As the Arab Spring continues to roil, this week I returned from an intense and profoundly moving trip to Israel with a congressional delegation hosted by the American Israel Education Foundation. The compression of space and time there is palpable: I stood mere yards from the security fence that separates the families of Kibbutz Misgav Am from the terrorists of Hezbollah and walked on 2,000-year-old paving stones next to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The existential frame in Israel is different from that to which I, as an American, am accustomed, and it is essential to understanding Israel’s importance to us and to the world.
American patriotism reflects the boundless possibility and opportunity of a young, expansive, and resource-rich nation; Israelis’ love of their country reflects an ancestral bond to this small and specific place that spans millennia. The Jewish faith is the reason Israel exists, and Jewish precepts and philosophy have guided this state’s development as a thriving democracy that welcomes citizens of all faiths. It is ironic that these same tenets also increase the danger that Israelis face every day. Visiting Israel vividly teaches that truth.
Stand at the border in Kibbutz Misgav Am and look to the north; you will see
Lebanese towns arrayed on the adjacent mountainside. They do not bristle visibly with armaments, but deadly attacks have originated from them within the past year and a half, including earlier this month. The weapons have been stored in the most innocent of places: a school, a hospital, a mosque. Why? Because Hezbollah knows that the Israeli armed forces will not rain fire upon innocent people, even though Hezbollah and Hamas have no such compunctions.
Talk, as I did, with Chen Abrahams of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in the south of Israel, and you will hear that this warm and soft-spoken young woman and her family live every day poised to run for shelter when the alarms sound in response to incoming fire from Gaza. Parents in Kfar Aza share a beautiful little book, full of bright pages, with their children. The text tells them that red — the color of the alarm lights — does not always mean danger. Imagine having to read that to a five-year-old.
Daily life in Israel proceeds because it must, and because the people of Israel have the same spectrum of mundane concerns and pleasures that we do. There is a deep affinity, a connection, between them and us, which transcends time and distance. It is eminently worth protecting in a region, and a world, in which democracy continually struggles to prevail against totalitarianism. It is essential that we protect it, because to fail to do so would be a capitulation to evil, a negation of what we cherish most deeply as Americans: the freedom to live as men and women of conscience, respecting the right of others to do the same.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, speaking with our delegation, emphasized that, when we consider our adversaries, like the theocracy in Iran, we must suspend our disbelief that those responsible for the lives of millions of their own fellow citizens will act out of madness and not out of rationality. , This may be the hardest thing for Americans to accept, that we are fighting madness, because it makes the course forward harder — more painful, possibly — to envision.
But we have done it before. If you visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, you will be reminded that in World War II Americans fought and won a titanic battle against madness. We won because we were willing to use overwhelming force, and because we put our nation’s best minds and bravest hearts to work to serve the good of all people.
Today we join with Israel to defend what is right, and to do so while honoring our shared principles, minimizing risk to innocent life. Our delegation learned about Iron Dome, an anti-missile system jointly developed by the United States and Israel that detects incoming rockets and detonates them in midair. Iron Dome shows how technology can help us to defeat evil without bloodshed. However, if we’re going to afford this kind of high-tech defense, we need to manage our American resources better. That’s what drives my work every day in this Congress.
Israel is important to us as Americans because the Israeli people are our true brothers and sisters in profound and countless ways. Spending a week with them gave me a fresh and compelling understanding of how closely our two nations are bound together, by history and philosophy and faith and by common purpose as modern democracies. As the Middle East reshapes itself in the shadow of a malevolent and manipulative Iranian theocracy, it is essential that the United States continue to support Israel as a free and sovereign state.
— Nan Hayworth is a Republican congresswoman from New York.