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Why Israel?
Israel - Middle East
Friday, December 05, 2003
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)

Suicide Bomber Blows Up Bus in Jerusalem, 20 Dead."
"Israelis Bulldoze Suspected Terror Hideouts in Gaza."
"Hamas Leader Vows More Attacks to Come."
We wake up to headlines like these almost every day. Imagine living them. Israelis and Palestinians inhabit a world that seems trapped in rage and violence, with no way out. For Israel, the troubles began with its birth in 1948; ever since, the Jewish state has been targeted by Middle East neighbors for annihilation.

But Israel has more than survived. It has flourished as the region's sole democracy, a dynamic and prosperous nation.

There has been one constant throughout Israel's existence: America's unyielding support. That commitment has come at a price. Our country is condemned by many in the Arab world for its close ties to Israel. Stop supporting the Israelis, they say, or Arab hatred of America will only grow – and Americans won't find peace anywhere in the world.

You hear echoes of that refrain here at home. This past fall, candidates for the Presidency got into heated arguments over our Middle East policy. One suggested we shouldn't "take sides" in the dispute between Israel and her neighbors. Some critics go further. Why not scale back on our support to get rid of what some see as an albatross?

Without question, we are very generous to Israel: $720 million a year in economic aid and $2 billions in military aid is real money. And even Israel's strongest supporters in America don't agree with every policy pursued by the Israeli government. Yet, at the end of the day, I know what Israel stands for, and what its survival means to the world. I know why we care so deeply about the fate of this tiny nation, no bigger than Massachusetts.

Israel is a strong and loyal ally in a region of the world that is vital to us – a region under siege by radical Islamists. But the more profound tie between our countries is a moral one. We are two democracies whose alliance is rooted in common values. Like our own Founding Fathers, Israel's founders understood that their mission rested on an idea: that the Jewish people would no longer live under the yoke of tyranny, discrimination and fear. Instead, they would raise their families in security and freedom in a land of their own.

No other people anywhere have suffered so much, for so long. After the Jews lost their original homeland to Roman conquerers, they spent two millennia living in exile, scattered across the globe. But they kept alive their dream of Israel, celebrating each Passover holiday with the prayer, "Next year in Jerusalem."

We all know how the persecution of the Jews culminated in Hitler's "Final Solution" which led to the massacre of six million Jewish men, women and children. The Holocaust underlined, in the starkest terms, the moral basis for Israel's founding.

Like America, Israel was fragile at its birth. It is a democracy surrounded by 22 Arab monarchies and dictatorships. For the first three decades of Israeli statehood not a single neighbor recognized its right to exist. Many still refuse to do so, and some, including Iran and Syria – and, until recently, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization – have vowed to destroy it.

Israel endures because it is a land of quiet heroes who have been tested again and again. They have fought five wars against hostile Arab countries, in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982. They fight a different kind of battle every day, against the constant threat of terrorist attacks. More than 600 Israeli civilians have been murdered by terrorists in just the last three years.

Yet, somehow, Israelis cling to the hope of peace. They showed it in their repeated attempts to make peace with their neighbors, which did not bear fruit until 1979. Even then, it was only the "cold peace" of the Camp David Accords with Egypt. They showed it again in the 1990s when they signed the Oslo Accords, a framework for Israelis and Palestinians to live in harmony. In the end, neither of these efforts freed Israel from Arab hatred and terror.

Not even Israel's stunning offer of Palestinian statehood, made by Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000, led to a breakthrough. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat rejected Barak's proposals, and the bloody conflict carried on.

Is there any hope for the latest plan for the Middle East – the "Roadmap to Peace"? Perhaps. Polls show that the Israeli people are willing to make difficult concessions for peace, including dismantling some Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But the Roadmap will go nowhere until the Palestinians decide to end terrorism against Israel. The continuing savage attacks on Israeli civilians show that the main obstacle to peace is not the Israeli government, but a corrupt Palestinian leadership.

Terror has no place at the negotiation table. No nation can allow terrorists to chart the political course of its people. The Israeli people understood the truth of this long before it was brought home to Americans on September 11, 2001.

On a recent visit to Israel, I stood in a square of the historic Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, hallowed ground for a faith that statelessness, genocide and terror could never extinguish. Israeli children played in the shadow of ancient city walls. Etched into one of them are the words of an old Jewish man, exiled from the Old City after the Arab attack and occupation of Jerusalem in 1948, expressing the hope that he would live to see once again the sight of young Israeli children playing in that square.

America's support helped make that man's dream possible. In standing by Israel, we are merely being true to ourselves. If we ever turned our backs on Israel, we would be abandoning the principles that built our nation.

We should remember one more thing. So long as the United States leads the world in defending freedom, terrorists will plot against us. They must be defeated. And in that war, we will never have a stronger ally than Israel.

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