Israeli citizens can say what they think, can read and write whatever they please.
For a tiny country, roughly one-third the size of New York State, Israel has found itself at the center of some of the world’s most difficult crises. It’s a constant target of terrorist attacks. Its existence is often cited as the basis of tensions between Arab nations and the United States and, sometimes, even with countries in Europe. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, for people to ask if Israel is really worth all the time and attention it’s given.

No doubt many Americans are frustrated by repeated stories of failed efforts to reach a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians – with both sides blaming the other. But Israel has far more motivation to obtain peace in the Middle East than do its Arab neighbors, who support the Palestinians.

In fact, polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Israelis support the peace process and would make significant concessions to the Palestinians in order to achieve it. They don’t want their children to be killed in suicide attacks while riding buses, or going to a disco, or shopping at a mall.

Still, it’s hard to make peace with an entity – the Palestinian Authority – that condones terrorist attacks within your territory (the equivalent of America negotiating terms with Osama bin Laden). Or when your primary peace partner (until very recently Yasser Arafat) aids global terrorists and is allied with countries that refuse to even acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

By contrast, many Arab nations appear to lack any motivation to support the peace process, since criticism of Israel has proved an effective outlet for pent-up frustrations and resentment. Osama bin Laden became a late convert to the anti-Israeli chorus precisely because he understood how effective that rallying cry would be to his cause. Like so many before him, bin Laden blamed Israel (and its chief ally, the United States) for the misery and poverty that inflicts the Arab masses, and held Israel to blame for the chronic violence that infests the region. Much of the state-sponsored Arab media echo such claims, thus further inflaming the so-called “Arab street.”

Of course, these claims are nonsense. Israel has been in existence for a little more than 50 years. Poverty, human rights abuses, and tyranny were firmly entrenched in the Arab world long before that. It was not Israel that encouraged Syria to invade its neighbor, Lebanon, or Saddam Hussein to invade its neighbors, Iran or Kuwait. Israel does not launch attacks targeted toward innocent civilians, though it does respond, as we would, to suicide attacks carried about against innocent Israeli citizens, including women and children.

But there is another reason why we must continue to stand with Israel. Israel, like the United States, represents something that our enemies cannot tolerate: a thriving democracy which, in Israel’s case, is right in their midst.

Israel, in fact, is the only democracy in that region. It is the only Middle East nation that accords rights to women and elects its leaders by a true democratic vote. Israeli schools do not teach their children to root for the destruction of Arab countries, or compare the United States to Satan. The Israeli media is free to write and report what it wants. Israeli citizens can say what they think, can denounce their government policies, can state protests, can read and write whatever they please.

In short, Israel stands as a total repudiation of the practices of most every regime that surrounds it. To acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, therefore, is to give legitimacy to a government that allows its people to live in freedom, in stark contrast to the oppression and persecution that many Arab citizens experience every day of their lives.

If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, the antagonism for Western values would remain. The United States, in fact, might be an even greater target of directed hatred than it is today. And many Arabs would continue to suffer under corrupt incompetent, or brutal regimes.

So it’s in our interest to stand with Israel, just as it has stood with us. To abandon the Israeli people would be a concession to all those who hated the democratic values that they represent.

(Originally appeared in the Casa Grande Valley Newspaper The Enterprise)