EZER WEIZMAN is President of the State of Israel.
The day on which Israel's independence was proclaimed found me at an air force base in Ceske Budjovice, Czechoslovakia. On that day, May 15, 1948, I was dressed in a German Air Force flight suit, with German flight equipment and training to fly Messerschmidt planes meant for the air force to be founded in Israel. After a short stay in Czechoslovakia, I returned to Israel and immediately participated in the battles of the Israeli War of Independence.
One thing I did not think of then, as I sat in the cockpit of the fighter plane, was that 50 years later I would be president of the prosperous and thriving State of Israel.
The fight for independence was a struggle that symbolized the importance of the region to the various powers and to the international community as a whole. Israel fought its War of Independence with Czech weapons. These arms were supplied to us by Czechoslovakia with the blessing of the Soviet Union, which thought that this action would help draw the state-to-be toward it. Later, we were equipped with French weapons, and since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the United States has provided the most modern weapons in the world. Although we did not receive arms from the United States during the first years of statehood, the United States nevertheless had its eyes on the region from the very beginning: President Truman surprised the world when he hurriedly recognized the State of Israel several minutes after the Declaration of Independence took effect on May 15, 1948.
I obtained my flying experience in the Royal Air Force (RAF), which I joined in 1942. During my five years with the RAF, I served in the Middle and Far East. Upon my return to Israel in 1947, I was one of the pilots who helped to form the Israeli Air Force. On November 29 of that year, the United Nations decided to partition the country. I danced all night together with everyone else in the country, and the following morning we awoke to fight the Arab enemies which had invaded us.
Israel was then a small country with a population of 600,000 Jews, consisting of both those like me who were born in the country and others who arrived as penniless refugees after having survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Today, six million people live here, 4.7 million of whom are Jews. The day is not far off when the majority of Jews in the world will live in Israel.
In 1948, I could not imagine what the country then being established would look like in 50 years. …