Monday, September 7, 2009

Trey Grayson On Israel

Recently I raised the issue of how the candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate view America's relationship with Israel. Both Dr. Rand Paul and Secretary of State Trey Grayson favor low taxes, limited government and an end to the profligate spending that fuels our deficits. That economic conservatism is necessary to win the GOP primary, but it is not, in my view sufficient. As voters, we must understand how the candidates view foreign policy, including our alliance with Israel as Iran develops its nuclear weapons.

Dr. Rand Paul's campaign responded by stating that he supports Israel: "Israel is a friend of America, he supports all allies with the United States." His statement was unequivocal but bereft of nuance or details. It's early in the campaign, and we look forward to hearing more from him on this and other issues.

Trey Grayson responded by noting that he has been to Israel twice and has written extensively about his travels. Grayson's "Face Book" friends received a contemporaneous diary of his 2008 trip to Israel with AIPAC. Plainly, Grayson has spent considerable time researching and reflecting on the Mid-East. The diary is 20 pages and makes for fascinating reading; his campaign should include it on his website.

Below is an excerpt of his 2008 diary, unedited for typos and grammatical errors -- just his raw reaction to what he saw in Gaza:

This part of the country (or at least the part closer to Gaza) reminds me of Kentucky. It has
rolling hills and is very agricultural. . . .Like many of the small towns in Kentucky, they are struggling with a lack of industry. Of course, there is one big difference. In Kentucky, our farmers and factory workers don't need to be on the look out for rocket and mortar fire from their neighbors.

I want to give you some background on Gaza itself. Gaza is a heavily populated area with 1.5 million residents squeezed into a small urban area on the Mediterranean Sea. We visited a lookout point near a
reservoir. We were outside of sniper range but inside of rocket range. In fact, there was scarring along the wall of the reservoir from a Qassam rocket that landed only a few hundred feet from where we
were. There was an older outlook closer to Gaza, but some Canadian visitors were shot at by snipers. As a result, no one goes to that lookout anymore.

From the lookout, you can see Israeli spy balloons. There also unmanned drones that fly around point cameras into Gaza. Quite often, Israel cameras will see terrorists using children as human shields
near the rocket launcher, or shooting the rockets from civilian areas, or both, to deter Israel from retaliating.

Prior to Israel's 2005 unilateral disengagement from Gaza (more on that in a second) 6,000 Israelis lived in settlements on Gaza. There were also 20-30,000 IDF troops in and around Gaza. After
disengagement, all of the settlers were moved out and their homes were bulldozed by Israel (so the Palestinians could build what they wanted on the land), and all troops withdrew to the borders. Israel still
sells power and fuel to the area, and it controls the borders tightly. This is called "disengagement". (Of course, the terrorists use the electricity to build rockets that they then fire at the Israeli power
plant that produces the electricity for Gaza residents as well as the southern third of Israel, but I am getting ahead of myself.)

Originally, the area was controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and this was viewed as a test for the unilateralism theory championed by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The idea was that, absent a strong
Palestinian government or authority with which to negotiate, Israel would set its own borders and hope that the Palestinians would be able to govern themselves and that this was the best way to achieve peace.
The hope was that this would help to reduce the suicide bombers and rocket attacks by removing Israeli control over the area. After all, this was rationale the Palestinians cited for such attacks.

Five days after disengagement, the first Qassam rockets fell on Israeli soil, even before Hamas forcibly took control of Gaza in 2006. When Hamas took control, it has only worsened. In fact, until last week's cease-fire, rockets were fired almost daily. When a rocket is fired, bomb sirens start to sound, giving you about 20 second at most to get to seek shelter

Qassam rockets are more or less hand made using agricultural products that everyone has as explosive materials. They have essentially no accuracy, which isn't a big deal for someone wanting to inflict terror
and have about a ten-mile range.

Israel erected a fence-only security barrier (no solid walls) along the border in 1994 to little protests. It worked well, with almost no penetration by suicide bombers. But the barrier doesn't stop snipers or rockets.

Grayson described meeting a young Israeli mother who had lived in Gaza. What she told him so disturbed him that it kept him awake at night:

At the lookout, we met with a woman named Tamar. She has a PhD and used to live in a settlement with her husband two children (both boys). She liked the settlement. It had good schools, was quite safe
and a good quiet place to live. The Israelis and Palestinians usually lived in harmony and had joint festivals. After disengagement, she and her family moved to Kibbutz Carmia, just a few miles outside of
Gaza. In theory, unlike most residents in the areas around Gaza, she and her family could move because they are professionals. They choose not to (more below).

Here are a few of Tamar's stories:

While in Gaza, before disengagement but after the Second Intifada started, the daughter of her next door neighbor daughter was murdered by terrorist. She and her boyfriend where shot while walking down a
street. The girl tried to hide behind a bush, but the terrorists tracked her down and shot her several more times until they were sure she was dead.

Also, while in Gaza, her husband slept with rifle next to bed, and they had a room with all concrete rooms, a "safe place". When the moved to Carmia, they moved to a trailer provided by the Israeli
government. Once they moved in, her son started patting down the walls, Tamar was wondering what he was doing. Once he had patted all the walls, he turned to her and said Mom, there is no safe place here.
The walls are too thin.

Even though she moved out of Gaza, because of the fear of rocket attacks, Tamar can't go to bathroom when the kids are home. She won't be able to get out in time and get the kids to the bomb shelter. She
has to give her children baths, so she will be near them if the bomb sirens go off. She has to shut off the faucet when soaping so she can hear the alarms. Her older son's epilepsy has gotten worse since

One day, she was driving with her two children and the bomb sirens started sounding. Knowing she didn't have enough time to get out of the car, unbuckle the kids and get to a shelter in the twenty or so
seconds that you have once the siren sounds, she instead put her car in park, unbuckled her own belt and covered up her kids to shield them, thus exposing herself. Her younger son, who might have been four at the time, asked her why she did that. She tried to deflect by saying she loved her sons and just wanted to give them a hug. He wouldn't buy it, and said, "I know why you did that. Don't lay over
me next time."

When she and her husband were deciding whether to move away from Qassam range, her younger son (age seven) urged them to stay. He said, Mom, when we moved out of Gaza they moved in. If we moved out the kibbutz, they will move there. If we move to Jerusalem, they will try to force us out. So let's stay and fight. That's what they did.

After speaking with Tamar, we drove through the town of Sderot, which has been the victim of thousands of rocket attacks over the past few years. Several bus stops had concrete bomb shelters. The town looked
pretty much like any other small town in Kentucky, but the residents have a very different life. The residents are growing more and more angry with the Israeli government for not doing more to help their
plight. They feel like the government doesn't care about the folks in the rural areas as much anyway, and if rockets were falling closer to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, more would be done.

Most Israelis know that military action is imminent. The status quo cannot be maintained. They know that many IDF soldiers will die. And while many Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists will die, so will
many civilians. And the international community will be blame
Israel for those deaths. If only those "experts" could talk to Tamar.

Grayson's travels included visits to the Knesset, meetings with people who briefed President Barack Obama on his trip to Israel and tours of ancient archaeological sites. When Grayson describes his visits to the Gethsemane and other places pivotal to Christianity, he conveys the spiritual significance to him personally.

It is therefore fitting that Grayson ends his travelogue to Israel by quoting Psalm 122: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

No comments: