April 5, 2009
A Country under SiegeBy Lauri B. Regan
Imagine living in the State of New Jersey and being surrounded in all directions by enemies desiring your destruction. Imagine that the 22 states closest to the borders of your state despise you and all of New Jersey's inhabitants with such intensity that only your total annihilation will satisfy their reason d'être, animal instincts and blood curdling desires.
To the North, you are unable to properly farm your land due to mine fields left behind by New Yorkers who invaded your state but were successfully driven out by soldiers whose survival instinct was more powerful than the hatred of their enemies. Here and there a cow steps on a mine field and blows itself up and on the rare occasion, a human makes a similar mistake. Bus stops are uniquely built for the soldiers who patrol the area and army posts dot the skyline, looking out for a possible incoming missile or a random terrorist aiming to cross the border and cause havoc in your home town.
To the South, the bus stops are even more unique; they are bomb shelters. A sole parachute flies in the sky above your town carrying a camera overlooking the Delaware border. Its purpose is to spot in-coming rockets and provide a 15 second warning known as "Color Red" so as to afford adequate time to get to shelter before the destruction of another home -- and another child's psyche.
And to the East, once again army posts dot the landscape overlooking the border to Pennsylvania. Many years ago a peace settlement was made which had the unfortunate result of leaving behind refugees who are not welcome in Pennsylvania and have become the fuel that warms the fire of hate for the existence of your state.
Welcome to the State of Israel. A country smaller than the State of New Jersey, bordered by enemies from every view, over every hill top and abutting many of its cities. A country surviving through the sheer determination and strength that only a people tested time and again, decade after decade, century after century and millennium after millennium can understand.
I have just returned from ten days in Israel -- not enough time to see the entire country but more than enough time to gain a new found respect, admiration and love for its people. People that are open, friendly and warm, welcoming and thrilled that you have come to visit their country. And, more than anything else, they are patriotic.
Liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist, religious or secular, Israelis have one thing in common -- survival. Since gaining their independence, Israelis have been in a constant struggle for their survival and that of their homeland. With their success in thwarting attack after attack by enemies unprovoked and aggressors motivated by hate and evil, they should have gained the respect of the citizenry of the world. Instead, they have been demonized beyond reproach. They are the world's scapegoats, continually blamed for the lack of peace in the region that only their enemies have the ability to achieve. But they are undeterred.
One Israeli said to me, "I am educated. I have been taught to hate the Arabs but if they come up to me and say to me, ‘I want peace,' I would say to them, ‘Here is a piece of my land. Let us be neighbors.'"
Unfortunately, the Arabs do not approach Israelis and say, "I want peace." They say, "We do not recognize your right to exist. We will not rest until your country has been destroyed and you are gone from our land."
And so instead of walking the streets of Israel's cities touring art museums and shopping, we visited the Golan Heights riddled with shell casings, mine fields and Syrian bunkers. We walked past Mike's Place, the beachfront restaurant in Tel Aviv, at which a suicide bomber blew himself and three Israelis up and wounding countless other innocent victims. We traveled to Sderot, the town bordering Gaza that has been the recipient of thousands of Qassam missiles shot by Hamas. And we looked over the mountains to the border of Lebanon and the site at which three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped several years ago and later returned in coffins.
The list is endless and during the course of my travels, I did not meet one Israeli that did not have a personal story to tell:
¨ The photographer at my son's Bar Mitvah that simply could not speak of the atrocities that he witnessed while fighting in Lebanon and Gaza;
¨ The videographer who worked for the Associated Press during the last Lebanon war who found it painful to walk with us through the forest in the North, through the burnt out trees struck by Hezbollah's missiles - missiles he dodged in those same woods just three years earlier;
¨ The bus driver whose face had gone through reconstructive surgery as a result of a stone breaking his cheekbone and eye socket while a soldier many years before;
¨ The guide in Sderot who showed us the piles of Qassam missile remnants (including one dated just two weeks prior to our arrival) and his neighbor's home severely damaged by a recent rocket attack, and who jumps at the sound of any abrupt noise;
¨ And of course, the children -- my children's pen pals -- who are too scared to leave their homes, who have nightmares, and who only know a life filled with terror.
While parents in the United States raise their children to study hard, go to college and get a good job, parents in Israel raise their children to love their country, become good soldiers and be prepared for war. In America, we pray that when our kids turn 18 and leave the house, they won't drink and drive, take drugs and get involved with the wrong crowd. In Israel, mothers and fathers pray that when their kids turn 18 and join the army, they will live long enough to return and have children of their own that will one day defend their homeland.
In America, citizens have a choice as to whether to join the military and defend their country. The liberal elite look down on those patriotic enough to make that choice and they refuse to demonstrate the respect and reverence earned by those opting to make the military a lifelong career. (Recall Hillary Clinton telling "General Betray Us" that his reports would "require the willing suspension of disbelief.")
In Israel there is no such choice. A soldier remains in the reserves until age 45, likely to be called to service at some point in time. Soldiers are respected and are the embodiment of patriotism and survival. They don't question their destiny as they pay tribute on a daily basis to all that preceded them and that gave their lives in order that they would have a land to call home. Veteran's Day in Israel is a day of thoughtful reflection, not parades and shopping sprees.
Unlike the lack of resolve shown by Americans in the wars of the last few decades, Israelis will continue to show resolve and will survive. They don't live in fear of the next missile; they build bunkers and walls to protect themselves. While driving through the hills just outside of Jerusalem, we looked upon the bunker being built to protect the Israeli Prime Minister and members of the Knesset in case of nuclear attack. In such a case, I was told that the projected scenario would include the loss of approximately 600,000 Israelis, but Israel would survive. On the other hand, the continued existence of the attacker is questionable; the Mideast would be forever altered.
Israelis are survivors. Immediately bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, surrounded by 22 hostile nations, and existing in a world that despises its existence, Israel is flourishing. I left Israel confident that notwithstanding the odds, the lack of support shown to date by the Obama administration, and the fact that only 13% of American Jews have stepped foot on Israeli soil, Israel will endure.
A gaze at the magnificent landscape -- desert converted to farmland, crumbling Syrian bunkers, the ruins of Masada -- covered with army posts and check points, concrete walls and barbed wire fences, all erected to deter terrorist attack, provides the basis of understanding that this tiny plot of land, under siege since its inception, will never be destroyed by the myriad of enemies set on its destruction.
Lauri B. Regan is an attorney at a global law firm in New York.