Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Neighbors of Israel still resist peace

This op-ed by Alan Stein was published in The New Haven Register on April 20, 2010.

On the Jewish calendar, today is the sixth of Iyar, when Israelis celebrate Israel Independence Day, commemorating the re-establishment of the Jewish state after two millenniums. It's an appropriate time to consider its achievements while surrounded by repressive regimes.

Civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz places Saudi Arabia first among those regimes. For starters, it practices apartheid in gender, sexual orientation and religion.

It prohibits women from working alongside men or driving cars. It imprisons and executes gays and lesbians. It prohibits open religious observance to all but Muslims. Even during the first Gulf War, when America was saving the Saudis from Saddam Hussein, U.S. soldiers were prohibited from openly praying. Saudi Arabia doesn't permit Jews to live there.

The moderates among Palestinian Arabs - led by Fatah and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - insist that their future state be cleansed of any Jewish presence. They've made it a crime to sell land to a Jew, punishable by execution.

The most pro-Western of the Arab countries, Jordan, bars Jews from citizenship or owning property, although Jordan encompasses nearly 80 percent of the territory designated for the Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration.

Among these backward-looking, repressive regimes sits Israel, a liberal, Western-oriented democracy that shares most of America's core values.

In Israel, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Arabs and dozens of other national and religious groups live as citizens with equal legal rights. A Druze member of the Knesset, Majallie Whbee, served as Israel's president for a few days three years ago while Israel's acting president was visiting America.

Members of all these groups own homes and use the same parks, beaches, stores and government services. One Israeli recently described it as a stew.

I just returned from two months as a volunteer there and experienced the blending of different ethnic ingredients.

I volunteered peeling potatoes and dicing carrots alongside Arabs and Muslims in a soup kitchen. I spent time volunteering at Laniado Hospital, founded by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. Its doctors, nurses and patients coming from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, and all are treated with respect.

I visited Connecticut's Partnership 2000 twin, Afula and Gilboa, where Connecticut's Jewish federations have funded programs for Arab-Jewish coexistence. The mayor of Gilboa, Danny Atar, every day goes into the Palestinian Authority to work with the mayor of Jenin to improve the lives of Palestinian Arabs.

At Ha'Emek Medical Center in Afula, Arab and Jewish doctors work together, also. During the worst of the Arab terrorism launched after Yasser Arafat rejected peace and the establishment of an independent Palestinian Arab state, He'Emek equally treated both terrorists and Israeli victims, sometimes putting terrorist and victim in the same room.

I visited Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which also has an integrated staff and serves everyone. I saw the reinforced checkpoint outside the bomb-proof, concrete-reinforced emergency rooms, where even Magen David Adom ambulances are searched before they are allowed to pass.

I saw the special VIP emergency room for patients who require bodyguards, to which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was taken when he suffered a stroke. When Arab terrorists survive their attacks and can be saved with medical treatment, they are taken to the same emergency room and given the same level of care as Sharon.

This is not to say Israel is perfect. It shares some of America's less admirable traits, such as the resentment of immigrants. I observed that in Arad, where 5 percent of the population consists of refugees from Sudan. Yet, Israel is also the only country in the region willing to offer some refuge to those fleeing Sudan, although the refugees share their Muslim religion with the Arab states.

On the 62d anniversary of its re-establishment, Israel still faces misguided and malicious attempts to delegitimize and destroy it, but dreams of peace, to which its neighbors are not reconciled.

Alan H. Stein is Connecticut president of Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting. He is on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New Haven.

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