First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
A Visit to Israel
Don't you just hate those people who visit some hot-spot country on a three-day junket and when they come back, suddenly they're experts?
Well, I just got back from a three-day visit to Israel, and ...
And I'm no more of an expert than I was before. In fact, in some ways I'm even more baffled. As often as not, I merely found confirmation of conclusions I had already reached through reading.
Can I help it if I was already right?
First, though, let me point out that visiting Israel right now is no more dangerous than visiting the District of Columbia -- probably less. The proportion of crime victims to accident victims is about the same as in the United States.
The difference is that one of the crimes is terrorism, and there is something more frightening about going to a place where someone might be deliberately looking for a chance to kill you.
But look at the facts. So far, at least, the Palestinian terrorists have been careful not to target tourists.
Why? Because a huge source of income for Palestinian Arabs is Christian tourism to the Holy Land. Already, because of the violence of the Intifada, tourism is down to a tiny fraction of what it used to be. It's absolutely crippling to Arab businessfolk in Jerusalem and other Christian pilgrimage sites.
If they started targeting pilgrims -- even American pilgrims -- that would be the absolute end of the Palestinian tourist economy. Not to mention the end of any serious chance of America making even the slightest gesture toward favoring the Palestinian side of the war.
They might blow up Jewish babies whenever they get a chance, but they have never lobbed a grenade into a bunch of American Baptists wading in the waters of Jordan at Yardinet.
If you visit Israel with a tourist group or travel with a reputable tour guide, and don't obviously mark yourself as Jewish, and don't insist on going into areas you are advised not to visit, you don't run an extraordinary risk. Life proceeds normally throughout Israel, except for heightened security precautions at public gatherings ... and, of course, the near-absence of tourists.
In fact, that's the surprise. We get the impression of Israel as a war zone. Certainly the Israelis feel themselves to be at war, and it's a war they didn't want and wish would go away. They are vigilant. But they are also going about their daily lives. Pretty much as we are in America, despite the fact that we, too, are at war and subject to the risk of terrorist attack.
Inside Israel, Muslims and Jews get along pretty well -- provided everybody stays in their own area. With the exception of a few self-consciously mixed communities, Jews pretty much stick to Jewish neighborhoods and Muslims to Muslim ones.
Just as Circassians tend to live together, as do settled Bedouins, and the Druze of Israel. And even though the Circassians and Bedouins are Muslim, and the Druze are not Jewish, they are loyal enough to Israel to serve in the military and help defend their nation.
Even the Muslim citizens of Israel who do not take part in the military have more freedom of speech, press, religion, and travel -- and, yes, even political freedom -- than the citizens of any of the nearby Muslim Arab states. They may not love living in a Jewish state, but they have proven that they can live together in peace ... most of the time.
Who Hates Whom?
What I never saw, not even a glimpse, was any sense that Israelis hate Muslims.
In fact, while I met many soldiers and many veterans, in circumstances where they could talk freely and individually, there was not even a hint that they hated the people who shot at them, or threw stones or bombs at them.
One tank commander during last year's Israeli incursion into the West Bank took me aside and told me about what he and his team did -- or rather, did not do -- in Nablus.
"There was a bottling plant, full of empty bottles, and we knew that those bottles would be filled with fuel and lighted on fire and thrown at us. We could have destroyed that factory and the bottles, and it would have made us safer.
"But we also knew that tank shells don't stop where you tell them to. If we blew up that plant, we would also destroy homes and probably kill civilians. We would not have been criticized for the decision to destroy that plant; but we talked it over and I gave the order to move on without destroying that building.
"It exposed us to more risk, but when the campaign was over, you know what we were proudest of? The building we did not destroy. Even the crew member who had spoken in favor of destroying it, we were all glad that we did not do it."
These soldiers are not the bloodthirsty monsters that the lies of Palestinian leaders claim they are. They avoid causing needless casualties -- even among the very people who openly rejoice when Israeli babies are murdered.
They are, in other words, precisely the kind of civilized warriors that we expect American soldiers to be -- reluctant to kill, but implacable against legitimate military objectives; not motivated by hatred of the enemy, but rather by love of and loyalty toward their own people.
There are probably Israelis who feel hatred for Muslims -- but I never met any. What I met were decent people who don't understand why so much of the world hates them for defending their homes and families against people who thirst for their blood.
If the Palestinians would let them alone in their own lands, most Israelis would sigh with relief and end the fighting without a breath of hatred, without a thirst for vengeance.
Borders Aren't Just Lines on a Map
The tragedy of the Israeli-Arab conflict is that it has all been unnecessary from the start. If Arabs had not resisted Jewish land purchases and immigration, then when independence from the Ottomans and then the British eventually came, there could have been a nation of Palestine in which Jews and Muslims shared citizenship.
Too late to do anything about that now. Too late to unkill those who have died, or return to borders that once might have worked.
Israel is not going to return the Golan to Syria -- not when those buttes were dotted for so many years with Syrian artillery emplacements that regularly lobbed shells into the fertile farmland of the upper Jordan Valley.
Nor is Israel going to return the Old City of Jerusalem to Arab rule -- not when they know that they would once again be forbidden to visit the sacred Western Wall, the way they were from 1948 to 1967.
Isn't the record clear? Under Israeli rule, Muslims have had complete access to all their sacred sites; under Muslim rule, Jews were banned from their holy places. And under Muslim rule, Christians who had ever visited Israel were banned from entering the Arab-controlled portions of the Holy Land.
So who deserves to be given custody of land that is sacred to so many religions? The people who use it as a tool of punishment and exclusion, or the people who keep it open to everyone?
The borders will never return to where they were in 1967, because up till that year, Arabs showed that they would use those borders to wreak death and destruction inside Israel's borders. Israel has a right to borders they can defend.
But inside Israel, I didn't meet a single Israeli who believed that the West Bank (alias "Judea and Samaria") should be part of Israel. Not that there aren't such people -- I just didn't meet them. And there are fewer and fewer of them.
Most Israelis want desperately to have a two-state solution. The Palestinians could have a self-governing state in a very short time if they would (a) stop murdering Israelis and (b) provide plausible guarantees that they would not build up a military force designed to destroy Israel.
Sharon's Impossible Wall
So now Israel is building a wall, like the Berlin Wall, except it's designed to keep people out instead of keeping them in.
The idea of building such a wall makes sense. If Palestinians continue to shelter and applaud terrorists instead of being ashamed of them and refusing to cooperate with them, then they don't deserve to have free access to Israel -- even if that's where all the jobs are.
The trouble with Ariel Sharon's wall is not that it's being built, but where he's building it.
You see, Sharon is politically dependent on (and personally sympathetic to) groups inside Israel who insist on building Jewish settlements in "Judea and Samaria," and he is gerrymandering the wall to include settlements far inside the 1967 borders of the West Bank.
The result is a border that is ridiculous in every way a border can be.
It is indefensible -- it snakes around worse than a meandering river, and there aren't enough troops in Israel to patrol it or defend it.
By its very shape, it guarantees that Israel will still have to enter Palestinian territory regularly, and that terrorists -- or an invasion force -- would be able to get through the wall when they want to, since an undefended wall is not a wall, it's cover.
Worse yet, it would be impossible, even in a completely free and democratic Palestine, for any leader ever to be elected without vowing to destroy that wall and restore the borders of 1967. Sharon's wall, if built where he's planning to build it, will be a continuing provocation -- and one that weakens, rather than strengthens, Israel's defensive position.
America should be ready to take any measure necessary -- including war -- to protect the existence of Israel.
But America should not spend one thin dime or risk one drop of American blood to defend Sharon's wall, if it is placed where he is placing it.
If Israel will not abandon the West Bank settlements, then why should the Muslims of Palestine abandon their land claims inside Israel?
Palestine's Future Leaders
Of course, I'm not a fool. If Israel backs away from the settlements and either builds the wall along the 1967 boundaries or goes further and dismantles the settlements (a hugely divisive course of action, but one which most Israelis would go along with), there is no chance that the current Palestinian leadership will accept the gesture as a reason to have peace.
Quite the contrary, the current terrorist-dominated Palestinian Authority would see it as a sign of weakness on Israel's part.
But so what? The settlements would not be abandoned or dismantled in order to make peace with terrorists.
The borders must be drawn, rather, with an eye to the legitimate government that will eventually succeed the terrorists of Arafat. The border must be drawn in a place that legitimate, civilized Palestinian leaders can acquiesce to. No matter how long it takes before they come to power.
Meanwhile, Israel is wise not to take any further moves against Arafat. It is impossible for any moderate Arab to oppose him when he is under Israeli pressure. Whenever the Israelis leave him alone, he, by his own fascism, his own thuggery, his own subversion of any attempt at democratic rule, turns Palestinians against himself and his cronies.
Palestinians are not stupid. The responsible adults among them know he's a terrible leader. They know he rules by terror inside Palestine as well as using terror against Israel. But there is also a large contingent of young, unemployed, angry Palestinians who do not see how Arafat's leadership has led to the impoverishment and virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian people.
The point of building a wall is to leave the Palestinians alone behind it, intervening on the Palestinian side of the wall only to prevent any sizable military buildup that might be used to invade Israel. Left to themselves, the Palestinians will soon hate Arafat the way the Iraqis hated Saddam -- fervently, if not universally.
And it's worth remembering that Arafat is very old and not particularly healthy. Israel can wait. Because Arafat has made very sure that there is no one ready to take his place. There will be a series of weak figurehead rulers after him, while in the shadows the various terrorist groups struggle (and kill) to achieve supremacy.
Whoever emerges will not be Arafat. There will be Palestinian blood on his hands, and many Palestinians who hate him. It will be an ugly, terrible time in Palestine. But it is just possible that the Palestinian people will take matters into their own hands and choose a decent leader, after they are fed up with the thugs.
Israel can't force the issue, however. All they can do is hide behind their well-drawn wall and watch intently.
How Muslims Can Win
That's really the whole Israeli strategy, the only hope for peace: To do whatever it takes to continue to exist, and then wait.
Wait for the Arab Muslim leader who has the courage to say, "Why do the Muslim people keep rejecting this gift of God? The Muslim people of the Middle East were trapped in the medieval Ottoman Empire. When it fell, Turkey took great strides to join the modern world while leaving the people free to practice the Muslim religion. But all the lands that Turkey ruled have remained backward, ignorant, and helpless before the military and cultural dominance of the non-Muslim West.
"Could this possibly be the will of Allah?" such a Muslim leader will say. "No! Allah did not abandon us. Allah sent our brothers and sisters, the Jews, back to Palestine. People who had learned all the secrets of the West, and yet who kept their own faith alive; people who could tolerate among them nonbelievers who were nevertheless Jews. They were sent to Palestine to show us how to match the West in every way that is good, while resisting the corruption that is eroding Western society.
"The Christian nations have lost their faith and their souls," such a leader will say, "but we can have their science and technology without adopting their contempt for civilized life. We can make wealth for ourselves as they have done, by choosing democracy and a limited free market. And Israel is the seed of that, which Allah has planted here, and if we accept the will of Allah, that seed will turn the whole garden into a flowering of Islam greater than has ever been seen before."
You notice that I'm not prophesying a pro-Western Muslim peacemaker. That's because much of what Islamicists oppose about the West is well worth opposing, and they would be fools to embrace our modern Western contempt for marriage, family, religion, courtesy, and decency.
All I'm suggesting is that peace will come in the Middle East on the day when Islamic leaders recognize that God has provided them with the key to recovering their strength: Israel, established in the heart of the Muslim world. With open borders and free trade and travel between Israel and its neighbors, with peace and democracy there, how long before Israel's neighbors also prospered and learned democracy and industry in the midst of faith?
Ay, there's the rub. For one of the reasons the leaders in the Muslim world fear Israel is that they fear democracy. There is no embracing Israel without the risk of Israeli democratic ideals spreading, and that would be the death knell for the groups that rule in almost every Arab nation.
What I saw in Israel is a people who are determined to stay where they are and survive.
They know they depend on the United States for that survival -- our financial aid and, more important, their enemies' sure knowledge that the U.S. will not stand by and let Israel be destroyed. They watch every twitch of government policy and public opinion in America.
But they also know that they must be prepared to do their own fighting, and to keep their own economy alive so they can be as self-sustaining as possible.
They also long for peace.
As do many Muslims. Like the Palestinian Arab in Galilee who joked with me that someday America would turn the whole world into more states in the United States.
I get a little prickly about ridiculous ideas like that. "America doesn't want to turn other countries into parts of America."
He put a hand on my shoulder and drew me close and whispered, "I wish you would. Life would be so much better here."
I think he meant it.
What he doesn't understand yet is that Palestinians will have the blessings of America when, instead of sacrificing their children in suicide attacks against Israelis, Palestinians who yearn for peace and freedom risk their own lives in the effort to overthrow the truly awful leaders who rule them now -- or at least refuse to obey them or believe their lies.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
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