Sunday, May 20, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Let’s try something easy, like peace in the Middle East.
That is usually the punchline of a good joke but not today. Now is a time to be serious.
This past week marked two distinct celebrations of the state of Israel’s 70th birthday. One was the official opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem. The other was an acknowledgment in Washington, D.C., by Israel of 70 Americans who have contributed to her success since Israel’s modern-day birth as a nation.
I am singling out two recipients of that special honor for reasons you will understand shortly. Hank Greenspun and Al Schwimmer represent hundreds of Americans who volunteered in 1948 to help give birth to the Jewish state.
They risked life, limb, family and freedom to volunteer for a cause so much bigger than themselves and for reasons so varied as to defy recounting. In the end, though, theirs was a pursuit of what it is to be a human being — justice and morality.
Not to take away from anyone else on the list because each one has contributed mightily and in so many ways worthy of the high honor bestowed this past week, but Hank and Al were there for the birth, risked it all for the cause and did it in a way that bordered on a mission impossible. And that is and always has been, well, pretty special.
Of course, I am biased. I grew up in Hank Greenspun’s home and I knew Al Schwimmer most of my life. They have been called heroes both by those charged with prosecuting them for violating the neutrality laws of the United States and the presidents of the United States who ultimately granted them pardons for their selfless and heroic acts.
I was privileged to accept the honor bestowed upon my father this past week and saw Al’s family members do the same. And that made me think about the man who inspired both Al and Hank and most of the Americans to act as they did at the beginning—Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
It was Ben-Gurion’s vision and determination that willed Israel into existence and helped it survive the impossible odds of a war for survival against millions of its Arab neighbors whose single motivation was to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.
And it was Ben-Gurion who, after leading Israel to a miraculous and overwhelming victory during the Six-Day War in 1967, looked out over the new Israel (it grew to include the Golan Heights from Syria, the Old City of Jerusalem and West Bank from Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt) and proclaimed that given a choice between all that territory and peace, he would prefer peace.
Fifty years later and 70 years from the beginning, Ben-Gurion’s words, his vision and his dream should still be ringing loudest in the world’s ears. We should all prefer peace.
I know that was my father’s dream, as it was Al Schwimmer’s and, I dare say, the rest of the people on that list.
So why hasn’t it happened? Why, so many decades later, is Israel still fighting its way from one war to another?
Can peace in the Middle East really be that hard, especially now that much of the Arab world is intellectually and politically aligned with Israel?
Will we be asking these same or similar questions 70 years from now at Israel’s 140th birthday?
I hope not. Those who volunteered 70 years ago showed leadership and the moral courage to pursue what was right and just.
Today we need the kind of leadership over there and here at home that will give value to Ben-Gurion’s preference, which, with the exception of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, was to give it all back for peace.
That is the way for Israel to be a shining light unto the nations.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.