by Doug Ward

OXFORD, OHIO---For over fifty years, the modern nation of Israel has survived amidst wars and rumors of wars.However, during most of that time the average Israeli has felt safe and secure within Israel's borders.In 1998, I heard a lecturer from Israel comment that it was safer to live in Jerusalem than in a large Ohio city like Dayton.††

More recently, another Israeli visitor to Ohio conveyed a much different story about life in Israel.On October 26, 2004, Herb Keinon, a diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, told an audience of students and faculty at Miami University about the tremendous pressures faced by Israelis over the past four years.To understand the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Keinon said, one must see them in the context of these day-to-day pressures.†††††

Keinon, who grew up in Denver and holds degrees from the University of Colorado (B.A.) and the University of Illinois (M.A.), has lived in Israel for about 24 years and written for the Post for the past eighteen years.He commented that he had hoped his four children would experience the same kind of idyllic, carefree childhood in Israel that he had been able to enjoy in the U.S.But with the constant threat of terrorist attacks, normal life has been impossible in Israel since 2000.Parents fear to let their children go outside.Families weigh the risks of traveling together---what if a suicide bomber were to wipe out the entire family in a moment?In such an environment, there is no way to shield one's children completely from the fears, anxieties and hostility that fill the air.

It was the almost unbearable pressures of the past four years, Keinon explained, that led to Israel's controversial decision to build a security fence.Ariel Sharon originally opposed the construction of the fence, but he finally agreed to the measure after the brutal terrorist attacks of the 2002 Passover season.In effect, Keinon said, the terrorists built the fence.Keinon added that the philosophy behind the 1993 Oslo peace accords---that the accords would produce economic benefits, which would in turn lead to greater security---has proven to be flawed.Israel has learned through hard experience that security must come first.††††††

On the other hand, Keinon later noted that the fence is not necessarily a permanent fixture.If the time comes when extremists are no longer in control among the Palestinians, then the fence could well be taken down.††† †††††

Progress Against Terrorism

Keinon reported that Israel has made great progress since 2002 in its efforts to shut down terrorism.In March 2002, for example, 135 Israelis were killed by terrorists, but the death toll for the entire first ten months of 2004 was under a hundred.The fence has reduced the opportunities for terrorists, and well-trained Israeli troops, aided by modern technology and excellent intelligence-gathering, have been able to cut off many attacks before they can be carried out.As a measure of recent progress, Keinon cited some statistics:Israel was able to stop eight of the seventeen terrorist attacks launched in March 2002, but it aborted all twenty-two of the attacks attempted in September 2004.With greater safety, the country's devastated tourist industry has also begun to recover.††

Another key factor in Israel's success in the war on terror, Keinon said, has been the strong backing of its greatest ally, the United States.The U.S. under President George W. Bush has supported Israel's ``right to defend itself by itself,'' allowing the Israelis the opportunity to effectively deal with terrorism.

Israel's desire to further cement its alliance with the U.S. is one of the reasons behind its recent painful decision to withdraw from twenty-one settlements in the Gaza Strip by September 2005.This ``disengagement plan'' will probably reduce the opposition that the U.S faces from Europe and elsewhere as it continues to stand behind Israel.The withdrawal from Gaza is also an acknowledgment of demographic realities:It is very difficult for Israel to defend eight thousand Israelis living in the midst of 1.2 million Palestinians.

Questions about Iraq and the U.S. Presidential Election

After his lecture Keinon fielded questions from the audience.One question concerned the war in Iraq:Has the U.S. invasion of Iraq made matters more difficult for Israel by increasing hatred for Israel in the Middle East?Keinon replied that Arab hatred for Israel was already at a maximum level before the Iraq war began.How could it be increased any further?Israel, in fact, views itself as better off after the regime change in Iraq.Keinon observed that the increased American presence in the region now causes Syria to ``look over its shoulder'' and has led to disarmament in Libya.

Speaking just a week before the hotly contested 2004 U.S. presidential election, Keinon refused to take sides in the contest, or to reveal how he himself had voted.(As a U.S. citizen, he had undoubtedly already cast his absentee ballot.)Regardless of the election's outcome, he said, major changes are not expected in American policy toward Israel.

He went on to say, though, that Israel as a whole strongly supported the reelection of President Bush.(In one poll taken in Israel, 58% chose George W. Bush while only 22% expressed a preference for John Kerry.)Keinon explained that in Israel's view, President Bush has earned an A+ with ``the most favorable American policy toward Israel ever.''While John Kerry might turn out to be a B or even an A, Keinon said, most Israelis favored a ``sure thing'' over an unknown quantity.††††††††††

Keinon stated that whoever wins the election, it is important for the U.S. to ``see things through'' in Iraq, as long and painful as the process might be.It would be better for the U.S. to have never become involved in Iraq, he said, than for America to pull out of Iraq prematurely.††††††

Post-Election Postscript:Many Israelis---and their friends in the U.S.---are encouraged by PresidentBush's reelection.Let us pray that in the years to come, the leaders of both nations will rule in the fear of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see 2 Sam. 23:3-4), who is our only Source of true security.As we read in Ps. 121:1-2, ``I lift up my eyes to the hills---where does my help come from?My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.''†††††††††