Giulio Meotti
Giulio Meottiצילום: עצמי
“The border in Israel is everywhere,” Aaron, our bus driver, a Jew of Uzbek origin, father of four, who speaks little but conveys an aura of security, tells me. His parents came to Israel in 1972, a year before the Yom Kippur War, from a country that many of us know only from hearing about Samarkand and the Silk Road.

They built a neighborhood of poor and very religious Jews in Jerusalem, giving it the name of the "Bukhara neighborhood", after the sacred Uzbek city. "My parents were repeating 'next year in Jerusalem' and so they came here from the Soviet Union," says Aaron. “I served in Gaza in the 1990s. One day we stopped a woman. She carried a kitchen knife half a meter long. Today is the era of Islam, the Turkish empire, the Chinese empire and the Russian empire. The West no longer exists”.

For a week, I accompanied a group of thirty-two Italian tourists to discover the borders of Israel. Thirty people of different cultures, political and religious backgrounds.

Aaron is right: "the border is everywhere". On the border with Lebanon, with Syria, with Jordan, in Judea and Samaria, in Jerusalem, where when we arrived we were greeted by a double attack on two buses, with a sixteen year old of Canadian origin who lost his life there and many wounded, even very serious ones. The city was dominated by the sound of the police and the army jeeps. There was tension, because a terrorist cell was still loose in the city. I am reminded of and I quote to the group an essay from the French magazine Commentaire, in which Ran Halevi wrote that "Israel is probably the only Western country that is evolving against the new faith in a humanity without borders".

In Jerusalem, the border changes often. Mishkenot Sha’ananim, today one of the most beautiful and trendy places in Jerusalem, was a set of shacks where people lived in constant fear of enemy blows before 1967. Mamilla Mall, now full of restaurants and boutiques, was the Jordanian line of attack where people lived in houses sheltered by sandbags. There are the photographs of children and women who were evacuated from the fires of their houses in the Old City, the "Wailing Wall" which is in ruins, bare, abandoned, converted to Islam as well as to Buraq. A common destiny for the churches that ended up in And everywhere, children. Israel is full of children. Israel has the highest birth record among developed countries and the OECD: 3.01.
the hands of Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS but also of Erdogan in the case of Santa Sofia.

We start from Haifa, under the Carmel range, which has the tranquility of the big cities on the coast, but in 2006 - even here - hundreds of missiles fell from Lebanon.

And everywhere, children. Israel is full of children. Israel has the highest birth record among developed countries and the OECD: 3.01. Despite having all the characteristics associated with the very low fertility rate that is recorded everywhere in the West and that led Elon Musk to speak of it as the "greatest threat to civilization": Israel has high levels of education among women, high levels of urbanization, high levels of income. Since the 1990s Israel has started a unique reversal. Its fertility rate started to rise.

No other OECD country, no other country with a developed economy, has a rate higher than two. In the early 1980s, the Iranian woman also had more than double the children of the average Israeli; she has less than half today. Demography is destiny for everyone, but for Jews even more.

Orthodox Jews in Israel have a fertility rate of 6.6. But the Israeli birth rate is surprising in another respect: Israeli laity have more children than any other layman in the West. Maternity leave for Israeli parents is not generous. Nor is childcare more abundant than in other Western countries. "Some argue that Israeli Jews have more babies because they foresee a brighter future: Israel is among the top ten happy countries in the world," writes the Economist. "Another reason could be that the state encourages the creation of children."

But there is still another aspect: “In Israel, the traditional family structure is still strong. In France and Great Britain, more than half of children are born out of wedlock. In Israel it is below 10 percent ”. Unlike twenty years ago, when secular Jews in the Tel Aviv area would have one or at most two children, today their number has grown to three or four. attro. In a generation, Israel will be more populous than Sweden and Holland and will be able to field a larger ground army than that of the German Bundeswehr.

Haifa is the most multicultural city in the Middle East. There is only one place in the Middle East where minorities have full freedom to practice their faith, to change their faith or not to practice any faith: Israel. Israel is the only state in the Middle East where the Druze have reached the highest spheres of society and where, since 1948, the Christian communities in the country have grown by more than 1,000 percent. Israeli Christians sit in Parliament and are judges in the Supreme Court. No other country between Africa and Asia Minor has similar percentages of sectarian pluralism. In Haifa there are Jews, Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze, Arameans and Baha'is, the original community of Iran The Bahai syncretist minority, persecuted by the ayatollahs, has found shelter in that small state, smaller than my Tuscany, with its twenty thousand square kilometers, in comparison with the Arab-Islamic countries that surround it on an area of ​​thirteen million square kilometers .
which has its headquarters in Israel today.

The Bahai syncretist minority, persecuted by the ayatollahs, has found shelter in that small state, smaller than my Tuscany, with its twenty thousand square kilometers, in comparison with the Arab-Islamic countries that surround it on an area of ​​thirteen million square kilometers . Witness the splendor of the Bahai temple in Haifa, a pilgrimage destination for tens of thousands of faithful as it is the first place of worship of the religion founded by the Persian Mirza Husain Ali Nuri and which aims to unify the best of the nine religions arose earlier, offering a message of peace to humanity.

What is Israel's secret? Freedom of worship, but no European-style multiculturalism: Israel is the Jewish state that guarantees religious freedom. The West is experiencing a cultural war between those who defend Western Judeo-Christian values ​​and those who want to destroy them. In this war, you are on one side or the other. And Israel in this war represents not only physical security but also the cultural security of the West.

We take the road to the far north. Fedayeen targeted Rosh Hanikra, a kibbutz located on the Mediterranean on the border with Lebanon. We visit it, with its caves, and a yellow gate separates Israel from Lebanon, first of fifty meters patrolled only by soldiers with the olive uniform of Israel, and then the Arab village of Naqoura. In 2008, the Lebanese terrorists that Israel freed in exchange for the remains of soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser passed through here.

Hezbollah has just asked Israel to give it control of Rosh Hanikra. The kibbutz grows bananas and avocados, raises turkeys, and has a biotech company called Rahan Meristem, which is famous for in vitro fertilization of plants. Its famous caves, located on the border with Lebanon, have been used as trade routes and secret passages for the military. During the Second World War, the British built rail tunnels in the cliffs for the Cairo-Istanbul route. And during the 1948 War of Independence, the railway bridge was destroyed, to prevent the arrival of weapons and military from Lebanon.

Nearby is the famous Hanita kibbutz.

Hanita is the land of the kibbutzik son of primeval Israel, socialist and warrior in the manner of the Palmach, the first Jewish defense military formation in the settlement of the then British Protectorate. Many died here from malaria and from attacks by the Arabs. They remained isolated for months. Today it seems calm, but the intelligence occasionally updates the number of missiles that Hezbollah holds over here right near the fifty meters separating the kibbutz from Lebanon: 220,000 medium and long-range missiles, which can hit as far south as Tel Aviv and all of the north of the country. Israel's defensive barrier from Lebanon goes right into the gardens of the houses of the Hanita kibbutz. Israel expects the How do you live normally, go to work, knowing that fanatical and cunning terrorists are so close, that a sniper at any moment could hit you in the middle of the forehead,,,
launch of 2,000 missiles per day in case of war.

How do you live normally, go to work, knowing that fanatical and cunning terrorists are so close, that a sniper at any moment could hit you in the middle of the forehead or a grenade explode there, for example, in that football field where they are now about thirty boys playing ?

How do you live day after day with a machine gun next to you, over the shoulder during the day and on your bedside table at night?

It looks like an interview between the deaf. It seems unlikely, absurd. But it is Israel, where we pass through some villages of Maronite Christians who have always been allies of the Jewish state and persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists. These Christians fled here by the thousands when Israel withdrew from the south of Lebanon in 2000.

In 1993, missiles from Lebanon caused half the inhabitants of Kiryat Shmona to flee. We arrive at the place whose name translates to "city of eight". Further north, the road wedges between hills bristling with antennas and observation posts: on the right, the Golan and the crests of Mount Hermon; on the left, the bunker-houses of Metulla; in the face, the minarets of the Arab village of Kfar Kila. Here, in the summer of 2006, a thousand missiles fell. Now many more are expected.

The public shelters of Kiryat Shmona are restored. Some shelters have TV and air conditioning, others are deteriorated and the air suffocating. At the entrance to "Kiryat Katyusha", as the city was renamed, the government had a Peace Monument built. The artists found no other inspiration than to paint tanks in yellow, red and blue. Children climb them, waiting for the siren which will announce the next katyusha.

On a hill, Tel Hai, also stands the tomb of Joseph Trumpeldor. He tried to defend the Tel Chai kibbutz from Arab aggression, and before he died it is said he told his doctor: "It is good to die for your country." A local guide, in telling us his story, points to a hill: “See that village, it's Syria”.

It doesn't take long to get to the Golan, the heights that Israel wrested from Syria in 1967 and which are now inhabited by moshavs and military bases. The city of Quneitra rises low and very close under a peak of the Golan. We go through it. Only abandoned houses. But also vines grown by Israelis. A UN base is there, with all its helplessness and hypocrisy. There is a physical sensation of perennial, insoluble fragility. If Israel gave these heights back to Damascus, the Syrians would be looking into the heart of Israel. And what would happen if an Islamist regime like Hamas took power in place of Assad?

Gamla dominates a series of craters and basalt valleys, at the bottom of the ravine the remains of a Jewish village that was conquered by Emperor Hadrian after a terrible battle and mass suicide of the last resisters (as in Masada). We would have to reread the Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrain. At the bottom, you can see the lake of Galilee. Once, right here, there were Arab armies. Former Syrian bases are everywhere, now for the use of Israelis. Hundreds of tanks are moving in an exercise. Trucks carrying military vehicles pass.

Apple orchards arid steppes of volcanic rocks, kibbutzim evacuated several times during wars. The city of Katzrin is a pearl of modernity in the heart of the Golan. Those who live here, forced into self-sufficiency, do so in the name of a work that they believes is still in progress: "Israel". The villas are cheap: their future is always uncertain. Trucks full of bottles of the famous Golan wine, boycotted by half the world, go out all the time. New vines are planted. Mr. Bahat proudly shows us his winery. “The country where the most wine is consumed? The Vatican ".

We visit Kibbutz El-Rom, the closest outpost to the Syrian border. Eran welcomes us, a boy who has friends in Italy, "studying in Pisa". “This was Israel's safest border from 1973 to 2011, when civil war broke out in Syria. Today we are preparing for any attacks as per army instructions. We know that there are ISIS, Nusra, Hezbollah and others there. My parents come from Iran and Turkey, they came here to found the moshav. The people who live here have many difficulties, such as the absence of supermarkets and few schools, the harsh climate and the distances. We have bunkers in the garage and in a hotel club, which can be converted quickly in the event of an attack ”.

A passage from a book by the Nobel Prize for literature Saul Bellow never translated into Italian came to mind: “In this troubled hour, the civilized world seems tired of its own civilization. He doesn't want to hear about survival anymore. In their concern for the decay of civilization and in their pride (pride and concern in equal measure), the Israelis have something to teach the world ”.

We go down to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. Jerusalem began building barriers in 1967, shortly after winning the Six Day War, when it erected an artificial border in the Beit Shean Valley to prevent infiltration from the Jordan Valley. The synagogue was hit in full by missiles and for a long time the entrances to houses, shops and offices were protected by bags full of earth. Numerous shelters. Trenches were dug and the thickness or height of the stacks of sacks was increased. It was the citizens who did it; those of Beit Shean, but above all men, women and boys sent from the adjacent villages. Throughout the region, the people of Israel felt it was an honorable commitment to go in their free hours to work in Beit Shean to improve its defensive capabilities. As I pass, I try to tell the group about it to make them understand that there is no city or village in Israel that has been spared.

A stop at the Naharaiym kibbutz reminds us how precarious even "peace" with neighbors is. Here, in 1997, a Jordanian soldier killed seven Israeli girls on a school trip. Our guide was there that day. “I don't take the groups to that place anymore”. At Aram-Naharaym, a small and lush artificial island in the Jordan River used as a meeting place between Israelis and Jordanians and for this reason called the Island of Peace, a Jordanian soldier, from a short distance, emptied two M-16 magazines against the Israeli party. In the park where Yitzhak Rabin and the Jordanian king Hussein signed the “peace of water”, at the Gavriel cultural center, the lake of Galilee is retreating.

Before arriving in Jerusalem, we stop at the archaeological excavations of Sussiya and Hebron, the first Jewish city, where all the patriarchs and matriarchs from Abraham to Sarah are buried (except Rachel). The geography of fear has always been generous with Israel: from the border with Lebanon to the far south, the life of Israelis every day is linked to the ghost of insecurity. In Hebron, even more. Non-Orthodox tourists don't come here. I wanted the Italians to see it with their own eyes. Here the attacks are frequent, it is never far from the border that creeps into homes, cars, nightmares of those who live there.

:How come nobody talks about Cyprus, a country in the European Union, half of which has been under Turkish occupation for almost fifty years?" asks an Israeli girl with whom I have a beer on the last night before leaving.
We pass by "Shuhada Street", a kilometer of road that crosses the Jewish community of Hebron. The street's real name is King David Street, he who started his monarchy, the Kingdom of Judea, and then the Kingdom of Israel, in Hebron, over 3,000 years ago.

Gadi and Dina Levy were murdered on this street by a suicide bomber. Young Aharon Gross was stabbed to death on this street. Six Israelis were killed and another twenty wounded on the road in a terrorist attack on this road. "How come nobody talks about Cyprus, a country in the European Union, half of which has been under Turkish occupation for almost fifty years?" asks an Israeli girl with whom I have a beer on the last night before leaving. Israelis live in 2 percent of Hebron, Palestinian Arabs in the remaining 98. Yet, they call it "apartheid". Would they prefer the second holy city for Jews to become "Jüdenrein"?

Some of the group ask me if it is possible to visit the Islamic part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. "Of course, you just need to show your Italian passport at the checkpoint". Then I look at the women. "Oh I forgot, unlike in the Jewish part, in the Arab part you will have to wear a kind of burqa". They think about it. The visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs gives the group of Italians an idea of ​​the two alternatives that Israel has - to leave and let the Islamic fundamentalists act like ISIS and turn it into a mosque (as it is already in the part controlled by the Palestinian Authority) or continue to persevere, against everything and everyone in the place that is infused with Jewish history. Condemned to be strong to survive.

Passing through the Arroub refugee camp, on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron, the nets protect vehicles against the throwing of stones and molotov cocktails. A soldier in an army turret watches over this strategic hub. There is Halhoul, where the army found the bodies of three Israeli students killed while hitchhiking home from school. Arab villages are announced by large threatening signs: "No access for Israelis". I explain to the group that we with our Italian passports can enter, the Israelis cannot. They struggle to understand again.

After all Belfast, Sarajevo and Berlin, the European cities once divided on an ethnic and religious basis, have they not all fallen? In 1964, when Pope Paul VI arrived in Jerusalem for the first, historic visit of a pontiff, the city was divided by barbed wire. It was called "kav ironi", the arbitrary dividing line of the city. Jordanian snipers were stationed on the rooftops, while minefields were everywhere in "no man's land", in Hebrew "shetah hahefker", seven kilometers long. The only passage between the two parts of the city, the Israeli and the Jordanian, was the Mandelbaum Gate, named after the spouses Esther and Simcha Mandelbaum, owners of the house where the border crossed. There were neighborhoods, like Abu Tor, with houses that had one entrance in the Jordanian section and one in the Israeli section. The walls divided the city even inside the houses.

But while Paul VI and his entourage were able to freely traverse Jerusalem to pray in Christian, Israeli and Jewish religious places in the Israeli part, the Jews could only look across the barbed wire at the Arab controlled Old City walls and, below it, dream of the Kotel, the holiest place in the world for Judaism. When three other popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis) returned to visit liberated Jerusalem, they found a city open to all three religions, without barriers, barbed wire, snipers, minefields or discrimination on the basis of religion. A city where anyone can come to pray and pay homage to their God. Even many Wahhabi Muslims who have come from Saudi Arabia to visit the Temple Mount. The holy city was conquered by Jebusites, Jews, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, English, Jordanians ... But over thousands of years, Jerusalem was only divided for nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967. By Jordan.

And it was really a nightmare. Jewish Jerusalem was the main target of the Jordanian attack during the 1948 war that accompanied the founding of Israel. The commander of the Legion, Abdallah el Tal, recalled that “only four days after our entry into Jerusalem, the Jewish quarter had become a cemetery. The return of the Jews is impossible ”. On May 27, 1948, 108 of the 150 defenders of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City fell in defense of the population of 1,700, crushed by hunger and thirst. Had the siege continued, the Arabs would have forced the Jews into surrender or starvation. The whole city was in danger of being conquered by the Arabs.

After the end of hostilities and with the division of the city, all Israelis - Jews, Muslims and Christians - were denied access to the Old City, in flagrant violation of the armistice between Israel and Jordan, signed in March 1949. Over the years under Jordanian rule, every vestige of the Jewish presence in the city was systematically erased. During those nineteen years of illegal and occupation unrecognized by the rest of the world, Jews were never allowed to visit their holy places in the occupied part of the city, in defiance of international law and in violation of armistice agreements. The centuries-old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was systematically desecrated; the ancient synagogues, such as the famous Hurva, and most of the buildings of the ancient Jewish quarter of the Old City, were scientifically destroyed by the illegal occupants. Hundreds of Torah scrolls and thousands of sacred books were looted and reduced to ashes. For the first time in a thousand years there was not a single Jew or a synagogue left in the Old City.

It was a sort of Isis ante litteram. The Christian population of the city dropped from thirty thousand before 1948 to eleven thousand in 1967. After the Jordanian conquest, once the Jews were forced to leave their homes, synagogues, libraries and centers of religious studies were destroyed, looted, used for housing or as stables for animals. ( During the British Mandate, Jews were also forbidden to blow the shofar,, the small ram's horn, at the Western Wall. Appeals were made to the United Nations and the international community to declare the old part as an "open city" and stop this destruction, but there was no response. Thousands of tombstones from the cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used as paving stones for roads, latrines and as building material in Jordanian military camps. Parts of the cemetery were converted into parking lots, and an asphalt road was built. The Intercontinental Hotel was built in the upper part of the cemetery. The oldest Jewish cemetery in the world was thus devastated.

Of the 150,000 tombs, some dating back to the Biblical times of Absalom and Zechariah, 70,000 were destroyed. I visit it alone on a Friday morning. The amount of people who come to lay a stone on the graves of their loved ones is impressive.

You always leave Israel with a bit of bitterness and regret, knowing that you are returning to a continent that would do well, indeed very well, with the patriotism, the sense of identity, the perception of having a manifest and collective destiny, the refusal to yield to the politically correct, to Islamic submission and international and supranational diktats of these stubborn Israelis. You have the visceral feeling that here in Israel, there is still a European kind of people, of European culture, founded on democratic and liberal foundations, which with its resurgence planted biblical and western roots, roots which it still takes very seriously, in a place where there were only Islam and Ummah, and which still resists.

On a Friday afternoon, close to Shabbat, Ben Gurion airport becomes quieter and more silent. But landing in Rome, which after riding through the unbelievable Israeli comet, is a bit like returning to earth, one feels that it is dark over Europe.

Giulio Meotti is an Italian journalist with Il Foglio and writes a twice-weekly column for Arutz Sheva. He is the author, in English, of the book "A New Shoah", that researched the personal stories of Israel's terror victims, published by Encounter and of "J'Accuse: the Vatican Against Israel" published by Mantua Books, in addition to books in Italian. His writing has appeared in publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Gatestone, Frontpage and Commentary.