Two Unique Experiments in
Democracy: Tea Parties and Walls from Valley Forge to the Valley of Elah
We are both young countries, the United States and Israel.
One is a giant world power, the economic dominator seemingly riding herd over
the globe to maintain peace. But it doesn’t even come close to ensuring peace
anywhere, even at home. Israel is a small nation in size but serves as the toehold
of democracy in the Middle East, an economic power in its own right, and a
formidable military presence as well. It is just trying to maintain peace at
and within its borders and struggling to do that.
In the US, the House of Representatives has been thrown into
disarray as the likely successor to Speaker John Boehner has withdrawn from the
competition for the job to be third in line to the Presidency. He withdrew
rather than have to try to create peace or compromise between the raucous Tea
Party segment of the GOP and its more traditional members. The Democrats are
looking on with bemusement and glee as the Republicans prove that they really
cannot govern because a small but vocal minority would rather shoot itself in
the head than compromise in any way. Conditions on the Hill are worse than
ever. There appears to be no way out and no savior to ascend to true leadership
anywhere in either party. Donald Trump is not the answer.
In Israel, there is stalemate as well. Netanyahu’s Likud has
only 30 seats in the 120 seat Knesset and patched together a coalition to
maintain power that tilted its legislature, just like the one in Washington, to
the right. This will make any rekindling of negotiations with the Palestinians
impossible. The situation on the ground in Israel will not change. A huge wall
will remain between the Arabs and the Jews and that wall, unlike the one in
Washington, is not just philosophical. It’s real. It’s huge. It’s cement 9
meters high in some spots and bristling with barbed wire in others.
in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, there were corridors we drove to
get to Rachel’s Tomb that were lined on BOTH sides by the cement wall with Arab
homes on the other side. It was ugly. Rachel’s Tomb itself is encased in
reinforced limestone so the familiar dome is no longer visible and there is
barbed wire around the top of the tomb. Is this really what one of the matriarchs
would have wanted of her off-spring? I think not.
into Hebron, where we were likely the only western Jewish tourists as this is a
PLO hot spot, we visited the Cave of Machpalach and the rifts in Israel were never
more apparent. Entering from the Israeli side (Area C, of course) as we did, we
were able to visit the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Leah only. The tombs
of Isaac and Rebecca and Adam and Eve (I kid you not) are on the Arab side and
approachable from the Israeli side only 10 days a year. This was not one of
them. What we visited was not really the cave which the tomb sits above, but a
shrine. The cave is below in a real cavern that may well contain the remains of
the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs. In one hour, we had visited the tombs of
all of them with the proviso that Isaac and Rebecca were out of reach by a few
feet and a wall. Israel—land of walls.
We had visited Nablus and Hebron and its sites. This
included Jacob’s Well from which we drank freshly drawn water from 120 feet
below the church floor in which it is dug and visited Joseph’s Tomb both in
Nablus. In Nablus we walked through the busy city on the day before the Muslim
Sabbath. We were the only non-Arabs around. The schwarma man tested his English
on us when asking us where we were from. This is what we always find when we
meet Arabs. They are as curious about us as we are about them, but they are
always friendly, open people. Our Palestinian guide in Nablus, the man who
showed us Bethlehem last year, Nasser Alawi, says he doubts there will be a
Third Intifada despite some Palestinians gearing up for it (see the American
press). The people are too tired and realize they are worse off than before the
first two rebellions.
we went deeper into Jewish Hebron to visit the tomb of Ruth and Jesse. It is
indeed rare for any Western Jew to get this far into the West Bank, especially
in this very anti-Israeli city, but I swore when I left Houston that I would
visit the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian line. A, B, or C did not matter
to us. We were going to the West Bank, the home of the Jews for before
there was Jerusalem, Haifa and surely the bustling Tel Aviv of today there was
Nablus, Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem the real beginnings of the Jewish people,
before Moses and after and long before the First Temple.
We are two countries with great divisions between and among
our people and no one in government seemingly cognizant of the reality on the
ground for middle class Americans, most Israelis and most Arabs. But in all
cases, no one has tried to feel the other’s pain. Gil says most Israelis have
never been to the West Bank. They don’t know Nablus, or Hebron, or Bethlehem or
even the Biblical sites at Shiloh (the early Jewish community where the Arc of
the Tabernacle was before going to Jerusalem) or certainly not to the land of
the Samaritans an ancient religious group that bases their entire belief on the
Torah written in Old Hebrew which they can speak. They believe that it was on
their present home, Mt. Gerizim, that Abraham was stopped from sacrificing
Isaac, not on Mt. Moriah. There are fewer than 1000 Samaritans living in only
two cities in Israel, Mt. Gerizim, near Nablus, and Holon.
The Valley of Elah in Judea south of Jerusalem is where
David slew Goliath. Valley Forge is where Washington was able to gather his
disheveled Continental Army on the winter of 1777 and allow them time to heal
and train before pushing to Philadelphia in the spring.
The Israeli experiment dates back 4000 years. We visited the
graves of the first Jewish convert (Abraham) and the first female Jewish
convert (Ruth) today in the West Bank. This would not have been possible before
1967. Today it may not be possible without an ugly wall that may be for
security reasons or it may be for the political purposes of Israeli dominance
over the Arabs. It is impossible to tell. But that wall is an ugly scar
separating modern Israel from the true history of the Jewish people. If you
want to go back as far as you can into the Old Testament, you will have to go
to the West Bank. Jerusalem is not far back enough.
The American experiment is much newer and we still have a
long way to go, but at least we too have a sacred document to guide our way. As
the Jewish People have had the Torah, we Americans have the Constitution.
Our Palestinian guide Nasser asked us if we planned to
settle in Israel as if he fully expected us to say yes. I said no. Because
before I am anything, I am an American. It is America that gave me and my
family a chance over 100 years ago. It was the Constitution that eventually
protected our opportunity and I believe it will continue to do so. As much as I
love my second country Israel and my religion, before I am anything, I am an
Two very different countries are struggling to find their
way. Both have governments that appear not to reflect the will of the people.
Israelis want peace. Arabs want peace. Americans want to be left alone.
And in all cases, it will only be when men and women like
George Washington, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin arise to make peace that the
voice of the people will be heard on both sides of the Jordan and both sides of
To the GOP, I say, “grow up. Compromise. Stop acting like
To Mr. Netanyahu I say, “Bibi, tear down this wall.”
I made some errors in previous blogs. Here are some
The Western Wall is NOT the Holiest
place for Jews. It’s the Temple Mount above.
The Ramot Resort is in the Golan not