Cheap Seats 2019
Holiday in Israel - 04/24
By Rich Trzupek
Although I am a veteran of travel to the Middle East, I made my first visits to Israel and the West Bank this year. My trip coincided with Bibi Netanyahu’s re-election, an event that appeared to please most Jewish Israelis I encountered, but left many Palestinian Israelis I met discouraged, though apparently resigned. Aside from that, I found there are at least a couple of lessons America could learn from this plucky little nation:
Security doesn’t have to be stupid – In the 18 years since 9/11 Americans have grown disappointingly accustomed to security procedures designed to appease political-correctness as much as they are intended to safeguard travelers. Few of us find it strange when a sixtyish grandmother walking with a cane is plucked out of line in the airport for a random screening. Such procedures are necessary if one is to avoid the heinous accusation of “racial profiling.” Sure, statistics tell us that the people who commit terrorist acts are most likely to be young males who trace their ancestry or origin to nations that are historically dominated by the Arab, Persian, Egyptian and other, non-Jewish, Middle Eastern demographics. That does not mean that we as Americans get to utilize that certain knowledge in any meaningful way when implementing security measures. We have, as a nation, extended the principle that justice must be blind to embrace the idea that those officials searching for miscreants among us must operate with blindfolds firmly in place.
Israel harbors no such delusions. In part, at least, I believe it is because a nation so small, surrounded by so many actual and potential enemies Israel cannot afford to divert scarce resources in search of phantom threats like our sixtyish grandmother. Israeli security focuses on what matters – on the most likely threats to their security – and do not apologize for doing so.
I am an American white male in my upper 50s. I was touring Israel and the West Bank in a large bus, as part of a church group totaling 20 individuals, all Americans, all white, whose ages ranged from upper 50s to upper 80s. We passed through several checkpoints as we transited between Israeli-ruled territory, Palestinian-ruled territory and jointly-ruled territory. In no case was our bus stopped for more careful examination. The border guards, whether ethnically Jewish or Palestinian consistently waved us through the check points, recognizing what TSA is prohibited from admitting: The profile of our particular group posed no threat to anyone.
Further, both Israel and the Palestinian authority clearly covet tourist dollars. In a post-Intifada Israel – which is (hopefully) where we have now arrived, tourist dollars matter an awful lot to everyone. Ergo, it is in everyone’s best interests to ensure that the tourists with most dollars feel secure when visiting the Holy Land. The tourists with the most dollars are generally Christians from the Americas, Europe and Asia – at least judging by the products that the innumerable souvenir vendors hawk throughout the Holy Land – so nobody wants to antagonize or make any of them feel unsafe. Common sense in natural pursuit of common cents thus overwhelms any self-destructive politically-correct tendencies that otherwise infect the region.
Maybe – just maybe – the Palestinian problem is about culture? Our tour guide was a marvelous fellow; an ethnic Palestinian Christian Israeli whose pride in both his religion and his cultural heritage was plain to see. He was knowledgeable, friendly and sincere. Understand that he is an Israeli citizen, subject to Israeli law and able to vote in Israeli elections. No ethnic Jew, no matter his or her religious affiliation (unless he or she convincingly converted to Islam) would be accorded the same privileges in any Muslim-ruled nation. None-the-less, he was not a fan of the Jewish majority in Israel, believing that they treated the Palestinian minority as second-class citizens.
And, to be sure, most of the Palestinian sections of Israel we saw were run down, with garbage strewn about, the roadways and buildings in disrepair. They did not compare well to many of the sparkling, well-to-do Jewish neighborhoods. Our guide and some of my fellow travelers believed that racism must be at play. Clearly, the wealthy Jewish part of the nation wasn’t sharing riches or opportunities with the Palestinian.
I understand how an otherwise intelligent and sincere person could come to that conclusion. Indeed, I might have reached the same conclusion myself, had it not been for the fact that I have traveled in other parts of the Middle East and observed that this sort of squalor is all-too common throughout the region. The reason, in my opinion, is not about religion nor is it about race. It’s about culture. Much of the Arab world is still very tribal. The rich princes and sheikhs control most of the riches, allowing some to dribble down to the masses, but not much. In a cities like Jeddah or Doha, the contrast between the well-tended, opulent palaces of the tribal big shots and the hovels of the masses is striking. And while I have no special knowledge that big shots of the Palestinian authority are playing the same sort of game in Israel, it would not surprise me a bit to find out that is the case.