Israel is at the front line of the global jihad movement. Ever since the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and even before, it has faced jihadist opposition from groups adamant in their determination to destroy it utterly.
Yet I expect that a poll of Americans would find only a tiny minority would affirm that Israel faces the same foe, with the same ideology, as the one the United States has faced since 9/11. The left, of course, and others believe that Israel is the aggressor against an innocent Palestinian people, and that the conflict is solely about "stolen land."
I was recently offered, and seized, an opportunity to see for myself. Among many other things, in the last few days, I have:
• Explored the Muslim Quarter and other sections of Jerusalem’s Old City;
• Peered into Syria from an Israeli bunker on the Golan Heights;
• Traveled by bulletproof bus through the West Bank, and inspected the security fence;
• Slept (fitfully) in a Bedouin tent in the desert, and savored the magnificence of the stark land;
• Walked through the 700-year-old streets of Safed, not far from where the Hizb’Allah rockets fell a few days ago near Kiryat Shmona and Metulla;
• Strolled around modern Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
I had the honor of meeting Natan Sharansky and the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem, Shlomo Moshe Amar. I met a couple who had recently been evacuated by the Israeli government from their West Bank "settlement," where they had lived and worked for twelve years, and endured daily gunfire from Palestinians since the Al-Aqsa intifada began in September 2000. I met an American who now lives on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, cultivating land just across the Syrian border, in defiance of the danger.
I photographed a large, confidently imposing, and clearly thriving mosque near my hotel in Tel Aviv, the very existence of which stands as poignant refutation of the charge that Muslims are oppressed in Israel–especially in light of the glaring non-existence of synagogues in Muslim lands and the precarious existence of churches in them.
Israel is at war. Everywhere I went, even into a shopping mall in Tel Aviv, armed guards stood at the entry, searching everyone. Many Israelis with whom I spoke discussed the weariness of the people after decades of war. They said that many are willing even to give up half of Jerusalem in order to buy a peace that they themselves acknowledge will last only a few years. But at the same time, there is a tremendous spirit among the people. I saw the greenhouses and agricultural projects making the desert bloom, and the determination of so many not to be intimidated, not to bow in the face of jihad violence. Long may they prosper.
While I am sympathetic to genuine Palestinian Arab refugees, I can’t help but notice the role of the neighboring Arab states in exacerbating and prolonging the refugee problem for political reasons that are ultimately rooted in the jihad ideology. I can’t help but notice that I was able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Tabor, and other Christian holy sites in Israel, which mean a great deal to me personally, while Bethlehem, under Palestinian Authority control, has become a dangerous place from which Christians are fleeing. I can’t help but notice that there was no call to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1948 and 1967, when those territories were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively.
Ultimately, if the nations of the world are interested in defending universal human rights and the equality of dignity of all people, they need to stand with Israel. Misdiagnosis of the problem–that is, the unwillingness or inability of Western governments to acknowledge the motives and goals of the jihadists who want above all to destroy them–has largely prevented this.
Yet as Benjamin Franklin said long ago in a far different context, we must all hang together, or we will most assuredly all hang separately.