Gunfire echoed across the valley between us and the Syrian border. A firefight was raging somewhere in the distance on the other side of the fence. An Israeli tank stood atop a knoll to our left, keeping a watch across the frontier. The landscape at our feet was charred and smoldering, the result of errant mortars that had fallen across the border the day before, starting a grass fire inside Israel but fortunately injuring no one.
There are 16 different militias vying with the Syrian Army for control of Al Quneitra, a border town only a stone’s throw from Israel’s Golan Heights. It’s an area that’s seen bloodshed since time immemorial. Today is no different.
As the fighting rages in Syria, Israel’s official position is one you could call “tactical neutrality.” They have officially refused to take sides in the conflict, though they have intervened from time to time with airstrikes to, for example, stop shipments of armaments from being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon. We planned to focus on the unique challenges a country must face when it is surrounded by enemies.
This trip to Israel was all about borders. Our “Frontlines” team traveled the country from the southern village of Sderot, where homemade missiles fired by Hamas fall on an almost daily basis, to the Golan Heights, which many in the international political elite refuse to even consider as a part of Israel.
We planned to focus on the unique challenges a country must face when it is surrounded by enemies. Because although Mexico and Canada are not existential threats to the United States, the human tide of migrants surging across our borders with them very well could be. The incoming Trump administration could probably learn a thing or two about securing our borders from Israel, which has almost perfected the science of keeping the wolves at bay.
It’s been said good fences make good neighbors. Well, nobody does fences better than Israel, but their neighbors aren’t much for platitudes. Unfortunately, keeping Israel’s people safe takes a lot more than simply locking down its frontiers. And as we found during our trip, some of the most insidious attacks Israel is facing aren’t coming from the armies of Hezbollah and Hamas. They are coming from those who call themselves friends—the U.N. and the United States.
The U.S. and Israel have a long history of mutual support. Currently the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Israel brings America far more benefit than the other countries in the top five put together. (That’s Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Gaza, if you were wondering.) From sharing important intel, to providing a $15 billion market for U.S. goods and services, to offering solid support of U.S. policy in the region, Israel pulls its weight in this relationship.
That’s what makes the actions by the Obama administration all the more odious. Since his first day in office, President Barack Obama has offered our only democratic ally in the Middle East little more than the back of his hand. These range from a steady stream of leaks to the world press designed to hurt Israel’s image, to continued pressure on Israel to cede land to the Palestinians, to even making Benjamin Netanyahu leave the White House via the service entrance.
The pressure by this administration on Israel to abandon more and more land to the Palestinians shows just how feckless the O-team’s foreign policy is. Palestinians will not be happy with a little more land. They’re like the IRS with your paycheck: The answer to how much they want is always “just a little bit more.”
It’s easy to see why Israel is so reviled among liberals. They oppress minorities, persecute homosexuals, regularly bomb their neighbors without provocation, suppress free speech and … oh, wait. Sorry. That’s Hamas. And Hezbollah.
Israel is a democratic, free country that respects diversity and free speech. It shows great restraint to its neighbors, who not only refuse to negotiate in good faith, but refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. So why do U.S. and United Nations latte-drinkers hate them so? Obama’s legacy in Israel will be one of abject failure.
Because they won’t give up. They won’t turn over half their country to people who teach their children that the only good Jew is a dead Jew.
Obama wanted so badly to implement his “two-state solution.” He wanted to claim victory in Israel just like he did in Iraq—not for ending the war, but for stopping it. But Israel did not go along with his plan.
As a result, Obama’s legacy in Israel will be one of abject failure—and unfortunately it will take hard work for the incoming administration to mend the fabric of our relationship with our one true friend in the region.
Back on the Syrian border, a group of wounded Syrian Muslim civilians showed up at the fence, begging for help. Without hesitation, the Israelis rushed them to the nearest hospital, where they were given first-rate medical care … for free. Later, once they had recovered, the Israelis bused them back to the border and released them under the cover of night because of the risk that they would be killed upon returning to their homes if their neighbors knew they had been treated by Jewish doctors.
There is probably no greater example of the contrast between these two cultures—one that would give of its resources even to help those who believed they had no right to exist, and another who would kill their neighbor even for being touched by a Jew.
Our last night in Jerusalem we met with a group of Republicans Overseas for Israel. As a souvenir, they handed out bumper stickers that said “Trump” in Hebrew. It turns out there are more than 120,000 American citizens living in the country, and as we listened to some of them talk about their hopes for the next U.S. president, it was clear their greatest hope is that a Trump administration will be a true friend to the Jews.
And just maybe in the process, Israel can give us some good advice on how to build that wall ….