Tag Archives: Israel

Time of My Life, Part 33: Hoping it would hit the fan

My career as a print journalist allowed me to do many remarkable things, and to see many remarkable places.

Two of those career elements came together a decade ago. I now will explain.

About two or three weeks after I reported for work at the Amarillo Globe-News, my boss — publisher Garet von Netzer — informed me that someone from the Rotary Club of Amarillo would call me and invite me to join that Rotary club. “We need to have someone in that club,” von Netzer said. Thus, I was slated to join the Rotary Club of Amarillo. When Garet von Netzer said I would join, well, I had no choice.

I got the invitation from the late Basil Walker. I joined and then settled into my membership. I made a lot of new friends. More than that, though, I developed many valuable sources for potential issues I might cover as editorial page editor of the Globe-News.

Some years later, in 2008, I applied for — and received — an appointment to lead a team of young professionals to Israel as part of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange.

That journey illustrated how my career allowed me to travel abroad. I was able to travel twice to Southeast Asia; I traveled three times to southeastern Europe; as president of the Rotary club, I was allowed to travel to Denmark and Sweden to attend Rotary International’s annual convention in 2006.

Then came this Israel adventure.

I was torn while training with my team members for this event. In late 2008 and early 2009, violence erupted in Gaza. Hamas terrorists lobbed rockets on Israeli communities. The Israelis responded with brute force, inflicting considerable damage at quite a cost in human life.

If the Israeli counteroffensive were to continue, our trip might be canceled. My Rotary mentor — with whom I was working to prepare for the trip –told me that RI was working closely with the State Department monitoring the situation in early 2009.

Israel’s potent armed forces took control. They put down the Hamas uprising. Order — if not peace — eventually was restored.

Our trip commenced in May 2009. We would spend four weeks in Israel. We stood on the doorstep of the Gaza Strip. We looked down onto the valley below the Golan Heights. We stood below a fortified fence along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where another terror outfit, Hezbollah, was capable of doing damage.

For the entire four weeks, I harbored a wish; it wasn’t exactly a secret, although I don’t recall sharing it with our Israeli hosts. I wanted all hell to break loose while we were there.

No, I did not want to put our team in danger. I would have hoped we could get them on the next plane out and headed for home.

However, the reporter in me wanted to be able to cover events unfolding in real time.

It didn’t happen. Our journey was spectacular, even in the absence of violence and mayhem.

Don’t misunderstand me on this. I have never, ever harbored an instant of regret over the peace and tranquility we enjoyed while traveling through one of the world’s most thrilling nations.

If it had gone the other way, though . . . I was ready.

Israelis PM seems intent on stirring conflict

As if the non-Jewish neighbors surrounding Israel need any more pretext to feel anxious about the country’s treatment of its Muslim and Christian citizens.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel is a “national state” only to its “Jewish citizens.” The rest of the country, which is surprisingly diverse in its religious and ethnic makeup, doesn’t matter to the Israeli government, or so Netanyahu has implied.

Hold on a minute, Mr. Prime Minister.

Ten years ago I had the honor of visiting Israel for a month. I lived in Israeli citizens’ homes, talked to them candidly about life in that beautiful land and got to understand something I always thought was a source of pride among Israelis. It is that they treat all their citizens — Christians and Muslims as well as Jews — with respect and honor.

Netanyahu is saying something quite different.

According to National Public Radio: The prime minister’s comment set off criticism, debates over Israel’s true nature — and observations that with Israel’s legislative elections now less than a month away, Netanyahu’s provocative language might be calculated to help his Likud Party at the polls.

The Likud is considered one of the hardest of the hard-line parties in Israel. Netanyahu has come to embody Likud’s attitude toward the Palestinian Authority and its occupation of the West Bank.

In a sense, I understand and appreciate Netanyahu’s fear that non-Jewish residents might rebel. Indeed, Israeli armed forces are continually forced to put down resistance in places such as Gaza, which is governed by a party linked closely with Hamas, the infamous terrorist organization.

It is troubling to hear Netanyahu declare that Israel wants only to be the “national state” for its Jewish citizens. The implication is that the Israeli government cares much less about its Christian and Muslim citizens. That clearly is not the message I heard continually in the spring of 2009 while I toured the Holy Land.

It’s provocative. Indeed, the region needs little impetus for violence to erupt. Benjamin Netanyahu, of all people, should understand what such provocation can bring.

Time of My Life, Part 25: Trying to score a huge interview

News about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending indictment on corruption charges brings to mind an interview that didn’t occur, but one that I worked real hard to get.

While I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News, I received a life-changing opportunity: I would be allowed to lead a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team to Israel; we spent four weeks there, meeting with professional peers and living with host families who showed us one of the world’s most fascinating countries.

I went there as a member of Rotary, but I did not forsake my professional responsibility.

So, with that I sought to score an interview in May-June 2009 with Benjamin Netanyahu. How did I make the effort? I got in touch with the Israeli consulate in Houston and became acquainted with the consulate’s press officer.

I asked him if it was possible to meet with the prime minister. He wasn’t very receptive. I kept working on him.

I told the young man that since I was going to be in Israel for four weeks that I could take some time away from my schedule as a Rotary team leader to meet with the prime minister. I didn’t require a lot of time. Maybe a half hour would suffice. An hour would be better.

Indeed, in the weeks prior to our arrival in Israel, the Israelis were putting down an armed rebellion among Palestinians living in Gaza. There was some concern from our Rotary district that the State Department would disallow us to travel there. It’s too dangerous.

Well, the Israelis put down the rebellion. Gaza settled down.

I wanted to talk to Netanyahu about all that and wanted to discuss Middle East security in general. Who better to talk about that with an American journalist than the Israeli prime minister?

The consulate’s flack then asked me about the circulation of the newspaper that employed me. I told him that the G-N was part of a group of newspapers that circulated to many thousands more readers. The interview could get significant coverage in all the papers. Just allow me to speak to the prime minister and I would arrange to get the Morris Communications news bureau to distribute it among all the papers within our group.

I didn’t get the interview, which saddened me greatly. The Israeli flack said Netanyahu would be in-country while we were there. He just didn’t have the time to meet with me.

That all said, my position at the Globe-News allowed me to join a Rotary club in Amarillo, which led to my being allowed to lead this team of young professionals to the other side of the world. I’ll have more to say about that journey later on.

The Benjamin Netanyahu interview was a near miss, but I had a blast trying to secure it.

Remembering the journey of a lifetime

One of the many wonderful aspects of social media is the ability to share wondrous anniversaries with those along the media network.

Today is one of those days.

Nine years ago today, I walked off a jetliner at David Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. I accompanied four of my best friends in the whole world to the Holy Land as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. The GSE had a couple of key objectives: One was to build and promote international friendship between Rotary districts; another was to help promote Rotary membership to young professionals.

I traveled to Israel with these four young West Texans: Fernando, Aida, Shirley and Katt. They weren’t in Rotary. I was a member of the Rotary Club of Amarillo and was selected by our Rotary district to be the team leader of this marvelous group of individuals. Some of them joined Rotary when we returned home.

We toured the entire country of Israel during our four weeks as ambassadors from our Rotary district. Our host Rotarians provided lodging for us and welcomed us into their families.

It was — and this is no overstatement — the trip of a lifetime.

We learned so much about Israel, its history, its place in the world, its people. We spent four weeks traveling through this oasis in the Middle East. We swam in the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and in the Mediterranean Sea.

We visited churches, mosques and synagogues. We mingled in a multicultural society with our hosts. We also walked along holy and sacred ground in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Masada. We told our West Texas story to Rotary members.

We made friends for life.

I cannot possibly share a “most memorable moment” during that journey. It was full of them, from beginning to end.

My goal here is merely to recall that dreams do come true. Mine did on this day nine year ago when we landed in the Holy Land and saw it through the eyes of those who live in this wonderful and, yes, perilous region of the world.

We learned a greeting while touring Israel. “L’chaim” translates from Hebrew to “to life.” That marvelous journey, I am proud to say, made my own life much more complete.

What in the world? GOP lining up in favor of Iran deal?

I do believe that hell has frozen over. It’s official, I’m tellin’ ya!

U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry has said out loud that he “would advise against” Donald Trump pulling out of the deal that seeks to prohibit Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

That’s right. Thornberry, who usually stands foursquare behind the president’s idiocy, is now sounding downright reasonable and rational in urging the president to back off his threat to pull out of the Iran nuke deal.

Thornberry said this on Fox News Sunday: “Secretary (of Defense James) Mattis talked about the inspectors that are in there. Does Iran kick those inspectors out so that we lose what visibility we have there?” he asked. “The Europeans are not going to reimpose sanctions. So where does that leave us and Iran? You need to have a clearer idea about next steps if we are going to pull out, and especially given the larger context of Iran’s aggressive activities in the Middle East.”

This comes from a lawmaker who initially opposed the Iran deal. Why? Well, beats me. Maybe it was merely because it was struck by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to NBC News: Other Republicans have said they are hoping that the Trump administration modifies the agreement so that it addresses certain holes such as not addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program.

Thornberry is far from the only former deal critic to take another look at it.

Trump says he plans to announce Tuesday whether he is pulling out of the deal. I hope he modifies his initial blanket opposition, despite the urging of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who calls the deal a disaster and an invitation for Iran to go to war with Israel.

As for Thornberry’s change of heart, I certainly welcome whatever influence the Clarendon Republican might wield with a president who, um, listens to nobody.

Abbas utters shameful anti-Semitic rant

The long-sought “two-state solution” to a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East might have been given a critical punch in the gut because of hideous remarks from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Holocaust, Abbas said, was partly caused by the behavior of Jews. According to The Hill: Abbas pointed to the Jews’ “social behavior” and “their social function related to banks and interest” in a speech on Monday to the Palestinian National Council.

“From the 11th century until the Holocaust that took place in Germany, those Jews — who moved to western and eastern Europe — were subjected to a massacre every 10 to 15 years. But why did this happen? They say: ‘It is because we are Jews,’ ” Abbas said.

Abbas’s remarks have drawn worldwide condemnation. This came from former Secretary of State John Kerry, who said, via Twitter: These comments are wrong, ugly, and unacceptable – anywhere from anyone – but particularly from anyone who says he wants to be a peacemaker. No excuses for antisemitism: words to be condemned, not explained away. 

And this came from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, gave another anti-Semitic speech. With utmost ignorance and brazen gall, he claimed that European Jews were persecuted and murdered not because they were Jews but because they gave loans with interest.

Indeed, the Abbas’s comments disgrace the cause of the search for peace.

The Holocaust was caused solely by the evil intent of a regime that took control of a sovereign country, Germany, and sought to eradicate Europe of citizens merely because of their religious faith.

For Mahmoud Abbas to somehow lay part of the blame on Jews because of their “social behavior” is like blaming a child for the beating he gets from an adult because he cries too much.

Disgraceful.

Jerusalem or Tel Aviv? Peace might hang in the balance

Donald John Trump reportedly is about to announce a policy that will move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

What are the stakes? Oh, let’s see. Perhaps it’s the prospect of obtaining a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which also happens to claim Jerusalem as its own.

How I wish the president would rethink what I understand is about to occur.

I spent more than a month in Israel just a few years ago. I got an up-close look at the proximity — the tight quarters — in which Israel must exist with its Palestinian neighbors; indeed, Israel is home to many people of Palestinian descent.

Jerusalem is walled off from the Palestinian Authority because of intense security concerns caused by terrorists who have rained havoc onto Israelis for centuries.

Meanwhile, U.S. diplomats and their staffs have been ensconced in Tel Aviv, which isn’t all that far from Jerusalem, but far enough to avoid many of the direct threats posed to those who live in the holy city.

And in the midst of all this we have the still-remote prospect of a peace agreement that could be struck between Israel and the PA. What in the world might this blatantly aggressive move by the United States to do muck up that effort?

I have little faith that any talks — spearheaded on the U.S. side by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner — is going to advance even under the best of circumstances. Kushner has zero diplomatic experience and for the life of me I cannot grasp why the president would entrust this hyper-sensitive negotiation to someone only because he is married to a member of the First Family.

Indeed, I am trying to think of any worse move the United States could make that could throw a serious dirt clod into the quest for peace in the region. I keep coming back to a potential decision to place our nation’s embassy in a city that Israel’s sworn enemy claims for itself.

Good grief, Mr. President. Keep our embassy in Tel Aviv. It’s doesn’t take long to drive there from Jerusalem.

Goofy mug shot offers warm memory

Every now and then I get asked about this picture.

It appears on my Facebook profile. I haven’t changed it since I posted it around 2010. A member of my family has told me that in her view “It’s the best picture ever posted in the history of Facebook.” She has ordered me to never change it.

I appreciate her comment and I’ve told her so … many times. I’m not sure whether I’ll keep it forever. I do intend to keep it well past the foreseeable future, though.

But here’s the actual reason why I like displaying it: The picture reminds me daily of one of the most glorious experiences of my working life.

It occurred in May-June 2009. I was selected to lead a Rotary International team to Israel. The program once was known as Group Study Exchange, which enabled our Rotary district to assemble a team of young professionals to interact with other professionals from another Rotary district. In 2009, our district interacted with a district in Israel.

I received the high honor of leading that team. I helped select four of them from our West Texas district. We met for several weeks preparing for the four-week tour of Israel. We departed in early May 2009 and spent the next month touring that country from top to bottom — from the Lebanese border to Eilat at the southern tip of the country — along with another team from The Netherlands; we forged friendships along the way with our Israeli hosts and with members of the Dutch team. Indeed, just a year ago my wife and I caught up with two Dutch team members on a trip we took to The Netherlands and to Germany.

Oh, the picture? It was taken at the Dead Sea. We drove through the Judean Desert to this remarkable body of water on the Israeli border with Jordan. It sits more than 1,000 below sea level. Its salinity is many times greater than the ocean. Swimmers’ buoyancy is beyond description.

We slathered ourselves in this Dead Sea mud. From the waist up we covered ourselves in it. Our Israeli friends told us the mud contained some sort of “restorative value” contained in its mineral content. The idea is to let it dry. Then you wash it off with fresh water.

It’s supposed to make you look and feel younger. I remember washing it off and asking our team members, “Do I look younger?” Many of them laughed in my face. For what it’s worth, I felt younger … and that’s all that mattered.

The picture reminds me of that glorious adventure and the enduring friendships I made with the young people I accompanied across the ocean and with those we met along the way.

That is why I don’t intend to change this picture.

Mourning the loss of a dedicated servant

I am a sad fellow tonight.

A few hours ago I received word of the death of a man who played a significant role in granting me the honor of participating in a life-changing event.

Ted Holder is gone. I will miss him. I also will forever honor his memory and will thank him for the rest of my life for the part he played in changing my life.

Ted was a member of the Levelland, Texas, Rotary Club. In late 2008, he was serving on a West Texas Rotary District committee assigned to select a Rotary member to lead a team of young professionals to Israel. The journey would be taken under the auspices of Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange.

The GSE team would comprise four non-Rotarians. They would be “led” by a Rotary member. The group would interact for four weeks with professionals in the host Rotary district. The 2009 Rotary GSE host district for our team would be located in Israel.

But first things first.

Our Rotary district needed a team leader. I was one of three Rotary members who applied for the honor to select and then accompany this team to the Holy Land.

We gathered in Lubbock to interview with the Rotary district committee. Ted was one of the committee members.

We made our pitch, all sitting around the same table at the same time. I gave it my best shot. After a lengthy interview, we all dispersed. I drove home to Amarillo.

Later that day, I got a call from the committee chairman, who informed me I had been selected to lead the Rotary GSE team. I was stunned. I choked back tears.

It would be quite a while later that I heard from a member of the committee about what Ted had said about my presentation. You see, Ted was a police officer; he served several years as Levelland chief of police. As you might guess, he didn’t much like media types. I was a media type at the time of my interview; I was serving as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.

One of the committee members confided to me that Ted had told the panel that he “think much of the media, but I sure liked John’s presentation. He gets my vote.” The individual who told me this seemed to suggest that Ted’s endorsement of my pitch to the committee was decisive in the committee selecting me.

Well, the rest is pretty much history. I have shared much of that marvelous experience with you already on his blog. What most of you didn’t know is much about how that experience came to pass.

Ted Holder helped changed my life by granting me the high honor of representing Rotary District 5730 on a journey for the ages. My GSE teammates, I am quite certain, agree with that.

I am happy to report that the last time I saw Ted, about a year ago at a Rotary meeting, I took a moment to thank him — yet again — for the honor he granted me.

We have a lost a good man.

Sanity presents itself in Trump White House

Donald Trump pledged to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Then the president thought better of it. He has signed a six-month extension to keep the embassy where it’s been since the founding of Israel in 1948, in Tel Aviv, a relatively safe distance from where terrorists and other sworn enemies of the United States and Israel commit their acts of violence.

http://thehill.com/policy/international/335850-trump-keeps-us-embassy-in-tel-aviv?rnd=1496325457

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to become capital of an independent state, when or if that occurs. The Israelis claim all of Jerusalem as their own holy place.

“We know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past and commit together to finally resolving this crisis,” Trump said in a speech in Jerusalem. “I am personally committed to helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement.”

The idea is to broker a peace deal that determines the fate of the holy city, which has been the goal of U.S. presidents of both political parties all along.

Donald Trump has seen the reality of the situation and has backed off his overheated campaign pledge and has decided the status quo isn’t such a bad idea.

Good call, Mr. President.