My Time in the Holy Land
By Rep. Dusty Johnson
(Outside of the Embassy in Jerusalem with Ambassador Freidman)
During any given week on the U.S. House Floor, I will vote on a variety of legislative topics – from stopping bad robocalls to public lands development – I’ve voted on it.
My past experiences have provided me with much of the knowledge I need to confidently vote on the domestic issues we’re facing here at home. I’ll be the first to admit, however, my time in Pierre did not qualify me as a foreign policy expert. That’s why I felt it was important to travel to the Middle East during my first year in office.
I spent eight days in Israel with Jewish education leaders from the Midwest. I traveled home just hours before Hamas rockets began firing into southern Israel. To understand this complicated part of the world, it’s important to see it first-hand.
It’s difficult to fully understand the violence people from the Middle East face on a daily basis until you see the bomb shelters stationed next to parks and hear the sirens from incoming rocket fire.
Despite all this, Israel is one of the most compelling countries in the world.
My trip was mostly fact finding, but you can’t go to Israel without visiting the Western Wall, a sacred Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. On Friday at sundown, thousands from across the world and region gather at the Western Wall to pray, dance, and sing. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. I could go on for pages about my experience at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on the slopes of the Mount of Remembrance. I walked the road near the West Bank where Jesus described the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Almost directly behind the Western Wall is the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim holy site. Understanding the history of these sites – both so close in proximity – is truly vital to understanding the tension related to the control and management of Jerusalem. During my trip I sat down with U.S. Ambassador Friedman who played a vital role in getting the U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem last year – he expressed the complexities of this decision, but ultimately, the United States should respect and recognize Israel’s legitimate capital city.
Security concerns are a part of daily life in Israel. Violence is down, but border fences, security check points, and police presence are evident. I had the opportunity to tour a thwarted tunnel dug by the terrorist organization, Hezbollah. Terrorist groups surround Israel’s borders, so Israeli citizens are required to enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces when they turn eighteen – both men and women. It’s rare to meet an individual who hasn’t been militarily trained by the age of twenty.
I spoke to dozens of military experts and government leaders, but I also made a point to meet with real people of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian backgrounds. Israel faces many threats, the people I spoke with know prospects of peace will take time. My trip solidified one thing, the United States must partner with Israel if we expect peace. Israel has been a strong ally for nearly seventy years, and after visiting the area, it’s evident as to why.