Constant State of War
But were we? Israel is in a constant state of war. When my wife visited in May of 2000, she called me from Galilee. The NBC Nightly News was reporting rocket attacks into Israel from southern Lebanon and I asked her if she could hear anything. She said she could hear explosions in the distance, but she wasn’t afraid. “We’re fine,” she said. “Don’t worry.”
Returning to my classroom after the trip, a student asked me if anyone ever pointed a gun at me. “Yes,” I said, “but not in Israel. That happened in Massachusetts.” Danger is a relative thing. In any given place natives learn where to go and where to avoid, but I was in strange territory. That night, I heard what sounded like gunshots outside the hotel. Two of the guys I sat with at breakfast the next morning told me they heard it too. One suggested it might have been firecrackers. The other, a former US Marine, said emphatically that it wasn’t fireworks.
I felt safe in Jewish areas but anxious in Palestinian sections. Traveling around the country by bus, I looked out the window constantly because I didn’t want to miss anything. The contrast between Jewish areas and Palestinian areas was stark. In the Oslo Accords in 1993, Israel agreed to turn over most of the West Bank which it took from Jordan after that country, together with Syria and Egypt, were about to invade Israel in 1967. Palestinians in turn, agreed to recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop their terrorism. Israel began turning over territory (Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, etc.) but Palestinian terrorism didn’t stop. It increased. So Israel began building walls around the areas already given to the Palestinian Authority.
Street scenes on the Palestinian side of any checkpoint we passed were markedly different than on the Israeli side. I saw groups of men loitering. Very few did I ever see working. Young, middle-aged and old men sat around and stared as we went by. I never saw women hanging around as the men did. Wearing head coverings, they were usually walking purposefully, in pairs or with children in hand. They had a destination and wasted no time getting there.
Passing through areas still controlled by Israel, we went through Jewish sections and Palestinian sections. I didn’t need to see minarets to realize we had passed out of the former into the latter. I’d see trash, graffiti, abandoned buildings and idle men. It didn’t take a sociologist to figure out that Israel functions well, while “Palestine” functions somewhere between feebly and not at all. We went into a lot of Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, as well as central and northern Israel, because that’s where most Christian shrines are, and I saw the same things. Palestinian towns like Nazareth in northern Israel seemed somewhat better, maybe because they’d been under Israeli control since 1948, whereas those in the West Bank and Jerusalem were taken in 1967.
For our last few days we stayed in an Arab-owned hotel in a Palestinian neighborhood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem from the east. It was a beautiful view, but we were advised to watch out for pickpockets and take cabs to the old city rather than walk the streets. Nearly every time we were getting on or off the bus we were besieged by peddlers or panhandlers. Boys pulled at the pen in my breast pocket and put an arm on my shoulder. I had to push them away with one hand while keeping my other hand on my wallet.
Fighting in the Gaza Strip had started between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. Both are terrorist “organizations.” In the midst of fighting each other, Hamas fired rockets into Israel. Why? For the same reason Saddam fired scuds at Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. Killing Jews is the cheapest way to score points in the eyes of other Arabs as if Jews were responsible for their miserable conditions. Hitler did the same thing. He knew it was simpler to blame Germany’s problems on Jews than look in the mirror for the real cause. It’s no coincidence that Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf” (My Battle) does well in its Arabic translation “Jihad.” It’s banned in Germany now, but it’s a top-ten seller in the Middle East.
Israel and the United States have the same enemy: Islamofascism. The sooner we Americans realize that, the better. Reading about Islamofascist terror plots to shoot up Fort Dix and blow up JFK the past few weeks, I wondered if what I was seeing in Israel was a glimpse of our own future.