To understand why the Observer Group newspapers have always been strong supporters of Israel — and find deep fault with President Obama’s Middle East speech last week — we have to go as far back into the written record of history as possible. And that starts with Abraham, a man living in what is modern day Iraq, but before there were Arabs.
In Genesis, God called Abraham to get up and go to a new land. Abraham did and arrived in modern day Israel. Isaac was the son of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and the Jewish people come through his line. Ishmael was the son of Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and Abraham, and the Arab people come through his line. Ishmael was sent away with his mother because of the enmity between Sarah and Hagar, and that is the biblical origin of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Qur’an actually tells much the same story. This conflict is many thousands of years old.
After the Egyptian captivity of the line of Isaac, Moses led the Jews into the Promised Land — again, modern day Israel. Forty years of wandering in the desert ended by crossing the Jordan River into Israel.
God told Joshua at the time: “Prepare to cross the Jordan here, with all the people into the land I will give the Israelites … be firm and steadfast so that you may give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers I would give them.”
That is Israel, a nation of people who have suffered like no other people in the history of the world. After being dispersed by Babylonians and a myriad of other conquerors through the centuries, most Jews settled in Arab and Gentile nations around the world. They were persecuted under pogroms that killed and destroyed families and homes. That long history of misery culminated with the Holocaust in WWII in which six million Jews — men, women and children — were slaughtered by the Nazis and their helpers.
After that climax of genocide, the Jews re-created the state of Israel in 1948 with almost no help from any other country. And ever since, they have been beset on all sides.
Historian Thomas Cahill wrote in his book, “The Gifts of the Jews”: “The story of Jewish identity across the millennia … against impossible odds … is a unique miracle of cultural survival.” More historical context from Cahill: “The belief system we have come to call Judaism is the origin of the worldview to which all Western people subscribe.”
The Jewish people are the reason we believe in one God. “We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street,” Cahill says.
He goes on: “Most of our best words … new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice — these are the gifts of the Jews.”
The Jews need a homeland, and Israel is theirs from antiquity.
More context is freedom. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that is a free democracy, holding free elections with a free media, offering property rights and civil rights to all. None of the enemies surrounding it has any sorts of freedoms. They are run by degrees of tyrants who kill their own people as well as Jews.
See Syria this very day.
It is worth remembering that 21% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, predominantly Muslims, and they are economically better off than their kin in surrounding Muslim countries. Arab-Israelis, including several generals, serve in the Israeli Defense Force. Even 14 of the 120 members of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, are Arabs. Jews have no right to basic survival in Muslim countries.
The difference between the free, diverse, tolerant, inclusive nation of Israel and the oppressive regimes of the Arab nations around them could not be more stark. U.S. policy has long recognized the importance of having a lamp of liberty in the region.
Palestinians have been the pawns of Arab tyrants since the 1940s, used to keep hatreds of the Jews inflamed, and their own internal powers intact. Twice the West has strong-armed Israel into pulling out of occupied territories in Lebanon and Gaza. Both times, the violence against Israel escalated, and that is exactly what would happen now.
The problem is not geographic borders, but the utter failure of the Palestinians to create any semblance of a stable, constitutional government. Instead, they have chosen a terrorist state under Hamas where the vast majority of them accept the killing of Jewish men, women and children.
With all of this as context, it is dismaying to see President Obama push for changes realistically only on the part of free and democratic Israel. Calling for a return to the 1967 boundaries of Israel gives important regions such as the West Bank and Golan Heights back to Syria’s dictators, and narrows the nation to nine miles at one point — about the distance from University Parkway to Clark Road. This clearly imperils Israel’s existence.
Credit Obama for coming around to the Bush Doctrine that he so excoriated as a Senate back-bencher. In 2008, he called the surge a failure and was for pulling the troops out of Iraq. He now holds up Iraq as an example of how democracy can work in the Middle East. He practically quotes Bush now when saying freedom, democracy and economic reform are America’s “top priority.”
Yet in the Israeli case, the president cannot see the chasm between the free, inclusive Jewish state and the tyrannical, intolerant Muslim states seeking Israeli’s death. These are not equal negotiating parties.
The president’s sympathy for the Muslim autocrats, and antipathy toward the Jewish democrats, is hard to understand. In his comprehensive speech on the Middle East, he never mentioned the word Islam. And while he verbally opposes violence perpetrated by the Palestinian terror government Hamas, he requires little of them. It is always the free Jewish state that must give in.
His new policy of preemptively requiring 1967 borders is a wrong and immoral position for the president of the United States. This is a fatal flaw, from a fatally flawed view of Israel and her neighbors.
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