I’ve been to Israel four times. The first visit was a vacation in 2015. While many Americans experience Israel in a group during an extended tour, we traveled alone and booked day guides or specific tours. We started in Jerusalem, spent a day in Masada and the Dead Sea, spent the Sabbath in Tiberias and ended the trip in Tel Aviv.
As Israel finds itself at war, I find myself thinking of that first trip to the Holy Land.
Our guides had different perspectives. There was a secular Jew who took us to lunch at a Palestinian restaurant. He also took us by cab to the Mount of Olives whence we walked to the Old City and ended at the Western Wall. The City of David guide was a hardcore Zionist, while the guide who drove us from Jerusalem to Tiberias took us to Capernaum and brewed us coffee at the Sea of Galilee.
The guide at Masada did not glorify the mass suicide of hundreds of Jews. He wondered if perhaps many of the victims would have preferred to live — even if that meant enslavement to the invading Romans — but were forced to commit suicide. To our surprise, he compared what happened in Masada to the plight of the dead in Jim Jones’ Jonestown.
I saw a country rich with people who, like Americans, have differing views about the role of government and of religion in statecraft.
I am guessing that after Hamas began its butchery, there was little daylight between Israeli Jews across the political spectrum when it came to their assessment of Hamas.
If these terrorists wanted to terrorize Israeli Jews, they succeeded. They also succeeded in bringing Israeli Jews together.
I won’t point fingers in this column about the $6 billion ransom payment for five U.S. hostages or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul scheme. Neither of those deeds would matter if Hamas wanted peace.
The question of what Palestinian leaders want is now settled.
After 9/11, there were questions in the United States as to whether there would be more terrorist acts against Americans and if Islam would embrace extremism. Over time, I had begun to believe that the hatred against Israel could soften and Israelis could be accepted among their Middle Eastern neighbors.
That was the hope that Donald Trump fed when he began his first foreign trip as president in Riyadh. His second stop was Jerusalem.
It was a bold move that could have ended with President Joe Biden shepherding a pact between Israel and Saudi Arabia, as the president was trying to do. Hamas thugs apparently feared that outcome, and so they slaughtered innocents.
After 9/11, there were some apologists for the al-Qaida attacks — people who said Americans should work to understand the outrage that sparked the plot to kill thousands of innocent people. It was a fool’s errand; no good can come from such barbarity.