Talk about US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week being the “opening shot” in his plans to close the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians is frightening. I’m not scared of peace, but I remember the very real shots, stabbings, car rammings and other brutal Palestinian terrorist attacks that have accompanied all similar diplomatic efforts since the Oslo Accords literally blew up in the mid-1990s.
I can’t second-guess the US president. I’m prepared to be surprised, pleasantly or otherwise, and I’m prepared for traffic jams in the capital, although his itinerary seems to be a work in progress.
I liked the now-discarded idea of Trump going to Masada to give a speech. As the late prime minister Ariel Sharon used to say, paraphrasing lyricist Yankele Rotblit, “The things you see from here, you don’t see from there.”
Standing among the ruins of Herod’s fortress, you get a different perspective of Jewish/Israeli history. It is here that nearly 1,000 Jews decided to commit suicide rather than fall into Roman hands. Here, Israeli soldiers swear the oath: “Masada will not fall again.”
When Masada was still part of the schedule, I was reminded of the first visit to the country of the Dalai Lama, as a guest of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, which I covered in 1994. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader climbed Mount Yoash, near Eilat, from where Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia can be seen.
“When you look down from the sky you can’t see borders,” he proclaimed. “From this I conclude that borders are a mental creation – sometimes troublesome, but in the mind. Borders are not important – although I, of course, am concerned about the border with China.”
Borders, like beauty, are apparently in the eye of the beholder – although Trump and the Dalai Lama probably don’t have very much in common other than concerns about China.
Trump is giving the Knesset a miss, but is scheduled to deliver a speech at the Israel Museum. No matter what is said, it will lack the same kind of impact that the backdrop of Masada or standing at the podium of Israel’s parliament would have made.
The president’s snatched visit to the Yad Vashem also lacks depth. As one commentator put it, a 15-minute visit to the Holocaust memorial and museum is barely enough to sign the visitors book and put a tick on the been-there-done-that list.
As I noted in a recent column, I would prefer to see foreign dignitaries going to the City of David archeological site adjacent to the Old City to get a true feel for the local history. The Palestinians might be insisting that Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration in 1917 talking about a Jewish homeland, but at the City of David you feel that, if anyone is owed an apology, it’s the Jebusites, defeated by King David more than 3,000 years ago when he made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish people.
Obviously, if US officials are having a hard time describing the Western Wall as part of Israel, even though Trump will be visiting its hallowed stones, they’re not going to include the City of David. And perhaps that’s part of the problem: The US is reluctant to declare even western Jerusalem part of Israel (hence the fuss over the possible embassy move from Tel Aviv); Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hesitant to state his redlines in any future peace deal; and the Palestinians have been playing a dirty – deadly – game since the 1960s.
If Palestinian leaders threaten terrorism every time they don’t get their way, either they are still primarily running a terrorist organization or they don’t have control over the terrorists among them.
The election on May 14 of Tayseer Abu Sneineh as Fatah mayor of Hebron is a case in point. The fact that he was one of a group of convicted terrorists who murdered six Israelis in 1980 (he was released in a prisoner exchange a few years later) should not have made him an attractive candidate. It should have ruled him out as a candidate altogether.
And anybody pushing Israel and the Palestinians toward a renewed peace process needs to take into account that, until Fatah and Hamas can sit down together, no agreement with Israel is going to be possible. For now, they can’t get as far as holding joint elections.
Reports that Trump gave Russia sensitive Israeli intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria obviously have not helped the atmosphere ahead of the US president’s trip. They certainly don’t inspire confidence among America’s allies in the region, all of whom are fighting the dual threat of Iran and the spread of Sunni extremism, including ISIS.
The true horrors of the Middle East have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; witness the latest reports of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s torture-chamber prisons and crematorium.
THE STARS and stripes are being raised along Jerusalem’s roads in honor of the presidential visit. Israel’s blue-and-white flags with the Star of David have been waving in the breeze since Independence Day earlier this month and will remain until after Jerusalem Day next week.
It’s been 50 years since Israeli soldiers, against the odds, beat the best attempts of the surrounding Arab armies to destroy the Jewish state in the Six Day War; five decades since east and west Jerusalem were reunited.
My Jerusalem includes the Western Wall and the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem and the City of David. For the “ordinary” visitor who wants to see and feel Jerusalem, I have more suggestions than a presidential trip can include.
Take a walk through Mamilla Mall; visit the Mahaneh Yehuda market; enjoy the Old City. See mosques, churches and synagogues.
Listen to the sounds. Sniff the smells, both the aromatic and the pungent.
Taste the dishes that are making Israeli cuisine famous. Take a ride on the light rail.
Visit the Islamic Art Museum, the Bible Lands Museum (and this week I paid my first visit to the Museum of Jewish Music).
Go to the First Station, the old railway station that is now a complex of restaurants, stores and outdoor entertainment. Wherever you go, you will see Jews and Arabs working or relaxing alongside each other.
Wander down Hamesila Park’s railway tracks that have been turned into a long promenade and cycling path, connecting Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. This is how peace is made. Take advantage of the old bus stops that have been transformed into free libraries with books in different languages. Notice the children playing in the many new fountains and pools.
For a great view of Jerusalem – and its history – climb to the top of the Tower of David Museum. Find the perfect day to visit the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo, where natural coexistence is evident as Arabs and Jews enjoy themselves side by side.
The leopard might not lie down with the kid, but anything is possible at a zoo that receives food for the animals from the traditional priestly tithes.
This is the Jerusalem worth seeing, worth protecting. It’s not perfect, but it’s worthy of our dreams and prayers. And it will be still standing long after the names of the presidents who passed through it are history.