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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Israel I Saw

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I have always had a fascination for Israel as a nation from my growing up years, most of it has got to do with its intelligence agency Mossad.

It was the story of the young boy ‘Yoselle Shuchmacher’ who was kidnapped by his grandfather and smuggled out of the country, the affair became a divisive factor within the secular and religious Israeli society that got me fascinated with Mossad and Israel as a nation. The Mossad was tasked with the job of finding Yoselle. The Mossad found him in Brooklyn after an exhaustive search.

The other story that had me in awe was the terrible tragedy at the 1972 Olympics which saw the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in the infamous Munich Massacre, Mossad was tasked with revenge. Operation Wrath of G-D was to destroy the Black September terrorist organization which was the perpetrator of the attacks. This was largely successful and most of the principal operatives and terrorists were eliminated.

The Israel I Saw - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Radicalism, Israel, Mossad, Palestine
AJC Delegates at Yad Vashem

In the early 1980s, agents working for Mossad were tasked with smuggling Jewish refugees from Ethiopia to Israel via Sudan. To do so, they set up a luxurious diving resort in Sudan and posed as hotel staff and diving instructors. The agents saw to their guests by day and carried out undercover work at night, which involved picking up refugees in camps in Sudan before bringing them across the Red Sea or airlifting them to Israel. Between 1979 and 1985, the agents managed to save at least 7,000 Jewish refugees. This Mossad operation was made into a Hollywood movie ‘Red Sea Diving Resort’.

The most notable Mossad operation that impressed me was the capture of Adolf Eichmann on May 11, 1960, after years on the run in Argentina, after a long manhunt. Ten days later, drugged and dressed as a crew member of Israeli flag carrier El Al, he was smuggled to the Jewish state by Mossad agents and put on trial. The architect of the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” under which six million European Jews were exterminated during World War II, Eichmann was tried and hanged in 1962, aged 56. The Mossad operatives could have terminated him in Argentina but they did not do that, they behaved strategically. The architect of the ‘Final Solution’ had to be exposed to the world. The people of the world needed to see the real face of the brutality of the Holocaust that Hitler unleashed on the Jews in Europe.

So when the American Jewish Committee invited me to be a part of a delegation as part of their Project Interchange initiative, I did not think twice to accept the invitation. I was thrilled and keen to learn about Israel and its people.

The Israel I Saw - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Radicalism, Israel, Mossad, Palestine
AJC Delegates with Holocaust survivor Berl Schor

During my entire trip to Israel visiting different cities and interacting with different people, I realized one beautiful facet about the people of Israel. That beautiful facet is ‘hope’. The people of Israel are a people of hope. That hope is equally combined with ‘resilience’ to keep moving ahead no matter the adversities they face as a nation of people from different diversity.

Israel is a Jewish nation, naturally, because Israel for centuries has been the promised land of the Jews according to their religious beliefs. I do not understand the problem some people have with it being a nation for the Jews. No one questions the Islamic nations or Christian nations who position their nation based on their religious identities. The evolved and liberal, Islamic and Christian nations do not stifle the religious freedom of people not belonging to the Islamic and Christian faith. So I fail to understand the accusation against Israel or even India for wanting to assert their religious identity as Jewish or Hindu without compromising on secularism and religious freedom of other faiths.

I saw Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christians, and Ahmadiyyas living and working together peacefully. Israel was at peace because the people were at peace. It is not that there is no conflict in Israel. Most nations have religious conflicts. Sometimes those religious conflicts take a turn for violence. In this violence caused by religious conflict lives are lost. The people of Israel irrespective of religion wants to live peacefully and want to grow socially and economically because it is their homeland. Israel is about Jews, Muslims, Druzes, Christians, and Ahmadiyyas even though it is a Jewish nation. I am not saying that some of the minorities have issues in Israel. Of course, they do, some are genuine and some are the often played ‘victim card’ in political parlance. But I do not doubt their commitment for their nation.

The Israel I Saw - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Radicalism, Israel, Mossad, Palestine
With Noa of the Israeli Armed Forces

In fact when we drove down to Palestine, Ramallah to be precise. I interacted with a few learned people from Palestine. The one feedback that stayed with me and it really depicts the promise of Israel, even for the people of Palestine. People from Palestine were opting to work in Israel because of better economic value than working or using their skill sets in Palestine, which has a poor economy.

I see a similar comparison between India and Pakistan. India is thriving economically but the Islamic nation of Pakistan is a failed state on most geopolitical parameters. Israel is progressing, and Palestine is limping. This is primarily because of its political positioning. Israel is a Jewish nation with governance based on secular principles, and Palestine is an Islamic nation that has allowed radical Islam to spread through ‘Hamas’ while Hamas has grown economically the people of Palestine are not economically strong.

The people of Israel want peace and want to protect their religious and cultural identity, they have no intent for violence or hate against either Palestine or Lebanon or Syria. But if there is a threat to their existence, Israel is not going to be a nation that is going sit and watch their nation or their people traumatized or victimized because of radical Islam. Whether it is Hamas or Hezbollah or even Iran, the people of Israel will not allow radical Islam to destroy the social fabric of the nation. They will fight it and make their enemies irrelevant in the long run. Their fight against terrorism is more strategic and more destructive. They do not care to oblige their naysayers who question their methods, they do not care about negative publicity. I guess they use most of those negative newsreels as toilet paper. They have one objective ‘Defend Israel Against All Threats’.

The Israel I Saw - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Radicalism, Israel, Mossad, Palestine
AJC Delegates at the Knesset with Pnina Tamano-Shata

The Abraham Accords are a clear indication that powerful Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates understand the prominence of Israel as a global and surging economic nation. Therefore they are willing to keep aside their religious conflicts and work towards peace and economic stability in the Middle-Eastern region. With the stance and friendly relations between Israel and other Arab nations, the cause of Palestine led by the Islamic radicals will slowly become irrelevant and not important. Palestine will be isolated as a nation and the people will suffer for allowing Islamic radicalism to decide the future of their children. Violence is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and neither is Islamic radicalism. The solution is socio-economic solutions. Israel and Palestine can work together peacefully without violence and leverage the resources of their nations to independently grow in the Middle-Eastern region.

The most endearing aspect of Israel is the youth that dedicates their life to military service, in particular, from the Jewish community. Even Arabs and Christians join the armed forces. Nationalism oozes from the core of their body. Their focus is their nation, they want Israel to economically become strong, they want their people to be mentally, physically, and emotionally strong and they want peace in the nation and the region. They are not one to take a slap on the cheek and offer you another cheek to slap. If you slap them on one cheek, you can expect to get a hard kick on your rear.

In fact, the beauty of the armed forces and their intelligence network is the contribution of women in decisive and tough positions. Women are on par with their men and are sometimes known to be even more lethal in combat.

The Israel I Saw - Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Radicalism, Israel, Mossad, Palestine
AJC Delegates at Haifa Port

Israel is a democracy and they believe in it. The recent demonstrations in Tel Avid against the current Benjamin Netanyahu-led government are an exercise of their democratic right to protest against some policies of the government that some people in Israel do not resonate with. They believe in the future of their nation in their heart and they are willing to challenge their own government through peaceful demonstrations. If there is a war today, these people protesting will don armed force gear and go out to defend their nation, even if they do not agree with some of the government policies.

Israel is not just a nation based on its demography, it is a nation in soul and spirit. An Israeli believes that his or her nation is the promised land. They cherish it, they love it and they will die for it. Being an Israeli is a pride they wear proudly.

I fell in love with Israel not only because of the place, which is beautiful but because of the ‘never say never’ spirit of the Israeli people. On their 75th Year of Independence, I would like to tell my friends in Israel that ‘Israel is truly a promised land’ because being an Israeli is in spirit and Israelis live with that Israeli spirit.

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