Burbank is about 15 miles from the office in downtown LA that I was going to (the evil Latham & Watkins law firm) and on a good day it takes about half an hour door to door from the Burbank airport. As I was in the cab heading down I-5 the news on the radio portrayed an ever deteriorating situation in Egypt and that really struck me, in light of the view from the airplane window a few minutes earlier.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an unabashed Zionist and I lived in Israel and served in its army for three years after I graduated from college in 1986. Most of the time I was in the army was spent in the north of the country near or in Lebanon but the last few months were spent at the southern tip of the country, along the Egyptian and Jordanian borders on the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba.
At the time, there was a fairly nasty war still raging between Israel and Lebanon (unfortunately, it still exists and the sons of my fellow early 20s soldiers are now serving along the Lebanese border, fighting the same war we were fighting) but there was calm in the south. There was a peace treaty in effect with Egypt and a peace treaty with Jordan was all but in existence (it took a few more years to be finalized and signed, but the relations were good).
There was a massive surrender of territory by Israel as part of the Egypt peace treaty (the entire Sinai peninsula, an area larger than the remaining land of Israel) and we were told that if Israel would give up more land in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and withdraw from Lebanon, there would be peace on all borders.
The peace with Egypt wasn’t perfect but it was workable. I sometimes joke that I invaded Egypt in 1988 and there is a bit of truth to it. Some tourist companies in Eilat, Israel (not far from the base I was stationed at in the south) used to have gambling cruises on the Red Sea, departing from Eilat, cruising south past Aqaba, Jordan, along the Israeli sea border with Egypt and turning around before hitting the western border of Saudi Arabia (it may sound like a large area but it’s just a few miles).
I went on one of these cruises one weekend on leave from the base. I didn’t realize that the cruise went past the curfew that the base had so as we were still heading south along the Egyptian border I asked the ship’s captain if there was a way to get me back to Eilat. He obliged with one of the lifeboats (a tiny little thing with an outboard motor like you’d see on a small lake) and one of the ship’s staff to drive the boat. It was dark, to the west was Egypt, to the southeast Saudi Arabia and to the north Israel and Jordan. I had no idea where we were, precisely, and trusted the guy driving the boat to get me to Eilat. Sooner than I expected, he runs the boat ashore and tells me that the lights that we could see in the distance were Eilat and he had to leave me at this spot. Oh, by the way, I was in uniform at the time.
So I got off the boat and started walking up the dirt road to the lights. I reached them to find out that they were not Eilat. Rather, they were the border between Egypt and Israel and I was on the Egyptian side. In an Israeli army uniform. Luckily, after the Egyptian border guards recovered from the shock of seeing an idiotic Israeli soldier wandering in their desert, they laughed at my story, asked me for cigarettes (which I had, and which I gave them eagerly) and called a cab from Eilat to pick me up.
There are a few points to this story.
First, the distances in the Middle East, in regards to Israel, are much smaller than most Americans would imagine. You can easily cross a border by mistake. And the populated areas are even closer than that. Going back to the Burbank to downtown LA point, the distance from Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean shore, to Jerusalem, which is where the West Bank would start under certain proposed peace plans, is about 35 miles.
That’s Burbank to Torrance.
It’s also the same distance from the border with Egypt to Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv to the Lebanon border? About 75 miles. That’s roughly Burbank to Riverside.
We’re talking distance within the metropolitan Los Angeles area that encompass the entire area of the populated areas of Israel.
Second, we have always been told that if Israel would simply give up more territory there would be peace.
The events taking place in Egypt make clear how useless a peace treaty is. Consider this quote from a recent news story:
Two effigies of Mubarak dangled from traffic lights. On their chests was written: “We want to put the murderous president on trial.” Their faces were scrawled with the Star of David, an allusion to many protesters’ feeling that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, still seen by most Egyptians as their country’s archenemy more than 30 years after the two nations signed a peace treaty.
If the people of Egypt hate Israel so much that even now, 30 years after a peace treaty was signed, they are invoking the symbol of Israel to express their hateful rage at their own leader, and consider Israel to still be their “archenemy”, what will happen when Mubarak falls and someone who is more in line with the people’s will comes into power?
If you lived in downtown LA and the people of Riverside were hanging you in effigy and calling for your death would you want a pretty strong wall around LA? Would you be willing to give up land that provided you with a security barrier in exchange for a piece of paper that clearly has absolutely no meaning and provide no security?
The third point, and hopefully the one that ties together the story and the previous two points, is that there is no peace possible right now in the Middle East. You can’t demand that one party give up something that can never be recovered (land) in exchange for the other party’s unenforceable pledge of peace.
This isn’t California to Iowa type of distances we’re talking about. It’s not even Los Angeles to San Diego.
I wish I had a better answer for how to bring peace to the Middle East but the one thing I know is that making an already difficult to defend land mass even smaller, with nothing more than a pledge of non-violence by a government that is hated by its own people in return, does not work.
I’m pretty sure that the answer is a generational one. We Israelis (and I count myself as one, even though I was born in the USA and live in the USA and only spent three years living in Israel) are not angels. The one thing I know, however, is that we don’t hate our neighbors. We’re afraid of them, and we sometimes do terrible things as a result of fear, but I assure you that if Israel disarmed there would be no hesitation on the part of the Arab countries to destroy Israel.
I’ve seen children’s TV shows from Arab countries that teach kids that Jews are evil and the enemy. No such thing exists in Israel. If you want peace, you have to first stop the indoctrination of hate, wait for the current generation to die off and then hope that the next generation can develop into peace loving people.
But handing over land to someone who is hung in effigy by his own people with the symbol of your people splattered on his corpse is not going to work.