One of the questions I’ve most often been asked about our trip to Israel was “Did you feel safe?” The answer is always, “Yes.” I can only recall one time during the 10 days that I felt a bit uncomfortable. We were in Nazareth and a couple of people from our group had gotten separated from the main body. It took a few minutes, but our guide found the wayward pilgrims and re-united them with the rest of us. And, that was that.
The people of Israel live in a very dangerous part of the world. They’re not naïve. They don’t have a collective death wish. They understand their position in the world’s geopolitical order. They know they have many enemies. But, they want to live meaningful lives. As I traveled around the country I saw that the people focused on living life. I think the centuries of being labeled “Christ killers,” “money grubbers,” “communists,” or being the objects of the Fuhrer’s “final solution” has contributed to the national sense that life is now for the living.
This national ideal of life is reflected in the land. As we made our way from place to place the olive trees seemed omnipresent. The vineyards stretched as far as our eyes could see. Our daily meals included tomatoes, leeks, garlic, dairy products, humus, fruits, fish, lamb, beef, and a myriad of other staples, all locally grown. Our daily treat consisted of the best ice cream we’ve ever had.
This abundance hasn’t come overnight. It’s been the product of hard work and a great love of the land. As I watched the bounty unfold before me I was amazed at how prescient the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was when he declared “Streams will flow in the wasteland.”
Seeing the plenty, it was very hard for me to understand why this land should be so scarred by hate and terror. There’s more than enough for everyone, Jew, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, or Palestinian. Almost everyone recognizes this…almost everyone. And therein lies the problem. Almost everyone is light years away from being everyone.
For a significant number of people, from Palestinians to “peacemakers,” Israel is occupied territory and the Jewish people are thieves who should be driven into the sea. Bob Dylan expressed this jaded notion of Israel as the “neighborhood bully” lyrically:
“Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully.”
Dylan’s words aren’t hyperbole. Hezbollah, one of the most virulent terrorist organizations in the world has expressed its hatred for the Jewish people in charter form: “Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.” In the Gaza Strip, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel and any attempts to make peace between Palestinians and Jews are tantamount to blasphemy: “[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.” The Iranian mullahs believe that the total destruction of Israel will bring the “twelfth imam” and world justice. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed the insane notion that the Holocaust is Jewish fiction created to garner world sympathy.
Philosophical expressions and charters are one thing. Action is another. And this is where the rhetoric becomes terror’s backbone. About a week before we left for Israel two young Palestinian men broke into the house of Ehud and Ruth Fogel, who lived in the Israeli settlement of Itamar. They first stabbed the Fogel’s two sons, 11 year old Yoav and 4 year old Elad, to death. They then murdered Ehud and Ruth. They thought they were done and left. As they did they heard the Fogel’s daughter, 3 month old Hadas, crying in her crib. They re-entered the home and stabbed her to death for good measure. They went home and, with the help of family, burned their bloody clothing and hid the weapons.
I didn’t find Israel to be dangerous, but I don’t live on a kibbutz or a settlement. I don’t have to find some way to live a meaningful life when a four month old child becomes the target of the terrorist’s blade. How can the road to peace be found in the face of such evil? This is the Jewish dilemma.