Learning, not quaking, in Israel

January 26, 2009
I'm in Israel.

My wife, Janie, and I are enjoying the camaraderie of a group of central Indiana community leaders on a study mission sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council. This is the ninth iteration over the last 20 years that we, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis, have hosted for non-Jewish representatives of business, religious, not-for-profit and educational institutions.

While in Israel, as part of a frenzied agenda, we'll meet with political leaders of ambassador rank, journalists, military personnel, Palestinians and others in an effort to achieve a fully balanced presentation. We'll have some leisure time. I always look forward to the sights and smells of the old city of Jerusalem, the seat of three of the world's great religions. The physically fit among us will climb Masada.

There is a lot to learn in the Middle East. I agree with Indiana University law school graduate William Walters, who published an article in U.S. Exchequer (fall 2008) in which he writes, "the Middle East has never been more important to the U.S. economic interests than it is today." In an open letter to the next secretary of state, he cites oil, the war in Iraq, and the investment of petro dollars and recommends, "you should bring with you a large map of the Middle East. Unroll it on your desk and keep it there until your last day in office."

We are traveling the country with stops in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and points in between. Are we safe? I feel more comfortable buying a Mac David on Ben Yehuda Street than a Big Mac at 38th and Illinois streets. We'll stay out of Gaza.

But Israel might not always be a safe place to travel. The country is narrow. One can stand on a hill on the West Bank and look across the entire breadth of Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. There will be no safe haven in Israel if Hamas gains control of the West Bank or if Gaza rockets gain sufficient distance.

Israelis and Americans have a shared value system. Israelis have defended themselves in numerous wars since becoming a sovereign nation in 1948, but their goal has always been peace with their neighbors. The Israeli reaction that began Dec. 19 is a result of frustration and fear over the continuing bombardment by many thousands of rockets launched from Gaza to vulnerable cities in the south of Israel. These rockets are mainly manufactured in Iran and smuggled to Gaza through tunnels in Egypt. They wreak havoc not only on physical structures, but also do profound damage to the lives and psyches of Israeli children.

Under Hamas, the Gazans have paid a price for their belligerence. Was the aerial bombardment and tank warfare a proportionate response? I hope to learn more on this issue while we are in Israel. Answer these questions: What if missiles rained on south Texas from Mexican border towns? How long would it take the United States to put an end to this threat to its citizens? If diplomatic initiatives failed, would the United States use military force? What if Hamas were in your neighborhood? Neither the United States nor any other country would allow such danger within its midst or on its border. It is a wonder Israel has waited so long to act.

Peace initiatives are under way, but I have no reason to believe a peace process can survive more than a few precious months. The goal of the Israelis is simple: no more rockets and no more arms smuggling. The goal of Hamas is simple as well: no more Israel. The goal of Iran, the patron of Hamas: extermination of the Jews and destruction of the West.

Our mission group might learn that there is more at stake than they might have realized.

These are interesting times in the Middle East—but then again, times have been interesting here for thousands of years. 

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.com.

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