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Your Field Report From Israel

June 7, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

Greetings from the Holy Land! Or more accurately, from Ramat Gan just outside of Tel Aviv, where I have spent the better part of the week touring the Jewish State.
This will have been my fourth trip to this part of the world, and unlike my previous three trips where it was indeed a tour of the Holy Land, this trip was more of a tour of Israel proper. Thus with an admixture of tourist and pilgrim, I will give you my boots-on-the-ground perspective on what is going on in Israel today.
For starters, Netanyahu is one of the more curious politicians in the world — almost Churchillian to a degree. Most all Israelis I spoke with did not like the man, yet simultaneously they all spoke of him as a sort of war hero. Netanyahu was going to be strong in the face of Arab resentment; strong in the face of Iran and America; strong in the face of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Strength was his strength, so to speak, and even liberal minded Israelis with whom I discussed the Israeli security arrangement admitted as such — Bibi was the only person who could protect the country.
Much of this is residual from the old “land for peace” tradeoffs under former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 1999, most notably in southern Lebanon where the old Christian South Lebanese Army (SLA) was cast adrift by events and repatriated to northern Israel after Hezbollah subsumed the old security zone.
Their reward? Iranian-backed Hezbollah stacked multiple rockets bunkers combined with anti-tank traps and showered northern Israel’s synagogues, schools, and playgrounds with rockets. Thus Netanyahu’s prediction that “land for peace” would fail has given him the sort of mystique shared men like Churchill — and thus his popularity in the face of his unpopularity.
For those curious as to how President Trump is viewed in Israel: Outstanding to off the page. Despite what the media would tell you, even foreign tourists from Europe reiterated to a person how the Obama administration destroyed any goodwill that was felt by either Israelis or Arabs toward the United States government. Previously, the Arabs were willing to make a distinction between our government and our people. Today? I am not entirely convinced this is the case.
Here’s another bit of nomenclature that might interest folks. To the Israelis, there are no Palestinians. Palestine, according to the linguistic logic of the Israelis, is a myth — it never existed; there is no Palestinian people. Call them Jordanians or Egyptians if you’d like…but they are Arabs.
One will note that this immediately includes Christian Arabs alongside Muslim Arabs, a distinction when — which raised by this Irish-Lebanese Catholic (my mother’s side is Maronite Christian) the Israelis are polite enough to add the layer of Muslim. But they are very quick to add that Catholics in Nazareth and Bethlehem are quite different from Catholics in Virginia.
To this point, the Israelis are sadly correct. Liberation theology seems to have held a grip over the Christians of the Holy Land for some time, mostly in an effort to show solidarity with Palestinian Arabs against a perceived hostility from Israeli Jews. Even the Israeli Arab parties lean toward the political left. Yet Christians in the Holy Land feel a pincer movement from both sides: the Palestinians do not trust them because they are not Muslim, the Israelis do not trust them because they are not Jewish.
Yet the Christian Arabs do have one ace in the hole — tourism. It is Christian pilgrims that come to the Holy Land with their euros and dollars, shopping in the Old City of Jerusalem and eating alongside the boardwalk in Jaffa. Despite their dwindling numbers and the myopia of the bureaucrats that surround their bishops (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), the Christian Arabs deserve our overwhelming support wherever possible.
Here too is an interesting fact of life in this part of the world. Israelis are quick to point out the differences between the lush and green world of the Israeli side of the security fence in stark contrast to the deserts of Jordan, the unplowed fields of Syria, and the forest of Lebanon. Only in Israel do we find a desert and create a paradise, they say.
To a great extent, the Israelis are correct — much of their agriculture is an engineering feat unrivaled in the world. Their love of things that grow could only be compared to Tolkien’s Hobbiton…only with M-16s and that unique self-confidence that is found among the Israelis themselves.
Thus one might not be terribly surprised to learn about the Israeli view of history. While the Jews were in Israel, the land flourished. Herod the Great built the port town of Caesarea (pronounced Kessaria), which collapsed to ruin after the Jews left. Under the Ottomans, the land was an underutilized desert. The Romans and Byzantines are barely mentioned unless the glories of the legions raised in this area are discussed. Masada — the great Jewish fortress overlooking the Dead Sea — is viewed as something beyond sacred. Even the Kotel where the Western Wall exists is more than just a holy site, but rather a monumental accomplishment of the Jewish people.
If God has not blessed Israel, then how could all of this be, they might ask? Certainly there is evidence for this as this plucky, upstart nation along the Mediterranean has survived her enemies.
Touring the 1973 Yom Kippur War battlefields, the story of how Avigdor Kahalani’s remnant command of 150 tanks held off the Soviet-trained vanguard of 500 T-62s in the final chapters of a battle where the Syrians commanded more tanks than Hitler had at the opening of Operation Barbarossa is nothing short of a miracle.
This Israeli pluck is more than just attitude. To American ears, it can sound rude and undeferential, but once one gets used to it? The Israelis have two highly admirable qualities: integrity and assertiveness. These two things combine into a very low toleration for inauthenticity. Combined, these three aspects have helped Israel create a $1 trillion economy in Tel Aviv — a city which changed dramatically over the course of the last 20 years.
Of course, some things never change. The Old City of Jerusalem remains pretty much the way I found it 20 years ago on my first trip there. Back then, I got to know the Palestinian Arabs and Christian Arabs rather well, viewing their lives and seeing their struggles. This time I viewed the world through Israeli eyes, and found the Israelis not only frustrated with their neighbors but content with the dichotomy.
One thing that struck me rather pointedly was the lack of deference to Americans in this part of the world. Twenty years ago, Americans were greeted with sincerity and eagerness, everyone begging for the chance to make friends and explain that they were open for business. This time around, things felt and seemed different, and I felt almost at pains to explain that Americans have a very bad habit of going around the world solving problems we were never invited to fix. That line seemed to generate a lot of laughter no matter where I went, and thus the crux of the problem indeed.
Once again, Patrick Buchanan’s foresight on American involvement via foreign policy proves both prescient and accurate. Yet for those of us who remain preoccupied with the maintenance and protection of the Christian holy sites and the Christians of the Holy Land? They are safe for the moment, but the discomfort of Hezbollah or Hamas and the inaction of the Palestinian Authority are hostile to peace, especially as their terms for peace consist of a series of no’s. In the end, a series of doubts isn’t a doubt at all, but rather a war footing — one that Americans should cautiously maintain a degree of nonchalance and diplomatic reserve if we are to indeed protect the interests of peace in the region.
Nevertheless, Israel remains a key ally as one of the few functioning democracies in the Middle East, and the Holy Land is well protected under the Israeli security umbrella.
If you do get the chance to visit, drop everything and go immediately — discover for yourself why God chose Israel and bring the Holy Scriptures to life. The spiritual graces will be well worth the temporary expense, I promise.

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First Teachers encourages readers to submit their thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly, either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 or by e-mail to svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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