Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee
Israel: Peaceful shores, Historical wonders, Unresolved Conflicts

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Part One of Israel: State of Contradictions

While Palestinians seek United Nations’ recognition as a state, I am in Israel getting a first-hand look at this complex State of Contradictions.

The American Jewish Committee invited me and other African-American leaders, including elected officials from Atlanta, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., to the Holy Land.

We are meeting with scholars, educators, health and medical experts, and military and political leaders to get a better understanding of the conflict that literally divides Jews, Christians, and Muslims in a state that is controlled by the majority – Israeli Jews. About 7.5 million people live in Israel. Three-fourths are Jews and 21 percent are Arab-Muslim according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

We visited Shaul Goldstein, the mayor of a West Bank Jewish settlement that just celebrated 44 years of occupation in the rural outskirts of Jerusalem. The West Bank is home to mostly Arab families (Palestinians) and Jews. Palestinians control two of three areas identified as A, B, and C. 

During our meeting Friday, Goldstein paused to check his pager for updates on protests related to the historic United Nations meeting. He received a report of protestors throwing rocks at cars with Israeli license plates. It happened just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the UN Assembly as he submitted a letter asking for formal recognition as a state.

Goldstein explained why he says - as a direct descendant of Abraham - he has a right to the Holy Land and the town of Gush Etzion. The anniversary of Gush Etzion’s survival is no small feat. Goldstein recalled how his predecessors were forced out of the West Bank twice early in the 1900s. 

We also met with Ibrahim Abu Shindi who is proud of his Palestinian heritage and says his family has lived in Jaffa, Tel Aviv since 1673. Yet, the Arab Muslim has been detained and questioned for hours at Israel’s airport, although he travels to teach tolerance. Peace is a part of Abu Shindi’s daily existence. He is the Director of the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa. While there, we ran into Peter Yarrow, a member of the famed Peter, Paul and Mary folk music trio of the 1960s.

The “profiling” of Arab Muslims is a way of life. To keep suicide bombers at bay, guards check purses and bags before people enter open-air markets and malls.  Soldiers carrying high-powered rifles are also interspersed on the street and at the Old City of Jerusalem, home to ornate churches, mosque, and temples. They preserve a walled stretch of holy ground that includes Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus took while carrying his cross to his crucifixion.  

From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israel is trying to build a reputation that doesn’t center around national security. Keep in mind, there is a mandatory draft for both male and female Israeli Jewish students once they turn 18 and finish high school.   

On the coast in Tel Aviv, tourists enjoy a robust nightlife, upscale hotels, and beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Travel southeast to Jerusalem, and you can’t miss an impressive new light rail, which just opened in Jerusalem earlier this month.

Thanks in part to a mini-Silicon Valley, Israel is third behind U.S. and China for its companies listed on the NASDAQ. Tech stars like venture capitalist, Jonathan Medved live in Jerusalem. His company launched the world’s first paid video ringtone serviceWhile Israel’s unemployment rate is 5 percent, it also has some of the highest taxes in the world.

In the Palestinian-controlled Ramallah, West Bank, an eco-friendly olive oil industry thrives there. We planned a trip to Ramallah, but organizers of the trip canceled it. They say permits were not being issued to allow visitors inside the city as residents hit the streets to rally support for a Palestinian state.

Permits, tunnels, walls, fences and checkpoints control the comings and goings of people traveling in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the many towns, known as settlements, that make up this region.

Still, I had the opportunity to speak with Palestinians. Some expressed their disappointment with President Obama and Middle East leaders. Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi told me he “felt very sad that both (President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu) lost opportunities to go before the world to be peacemakers. I was disappointed with Obama. He missed another opportunity to lead because he is worried about his reelection. I think that this is sad because he contradicts the values that have been raised by Americans.”

One thing is clear, both Palestinians and Jews agree President Abbas’ bid for a peaceful Palestinian state won’t be successful without broad support from other countries and religious leaders.

Next Blog, “We Are Not A Religious State” – Part Two of A State of Contradictions.

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