Op-Ed: My Trip to the "Occupied Territories"
Bradley FishBradley Fish is a professional musician, instructor and recording artist. Currently based in Madison, Wisconsin, he is planning to move his music production, instruction and recording business to Israel in the summer of 2004.
Past the "Green Line", I found very spiritual people. It was the opposite of the secular (sometimes even anti-religious), hip, Euro-American-Israeli vibe in Tel-Aviv, with its big buildings, clubs, restaurants and busy streets, where I'd been hanging. These people spend a lot of time in meditation and prayer, Jewish rituals and study of the Tanach (Bible). Education includes a lot of debate. Nature, and a lot of Arab villages, surround them.
This place is beautiful.
"Settlement" is an inaccurate and very loaded term. "Suburb" is much more accurate. It reminded me a little of being in a suburb in Colorado. A rapidly growing community of 1,000 big families (closing in on 10,000 people) lives on the other side of the (non-existent) "Green Line" (Israel's pre-1967 borders, also called the Auschwitz borders - only about 9 mile s wide at points) and the new security fence.
I got to Beit El in a bulletproof bus from Jerusalem for 6.5 shekels (about $1.50). It used to be double that but the government cut the costs to encourage people to take the safer public transportation - since so many Jews were getting shot by Arabs on the highways. It?s a 20-minute drive or 30-minute bus ride from Jerusalem. The Judea and Samaria communities are higher up, though, in hilly, rocky terrain. From a lookout point you can see the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv.
I stayed in the house of a very welcoming religious Jewish family with seven kids. It was a nice, modern house, not unlike the one in which I grew up. The outside was stone. The inside had hardwood floors and windows imported from Canada, a modern kitchen and two American-style bathrooms. All Israeli houses have a cement bomb shelter in the basement; they also had a few bedrooms in the basement. The family lives a block from the kids' school and a few blocks from the synagogue. There are street signs and American-style paved roads and a small park. It looks like any small, but nice, modern suburb in the States.
Originally, this land was called Judea and Samaria - all part of biblical Israel. Before the intifada broke out, my host family used to go often to the nearby Arab villages, which are built on top of ancient Jewish communities from the First and Second Temple periods - something like 2,000 and 3,000 years ago - long before the start of Islam. There are a lot of historical, archeological remnants of the ancient Jews in those villages. Now, however, it is not safe for a Jew to go there; and the residents of the Arab villages are smashing ancient artifacts in an attempt to erase history.
I took a random sampling of Israelis I met here about where they or their parents were born. So far the answers I've gotten have included: England, Ethiopia, Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Australia, Scotland, Sweden, India, Holland, Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, Paraguay, Uzbekistan, Russia, South Africa, Lithuania, Poland, USA, Canada, Hungary, Pakistan, Turkey, and a lot more.... I also met Jews who are 12th generation Jerusalemites. Jews have always lived here historically.
I see Jews of every skin color here. It is totally mind-blowing. Middle Eastern, Black, White, Latino, Asian and many diverse mixes. Whether its coincidence or not, this is biblical prophesy being realized. Fascinating.
Meanwhile, Israel is surrounded by Arab-only countries (the Jews have been ethnically cleansed). Yet somehow, according to the Left, Israel is the "apartheid state". Hmmm.... Very interesting. Very Orwellian.
Furthermore, there are 260,000 Jews living in Yesha (Israel's Judea, Samaria and Gaza) whom George Bush wants moved. Israel is the smallest country in the Middle East. Where will they be moved and how will this be paid for? The family of seven living in a big house in Beit El could only buy a one-room apartment for the same price in Tel Aviv, an extremely crowded city. Are we going to move these people for the crime of being Jewish? If there ever does end up being a Palestinian state, why will no Jews be allowed there?
The only Arabs in the Middle East who can vote in democratic elections live here in Israel (1/5 of the country's citizens). The surrounding countries promote Jew-hatred in print (many Nazi publications are now best sellers in the Arab world, including Hitler's Mein Kampf) and on TV (see the recent CNN story on the Arab world's most watched TV show, depicting Jews as sucking the blood of Arab children) to a population that is 50% illiterate, dirt poor, and purposely kept out of touch with the Modern world by its oil-rich dictators.
A bunch of 18-21 year old kids are responsible for policing an Arab population that wants them dead and teaches Jew hatred in the classrooms and promotes suicide bombings in posters and music videos. Its bound to lead to conflicts. Having said that, given the situation, they seem to be doing a decent job. The problem is that generally, being too humane is causing problems. Last week, a Palestinian woman complaining she had a medical problem that needed immediate attention blew up, killing four of these kids when they let her in past a check point out of concern for her health.
Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat is a billionaire, siphoning off the money of his invented Palestinian people (he was born in Egypt). The PLO walked away from an insanely generous (possibly suicidal) offer of a Palestinian state from Israel and began the intifada instead of building a country. The Palestinian people have to deal with their own thugs, taking their cars or killing them if they don't like them.
Slavery still exists in some Arab countries, while human rights, women's rights or religious freedom don't exist in the 22 Muslim Arab countries of the Middle East. Yet, all I hear from the American Left is about the "Apartheid state of Israel". They couldn't care less about the black slave trade, for instance - it's just those damn Jews. In Israel, women do anything they want, and you can be any religion, free of persecution. I've been in the Bahai temple and in a mosque in Haifa. Try bringing a bible into Saudi Arabia or walking around there as a woman without a head covering.
I checked out the radio stations while in Israel, too. Most of the media is left-wing. These guys in Beit El are on the Right. A station seen as their voice - Arutz-7 - recently got thrown off the air, for now, on a legal technicality by people on the far-left. In the meantime, the station continues to "broadcast" radio, TV and print on the Internet (www.IsraelNationalNews.com; www.a7.org). It is a good resource for up-to-date information and commentary from Israel.
Last month, over 120,000 people showed up in Tel Aviv to protest the dismantling of the "settlements". That's over 2% of the country's population at the rally - like over five million Americans showing up to protest in Washington. It got very little coverage in the mainstream world media, but when a handful of Israeli Air Force pilots refuse to serve, it is front-page news... Very interesting...
For some reason, this tiny country of five million people - the population of Wisconsin - on a plot of land about one-third the size of Wisconsin, surrounded by 1.3 billion hostile Muslims, is seen as the greatest threat to world peace (according to a European poll, a continent where Jews have been getting harassed a lot lately). The BBC, CNN and NPR give horrendously anti-Israel accounts of the situation to uniformed listeners.
I'm afraid many of my friends in the States are buying the Big Lie and the doublespeak that is so prevalent. Even in Israel, the Left wants to give the Arabs land under the illusion that it will bring peace. Sorry, it won't. The Jew-hatred in the Arab world is too venomous.
There is a lot of misinformation and anti-Semitism floating around at home in America, too. I've had people in Madison tell me about how filthy rich the Israelis are. But Israelis make half as much money as we Americans do, pay the same rent and double for imported items like cars and stereo systems. A lot of jaded people on the Left prefer to support the Palestinians, who show no respect for human life, women or freedom, and hate Jews.
If someone were to say that we should all leave Madison, Wisconsin because this is occupied Native American ground, or give California back to Mexico, I'd say they might have a strong case. However, to say that Israel should give up its ancient land to set up yet another Arab terrorist state is unfounded, preposterous and dangerous.
Please, don't fall for the Big Lie, guys.
Finally, I'm optimistic for the future of Israel, and I'm amazed by the strength and resilience of the people, and the potential for good things to happen here.
Also, the weather rocks.