Observations of an Expat: Adventures in Israel

December 8, 2017 Asia , Middle East , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Magne Hagesaeter/Banksy photo

 

By

Tom Arms

 

A long time ago—back in 1977—I was invited to Israel as a guest of the Israeli government.

At the time I was the diplomatic correspondent of a large chain of British newspapers, and, despite the Balfour Declaration, the British press was not known for a pro-Israeli stance.

Their reporters seemed more attracted to the wild open spaces and the vast starlit skies of Arabia than the Biblical lands.

I, however, am an American, and had absorbed a pro-Israeli stance through osmosis. The Arabs were in bed with the Reds and the plucky democratic Israelis had seen off repeated attempts to push them into the Med.

When I visited everyone was still arguing about the outcome of the 1967 War in which the Israelis managed to secure the rest of Jerusalem and, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Golan Heights in just six days. It was a triumph and the poster of the year in America was of a weedy-looking Hasidic Jew bursting out of a public phone box while tearing off his Black coat to reveal a superman costume.

But ten years later the world was demanding that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. No, said Israel. We need “defensible borders.” That was the diplomatic mantra: “defensible borders, defensible borders.”

I arrived in the heat of the summer but waiting for me was an air conditioned limousine, a driver and a young Israeli from the foreign ministry. I was his first diplomatic assignment.

After the mandatory tour of Jerusalem we started a week-long road trip with a drive to the Lebanese border. Lots of wire and guards. We then turned south and drove along the Jordan River through the Hula Valley and Jordan Rift Valley.

It was – and still is – a rich and fertile land whose kibbutz farms churned out thousands of tons of oranges every year. As we drove south towards the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, I was shown the Golan Heights that gently rose in the East – the left side of the car. On the western side of the valley there was an almost vertical wall of mountains.

“You can see,” explained my young diplomatic guide,” why we need to occupy the Golan Heights. Before the Six-Day War the Syrian-backed Fedayeen would just sit on the heights lobbing mortars into the Kibbutz below. Thousands of families lived under constant fear of attack and death. It was an impossible situation. We need to occupy the Golan Heights to secure defensible borders.”

I rolled down the window, leaned out and studied the layout of the Golan Heights as the car sped south. I then looked around my guide and through the other window to the mountains in the west.

In all innocence I blurted out the results of my observation: “Have you ever thought that the mountains might be a better defensible border than the Golan Heights;” my guide’s eyes opened wide and his lower jaw dropped. I ignored him and ploughed on. “Think about it,” I said. “You could offer to return the Golan Heights and relinquish the valleys in return for peace and the most defensible borders possible.“ The blood started to rise from his collar.

I added: “I think the international community would be astounded by such a grand gesture in search of a lasting peace.”

The diplomatic mask slipped. The guide exploded. He banged his fist so hard on the leather armrest divider that the driver jumped and nearly drove off the road. “We will never,” he bellowed “relinquish one square millimetre of Eretz Israel. This land was given to us by God.”

I had encountered the intransigence of a national policy based on religion. Political consensus was not on the table. Why should it be? God was on their side.

Unfortunately, the Islamic world believes just as firmly that God backs them. This makes the Arab-Israeli conflict the most intractable and difficult to resolve in the world. Donald Trump’s recognition of the Holy City of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has just made it more difficult.

 

 

 

 

Tom Arms is the editor of LookAheadnews.comSign up now for the weekly diary of world news events.

 

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Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and emailtom.arms@lookaheadnews.com.

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1 Comment

  1. vickie1 December 08, at 13:10

    Between 1999 and 2001, Israeli PM at the time - Barak - was negotiating with Assad the return of Golan Heights to Syria for sustainable peace deal. Guess how it ended.You can say whatever you wish, but it's not God's providence that guards us, but Arab's relentless historic stupidity. As was said of generations of Palenstinian leadership: they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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