Tuesday, October 17, 2023

First Time in the Middle East : Egypt, Israel, and Gaza

A long time ago, in the early 90's, I crossed from Epygt into Israel several times at the North Sinai Rafah Border crossing.  When you leave the Egyptian Rafah Crossing, you can see straight into the Gaza Strip.  You must immediately take a right and travel a road between Egypt and Gaza in a kind of no man's land.  Once you travel down to the Kerem Sholom Israeli Checkpoint, you enter Israel, where Egypt, Israel, and Gaza meet.  

After leaving the checkpoint on the road to Tel Aviv, you follow the Gaza Strip Fence; you can look into Gaza.  It looked like a war zone with bombed-out buildings, wrecked cars, and trucks with a lot of sand and desert emptiness.  This was on the left; on the right was Israel; the contrast was incredible.  There were crop fields, forests, and orchards.   We passed through small European-style towns along the way.  The Israeli side was a virtual garden of Eden; to the left was the apocalyptic despair of Gaza.   I will always remember that contrast.   I can still visualize it like it was yesterday.  

Those towns we traveled through sat within view of Gaza and apparently were the ones attacked this past week.  Sadly, it stirred memories of stopping for lunch or a drink while chatting with the town's locals before our final push to Tel Aviv.  I remember Israeli soldiers standing at bus stations, men and women with weapons headed to their Armed Service Drills.  Children were playing in schoolyard playgrounds.  It was normal life like you see in America.

In the early 90s, I spent 9 months traveling throughout Egypt and Israel.  My duties as an Army logistics officer required these travels.  It really was mundane work, but I did have a lot of interactions with the Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian people.  When I was off camp, I wore civilian clothes to blend in with the local population as much as possible.  It was a good duty, one of the highlights of my Army career.  

What I learned in that 9 months is it's a complex situation.  I had some understanding of one that I now realize is clearly limited.  The two religions there fail to mix, like Oil and Water.  Sure, you can shake it up, and it looks mixed, and it seems to get along for a while, but it always separates.  There is a never-ending cycle of violence, reprisals, and vengeance.  I'm sure more sons will see their fathers killed, which will continue this hate for another few generations.  

In Jerusalem, at the Western Wall, the foundation of the old biblical 2nd Temple.  Some call it the Wailing Wall or Herod's Temple.  This is one of the most sacred sites in the Jewish Religion.  On the other side of the Wall sits the Dome of the Rock Mosque.  This is where Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended into heaven.  One of the most sacred sites in the Muslim religion.  Some in the Jewish faith believe the mosque must be torn down and the Temple must be rebuilt before the Jewish Messiah will appear.  This is how deep the conflict goes.  Jerusalem, which should be an international city, is the intersection of the world's three major religions and all the conflict that goes along with it.

Mostly, these people get along with each other and want nothing but peace and stability.  It is the extremists on both sides that keep the conflict going.  The lack of a viable Palestinian state contributes to the violence by creating a power vacuum filled by extremists/terrorists.  Until a Palestinian State is created, we can continue to see more violence.