International Frenemies

Mariah Dunsing

April 23, 2014

This summer, I heard a story told by a man named Moshe Ya’alon that forced me to view the Israeli plight in a different way entirely. This man had been speaking to an American security official a number of years ago when he mentioned something about not being able to eliminate the source of funding for Hamas. The American official was a bit puzzled, and asked “Well, do you know where their source is?” Mr. Ya’alon responded in the affirmative, which caused the American some understandable confusion. “Well, why don’t you stop them?” he asked. Mr. Ya’alon shook his head and chuckled sadly, even as he was retelling the story, and asked “Do you know where their source of funding is?” The American shrugged his shoulders and said that, actually, he didn’t. With a sad smile, Mr. Ya’alon said, “It’s in Virginia.” Silence fell over the room when he finished as everyone reached the same understanding. Israel could identify the source of its misery, could actually locate it on a map, yet it could not act.

It is one thing to read and gain a basic understanding of the facts of an international conflict– six ships attempted to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to bring the Palestinians humanitarian aid. It is quite another to understand the conflict in its full meaning– Israel stopped six ships from violating a security policy that was instituted so that any of numerous unfriendly nations would not supply the hostile government next door with the means to destroy them. The first perspective is able to be gleaned from any major newspaper, but the second, I was only able to discover after listening to a major player in the conflict lay bare the difficulties that his nation is confronted with time and time again. Israel shares a border with a nation that denies its right to exist. That is a fact that Israel cannot escape. Can an American who has never fought for his nation’s right to exist understand the plight of the Israeli people?

Before hearing the Vice Prime Minister of Israel speak, I thought an American was more than capable of doing just that. We are fighting a war against organizations that wish to destroy America and her ideals, but those organizations, to most of us, exist in a desert land far from our homes. We do not know the danger of sharing a border with a hostile government that is bent upon our destruction, nor can we fathom a world in which America does not have the power and political capital to protect its interests. In other words, we have no idea what it is like to be the Israelis, yet we are their closest ally.

The alliance the United States has with Israel is probably our most controversial foreign relation. We support a nation that is detested by its neighbors and whose friends treat it like a contagious disease: continually held at arm’s length. We understand that by sticking up for the underdog we’re bound to catch some international flak, so when we do, we loosen our grip and slacken the alliance we have with the nation that doesn’t just need us, but needs someone – period. Maybe it is the politically correct course of action, but to listen to the former head of the Israeli Defense Force speak to win the hearts and minds of an audience of American citizens, I could not help but feel as though we had made a grave error. Mr. Ya’alon spoke to the room in a manner that I have rarely heard before. He was reminiscent of an impassioned person pleading his case before the court of world opinion. He was asking Americans, normal Americans, to hear him: to know that his nation must fight for its very existence, not once or twice, but continually. To think that the Vice Prime Minister of one proud and strong nation, would reach out to the people of another, not with empty rhetoric or as an expected political nicety, but to rally them to his nation’s cause still fills me with a sense of wonder.

It is not uncommon to hear people wonder aloud as to why the United States insists upon maintaining its relationship with Israel. Britain and France let go long ago, and there is pressure for the United States to do the same. If we did that, if we were to decisively distance ourselves from the Israelis, then they will have lost their last hope for international support. There are some who would receive that conclusion with joy. But, to leave an entire nation to its demise, simply because it is unpopular to support them, is unpardonable. We may not understand what it is like to defend our very existence, but we can certainly understand what our relationship with Israel means to that nation. Israel has been fighting for its right to exist since its very inception in 1948, and for most of those years, the United States was an ally who would support them so long as they bended in the face of international pressure, but, as with the recent Flotilla incident, it is becoming incumbent upon the Israelis to shirk international pressure in order to provide for their own citizens. America has an important decision to make: do we stand by the Israelis or do we, their closest ally, slap them on the wrist and take a step back with the rest of the world?