Is it safe to go to the Holy Land?
For over a hundred years there has been tension in the Holy Land, but it is clearly and only between Israelis and Palestinians, and not with Christian tourists. Both sides welcome us! After all, we bring tourist dollars. During our tour, we mainly visit Christian sites.
I monitor the situation there every day, on the Jerusalem Post and Al-Monitor.com websites, which you can too, if you like. You can also read my full description of Middle East issues in my 21 page article “Middle East: Problems and Promises”.
Let me first confirm that I never cancel our annual archaeological trip. We go every year. If Our Lord chose to visit this ancient troubled area, then I will too.
In Jerusalem, we will try to visit the Muslim site called the Temple Mount. There are frequent routine small demonstrations there about two or three times a week. They are fairly predictable, and so we simply reschedule our visit around them if time permits.
Every city and region in the world has its safe and unsafe places to visit, whether in New York, Los Angeles, or Jerusalem. We only visit places that are considered safe. Our Catholic travel agency was founded in Jerusalem in 1930, and is well known there for generations and well situated to monitor the situation accurately, and update us accordingly.
Your Quick Summary of Today’s Middle East Issues:
Muslim scholars have wondered for a long time why the Middle East is so poor and backward. About 50% of the Middle East is now under the age of 30 …and about 50% of them are unemployed. They remember that centuries ago, Islam ruled all of North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East as one Islamic State. It is all gone now, so they ask, “What went wrong?” One extreme answer came from a radical Islamic movement started a few decades ago that, rather than joining the world economy, wants to restore the ancient Islamic State by promoting the strictest interpretation of Islam and eliminating all non- Muslims, and even non-strict Muslims as well.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS are two modern versions of this movement and Iran is a country that promotes this as well. ISIS seeks to actually reconquer land, as it recently did in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda uses terrorism to intimidate the West, and Iran uses military, nuclear, and economic resources to achieve Islamic victory.
Fortunately, all the land ISIS conquered in Iraq was recently restored in just the last year by effective Iraq and US military cooperation. However, both ISIS and Al-Qaeda intend to continue isolated terror attacks around the world. (It does not take much skill or courage to attack people in public places) Fortunately again, very courageous joint counter-terror efforts by the world community have proven very effective in stopping almost all attacks. A few will tragically succeed, however, there is no doubt that that ISIS and Al-Qaeda are fading. Islamic youth are turned off by their senseless violence. The US also recently increased diplomatic and military pressure on Iran. Events are moving in the right direction.
Islamic Leadership Competition: Arab vs. Non-Arab
Islam is divided into two main religious variations: Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. About 80% of Arab Muslims are Sunni, and are mostly led by Saudi Arabia. About 20% of Muslims are Shia, and most live in Iran, however they are not Arabs, but Persians. In addition, Turkey, a Sunni nation wants to lead the Muslim world as well, but they are also not Arabs, but Turks.
Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Turkey are all competing to lead Islam in the Middle East. However, new pro-American leadership in Saudi Arabia wants to bring the Middle East peacefully into the modern world and join the global world economy, while anti-American Shia Iran wants to eradicate all Sunni Muslims and keep Islam ancient and traditional. Turkey is still trying to find its role.
For the last 8 years, the US sided with Iran, for the purpose of curbing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, certainly a noble goal. However, that did not stop Iran from its overall purpose of terror and eradicating all Sunni Muslims. Now that nuclear goal with Iran has been somewhat realized, recently, the US switched its support to the new pro-American leadership in Saudi Arabia which has made for amazing new hopes for Middle East peace.
In return for our recent US support against Iran, Saudi Arabia has agreed to join with the US plan to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. They want to bring the Middle East peacefully into the world economy. This is an enormous and very positive new event! This plan will be introduced in early 2018.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian political leadership is enormously corrupt. While receiving billions of dollars of worldwide aid, most of it goes to corrupt Palestinian politicians. Yasser Arafat, the founder of the Palestinian movement, died with 6 billion dollars in his personal account. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people still live in poverty, which I witness myself every year. Corrupt Palestinian politicians seek to keep political unrest going for the purpose of seeking more and more foreign aid.
What is the main obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace?
The Palestinian areas are divided into two regions, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Each is ruled by rival factions that are deeply opposed to each other. The Gaza Strip is ruled by a political-military-terrorist group called Hamas that the US has for decades declared a terrorist organization. The West Bank is governed by Fatah, a deeply corrupt organization. They frequently attack each other with murderous results.
Nevertheless, the US supports an Israeli-Palestinian “Two-State” Peace Process that seeks to establish both a secure State of Israel and a secure State of Palestine according to general borders that existed in 1967. These two nations would prosper enormously with a joint economic prosperity plan. However, Hamas, Iran, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS only want a “One Palestinian State” solution only, with no Israel at all.
This is an enormous fantasy, and not connected to reality at all. Can anyone expect that the amazingly and hugely prosperous 8 million population of Israel will just disappear? There can be no peace with Palestinian politicians living in such a fantasy.
The Jewish people established a new UN sanctioned state in 1947 despite an enormous worldwide anti-Semitic opposition that continues to this day and yet they built an amazing economic powerhouse from a virtual desert. Ironically, Palestinian politicians still enjoy enormous worldwide support to this day and yet their people still live in poverty. This a strange and fantastical world view that is simply not connected to reality. What is sorely needed right now in the Middle East are decisions that are rooted in truth and reality.
The Meaning of the Embassy Move to Jerusalem
The recent decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem is simply an exercise in facing real world truth and factual reality. In 1995, our Congress declared Jerusalem was the true capitol of Israel. However, the decision was delayed every year in the hope of a peace agreement where both Israelis and Palestinian politicians would recognize the legitimacy of each other. It took all these years for the US to recognize that Palestinian politicians in Fatah and Hamas, and their supporters in Iran, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS were not operating in good faith, or even reality. While Israel would recognize Palestine, the Palestinian politicians would not recognize Israel.
Moving our embassy there now finally recognizes that truth that Jerusalem is the capitol of the State of Israel. However, a future State of Palestine could also place their Palestinian State capitol there as well with no problem from the Israelis in East Jerusalem.
The usual forces against this move, Hamas, Iran, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS, will organize demonstrations against this move, but gradually more and more countries will follow the US lead and face reality and move their embassies there as well. Several have already announced as such.
Many Arab states in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan are recognizing the reality and goodness of a two state solution and are even cooperating with Israel against the elements in the Palestinian leadership and wider Arab world that are not facing this reality.
The new US and Arab comprehensive peace plan that is coming soon holds great promise for a final peace in the Middle East.