By Shay Attias
CEO and Founder of the ISR Council for P2P Diplomacy
In recent weeks, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other radical Islamic organizations have flaunted, for all the world to witness, one savage act after another, in many cases with Americans as their victims. These acts contrast with President Obama’s vision of the “New Middle East,” expressed with much fanfare in Cairo back in 2009 in front of the Muslim Brotherhood representatives. Little did we know then that President Obama’s reaching out to the Islamic world would elicit such blind violent hatred of any person or nation representing Western civilization. What was presented at the time by President Obama as a turning point in America’s relationship with the Islamic world has evolved into the greatest threat to American and Western civilization since the dark days of World War II and the rise of the Nazis to power. Instead of an “Arab spring,” we got a dark, cold “Arab winter,” which has nothing to do with the people’s good.
Seemingly good intentions have evolved into security- and defense-related nightmares. To meet the challenges that Islamic terror organizations pose for America, Israel, Europe, and all other nations belonging to the free and democratic Western alliance, they must all join hands and respond in a united effort. They must defeat these “forces of darkness.” Avant-garde President Bush used this description after 9/11 and was unjustifiably portrayed as an “irrational and irresponsible leader” by his critics. Well, he was right.
For many supporters of Israel, visiting the core areas of the conflict such as the Golan Heights (which was proposed to be given away in 2008 by Prime Minister Olmert), Western Jerusalem, or Judea and Samaria is “hard to schedule” or simply “impossible.” However, “touching the ground” and lots of people-to-people communication, with no filters, no news interpretation, and no political bias groups is the only way to understand. With Judea and Samaria at the forefront of the war of delegitimization against the State of Israel, and with the communities of the Shomron at the forefront of the Palestinian Arab terror war against Jewish communities in Maale Adumim, Judea, and Samaria, visiting crucial places in the Shomron enables one to better comprehend the complex reality of the Middle East. In many cases, the many “givens” that we have been taught to believe can be reexamined and exposed as wishful thinking.
The first given that begs to be reexamined concerns future coexistence between the communities of the Shomron and the Palestinian Arabs. The Shomron region encompasses a geographical area equal to 12% of the State of Israel. Much of the land’s open space can sustain Jews and Arabs in communities alongside one another and not instead of one another. This is the true meaning of coexistence and a reality in the Shomron.
The second given that begs to be reexamined has to do with the Gaza disengagement of 2005. History proves that the idea of “land for peace” is deceptive and unfounded. When Israel voluntarily withdrew from the Gaza Strip, uprooted all of the Jewish communities, and relocated them to other parts of Israel hoping to get peace in return, we got missiles in return, thousands of them, raining down on southern and central Israel.
Every once in a while, one encounters a true friend of Israel who stands out from among the many supporters of Israel, whether from the Republican or Democratic parties. While Operation Protective Edge was destabilizing the entire Middle East, Bruce Blakeman, a Republican-Conservative-Independence nominee for Congress, and a candidate in New York’s 4th Congressional District, accepted an invitation by the ISR Council for P2P Diplomacy to come and “touch the ground” of the bombed Israel of July 2014—when 3,356 missiles hit Israel in less than 30 days.
We were exposed to every face of Israel, starting at Judea and Samaria, then Tel Aviv, Golan Heights, S’derot and Ashkelon, and Jerusalem. Blakeman met many Israelis, politicians, and leaders, from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. As a longtime supporter of the State of Israel, Blakeman visited Israel while the missiles were still raining down. For him, visiting these communities at this time and meeting with local leaders and residents was not only a sign of solidarity with these brave residents, but also an opportunity to understand firsthand how Islamic terror organizations such as Hamas have evolved into mini-terror states that boost military capabilities that threaten not only Israel, but all Western democratic nations, including the United States. Upon visiting Israel, Bruce encountered residents who, over the years, have combined the essence of Zionist idealism in partnership with the best of modern life, creating dynamic communities that takes pride in their Judaism and the pioneering of the Jewish villages of modern Eretz Yisrael.
The blending of veteran Israelis with a constant stream of newcomers from a variety of backgrounds and countries demonstrated that the residents of Israel’s ancient cities were able to retain a communal spirit despite the state’s difficult formative years. My new friend Bruce Blakeman visited wineries, organic farms, olive-oil presses—all industries that existed in the region 2,000 years ago and have been reintroduced as Jewish farmers and communities have grown and prospered.
Bruce Blakeman was visibly touched by the many encounters with the people of southern, northern, and central Israel, conveying to me between stops that “what’s important are the people and not the politics and therefore we must meet and listen with them first.” How true and how important it is that this message should become known to our many supporters wherever they may be. Bruce is a true friend of Israel, representing so much of the common bond between the United States of America and the State of Israel. This tour was a call for sane civilization to proclaim that Israel’s challenges are our challenges, the challenges of Western civilization. We need more leaders like Bruce. Come and judge with your own eyes—it’s the best and only way! v
Shay Attias is the former senior director for public diplomacy at the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel and today serves as CEO of the ISR Council for P2P Diplomacy. The P2P Council has branches around the world, including in the U.S., Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, China, and Mexico, and plays a crucial role in enhancing people-to-people communication. To contact Shay, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.