as its capital.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered congratulations on the anniversary on behalf of the president, recalling an "unshakeable friendship" and saying that Israel's security remains "a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy."

How different it was on that first independence day, when George C. Marshall, the secretary of state, was so bitter at Truman that many thought he would resign to protest. Friendships fray and cornerstones chip, unsettling the strongest diplomatic ties. Security, like the Talmud, is subject to different interpretations.

Straining the friendship and chipping away now is the controversy over naming on his passport the birthplace of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, a 9-year-old American boy who was born in Jerusalem. His parents are suing Hillary Clinton on his behalf to compel the State Department to issue a passport naming Israel as his place of birth. The Supreme Court has accepted the case, to be argued later this year.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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