I am writing this shortly after a truce was announced. This is not the typical column I write. I usually write about and promote opportunities for Israel and US business to find ways to do business together and expand commerce between our two countries. As both an American and an Israeli living in the US who cares tremendously about both countries and the close relationship between the people of those two great allies, I feel something else has to be said this time.
It is the Middle East. We’ve been there, done that, and know how delicate and fragile is any truce. However, with the hope that this recent violent round has come to conclusion, the question is, what do we do now. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, while expecting different results. If there is one thing I learned during this two week Guardian of the Walls defensive operation, following with great worry the nerve wracking news from the safety of sunny Florida, is that we must encourage policies that change the cycle of threats and violence.
Let me start by saying, it is truly a tragedy what happens to the Palestinians. At the same time, portraying Israel and Israelis as the villain in this story, by some US media, ample US influencers on social media, and sadly in recent years, a handful members of US Congress, just has to stop. There is a big difference between Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization and its goal of destroying Israel and the aspirations of the Palestinian people. Chanting falsified “facts” taken straight from a militant terrorist group’s propaganda is not what friends do.
Israel as a country is not perfect. Like anyone in the world, we try our best, and yes, we do make mistakes along the way. Most of us just want to live our lives peacefully. Whether religious or secular, we are raised on one of the core values of Judaism: love your neighbor as yourself. And, on the notion of Tikkun Olam, where the pursuit of repairing the world is thought to be a responsibility of each and every individual. Neither of those is easy to live up to, however, that, and necessity, are what drives us.
This “drive” is what positioned Israel as the “Startup Nation” of the world. Love us or hate us, you are using at least one device during your day powered by some Israeli ingenuity. Making it on time to that important meeting thanks to your navigation app? saved by your car’s automatic braking powered by AI camera? using a USB drive? 3D printing? a firewall? All were first invented in Israel. So did drip irrigation. The flexible stent saving millions of lives since first developed in Israel. And the list goes on and on, and new innovative solutions making this world a better, safer, healthier with abundance of food and water are brewing in Israel as these lines are being written.
You will find Israeli search and rescue units among the first to lend a hand anywhere in the world after a devastating natural disaster. Providing access to clean water and light to millions in Africa by providing solar and water technology? Yes, Israelis. And even during Guardian of the Walls, a team of top Israeli medical experts landed in Argentina to share their experience in dealing with COVID. As well as delivered beforehand, thousands of COVID vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, the Czech Republic, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Long before there was Black Lives Matter, there were Jews marching hand in hand with African Americans in Selma, Alabama and actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. There was the close friendship between Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a steadfast activist for moral issues, justice and interfaith dialogue. When invited to speak in March 1968 to the 68th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, King said “…Probably more than any other ethnic group, the Jewish community has been sympathetic and has stood as an ally to the Negro in his struggle for justice…”. King also said in that address that “…peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs…”
And yes, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The only country in the region that supports equality and LGBT rights. And, the only Jewish-majority state, a tiny country the size of New Jersey, roughly less than 0.2% the size of its Arab neighbors. Israel was established after centuries of persecution, massacre, and abuse of Jews around the world. It was established by Holocaust survivors and by those whose entire family perished in the Holocaust, like my grandfather. When Israel was established in May 1947 it was the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, nearly 2000 years after Jews were vanquished and most were disbursed out of their land by the Romans.
Fast-forward to May 2021. Over 4,300 rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel during 11 days. Rocket launchers were purposely set up and launched from civilian homes in Gaza, from hospitals, from schools. Tunnels designed to penetrate and attack Israel were purposely dig under civilian homes. This is the same human shield tactic used by the militant terrorist group controlling Gaza for years. This is a repetition of what transpired in 2014. Thank God for the Israeli-U.S. designed Iron Dome system which provides a defense system to intercept incoming rockets over Israel. Although not all rockets were intercepted, the ability of the Iron Dome system to defend Israel prevented a much more devastating outcome both to Israelis and to Palestinians. What would you do if your people were attacked? Having about 15 seconds to seek shelter if living in the south of Israel, and 90 seconds if in the center, when siren are sounded. Would you sit still and let the rockets land?
When the IDF sought to destroy Hamas built underground tunnels and other military targets, it took every measurement, making calls, sending text message, pamphlets, alerting civilians to evacuate before every operation. Hamas did not do so. It indiscriminately targeted civilian populations seeking to terrorize them and randomly kill as many Israelis as they could.
It was sad seeing the images in the news from Israel. And it was sad seeing the images in the news from Gaza. The tragedy is that the likely majority of Palestinians just want the same as Israelis, to live their lives peacefully and have a better future for their children. Back in 2005, Israel then prime minister Ariel Sharon, was hoping that desire would prevail. After not being able to reach a basic agreement with the Palestinian Authority, starting with acknowledging Israel’s right to exist, Sharon led a unilateral disengagement. The 8600 Jews living at that time in 21 settlements in Gaza were pulled out and IDF left Gaza. What happened next? Not what Sharon was hoping for. However, Israel and western countries alike, contributing to humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, should have known better. If there are no measures to ensure humanitarian aid is used directly for civilian basic needs vs. digging tunnels, buying and manufacturing rockets — expecting a different result, is simply insanity. If textbooks used in hundreds of Palestinian United Nation’s UNRWA -sponsored schools are pursuant to a report by IMPACT-se reportedly teaching Palestinian children to kill Israelis, and sacrifice themselves as martyrs to drive Jews out of the country — expecting a different result, is simply insanity.
And lastly, and perhaps firstly, there is the Temple Mount. Before the construction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site, the Jewish Temple, was located on the Temple Mount. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they turned it into a Catholic church. When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, he turned it back into a Muslim shrine. Israel has always given preference to the rights of Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount. So much so, that although the Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site, Israel does not permit Jews to pray there, only Muslims. Jews can only pray at the Western Wall, located right below the Temple Mount. In fact, only under Israeli rule there is freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem. Sadly, growing up in Israel, I learned to fear violence and tension, every year, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. What transpired in May 2021, when stones were thrown toward Jews praying at the Western Wall below, was unfortunately, not the first time. I recall how surprised I was to realize only a few years ago when I was invited to a Turkish Ramadan celebration in Florida, Eid-al-Fitr, that it is actually a celebration of happiness and peace.
Israelis love peace. Peace, “Shalom” in Hebrew, is how we great each other when we meet. Numerous Israeli songs were written about the longing for peace. The recent Abraham Accords with the Gulf countries, were celebrated across Israel. And, Israel is willing to make tremendous concessions for peace. For the Peace treaty with Egypt, for example, Israel gave Egypt in 1979 the Sinai peninsula, more than double the size of Israel, with its rich natural resources and beautiful beaches. If there could be peace with Palestinians, if Israel’s right to exist would be acknowledged, if rockets would not be launched on Israel residents, and kites with fire would not be launched to set crops and farm animals on fire in the south of Israel, Israelis would be overjoyed.
So you see, it is complicated. However let me tell you what is not: when it is “cool” to villainize Israel. You’ve seen it increasingly in recent years and more so during the recent weeks, across the U.S. in cities with thriving Jewish communities: this dangerous rhetoric is leading to Anti-Semitism lifting its ugly head. Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Words lead to actions. And nowadays, when a supermodel with 66 million followers on social media is saying such words, a TV show host, or a US Congress member, or other elected leaders — looking back at history when such words were said about Jews, and expecting a different result — is insanity. And we, simply cannot afford to be insane.