Israel is a tiny country which has embarked on a great adventure. It is one in which its people feel they cannot fail. With an unshakable belief in its destiny and in the divine meaning of its existence, Israel has astounded the world with its remarkable accomplishments. But the road has been difficult.

Dishearteningly meager natural resources, severe economic pressures and constant threats to its security have magnified everyday problems. These and other conditions have combined with Israel's policy of open-armed gathering in, from all ends of the earth, Jews with sharp conflicts of outlook and wide differences of customs and social status to give Israel a special position among the nations of the world.

In one respect, Israel is a paradox. It is well known yet unknown. Although thrust into the world spotlight at the hour of its rebirth and prominent in the news ever since, its basic character remains shrouded. The long history of the Jewish people has been familiar for centuries. The wanderings and persecutions of the Jews, the Nazi atrocities, the highly successful war the Israeli military forces waged against the Arabs in their war of independence in 1948 and later against Egypt during the 1956 "Suez Affair," have focused world attention on this small democratic state. But just how Israel came into being, what has given it the strength and ability to survive and prosper, and what accounts for its influence the world over are still matters of mystery to many Americans. It is in this respect that Robert St. John and the editors of LIFE have performed a valuable service. In both text and picture essays, modern Israel is here brought into sharp, clear focus.

An understanding of Israel must proceed from a weighing of many things. There must be consideration of Israel's history--ancient as well as modern, matters religious as well as secular, the economic as well as the political, and the people as well as the place. The new nation had scarcely come into being when its survival became imperiled. It has since lived under a perpetual threat to its existence from its Arab neighbors. Yet Israel has established in a remarkably short period of time a fabulous record of achievement in economic, social, political, scientific and cultural fields.

Of all the influences contributing to this success the most effective, perhaps, was that of the Jewish people's deep-seated dedication to religious tradition. In particular, one can trace throughout the centuries the clear outlines of orderliness, seriousness, determination and discipline which have contributed to the successful building of this young nation. One of the fundamental concepts of civilization firmly embedded in the Jewish people is the concept of law ordained by God. The early Jewish prophets were perhaps the first to call for justice in man's dealings with fellow men. Religion remains a powerful factor in shaping personal and national life. It is difficult to visit Israel without feeling a sense of religious history and spiritual reverence fall upon one like a cloak.

The latent vigor of a people who so long were unable to give full expression to their mental and physical forces has now found an opportunity for full play. This, at last, is once again their country--their homeland.


Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel . . .

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