This April, in the shadow of a global pandemic, the likes of which has not been seen for 100 years, Israel will celebrate 72 years of national independence. The event marks an opportunity to size up our achievements and challenges.

Abba Eban, Israel’s most storied diplomat, once said that those who don’t believe in miracles when it comes to the State of Israel are not realists. Israel’s location—in a Middle East that is experiencing its biggest crisis in the past 1,300 years—means that it is guaranteed to experience a high-voltage reality.

This is joined by the coming global test that we will all experience in the coming weeks and months, in what is shaping up to be the largest global crisis since the Second World War. And yet, it would be fitting for all of us to pause and to give thanks.

The age of 72 is sufficiently mature for a country to take stock of itself.

The State of Israel is one of the greatest wonders of humanity that has appeared over the past 100 years. Few dispute this truth when I present it around the world in my lectures.

Israel should take pride in its incredible achievements, but it must also focus on the biblical-scale challenges that lie at its doorstep, and that will be waiting for it the day after the coronavirus crisis subsides.

Antiquated cars bumped along on the roads. There was only one type of bread and yellow cheese in the stores.

On March 8, 1949, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, presented his first government to the Knesset. He did so at a time when Jewish forces were seizing Eilat and two days before the end of the War of Independence. Ben-Gurion told his fellow citizens that they would need patience in the face of the coming, difficult reality, which would involve developing an economy from scratch, gathering in the exiles and building a state. He asked his citizens if they had what it took to meet those challenges.

After 72 years, the answer is clear. When I arrived in Israel in the 1970s from Portugal, which did not rank as one of Europe’s most highly developed nations, I sensed that I had landed in a country with echoes of Albania and Cuba.

There were 3.5 million citizens in Israel at that time. People lived very modestly. Antiquated cars bumped along on the roads. There was only one type of bread and yellow cheese in the food stores.

Fast-forward to 2020, and today Israel is one of the most economically and militarily powerful countries in the world. Its per capita earning is higher than that of Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

When I traveled to Saudi Arabia in January and met with a senior prince, he remarked that Israel is the most militarily powerful state in the area between Gibraltar and Indonesia.

Regionally, a paradigm shift is occurring, and Arab states are becoming more receptive to engaging with the Jewish state. I have sensed this in countries I visited, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. The condition needed for this potential to be realized is a movement towards resolving the Palestinian problem.

Two months before his death, former president Shimon Peres told me that if Ben-Gurion could have lifted his head and viewed the regional opportunities currently available to Israel, he would not have believed it.

Israel has succeeded in absorbing the most refugees per capita in the world. Some 3.2 million made Israel their home, including many who arrived without any belongings. According to international media, Israel is one of nine nuclear powers. There are seven Israeli satellites orbiting the Earth in space.

There will be great poetic justice if Israel, the biggest human startup in the world, will be the one that delivers the vaccine to the people of the globe.

The revival of the Hebrew language as the national tongue has left many in wonder. During my conversations with Pope Francis in recent years, he asked me how Hebrew became, once again, a living language. My reply was that it would be the equivalent of him declaring the next day that Latin would return as the daily language in the Latin world. Daily conversations, soccer-game broadcasts, kindergartens, schools and universities would all return to Latin, and even social-media battles would be held in this ancient tongue. Could he imagine it?

I told him that if King David were to visit my home for dinner, my children would understand him—and he would understand them. These realities are remarkable.

But there are also challenges that lie at our doorstep of supreme significance. Israel still lacks recognized borders. This fact has far-reaching consequences, and the current generation must not leave it up to our children and grandchildren to resolve this issue.

We must not give up on the objective of defining our borders.

Israel must also safeguard both its Jewish and democratic character, and stay true to its magna carta: the Declaration of Independence. This seminal document calls for equality among all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, as a supreme value.

Israel must aspire for peace with its neighbors—with Palestinians and with Arabs—from across the Middle East.

Israel must also think about ways of opening wide-scale trade with the moderate Arab world as a new economic outlet. The Arab world forms a market of hundreds of millions of people, and it could join the European Union as a prime market in the future for Israeli exports.

Internally, Israel’s “four tribes,” as identified by President Reuven Rivlin—he secular, the national-religious, the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs—must seek greater coexistence. And Israel has a responsibility to reach out to the 8 million Diaspora Jews, who will always remain tied to us in one way or another and who form a fifth tribe.

At the social level, Israel must work harder to close economic gaps between the rich and the poor, and to find new ways of making economic growth help those who struggle. We must decrease the percentage of Israelis living beneath the poverty line; currently, one in three children falls into this category.

For now, however, in the era of the coronavirus, we Israelis should remember that in an emergency, it is important to “walk, and not run.” Panic kills. The current challenges will all pass, but like with every war, it will leave loss and sadness in its wake.

There will be great poetic justice if Israel, the biggest human startup in the world, will be the one that delivers the vaccine to the people of the globe.

Further afield, my vision—as someone who arrived in this country alone at the age of 16—is that in 2048, we will all celebrate 100 years of Israeli independence, and that ours will be a country that is home to most of the world’s Jews, and one that embraces all of its citizens, who will join together in celebration as one. That we see a country that lives in maximum peace with its neighbors.

As Ben-Gurion once said, “in Israel, the difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”

Henrique Cymerman is a published expert at The MirYam Institute and a journalist whose writings regularly appear in media publications in Europe, Latin America, the United States and Israel. He has covered current affairs in the Middle East for more than 30 years.

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