Meet the Israelis – 8 million people.
Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East. Don’t take our word for it. The much-respected monitor of political rights, Freedom House, ranks it far and away the most democratic and free nation in the region.
We wish every state in the Middle East came close to matching Israel’s democratic values. Israel boasts a free and critical press, independent courts and an effective trade union movement which has secured rights for its workers.
Israel is the only Jewish state on this earth – meaning it is the place where the Jewish people have exercised their right to self determination.
This doesn’t make it a theocracy or a state for Jews only. Its Christian, Muslim and secular citizens enjoy full political rights and freedom of worship. While being a haven for Jewish Holocaust survivors, victims of Soviet persecution and almost a million Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a safe and growing Christian minority.
Israel is the only member-state of the UN which is threatened with annihilation by its neighbours. Invaded on numerous occasions, it is surrounded today by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Syrian regime and its Jihadist opposition, all of which are pledged to destroy it. And then there is Iran…
In the context of today’s volatile and repressive Middle East Israel stands out as a beacon for stability and democratic values. It is an important ally and friend in an increasingly dangerous and fractured world.
Israel is only one half of one per cent of the land mass of the Middle East, about the size of Wales. Yet it has made territorial compromises in the interests of peace. According to President Bill Clinton: “Israel offered more than I expected it would or indeed I believed it should” to achieve peace with the Palestinians. Sadly Yasser Arafat walked away from the negotiating table.
Israel is a modern, hi tech power house – at the cutting edge of medical and technological breakthroughs – the most recent being an Israeli-developed early detection of HIV. At the same time it is an ancient and Biblical land which remains a spiritual power house and a place of pilgrimage. For Christians in particular, the land of Israel has been described as “the Fifth gospel”, where pilgrims can walk where Jesus walked – where the beautiful and varied landscape – from the Galilee to the Negev desert, from the city of Jerusalem to Masada and Dead Sea – bring the narrative of the Bible to life.
There are many in Belfast who advocate boycotting Israel. Recent years have seen Israeli workers harassed at Castlecourt, the Israeli flag burnt at city hall, a call for a Leonard Cohen concert at the Waterfront to be called off because the Jewish singer was also performing in Tel Aviv. Does anyone believe that extremist actions like these advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or make our own society in Northern Ireland more respectful and tolerant?
Or calling for Israeli school children to be banned from educational exchanges?
We would like to point readers to more positive ways that Northern Ireland is engaging with the
Middle East. Intercomm is sending our young people to the region to meet both Israelis and Palestinians, an organisation called Forward Thinking has hosted Arabs and Jews to meet our politicians and church leaders, and experts here in shared and integrated education are using their expertise to assist Jewish and Arab educationalists to raise children without hate.
People have a choice. They can demonise one side and indulge in negative and divisive boycotts. Or they can take part in the serious business of assisting dialogue and peace-building on the ground.
We are proud to be friends of Israel and friends of Peace.