President Barack Hussein Obama has announced that he is now willing and interested in coming to Jerusalem. My first thought was to beg him not to come. Jerusalem is a very old city and, to be honest, not well planned. Some cities and schools cancel for snow days; we have big-shot days. These are days when foreign visitors come to our capital and in so doing, honor our country while incapacitating the city for hours.
Generally, we don’t mind it. We accept it as part of living in this beautiful city, the capital of our country. But now I hear Obama may want to come to Israel. My first thought was to tell him not to bother. I have no faith in his politicking. I have no belief that his grandstanding is good for Israel. I have heard his message and am not interested. He says he wants peace for this land. But only on his terms, and his terms are dangerous for Israel. So, my first thought was to tell him not to come; my second thought was to tell him what to see.
I have no doubt the government will take him to the Western Wall, there to snap his picture looking serious and devout. They’ll take him to Yad VaShem, there to look sad and contemplative. But these are not the places I would have him see, not the people I would have him meet.
If you want to really understand Israel, President Obama, here are the places you must see:
- Masada at dawn, as the sun rises above our country. Masada is a part of our psyche and it would do you good to understand this. Stand up there and look around at that desolate mountain top and understand our history, our connection, our determination and yes, our desperation. We will not surrender our country to those who would destroy not just the State, but the culture and religion we cherish. We are Jews. We have stood on this land and chosen to die rather than be enslaved by foreign and alien values.
- Nitzan. This is where the people from Gush Katif have settled temporarily. Little more than a refugee camp, Nitzan is the single best example of why unilateral moves are meaningless and destructive to Israel. Nitzan is the fulfillment of Ariel Sharon’s dream of peace and I have little doubt that another Nitzan will be the result of your peace dream.
- Golan Heights. Before you pressure Israel to surrender the heights, see the land of Israel laid out before your eyes, there in the valleys below. Understand the strategic significance of the pressure you would place on us and the murder and damage that the Syrians could so easily achieve if this small but important land buffer were ever to be placed in their hands.
- Maale Adumim. Come see the wonder we have built from barren desert lands. See the thriving mall, a city of more than 40,000 people, the incredible flower beds and palm trees that blow gently in the wind. Come see the schools that fill this city, for thousands of children of all ages and understand the absurdity of a line drawn in the sand 62 years ago; one that lasted only 19 years and has been meaningless for more than 40.
- Abu Ghosh and Daliat HaCarmel. Come see these thriving cities: one Arab, one Druze. See that we can live with our neighbors, when our neighbors choose to live with us. See city streets filled with Israelis shopping and visiting and understand that it is not we who are the obstacles to peace here.
- Hadassah Ein Kerem, Shneider Medical Center, Soroka Hospital – it doesn’t matter which one. Go to one of our hospitals and greet the patients there. Try the children’s wards and see the love our nurses and doctors give to all our patients – Arab and Jew alike; Palestinian and Israeli. Think, President Obama – think of one hospital in any Arab country where you are likely to find anything that compares to the wondrous generosity of an Israeli hospital. You can’t, of course, and you likely never will.
- Drive along the Security Fence: You will learn something amazing, something you probably don’t know. The Security Fence, for most of its distance, is not a wall at all. Much aligned and misinterpreted by many, the Security Fence becomes a wall only in areas where the proximity between Palestinians and Israelis puts Israelis in danger. There, in those areas, you will see how close Arab homes are to the wall and perhaps someone will point to the place where Israelis have been injured by rock-throwing, and perhaps, perhaps, someone will mention little Noam and the exact place where the little 7-year-old girl was when she was murdered as her father drove. Her 3-year-old sister was badly injured in the attack, along with her brother and grandfather. And if you go there, though I doubt your security forces would allow it, maybe you will understand why the wall is sometimes a fence and the fence is sometimes a wall.
- The Temple Mount: I’m sure they will take you to the Western Wall, clear the place so no one will see you except for that all important photo-op looking up to the heavens beside the wall, or stuffing a piece of paper into the crevices of the ancient retaining wall of our holiest site. But I’d rather they take you up to the Temple Mount itself. From there, see the freedom of religion the Arabs have up there and more, notice that it is one of the few places in our land that have been declared Judenrein – Jews can only go up there at certain times of the day, their every move limited. Not a single prayer can be said up there on our holiest of holy sites lest we inflame the anger of the Arabs. This is the people you would have us make peace with, President Obama – a culture that cannot even tolerate the whispered prayers of another’s religion.
- Kayaking: By now, after these many heavy sites, you must think we are a most serious nation, President Obama and maybe you too need a break. So go kayaking on the Jordan River – we all do it in the summer and early fall. It is our relaxation, our fun. But even here, there are things for you to see. Look at the people and how they love this land, how they marvel at it beauty and take whatever time they can to hike, swim, walk, climb here. Watch how the people call to each other – though most have never met. They will help you if you need it, steer your boat in the right direction, fish out an oar or fallen hat. If you forgot plates for a meal, ask someone and if they have extra, they will give you. Matches, even food. If you see a group of soldiers, watch how people come up to them and offer them cold water, snacks, smiles. Watch Obama, watch a people who have a connection beyond any you could ever imagine.
- Eilat’s shoreline: I doubt they’ll let you go snorkeling, though we have some amazing underwater sites, but just stand on the shore and gaze towards Jordan. Look at the crystal clear waters. This is another of our greatest treasures and another place we flock to for vacation and relaxation. Across the water, you’ll see a huge Jordanian flag flying over the Jordanian city of Aqaba. It was a gift from the people of Israel. Notice how close the Jordanian city is, close enough to get hit by rockets aimed at us. Close enough to see Egypt, from where the rockets were fired. Look there in the distance – not so far, but a world away. That’s Saudi Arabia over there. This is such a small geographical area and yet it is so packed with history and reality. When you want to start drawing lines on a map, maybe seeing how close we are to our neighbors might have some impact.
- Mt. Herzl Cemetery: This is one of our military cemeteries here. For you, ask them to close a section and go by yourself. Look at the names, look at the years they died and calculate their ages. This is what this never-ending war has cost us. We do not need you to preach to us the importance of peace. We live it, we face it. It haunts us and devastates us. We want no more of our sons to die. We want peace more than you. Your telling us that this is the time is an abomination because we know you are wrong. You are wrong because you are too stubborn or blind to accept that one nation cannot make peace alone. And we are alone, Mr. Obama, more alone now that you are president.
- Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: No, I know that your security forces would never let you go there and yet, I wish you could. For one simple reason. Stand there before the graves of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rifka, and Leah. Stand there and understand. This is our land. We were given it by God and even you can’t take it from us. Abraham bought the land where he is buried – it is probably the oldest documented real estate deal in history. He bought that land to bury his wife and his children, in the land that God gave to us. You don’t have to agree. You are a dot in the history of man; long after you are gone, we will be here in this land – as we always have been, as we always will be. Go to the grave on Abraham and maybe there, finally, you will understand. Yes, they built a mosque on Abraham’s grave, as you would likely have them do near the grounds of the World Trade Center, but we as a people have outlived the ancient ones and the modern ones. You can come as a friend or you can come as an enemy. You can come as a Christian; you can come as a Muslim. It makes no difference why you come or when. It matters only that we will be here – always.