All those Americans who support Israel should, in this time of trial, consider one special mark of devotion — a visit. I have just returned from Israel, and can say without reservation that there is no better way of understanding the character of Israel’s people and the complex challenges they face, than by traveling Israel’s roads.
The drive last week from Jerusalem to the foothills of Nazareth took me little more than an hour and revealed again the unalterable truth: The lives of Israelis, Arabs, Druze, and Palestinians are bound closely and forever. Driving north, the thickening patchwork of cities, suburbs, villages, and farms had to be dissected by the knowing eye of a native. My guide, Eitan, pointed out, “that’s a Jewish town; that one is an Arab-Israeli village; both of those villages are Druze; the new Arab mall — open on Shabbat — is up ahead.”
Thirty years ago when I first took this drive, Israel was tiny, yet bare of sprawl and pavement. Now, southern California has taken root on the Mediterranean. And like Anaheim of old, orange groves are disappearing under subdivisions with guarded gates. But the guards in these neighborhoods are not moonlighting; they stare hard, wave their black wands quickly over the chest of each visitor, and motion you on with an automatic pistol in their other hand. Amid these new neighborhoods, rockets that cannot be intercepted fall indiscriminately on Jew and Arab alike. Shared danger has not erased old lines, however, and “peace in the Middle East” sadly remains as vacuous a phrase as a human being can utter.
I first knew Israel and this conflict as a non-Jewish volunteer working on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley. The older, founding generation of kibbutzniks was quick and proud to tell us when asked that they did not hate the Arabs. They said this even after the pain and horror of the Yom Kippur War of 1973 in which Israel lost enough lives in proportion to population to count the war a catastrophe. One sensed that that pioneer generation believed it would be unworthy of the land, and the sacrifice they made to obtain it, to let hate grow up around them and their beautiful and much adored children.
After more than 60 years of strife, I think most Israelis would still claim that there is no hate, just resignation. The Arabs, generally, and certainly those whom an Israeli knows personally are not despised and not the enemy. Feuding neighbors still watch each other’s children grow up. And when there is nowhere else to move even those memories become a permanent part of what life is and will be.
What can we do for these neighbors as their crops spoil unharvested, their factories go dark, and their shared economy grinds to a halt? We who love Israel and who want its people to know peace with their neighbors, have one gift that we can give. Despite all that has or may happen here, we have to visit. When we visit, we are demonstrating to all sides in this complex conflict that we care about what happens here and about the fate of Arab and Jewish children. Moreover, the time and money we spend here knits the economy and neighborhoods together in ways the no U.N resolution or peacekeeping force can do. The “Arab Street” and the “Israeli Boulevard” intersect when and where tourists, pilgrims, students and families gather.
Why take that foolhardy risk? Life is dangerous enough without a visit to Jerusalem, Amman, or Jericho. True, but let’s not fool ourselves, unlike Las Vegas, “what happens here doesn’t stay here.” The next train, plane, or bus you step into anywhere in the world may in a split second become territory claimed by the Middle East. Startlingly, Seattle, like countless other cities, now sits somewhere between Haifa and Beirut. The chimera of “Peace in the Middle East” may be the only legacy our children must have to survive and, I believe, we have to visit these neighborhoods if we want to help claim it for them.
– Karl R. Moor is an Atlanta-based lawyer.