I’ve had friends ask why Nancy didn’t take more photos of us in Israel. Israel wasn’t about being a tourist. We had no interest in scrawling “Kilroy was here” on the ruins of Caesarea Philippi. Israel is much more than the churches, mosques, ruins, or the archaeology. Israel is the people. Israel is a state of mind and heart.
Where to from here? We’d love to go back. But, travel gets more difficult with each passing year and the T.S.A. isn’t making things any easier.
And Israel? Whither to, Israel?
Archaeologists have found the remains of at least 26 civilizations in Israel. The Egyptians have been there. So have the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Muslims, the Mamluks, the Ottoman Turks, the British, and the Hashemites. Today there are about 14 million Jews in the world, which represents two tenths of one percent of the world’s population. About 6 million live in Israel.
The Jewish people have been through long periods of exile. In the 2nd century, the Roman emperor Hadrian expelled the Jewish population from Judea and renamed the nation Palestina (meaning land of the Philistines). It remained that way until 1948. Since then, Israel has been a bone of international contention. I suspect it will continue to remain that way for at least the remainder of my life.
Will the issues attendant with the Palestinian people and the Jews ever be resolved? I hope so, but I have serious doubts. The political and diplomatic obstacles are formidable enough, but the hatred at the root of the problem has made any solution almost impossible.
More than most Americans, I have some personal knowledge about both sides of the conflict. My sister’s second husband was Palestinian. He was handsome and hard working. He could be very charming. But there were times when all of that would give way to uncontrollable rage. He detested Jews. I learned never to say anything nice about Jewish people in his presence.
In the early nineties I was assigned duties as a mentor for a young Palestinian engineer. He was every bit as charming and handsome as my sister’s husband. He was absolutely brilliant. There were times I wondered why FedEx had me mentoring him. Our friendship grew. He became comfortable enough with me to call me, affectionately, “Bucko.” We often spent our lunchtime talking about our respective faiths. There were significant differences, but we could discuss them as friends. When the subject of Israel came up, though, everything changed. I told him of my hopes for a two state solution, with both sides living in peace within secure borders. He told me, “You Americans need to understand. We don’t want a two state solution. We want to drive the Zionists into the sea. We want them all dead.”
Do my sister’s husband and my young associate constitute the entirety of opinion on Israel? It’s a good question, and it’s not as easy to answer as some might think. Pew research just completed a post-Mubarak public opinion poll in Egypt. Fifty-four percent, an overwhelming plurality, favor rescinding Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah are arming themselves to the teeth with help from Syria and Iran. Their aim is the destruction of Israel. The Iranian mullahs are committed to the obliteration of the “Zionist entity,” as is Hamas in Gaza. Here at home, attitudes are shifting. Christian denominations, including the Presbyterians, some elements of the Methodists, the World Council of Churches have equated Zionism with racism and have mounted boycotts of Israel. A couple of years ago I received some correspondence about the “Palestinian problem.” The solution offered was uniquely American – “Palestine for the Palestinians and the Jews to Texas.” I cut the correspondence off. It sounded too much like a final solution to me.
The people of Israel have a real dilemma. As Bob Dylan once wryly noted, Israel is “surrounded by pacifists who all want peace.”
In 2006 I purchased an Israeli flag and flew it from my front porch flagstaff when Israel went into Lebanon to stop the constant rocket fire from Hezbollah. It was my small gesture of support. I haven’t flown it since, but I suspect I’ll have the opportunity to hoist it again. When I do I’ll see more than just a symbol. I’ll see Amos’s face. I’ll see Menachem Goldberg, an Israeli farmer who has dedicated his life to the just application of the Old Testament law. I’ll see men praying at the Western Wall. I’ll see the shopkeepers and the children. I’ll take a moment to silently utter the old age prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. My neighbors probably won’t even notice and that’s alright. That unfurled flag will be a reminder to me of where I stand and that’s what really matters.