One of my readers forwarded my last blog to a college student who had recently made a trip to Israel. The student was quite upset by what they saw: unjust treatment of "palestinians," a "disgusting wall" that Israel had built more or less along the "Green Line," and armed soldiers who were just "kids" carrying rifles and tormenting even the students. The student felt that my blog was one-sided and ignored the various "injustices." My reply to the student is below:
I used to be a liberal democrat. Then the 2000 intifada had a huge impact on me. Day after day I was watching Jews get blown up on buses (like happened today), in cafes, in malls, and even at a Passover Seder. I felt like I was watching the beginning of another Holocaust. Not knowing that much about the history of the area, I decided to do some reading. A lot of reading.
I like to put things in some perspective. There are under 14 million Jews in the entire world! Under 6 million in Israel. There are over 300 million Arabs. And there are 1.6 BILLION muslims. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. The Arab world: 50 times bigger? 100 times? 200 times? No. 625 times bigger than Israel. So one question reasonable people might ask, is why are 300 million Arabs and 1.6 billion muslims unable to accept the presence of 6 million Jews living on a tiny sliver of land (half of which is desert - the Negev)?
Some history. The only country to exist on the land was and is Israel: 2000 years ago, and again since 1948. Before World War I the Ottoman Empire controlled most of what is the Middle East, and did so for about 400 years. After the Ottoman defeat in WWI, England and France controlled most of the area. Syria, for example, got their independence from France in 1946. Palestine was under the "British Mandate." It consisted of Jordan (then Trans-Jordan), Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank (Judea and Sumaria). To make a long story short, Britain was reluctant to allow Jewish refugees from Europe after WWII to emigrate to Palestine. (If you have never watched the movie "Exodus" with Paul Newman, I recommend that you do so.) Under pressure from Jews and others, Britain turned over their Mandate to the UN General Assembly. The UN then approved a measure partitioning the land between the Jews and the Arabs. (I should point out that the Brits had already given 2/3 of the land in the Mandate to the Hashemite King in Jordan.) That left very little to be divided yet again between the Jews and remaining Arabs. Before the measure passed, the Arabs made it clear that they would never accept partition. (In the 1920's Jews were slaughtered by Arabs. In WWII, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem sided with Hitler and had a great interest in Hitler's "Final Solution." Muslim anti-semitism was quite prevalent before Israel existed.)
So, the UN voted partition in 1947; and on May 14, 1948 the tiny country of Israel declared their independence. The very next day, five Arab countries attacked; the first effort to wipe Israel off the map. The Israeli forces were outnumbered and lacking in weapons. Yet, the underdogs (yes, Israel was the weaker party and clearly the underdog) won. When the war ended in 1949, 6000 Israelis had been killed - one percent of the entire Jewish population. The boundaries that were set in the 1949 "armistice" were not final boundaries based upon any treaty. There was no treaty and no agreement other than a cessation of hostilities. (Which is why Obama does not call the "settlements" illegal but rather "illegitimate." Because they are not illegal.) Israel had to fight for its survival again in 1956 and again in the Six Day War of 1967. In 1967, Israel captured the West Bank, including Jerusalem, Gaza, the Golan Heights and the Sinai. An amazing accomplishment for such a tiny country. Just so we are clear, from 1949 to 1967, Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank. During that time the Jordanians allowed the destruction of numerous Jewish holy sights. When Israel captured Jerusalem in 1967, it turned over control of the Temple Mount (arguably the holiest site in Judaism, and where the Al Aksa mosque is) to the muslims. (We could debate why the muslims chose to build on top of the the site where the two Great Jewish Temples stood, but that is another matter.)
In 1973, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, the Arabs attacked again. The Jews were totally caught off guard, and but for the intervention of Richard Nixon supplying war materiel to the Jews, Israel might very well have been wiped off the map. Since then there have been other wars, including the Lebanon war, the war with Hezbollah, the war with Hamas, and the two intifadas (1987-1992 and 2000-2006). But Israel is never at peace. Since 2000, and mostly since vacating Gaza, the "palestinians" there/Hamas have launched over 10,000 rockets and missiles into Israel. Can you imagine what the US would do if Mexico had launched even 100 rockets and missiles into San Diego? The public would have demanded massive retaliation. But Israel, now a powerful country militarily, acts with great restraint. They do so because they do not want to kill innocents; and because the world demands it. The world demands that Israel take more hits than any other country would tolerate. Israel could flatten Gaza - they do not. The Israeli army operates under what are probably the strictest rules of engagement for any military.
So now to your comments. No, I have never been to Israel. But my three kids have (one spent a year there), as have friends. I do not need to be there to have an opinion. I do not need to see animal abuse to know that it is wrong. I do not need to see spousal abuse to know that it is wrong. I can form those opinions without seeing it or speaking to the victims.
I put "palestine" and "palestnians" in quotes because the Jews were also "palestinians" before the state of Israel existed. Palestine was our homeland. I believe the Arabs of palestine (a more accurate description) use the term "palestinian" for propaganda purposes; it is something they are very good at. You were disturbed by kids with guns slung over their back. Military service is mandatory in Israel, and yes, kids, enter the service after high school and before college. They are 18, just like you can be here. Are you upset that there are armed soldiers everywhere? Israel lives in a very dangerous neighborhood, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Do you know why that "disgusting wall" as you put it was built? It was begun after the second intifada to prevent terrorists from slipping across the green line and blowing up Jews. It is a wall that has undoubtedly saved many Jewish lives. If you agree that the first obligation of any government is to protect the lives of its citizens, then you understand why that wall was built. If you believe the inconvenience of the Arabs is more important than Jewish lives, then I think you might have some soul-searching to do.
You said that the Jews would not have their state but for Christian fundamentalists, who you obviously have a great deal of disdain for. That, of course, is incorrect (see the history above). But it sounds like you believe the Jews should NOT have a state. Do you believe that? Are you okay with 57 muslim countries in the world but not one Jewish state? In what country do Arabs have the most political and economic freedoms? ISRAEL! That's right. There are over 1 million Arabs in Israel who live there as citizens. (Which is interesting because when they talk about a Palestinian state they always say the "settlements" have to go. Notice how ethnic cleansing of the proposed country of Palestine is never objected to by the media, our President, or the UN? It's only the Jews being kicked out.) You equate Christian fundamentalism with Islamic fundamentalism. Really? I would estimate that over 90% of the terrorist acts of the last four decades have been carried out by Islamic fundamentalists. I do not see, hear, or read about Christians trying to kill Jews ever. But you can get it daily from the Arab and muslim world. Read or listen to their media. Look at their schools where Israel does not exist on their maps. All the land is Palestine. Look how they teach their kids to hate, and to be homicide bombers and jihadists. They may be coming after the Jews now, but don't think for one minute it won't be the Christians next.
And let's be clear. I am not referring to the ever dwindling number of Christians who still live in the "palestinian" areas. The problem is with the muslims. Iraq lost over 600,000 Christians. Lebanon went from being a Christian country to now being a muslim country. Christians are treated very badly in Gaza. In each case it was muslims who kicked them out or made it so unpleasant that the Christians left. (Between 1948 and 1998 the Christian population of Israel quadrupled.) If all the lands were occupied by only Christians and Jews there would have been peace for decades already. You said there are real people on both sides. Did you talk to the families of Jews who have been killed by terrorists? Did you talk to any Jews other than soldiers at checkpoints? Can you tell me why Yassir Arafat walked out on Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak after being offered a state? Can you tell me why Abbas did not accept a state from George Bush and Olmert? Are you familiar with the three "no's" issued by the Arab League in Khartoum: no peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel. Do you know that both the Hamas Charter and the PA's charter call for the destruction of Israel?
Do you understand the significance of Israel to the Jews? It is not just their Biblical homeland, which is significant in itself. The world has often been a hostile place for Jews throughout history. When terrorists hijacked a French airplane loaded with Jews and took it to Idi Amin's Uganda, who rescued those Jews? Not the French. Not the USA. It was the tiny country of Israel. It was not an Israeli plane that was hijacked. But Jewish lives don't always mean that much to the rest of the world; and Israel sees itself as the protector of Jews worldwide.
You say you have to sympathize with people who react in a violent way. Did your fellow Christians evicted from Iraq and Lebanon and the palestinian areas react with violence? No. They moved on to other places where they could live in peace. Do you support what happened to the Fogel family? You sympathize with someone who stabs a family to death in their beds; even a 3 month old child? Do you support homicide bombers who blow up people on buses, in restaurants, in malls? Did you support the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center? After all, they had a beef with us and the way they were treated. There is one group of people in the world who believe any actions taken against "infidels" is legitimate. Did you support the bastards who cut off the head of the journalist Daniel Perl? There is something very wrong with people who behave in this manner, and it saddens me to think that you would sympathize with such animals.
I do agree with you that it is a complicated situation. And, yes, innocents on both sides can be unfairly affected. And, yes, I even agree that some Israelis can be very tough people. But I do not have to sleep with an automatic weapon at my side every night for fear of an attack. I do not have to have a bomb shelter in my house, like all Israelis do. But when you think about that wall, ask yourself this: you walk over to your best friend's house and there is the father with a gun in his hand standing over a dead man on the floor who had just been shot. So you immediately conclude your friend's father is a murderer! Or, wait, did he act in self-defense? I hope we can agree that the moral difference is profound.