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Israel , Front Line of the Global Jihad

By Robert Spencer

Israel has become the world’s new South Africa : the villain du jour, the universal oppressor, the whipping-boy of the United Nations. Its foes have even applied the South African concept of apartheid to its policies. The global Left eagerly propagates the view that Israel , which has been repeatedly attacked by its neighbors, is by virtue of its very existence actually an aggressor state. The only free Western-style democracy in the Middle East (with the increasingly shaky exception of Turkey on the northern margins of the area) has received more world opprobrium than the brutal regimes of Assad, Ahmadinejad, and even the lamented (at least by Ramsey Clark) Saddam Hussein.

Boosters of the Palestinian cause routinely refer to Israelis and their supporters as Nazis. In January 2005, Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain reached the apex of moral equivalence. He announced that his group would boycott a commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp: “we have now expressed our unwillingness to attend the ceremony because it excludes ongoing genocide and human rights abuses around the world and in the occupied territories of Palestine .”

Yet although Muslim spokesmen such as Sacranie, the international Left, and many others — including some of the Arabic-speaking Christians with whom I am in daily contact — believe fervently that Israel is the aggressor against an innocent and aggrieved Palestinian people, and that the conflict is wholly and solely about “stolen land,” the facts are otherwise. In reality, Israel is at the front line of the global jihad movement. Ever since the State of Israel was founded in 1948, and even before, it has faced jihadist opposition from groups adamant in their determination to destroy it utterly. Yet I expect that a poll of Americans would find only a tiny minority would affirm that Israel faces the same foe, with the same ideology, as the one the United States has faced since 9/11.

I was recently offered, and immediately seized, an opportunity to see for myself. Last week, I had the chance to:

• Explore the Muslim Quarter and other sections of Jerusalem ’s Old City , the world’s holiest place and largest tourist trap. The ancient streets are barely passable, crowded as they are with tiny shops (all holding pretty much the same inventory, with a few minor variations) in which canny Muslim entrepreneurs sell Christian religious articles to eager Western visitors (“And because I love you like a brother, and see that you appreciate the finer things, I will give you a special price…”). One told me how happy he was to see tourists again, after years of intifada had driven them away.

• Visit and pray at the Western Wall, site of so much human longing.

• Peer into Syria from an Israeli bunker on the Golan Heights . The mountainous Golan is breathtakingly beautiful, although that beauty is broken here and there by the remnants of the 1967 and 1973 wars: bullet-riddled bunkers, rusted hulks of war machines. But most of this has been cleared away, for Israel has no room to spare; virtually every inch of land right up to the present border with Syria is cultivated. In stark contrast sits the Syrian ghost town of Quneitra, which the Syrians have left abandoned as a monument to Israeli atrocities ever since the Israelis withdrew from it in 1974. The international media has swallowed this tall tale as well, despite abundant evidence that Quneitra was in ruins before the Israelis ever got there.

• Travel by bulletproof bus through the West Bank , and inspect the security fence.

• Sleep (fitfully) in a Bedouin tent in the desert, and savor the stark magnificence of the rocky, mountainous landscape.

• Walk through the 700-year-old streets of Safed, modern-day home of, among other things, a notable artistic quarter. In this I was not too far from where Hizb’Allah rockets fell – unprovoked, as was noted even by the United Nations — a few days later near Kiryat Shmona and Metulla.

• Stroll around modern Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

I also had the honor of meeting the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Jerusalem , Shlomo Moshe Amar, and Soviet dissident and heroic human rights activist Natan Sharansky. In the course of Sharansky’s moving address he noted that Israel had again and again aided Christians — at their own request — against Islamic violence and injustice, most notably when the Church of the Nativity was occupied by jihadists in 2002. Yet international Christian leaders, he said, have not responded with similar gestures toward Israel . This is unfortunate in the extreme both for Israel and for Palestinian Christians: those Christians are going to be in for a rude surprise when the Islamic state so many of them are abetting actually takes power, and they find life more difficult for them than it was in Israel . Christians in the Middle East are in a virtually impossible position (which is why they are streaming out of the area). If the support the Islamic agenda, they are signing their own return to the second-class status of the dhimma, as mandated by the traditional Islamic law that jihadists are bent on restoring. If they support Israel , they risk being targeted by the jihadists, who surround them on all sides.

I met a couple who had recently been evacuated by the Israeli government from their West Bank “settlement,” where they had lived and worked for twelve years, and endured daily gunfire from Palestinians since the Al-Aqsa intifada began in September 2000. I met an American who now lives and works on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights , cultivating land just across the Syrian border, in defiance of the danger involved. Like so many other Israelis all over the country, he must carry a gun at all times. I photographed a large, confidently imposing, and clearly thriving mosque near my hotel in Tel Aviv, the very existence of which stands as poignant refutation of the charge that Muslims are oppressed in Israel — especially in light of the glaring non-existence of synagogues in Muslim lands and the precarious existence of churches in them.

Israel is a country at war, a country under siege. Everywhere I went, even into a shopping mall in Tel Aviv, armed guards stood at the entry, searching everyone. Many Israelis with whom I spoke discussed the weariness of the people after decades and decades of war. They said that many, and maybe even a majority, are willing to cut any deal, even one involving giving up half of Jerusalem , in order to buy a peace that they themselves acknowledge will last only a few years.

Yet the game is by no means over. At the same time, there is a tremendous spirit among the people. I saw the greenhouses and agricultural projects making the desert bloom, and the determination of so many not to be intimidated, not to bow in the face of jihad violence. Long may they prosper.

Israel stands virtually alone in the world not only because of lingering antisemitism, but because Palestinian Arabs and their allies have succeeded in convincing opinion-makers that their land was taken illegitimately by Israel, and that they are oppressed there. The facts are otherwise, as I have discussed in a previous article here. The state was established legitimately and with the approval of the United Nations, and even the “occupied territories” were obtained according to what have been universally recognized throughout history as the rules of war. (Or should the United States give up the “occupied territories” of California , Texas , and other Western states? Should Russia withdraw from its “occupied territories” in Königsberg, eastern Finland and eastern Poland ? Should Muslims across North Africa, the Middle East, Iran , India and Southeast Asia withdraw from those “occupied territories” back to Arabia ?)

While I am sympathetic to genuine Palestinian Arab refugees, and with my friends from Ramallah and Jenin, I can’t help but notice the role of the neighboring Arab states in exacerbating and prolonging the refugee problem for political reasons that are ultimately rooted in the jihad ideology. I can’t help but notice that I was able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount Tabor , and other Christian holy sites in Israel , which mean a great deal to me personally, while Bethlehem , under Palestinian Authority control, has become a dangerous place from which Christians are fleeing as quickly as they can. I can’t help but notice that there was no call to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1948 and 1967, when those territories were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively — despite the alleged difference of nationality between Palestinians and Jordanians and Egyptians.

Ultimately, if the nations of the world are interested in defending universal human rights and the equality of dignity of all people, they need to stand with Israel . Misdiagnosis of the problem — that is, the unwillingness or inability of Western governments to acknowledge the motives and goals of the jihadists who want above all to destroy them — has largely prevented this.

Yet as Benjamin Franklin said long ago in a far different context, we must all hang together, or we will most assuredly all hang separately.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of five books, seven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). He is also an Adjunct Fellow with the Free Congress Foundation.