Recently, I was part of an educational tour to Israel for Pacific Northwest Progressive Leaders, sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The trip helped me gain an in-depth understanding of modern Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship and gain much deeper understanding of Israeli politics, society and culture. This was a very important time to visit as the United States and Israel confront growing uncertainty in the region and seek ways to advance the peace process. Through on-site visits, I had the opportunity to learn about innovative Israeli approaches to international and domestic issues. We also toured religious sites in Jerusalem, and the Sea of Galilee, and participated in strategic surveys of Jerusalem and the Israeli borders with Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.
This intensive educational tour helped explore critical policy and security issues affecting both Israel and the United States. The program included discussions with current and former Israeli government officials, Palestinian Authority representatives and leading academics and journalists. The trip helped me understand the geo-political issues of Syria, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Hamas, the role of U.S. and recent actions by President Trump to pull out of Syria, writes Ajay Jain Bhutoria.
Traveling to Israel changed me. In the span of eight days, I toured holy sites in Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee, took part in Hanukah festivities, and spoke to government leaders.
This intensive educational tour helped explore critical policy and security issues affecting both Israel and the United States. The program included discussions with current and former Israeli government officials, Palestinian Authority representatives and leading academics and journalists.
We held discussions with young entrepreneurs, cybersecurity leaders, cannabis innovators, president of Boeing Israel, Israeli-Arab minority kids going to school together to build a new future.
Most people reading this article are already aware of the major issues surrounding Israel, most notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In no way do I condone the use of violence to resolve a dispute, especially one that has caused so much anger, controversy, and pain around the globe. I believe that the majority of people living in this area—the people who are in no way representative for actions carried out by ruling parties or by their ancestors—are united in their desire for one thing. Peace.
While in Israel, I met leaders on both side of the conflict in order to gain a more balanced and nuanced view of the challenges and dangers that both groups face. Besides learning more about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I also realized that Israel is not the dangerous place that many of my friends and acquaintances imagine it to be. The issues that Israel deals with are, in many ways, like those faced by other modern-day nations such as the United States. Among these issues are racism, social problems, and security. In terms of day-to-day safety, Israel is as safe as most U.S. cities, albeit with occasional exceptions.
My first destination was Jerusalem, where I spent time Walking through a city that is considered holy to three of the world’s largest religions is nothing short of a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. While in Jerusalem, I had the chance to visit sites that were revered by Judaism (King David’s Tomb, the Western Wall, the remains of the ancient temple), Islam (the site of Muhammad’s ascension to heaven, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Buraq Wall—the Islamic name for the Western Wall), and Christianity (the road which Christ walked to his crucifixion, the site of the Last Supper, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
While in Jerusalem, I spoke with members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) on a variety of topics including U.S.-Israel relationships, domestic issues of Israel, peace process, health insurance, economic, social and justice, equality, and immigration.
In particular, Brig. Gen. (Res) former Chief of Counter-terrorism Nitzan Nuriel gave a very insightful overview of the interests and roles of Israel, other Middle-Eastern and Western nations, as well as ongoing conflicts among these countries. He also spoke about options of one-state, two-state and three-state solution involving Gaza, Israel, and Palestine.
Ten kilometers North, in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, I met with Dr. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat who negotiated the Oslo Accords with Israel (which created the self-governing Palestinian Authority) in the 1990s. The mood in Palestine was pessimistic after the actions taken by Trump Administration to move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He discussed his support for a two-state solution, which he said will ensure freedom for the Palestinian people to build their own future, while also allowing Israel to flourish.
I visited one of the communities known as a “kibbutz” barely a mile away from the Gaza strip. This kibbutz is under constant threat of rockets from Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization, Hamas, from Gaza. The deadliest day of the protests was May 14, when the new embassy held its opening ceremony. It fell on a symbolic date for both sides – the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel. That is a joyous day for Israelis, but an event regarded by Palestinians as their “nakba” or catastrophe when they lost their homeland.Life in this kibbutz could often be described as “normal,” except for when Hamas rockets and mortar shells rain down. This happens monthly, and sometimes daily. The people here have, at best, fifteen seconds to find shelter from the rockets and shells when the warning sirens sound. And then there are the flaming kites that have destroyed thousands of square kilometers of crops, houses, and nature reserves over the past two months. When the chaos dies down, the people of this kibbutz return to their daily lives.
I met Saed, the Palestinian Liberation Organization chief negotiator. Saed told me about the violence carried out by Hamas and Israeli forces, as well as Palestine’s recent diplomatic relations with the U.S.—support from Obama, followed by failed talks with Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. ‘Nikki Haley needs to shut up and realize that the Palestinian leadership is not the problem,’ said Erekat according to the New York Daily News. Saed mentioned since the plan to move the American embassy to Jerusalem was announced, Palestinian officials have refused to meet with their American counterparts. I gained a deeper understanding of the challenges that Palestine faced. Speaking to Saed, I offered to speak to lawmakers in DC about their cause and act as a voice for freedom.
My journey to Israel showed me the pressures and challenges that both sides face. I learned more about the serious threats that Israel faces directly outside its borders. I am acutely aware of the discrimination and oppression that the Jewish people have experienced for centuries; my visit to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem was an acute reminder of the atrocities committed against Jewish people only several generations ago. On the other hand, many Palestinians face human rights abuse on a daily basis and live in refugee camps in crushing states of poverty. When I visited the West Bank, my heart broke for the Palestinians I saw who were struggling to obtain basic necessities such as food and water.
No single side is to blame for this. In addition to the Israelis and Palestinians, third parties such as the U.S., Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have all played roles in bringing the conflict to its current state. In the end, the Israelis and Palestinians suffer.
Looking back on my conversations with Israeli and Palestinian figures, I did not get the impression that a two-state solution will happen anytime during the next five or ten years. However, that does not mean that ongoing peace efforts are for naught.
Older Jews and Arabs bear the heavy weight of history in their hearts and minds. Looking forward is difficult for them, since their thoughts of the future are often tainted by the past. But many among the younger generations of Israelis and Palestinians are different. They want to work together. To live together. Most importantly, they want to build a future together.
Donald Trump’s abrupt wrong decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria will be hailed as a victory in Russia and Iran and a betrayal among our ground partners Kurdish and Arab opposition forces that have waged a seven-year war against the Damascus regime and a threat for Israel. This move has empowered Russia, and Iran, giving full control of the region to Iran.
There are still 20,000-30,000 ISIS fighters in Syria alone, and they would regather to gain control in the region in absence of Air Strikes by US forces . Many other terrorist cells are fighting not only in what once was Syria, but also in Gaza, Southern Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and other places. We cannot withdraw from a conflict that is raging still and declare any sort of victory. This is betrayal to our allies and living the control of the region to Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Russia
Trump has discredited the U.S. in terms of its ability to support the Arabs (fighting Assad) and its credibly on the ‘red line’ involving gas warfare.
Although Russian and Iranian forces had already turned the tide of the civil war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the presence of U.S. troops has served as an obstacle to their ambitions and a source of leverage for Washington in any potential political settlement of the conflict.