Israel's Success Should be Copied not Despised


I took a trip last month, against the advice of friends and family, to Israel. I spent ten days, safely returned, and had a great time. I went because I had never been there before, and, of course, like almost everyone, I was curious about the "Holy Land.” I am also an avid traveler and such a trip was long overdue. But none of these explained the primary purpose for going for the timing of this journey was peculiar indeed. But I felt compelled to go, to send a small message that Israel was not forgotten - not by me, at least, nor by many others.

And when I arrived, I realized how wrong the general impression was back home, how overstated the argument not to go was. For I had the immediate and reassuring sense that Israel was fine, battered somewhat, but not reeling, in fact quite secure. When I peered out the window of my hotel in Jerusalem, on Jaffa Street, I saw the crowded streets, busy department stores, and restaurants. One hardly had the sense that there was any problem at all. The Israelis continued living and engaging in their usual activities, taking precautions, but otherwise giving no indication of being fearful or intimidated, not of terrorists, not of scud missiles, not of anything. They were concerned, of course, about the various threats and about their economy, but also undaunted. Their determination was apparent by speaking with them and by walking around and seeing with one's own eyes. One could readily observe the traffic, the general cleanliness and sanitation, the excellent schools and hospitals. I saw the world class universities and museums. I walked through the lush forests and groves, the vineyards and flower orchards. I drove past and very much enjoyed the date-tree plantations, and some of the more than 200 million trees Israel has planted in the last fifty years that have transformed the desert into a garden ("...And the desert shall bloom...”). One was also aware that this tiny nation leads the world in an array of high-tech industries...

That Israel so outdistances its neighbors in the Arab world is one further measure of their stamina and fortitude. These are nations, by the way, that face no existentialist threat, are not involved in war, do not see 60% of their budgets eaten up by defense and foreign debt, and are not themselves the target of worldwide condemnation. They possess far greater resources, land, and populations than Israel. Yet, by any parameter (per capita income, literacy, infant mortality, life expectancy, education, social welfare, health care services), the Arab world lags embarrassingly behind not just Israel, but much of the world. Israel has managed to build a powerful and modern Western state, with an active cultural and political life, and a post-industrial economy. Their Arab neighbors, on the other hand, are poorly educated, live in poverty, and enjoy virtually none of the rights and freedoms held by Israelis.

Yet their corrupt regimes waste no time fomenting hatred against Israel, as if Israel were the source of all their problems. They stir the flames of extremism through their state run media - for the purpose of diverting attention from the wretched conditions of their people and their oppressive governance. The struggling nations of the world, and especially the 22 Arab states, should ask themselves how Israel has brought about this modern miracle in just fifty years since the birth of their young nation in 1948. How they have converted deserts into gardens, how they have produced wealth and opportunity for its people, how they have created democracy and freedom in a region famous for violence and repression? And upon unraveling the mystery (perhaps with Israel's assistance) - struggle with every resource to emulate it - instead of undertaking to destroy the single fragile bloom of freedom that exists in their stricken quarter.

The Middle East, lead by Israel, could easily become a center of tourism and development, a magnet for investors, a prosperous and emerging region. It could, if only it would, assume its rightful place among the other developed nations, a model of religious ecumenicalism, a tourist wonder, and a world leader in an array of industries and scholarship. Israel represents the greatest chance for the Middle East to reinvent itself, to extract itself from the Dark Ages. The critical first step is for the Arab world to make peace with the reality of a Jewish sovereign presence in its midst, and then conduct relations with it as it would any other neighbor.

Is this a fantasy of mine? I hope not. Perhaps America's liberation of Iraq will begin the movement toward such an age. In any event, I left Israel very much reassured. The resilient spirit that has helped Israel endure its many previous trials remains fundamentally sound and unbroken. Israel is, indeed, a living miracle, part of everyone's spiritual and cultural inheritance. It is safe, and it is beautiful. There are no crowds currently, and they could use your help. Go see it sometime. You will love it.



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