I just returned from a speaking engagement at Tel Aviv University (see pictures here). My honorarium was four days of sight-seeing in Tel Aviv, Abu Gosh, Jerusalem, En Gedi and Masada, and a series of meetings with writers, policy analysts, academics and writers. I came back with one overriding conclusion, which stands for me stronger than it did before my trip: Israel stands at the front-line of the war between civilization and barbarism. As Eric Hoffer wrote over forty years ago, “as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us all.” (“Israel’s Peculiar Position,” LA Times 5/26/68)
Israel is America’s best friend in the world today. It is Western in every fundamental respect: Its secular government has prevented both civil war and tyranny since its founding; its citizens’ rights are largely protected; its press is free and open; its court system is independent of executive fiat; and its economy is vibrant. It has its share of lunatics, but they have not taken over the culture. It is “middle-eastern” only in location.
While driving through Israel, one cannot help but remember that the area can become a military front at any moment. A sign in the road points left to Ramallah, home of Yasir Arafat–you can drive there (we did not), but an Israeli soldier will soon stop you to warn that the army cannot protect you if you go further. Straight ahead is the road to Jerusalem, which is just a few miles away. It’s all so close.
In less than half hour’s drive, the seacoast climate of Tel Aviv changes to the desert climate of Jordan. Bedouin camps–temporary structures, some with camels in front–squat between towns with high-tech industry. Jerusalem itself is deeply permeated with religious fanaticism of all kinds, and with neighborhoods defined by ethnic identities. The line that divided Israeli tanks from those of Arabs during the numerous attacks on Israel is a street–you can walk down it.
On the highway–a modern road built by the Israelis–I see towns surrounded by trees. The trees were nearly all planted by the Israelis. This is something little known in the U.S.: The Israelis have planted tens of millions of trees in a desert that had never before been planted, and they remain committed to planting in the Negev Desert, especially near Beer Sheva. Trees did not exist here before 1948. The so-called “Green Line” originally dividing Israel from its neighbors is called such because it literally is a line of green.
At one point we come over a hill, and there are two towns ahead. The one on the left is an Israeli “settlement”–to use the popular phrase in the western press today–and on the right is an Arab town. To the left is a sea of trees among the buildings, and to the right, none. What the press and politicians in America call “illegal settlements” are Israeli towns, with factories, high-tech industries, and homes–built on hills where there was previously nothing but sand–bringing economic life and civilization to the desert.
There can be no basis for calling these towns “illegal” because, prior to Israel’s establishment of civilization in the area, no law and no government existed there (so-called “International Law” notwithstanding). It is also little known in the United States that when the Israelis announce their intent to withdraw from these areas, thousands of non-Israeli inhabitants–Muslims and Arabs–pick up and move to Israeli-controlled areas (Daniel Pipes has recounted some of this). Life under Hamas is hell, life in Israel is good, and most locals know it.
As usual, Israel is blamed for the inability to make peace with a foe that is dedicated to destroying her. American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expresses a dominant view in the U.S. State Department when she rants against Israeli towns as an “impediment to peace.” Yet observe the Palestinian leadership’s response to Rice: “With the arrival of that black scorpion with a cobra’s head, Condoleezza, I began to worry that she would use her venomous fangs and hiss to kill this initiative and new spirit that we should protect” said Hamas Minister of Culture ‘Atallah Abu Al-Subh,in remarksaired on Al-Aqsa TV on June 15, 2008.
The deepest cause of the conflict between Israel and those purporting to lead the Palestinian people is philosophical: the deep inculcation of jihad into the minds of Palestinian youth, in the form of a violent ideology that has nothing to offer except the destruction of Israel and claims to paradise as a reward for death. Samples of this ideological material have been collected at the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center; follow the link to “Captured Material.”
Until the motivations for jihad against Israel are admitted, confronted, and repudiated, the causes of war will remain in place, festering in the minds of each new generation of children. All else–the “settlements,” the check-points that prevent non-Israelis from freely partaking of the Israeli economy, the claims to economic devastation, the “historic connection” to a soil that the Palestinians never planted–is pretense. To see this, all one need ask is why Israel’s return to the 1967 borders would remove a cause of war, given that Israel was attacked when she held those borders. And, of course, for Israel to retreat to those borders now would leave foreign enemies a few miles from Tel Aviv. This would be national suicide for Israel, a new holiday for Hamas, and the end of civilization in the Middle East.
The Israelis have made the desert bloom. Tel Aviv–with its skyscrapers and trees–was entirely undeveloped before the Israelis came and replaced primitive huts with modern buildings. The first Israeli settlers purchased land from inhabitants, and built a city where none existed. Today, their economy is robust and is expected to grow nearly 4% in 2009. And remarkably, despite the constant threat of war and the ceaseless missile attacks, Israeli society is largely unmilitarized. Yes, there is a draft–but outside of a military base I saw no soldiers in Tel Aviv, and rarely saw a military vehicle on the highways.
By driving enemies back and building walls to keep them out, the Israelis have been able to create a peaceful island in a sea of violence. (When was the last time you heard of an “Israeli Day of Rage” and saw Israelis shooting automatic weapons into the air in celebration?) Given the intensity of attacks on Israel, one must wonder whether this ability to live in peace isn’t the real bone of contention with her enemies.
My trip to Israel made even more obvious to me that Israeli interests and American interests are in perfect alignment. The achievement of Israel’s goals–a permanent end to the war, and the establishment of peace under a rational government–are American interests. And the Israelis know it. Never in any country I’ve visited (I’ve been to over a dozen) have I seen so many American flags. Never have I walked into a shopping mall and seen a line of life-size mannequins of American soldiers with the host country’s flag on their shoulders. If only the American people and their politicians knew that Israel is our premier–and perhaps only–cultural and political ally in the world today. If only Americans realized the consequences of abandoning that ally.