Leaving Home, Going Home


Leonard Zwelling

         Wheels up. Soon I will be watching one of the selection of awful
movies United serves up on the flight into Newark from Tel Aviv. I may try to
sleep for two weeks of walking the desert sands of the Makhtesh Ramon, the cobble stones of the Old
City of Jerusalem’s, the dust of the Golan Heights and the Crusaders’ caves in the Old City of Acco
have worn me out. I ain’t 25 any more.

         Nonetheless, this has been a wonderful trip and I feel a bit
foolish having considered cancelling it three weeks ago. Gaza is far, far from
any of the places most tourists visit. Israel is probably safer than many
American cities. I walked Bethlehem without fear and saw the poppy fields of
Hezbollah and heard the mortars of the Nisra Front. I was in no danger at any

         So what’s the bottom line take away?

         First and foremost, Israel is a leading 21st
century capitalistic country with a big problem that was not really of its own
making. Once the British carved up the Middle East to serve their own needs
instead of those of the people who lived here at the end of WWI, the current
strife in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Israel was ineluctable.

despite living in a hostile neighborhood, with borders it must constantly
defend and with an indigenous population of Arabs not really interested in
being Israeli citizens, but peace loving nonetheless, most Israelis get on with
their lives.

Israelis complain about their feckless leadership. Construction cranes are
everywhere. The start-up business is booming and the young men and women of the
citizenry serve their country admirably. Sounds like the US to me.

it is the Jewish state, it is, by definition, my second home. But it’s my second
home. First and foremost, I love America and I love Houston, Texas so lucky me,
that’s where I get to live.

I never expected when I left Houston on August 27 was to understand so much
better the geopolitics of the Israeli-Arab struggle, its roots in British
hegemony and the almost impossible problem of keeping Israel a Jewish, democratic state with a map of itself defined by the 1967 post-Six Day War
borders. It will be hard to be a Jewish state for long with a fast-growing Arab
population unwilling to fully participate in the democracy and unable to find
leadership capable of forging a solution with an equally unimaginative Israeli
leadership that can satisfy all parties and lead to economic growth for all.

only that will bring peace. And only peace will bring back the Americans,
British, Australians, Germans, French and other tourists that are critical to
that economic growth—whether those tourists are Jewish or not. And many from America are not as we saw bus loads of evangelical Christians at many sites, especially around the Sea of Galilee.

what I have surely learned is that there is another point of view beyond that
of AIPAC or J Street. That would be the Arab point of view. I am just
scratching the surface with Gil’s help and Nasser’s but this visit left a scar
in my soul because I saw with my own eyes that members of the groups who the
media say are sworn enemies get along just fine, as they have for over 100

guide Gil suggested to us that the solution is to teach Arabic as well as
Hebrew and English in the schools. 
Hebrew and Arabic are official languages here (English is on the highway signs only, but not official), but only the first two
are taught in the schools—Hebrew in 1st grade; English in 2nd
grade. Once the Arabic language is part of the curriculum of every Israeli
school child and the culture and customs of Arabic-speaking people are absorbed
fully into Jewish Israeli society, there is a chance that each group will begin
to see the other’s humanity, viewpoint and needs thus allowing a true meeting
of the minds. In addition, Jews and Arabs must attend the same schools.
Language is not enough. These are very different cultures occupying the same
piece of the Earth. Understanding and tolerance on both sides will decrease the
chance of further conflict.

am sure of a few things now. Israel is more like America than people in either
country think. The admixing of the indigenous cultures has started in both
countries but there needs to be a far more concerted effort if it is succeed.
This includes Spanish for all American kids, too by the way. Like my belief
that the health care crisis in America is a solvable yet complex problem, I
believe the same is true of the Israeli-Arab struggle. Soluble, but hard.

         Here’s what I will do to help each problem.

         I will continue to write and talk about my belief that some
form of universal health care ought to be the right of every American. I have
my druthers on what that looks like, but I am more than happy to ditch my ideas
for any better ones. ObamaCare is not a better idea!

         I will not support the knee-jerk pro-Israeli position of
AIPAC or the left-leaning liberal hogwash that wants to sue Israel in the World
Court. Both approaches are useless.

         I bought the Rosetta Stone for Hebrew software. It’s time 50
years after my bar mitzvah to learn to speak Hebrew. I will work with groups
who wish to reconcile the differences that are tearing Israel apart, whether
Jewish or Arab. I will always side with Israel in any conflict, as I do
America, but I would like to contribute to ending the conflict not fanning the
flames of war.

         I am sure that I will try to do more to assist on both the
health care reform and Middle East peace fronts. I have no illusions about my
likely success in either case, but not trying is not an option any more for me.

         Coming to Israel was everything for me, for my family and
for those I met here. As Woody Allen has said, “Eighty percent of success is
showing up.”

         I am so glad I did! 

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