Friday October 4th 2013
On the plane now. Have to fly from Seattle, WA to Newark, NJ, then take a car into the City. Will be staying with Boo Boo Kitty, at her apartment in Midtown, for the night and then meeting the group tomorrow at the JFK. From what I understand we are flying directly to Tel Aviv. A non-stop flight, which is always nice, though it’s something like ten to fourteen hours, which isn’t so nice. But certainly worth it. I’ve never been to Israel before. I know for many people, specifically Christians and Jews, a trip to “the Holy Land” is a dream come true. I’ve heard the way people talk about it over the years. You would think they died and went to heaven, met God himself, and returned to earth to talk about it. For the devout, this is the ultimate pilgrimage. Similar to the Hajj for people of the Muslim faith — the mandatory trip to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their life. But of course this isn’t really a holy pilgrimage we are taking. More of a fact finding mission to one of the most volatile hotbeds of political unrest in the world today. One cannot escape the religious aspects of the trip, and I personally wouldn’t want to, being Christian.
But as a Civilian Diplomat, what interests me most is the attempt to gather as much data firsthand as I can about the land and the people, and to connect with as many people as I can in an attempt to create more peace in the world. I am invited to many countries every year, in various capacities, as a singer and recording artist or in a more diplomatic capacity. Because of my schedule I am forced to turn most of them down unfortunately. Israel is different. As more and more people are starting to understand, Israel is the center, the focus, of much of the political turmoil that we as Americans are forced to endure whether we like it or not. It is a deep, and heavily nuanced subject. Very few people are objective about it. Instead they feel immediately captured emotionally and feel a dire need to “choose sides”. Civilian Diplomats don’t have that privilege. In fact we make a commitment to not do that as part of the requirements to hold that title. Creating peace means choosing the side of peace and no other. Sometimes it is more difficult than others, easier to say than do. One of the first things that struck me about Israel/Palestine as a child is how vehement American politicians are in asserting their allegiance to Israel. To not do so usually means instant death to an American politician’s career. But why?
This got me to studying. From a very young age I was fascinated by the subject. What was the hold on American politicians? And why? Studied the subject for years. Read hundreds of books about it. First and foremost what you learn is that the Israeli lobby in Washington DC is the single largest lobby in the United States. It’s bigger than Big Oil, bigger than Big Pharma, bigger than weapons manufacturers and defense contractors. Meaning, they have more money at their disposal and more pull and influence with politicians than any other single industry in America. This was a shocking realization. It explained a lot. To publicly speak up about Israel in a negative fashion in any way, no matter how true or justified you might be, could literally destroy your career. We’ve watched it happen live and in real time to more than one well-meaning public servant in our own lifetimes. So it’s a given that if you’re going to enter American politics you have to at least pretend that “Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East and I will do anything to preserve their right to exist in peace”. But at what cost? That’s the question that occurs to many when they first start learning about the strong grip that Israeli lobby money has on American politicians and some of the questionable actions they’ve taken through the years to the native peoples of that land.
In the nineteen-eighties, an American congressman released a book that is still in print today called They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. I’ve provided a link to it on Amazon.com. It is one of the most popular and controversial books on the subject that’s ever been written and is continually updated by the author and publishers. It includes interviews with heads of state from countries all over the world and with many of America’s finest senators and congress persons. I first read it when I was in my early teens. I just read the latest version this year as a refresher. I was interested in what some of the newer politicians had to say. Since this book and many like it already exist, I do not feel the need to go into the details contained in the book here; I’ll just say that if global politics or peace interest you, this book will answer a lot of questions. There are very simple steps we can take as a nation that would do wonders in creating a more peaceful world, many of them having to do with the preferential treatment paid to Israel, especially in how that affects other countries such as the other Middle Eastern nations and Islamic ones. It’s an unfortunate fact that the United States got itself entangled in such a tricky messy web with Israel as it has. It’s part money, and it’s part religion.
Since I have received so many emails and letters from people asking me to explain just what the hell is going on in regards to Israel and the United States, let me try to address it here, before we head over there, in as briefly a manner as I can. We’ve already addressed the financial aspect of it. There is HUGE money to be gained by backing Israel, which means there is also huge influence and power in it. On the opposite side of the coin, NOT appearing to back Israel can literally mean the difference between having a job in Washington politics or not. This is the money aspect. But it goes deeper than that. Yes this big money aspect is big. And important. Similar in scope to banking or fracking or pharmaceutical companies or oil companies or defense contractors. There are some things in the world, industries, so mammoth and so influential, that you simply cannot go against them. To do so would be ruinous for your career. You realize very soon in your political career that regardless of how you feel personally, you are going to have to play ball with them and take their money. If you don’t, your opponents will. And they will win.
This helps explain why president Obama promised an administration of hope and change but backed Monsanto’s blocking any laws that allowed for the labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs). His actions don’t speak about what he personally feels about the subject (I am sure he and the First Lady do everything in their power to assure that they and their children do not eat GMO foods) as much as just how big and powerful these forces are in the American political system. (Does this mean that we let him off the hook and label him a helpless victim? Certainly not. He took the easy way out and betrayed every single health conscious American citizen in that single cowardice act. He could have at least attempted to step up and speak truth to the American people about the issue. But instead he quietly signed away Americans’ rights to even knowing if their food has been genetically modified. It’s a frightening fact of just how far off the political system is in regards to being “of the people, by the people, for the people”. That seems a dead dream.) The same can be said for all the fracking that’s going on all over American and destroying small towns one by one faster than we can keep up with. But again, this doesn’t inform his personal or professional views on these subjects half as much as it simply illustrates to us all how powerful and unstoppable these particular industries are. Now take into account that AIPAC, the American political lobby for Israel is LARGER — as in has more money and power — than any other industry in America, including big oil and pharmaceutical companies, and you begin to see how powerful the money aspect of this issue is. HUGE.
But it isn’t just money. It’s also religion. And that’s even more disturbing than the money and power aspect, because it speaks to how insanely irrational some people are when it comes to religious beliefs, which doesn’t bode well for our ability to accomplish anything close to rational peace work in the world in the near term. In a nutshell, many Christians believe in “end of the world” prophecy. Much of it depends on which denomination a person is, but almost all Christians believe that Jesus is going to one day return to earth and save all the Christians. This is called “The Second Coming” or “The Rapture”. What he’s going to be saving them from is a giant mess of war, disasters, famine, disease, pestilence, and general destruction that is supposed to wipe out at least one-third of all of humanity and render the earth a dastardly messed up, destroyed and unlivable war zone. This is called “Armageddon”. After the rest of the “non-Christians” on earth endure all these hardships for a few years, then Jesus will return to earth again and create an everlasting peace on earth that will last for one-thousand years. True story. Not making this up.
None of the different Christian denominations can agree on all the details exactly, because they’re basically making it all up, taking little bits and pieces of different phrases and verses here and there from various different translations of the Old and New Testaments. So it’s hard to piece it all together even if you’re a avid lifetime scholar of the subject, which I have been for years. But suffice it to say that the main aspect of it that appeals to Christians is this idea of “Jesus returning” and “saving them”, which will show everyone else that they were right all along and serve as a kind of vindication for all the craziness, horrors and terrible mistakes of the last two-thousand years of Christendom.
In order for these things to transpire, certain other things need to happen. They’re “prophesied”. In the Bible. These are called prophecies. There are many of them, depending on whom you listen to. One of the things prophesied was that the Jewish people would be allowed to return to the promised land (Israel) after years of exile after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. This happened in 1948 when a very few wealthy and powerful people created the new country of Israel. This is called “a fulfilled prophecy”. Every time one of these prophecies is fulfilled it further serves to encourage people who believe in these things to believe they are right. The Jews returning to Israel was a big one. For thousands of years it seemed like a ridiculous impossible pipe dream. So the fact that it happened really amped a lot of people up. Sort of reinvigorated many believers into rethinking their doubts that these bible prophecies might not be true.
Now it just so happened that this new country of Israel was smack dab where the country of Palestine was. But that’s disputed because some people claim that “Palestine was never really a country, but just an area of “Arabia in general in the Middle East in general”. (Interestingly I happen to have a stamp collection book that was given to me by my father which was given to him by his father and if you open the page to the Ps, there are three pages dedicated to the country of “Palestine” where one can stick all the Palestinian stamps they’ve collected. I also have an atlas of my grandparents that has two pages dedicated to the country of Palestine, and sure enough it’s located right where it’s always been on the map, where Israel is now. Of course any reading of any history book written in the last two-thousand years will also mention Palestine and Palestinians as well.) But again, this fact is still disputed — that the country of Palestine ever existed. Hardcore Israel defenders will swear that Palestine never existed and that for two-thousand years that was just a sort of “no-man’s land”. In regards to the millions of Palestinian people who lived there, they will claim that they never did. That there is “no such thing as a Palestinian and that they all just roamed there recently from either Jordon or Lebanon after the Israeli people rebuilt the land up.” Unfortunately I’m not making this up. People really do think and speak this way.
I am sure we will learn plenty more about this once we land in Israel/Palestine. But back to the end of the world. So the Jews have now been allowed to return to the promised land (also known as Zion; hence the term Zionism, which roughly translates to the movement started in the late 1800s to lobby for a permanent home for the Jewish people where they could be free to live in peace and not be constantly afraid for their lives or abused or enslaved. Post World War II, the Zionist movement became a reality, and though the Zionists had three countries in mind — Palestine, Chile, or Argentina — the powers that be at the time, Great Britain and the United States, eventually gave them the area known as Palestine as their permanent home. (Furthermore, this helps explain why certain world leaders, like the president of Iran for example, speak angrily about “Zionist” but not Jews or Jewish people. They aren’t anti-Jew. They like Jews and embrace Jews. What they’re against is the Zionist movement because it displaced an entire country full of other people. Hopefully this helps shed light on this rather confusing subject.)) So the Jews have returned to Israel and created a country there. That was one big prophecy, fulfilled.
Some of the other prophecies that need to be fulfilled before Armageddon can begin and the big man can return to earth are as follows: The great city of Damascus will be destroyed pillar by pillar till it is unrecognizable (that one is happening right now in front of our eyes through the ongoing Syrian civil war); Israel and Palestine will sign a peace treaty promising to share the city of Jerusalem; this will allow Israel to rebuild the Temple; an anti-Christ will appear on earth as a very revered and holy figure (many so-called prophecy scholars claim it will be a pope from the Catholic church — remember that protestant Christians are not big fans of Catholicism. They’ve been fighting for centuries.)
Before we head to the big finish, for context, and to be fair, let us remember that most of the world religions have this same end of the world/rapture theory tied up in their religion. Even the Native Americans have a prophecy that The Great Bear Spirit will return to create peace on earth forever. The Jews are still looking forward to their prophecy that The Messiah will come to earth to vindicate God’s Chosen People and create peace on earth. This will be his “first coming” because they do not recognize Jesus the Jew as the Messiah, but rather consider him a criminal who was justly punished for his crimes(?); the Muslims/Islam has the same prophecy except that it will be The Twelfth Imam who will return along with Mohammad on his right side and Jesus on his left side. All three godly men will be wearing flowing white robes and appear out of the blue flying in the air and descending out of the clouds to descend to earth. Not making this up. Everyone is pretty much waiting on the same thing, just with slightly different versions of the same story.
So… over the last fifty years Christian churches all over the Americas, both North and South, have collected tens of billions of American dollars to give to Israel. Israelis and Jews don’t believe in Armageddon or Jesus of course; nor do they believe in the prophecy that he is going to return to earth in The Rapture or Second Coming and save people from anything. But as my Jewish psychiatrist said to me the other day “that doesn’t stop them from taking all that money”. No, it doesn’t. Not only has the government of Israel received more tax-payer funded “aid money” from the government of the United States than any other country in the world over the last fifty years, Israel has also received tens billions of dollars in additional money from all these American Christian churches who collect it “to defend the State of Israel so that they may rebuild the Temple so that Jesus can return once more and save us all”. No matter how you feel about the subject, just as an experiment, turn on one of the Christian TV networks for a few hours and just watch it. You will see countless advertisements and solicitations begging you to send in money to be sent to Israel to defend it so that Jesus can return.
Now I know what you’re thinking. This is madness. It’s crazy talk. Sounds like I’m making it up in one of my sarcastic satires. But I’m not. Any dedicated born again Christian worth their weight in Dead Sea salt believes this stuff and thus, regardless of how silly the Israelis think all this is, it has afforded them a ton of free money to build up a massive weapons system and a just as massive propaganda machine to defend themselves against any naysayers regarding their sometimes brutal human rights abuses against the native peoples of this disputed land. As you can see, it’s not just money and influence that controls the reigns of American politicians in regards to Israel; it’s also a deeply seated religious belief that Israel must be defended in order for the prophecies of Jesus’ second coming to be fulfilled. Religious beliefs can be powerful motivators, sometimes much stronger than money and political influence even.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it isn’t JUST money and power and religion that are running the show here. There is, to be fair, also the fact that Israel IS a democracy and an American ally in that region. The fact that the Jewish people of Israel are relatively secular and non-religious helps make them a pretty tame and non-radical people to deal with compared to some of the other more radical religious countries of the Middle East. Thus the United States being able to have that country there, smack dab in the middle of a hotbed of historical madness and chaos, with the concurrent ability to have U.S. military bases and airstrips there, helps the U.S. a lot strategically. Between their bases in Israel and in Saudi Arabia, they can guarantee a military strike on any country in the region within minutes. And that’s clearly the most important thing to the United States in its ongoing quest to master and control the 21st century in the same way it did the 20th century.
Besides this rather jaded and cynical view of the scene (anyone with a scant knowledge of recent history would agree that this, though perhaps a scathing view of U.S. foreign policy, is a fair assessment of the way things just happen to be presently), we must also acknowledge that the kind of freedom and liberty that we enjoy in the United States is definitely preferable to the more inhumane and fascist systems that are practiced in many of the Muslim nations in that region of the world. We do have it better than great in the United States. And part of the reason for it is because no other nation on earth dare attack us or our way of life. Which is what gives us the freedom to live such free and easy lives. No matter how cynical or jaded or angry we get with the dishonest, unjust, arrogant and brutal foreign policy that the United States government and military practices all over the world in our names, we must still recognize that it does afford us a ridiculously enjoyable lifestyle as citizens of this very free society. We are eternally lucky to have been born here, in the United States of America, at this time in human history.
Okay, so that’s the set up. That’s what’s going on. I hope this helps answer many of your questions. Yes it’s completely corrupt (in regards to the money and influence aspect of the Israeli lobby and its control over American politics), and it’s completely crazy and irrational (in regards to these whacky religious prophetic beliefs that keep us forever defending a country no matter what they do). But it’s reality. It’s a reality that has bred tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of enemies for the United States around the world. When we see flag burning on TV, there are valid reasons for it. I am sure we will learn a lot more of it while we are over there.
For my part, as you already know, I spent this entire year doing homework to prepare for the journey. I spent a year relearning Hebrew. And I spent an additional two to three hours a day reading as many books as I could on the history of Israel, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Note: that last phrase is a misnomer. Palestinians are NOT Arabs. Just as Iranians are not Arabs. Iranians originally came to the Middle East from the North, the Caucuses Mountain region just south of Russia (hence the term Aryan: the word Iran comes from Aryan. Persian comes from the word Parse, the name the Greeks gave the people and land when Alexander the Great invaded their country. They renamed themselves Iranians to reclaim their heritage.) Palestinians are not Arabs either. They’re Palestinians. They were born in and grew up over the last five thousand years in the same area, the area we have been calling Palestine for the last two-thousand years; the area we now call Israel/Palestine. Yes, they are for the most part either Christian or Muslim. But that’s as close as it gets to Arab. The reason why the conflict is sometimes referred to as “the Jewish-Arab conflict” is simply because the entire region — what used to just be called Arabia and is now majority Muslim — is largely against the formation of the State of Israel because it displaced all the people who already lived there, the Palestinian people, who are mostly Muslims (or Christian) and so they are looked at as their brothers and sisters. To call people of that region of the world Middle Eastern makes sense. To call them Muslim makes sense. But to call them Arabs doesn’t make sense.
Other interesting notes to consider before we get there: if we are to believe that the Old Testament (what the Jews call The Torah, the Books of Kings, the Books of The Prophets, etc — yes they read and consider sacred many of the same books as Christians do as odd as that seems) is a historical document (to a certain degree… I mean most of it actually reads more like myth and legend obviously) then we must remember that the Jews and the Palestinians are actually the same people, descended from the same people, just cousins of each other. We all know that these two people lived in this region of the world for thousands of years together, sometimes at peace, oftentimes at war with one another. The bible is full of stories of their fighting and wars. But originally they were all part of the same family. The family of Abraham. The Jews revere Abraham. He is their Godfather so to speak. So too do the Islamic people. (Muslims revere him as a prophet. Many people don’t realize this. But Adam, Abraham, King David, Noah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus are all highly respected and holy prophets of the Muslim faith). For good reason do they revere Abraham. For he literally is the grandfather of both people.
If you look up the family tree of the Jewish people OR the Islamic people, you will see that Abraham had children with two different women: his wife Sarah, and his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar (that was due to trick on his wife’s part by the way supposedly. He didn’t know he was sleeping with her. He thought it was his wife. She supposedly tricked him, or so the story goes.) But his wife bore him a son named Isaac, which is from where all the Jewish people on earth come from. And from Hagar he had a son named Ishmael, which is from where all the Palestinian people/eventually Muslim people come from.
Another interesting fact is this: Many people are familiar with the Biblical story of this strange “god” who wanted to “test Abraham’s dedication to him” so he ordered him to go out to the desert and sacrifice his only son to prove his love for god and then in the last minute just as Abraham was about to plunge a knife down into his son’s chest, this god ordered him to stop and said “relax old man; it was only a test. Here look, there’s a goat/ram/lamb for you to sacrifice instead”. But get this. It doesn’t actually mention in the Bible which son it was. So the Jews consider this a very very important and sacred story and have chosen Abraham as their great and noble godfather figure and believe that the son in question was Isaac. The Muslims also believe this to be a very very sacred and important story, proving how noble and dedicated Abraham was as their holiest of holy godfather figure, but they believe that the son in question was Ishmael. Both religions tell and retell this story all the time but do so with the son character being different. One is the father of the Jewish people and one if the father of the Muslim people.
It’s a fascinating and revealing fact that human beings are still at the point where they can be so devoutly committed to something as a religion and yet be well aware that they aren’t even 100% sure of the details of one of their most important historical facts. This will prove very telling in our upcoming mission I am sure.
So this is all background. I know it’s been a lot. And I don’t blame you if you’ve not made it through all of it. God knows it’s taken me decades to gather all of this information. I wouldn’t expect anyone to absorb it all in an hour. But I’m stuck on a place for seven hours. More importantly, all of it, every single idea herein, will most likely be very telling and important on this journey that we are headed towards. Israel and Palestine may be mere countries full of people. But I find it hard to consider or visit them outside of their respective religious and historical backdrops.
Every time I visit a country to study its culture and learn a foreign language, I start a new leather journal to make notes about the language in. It’s become quite the tradition and I take a lot of pride in the collection of leather books I’ve amassed, one for each language. I have seven now, because I have formally studied seven foreign languages. Nine really. But I’m not counting Twi and German because even though I visited Ghana, I didn’t formally study the language, and I haven’t yet done any immersion courses in German. So I don’t count those two. (even though I put in a ridiculous amount of time into learning German for a year. Talk about a difficult language!) The picture attached is the book I purchased for Hebrew. I have filled it about halfway with notes from my studies thus far — things like “hello, how are you? I’m fine, my name is, where is the bathroom, thank you” etc. The other half I will fill while there just from being bold enough to be willing to constantly ask people “how do you say _____?”
In terms of my ideas and feelings about the different languages, which is something I am constantly asked about, yes language is certainly a passion. Since we’re on a place with nothing to do but read more history, let me offer this: my favorite would be Italian and Portuguese tied for first place — in terms of how beautiful they sound. I know some people who don’t prefer the sound of Portuguese oddly, but I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Besides that, it does something to my heart, an emotional tug, in a way that only Italian does. This pull from Italian makes sense. I am half Italian and raised in a home where Italian was the primary language spoken. So it’s both close in heart to my childhood nurturing and genetically. But Portuguese there’s no explanation for. Perhaps a past life… When I hear it, I just get a very special inexplicable feeling, as if I spoke it all my life and it holds a special familial meaning for me.
A close second place is French. It too is extremely sonorous to listen to. Something very sensual about it. To the ear that is. But not to the mouth. It’s rather strange on the tongue, French. As if the people who created it had some slight deformity in the lip region of their faces and were constantly puckered up in the lips. It’s quite unfathomable really to think about how and why they created a language where the mouth needs to be puckered up the whole time. Similarly to how in Farsi they created their language where one is constantly having to use the back of one’s throat and tonsils to make this very uncomfortable guttural sound, a “gla” sound, as if they were choking on something and trying to pull it up… or how in Hebrew they created their language to have all these very heavy sandpaper-scraping growl-like sounds as if they were always clearing their throats when first developing language. Hebrew is a very rough and bumpy language. Not smooth or suave. In fact the opposite of smooth and suave. Downright nails against the chalkboard. Heavy. Rough. Spanish can be that way too, depending on what dialect you’re speaking. But in a very different way. I cannot hear English objectively because I’ve been speaking it my whole life. I do know that when in a foreign country and you hear a group of people speaking English when you haven’t heard it in a while, it has a tendency to be very intrusive. Noisy. Loud. Not elegant. American English specifically. It’s certainly no French or Italian. But again, I can’t really hear it objectively. I’m always curious how non-native speakers hear English.
In terms of learnability, Spanish is by far the easiest second language to learn. It’s completely phonetic. Nothing tricky. Follows rules and doesn’t veer too far off from them. Though the whole masculine/feminine thing will definitely throw you at first. The idea that every day to day word is either masculine or feminine and that’s what dictates it’s suffixes and articles. That’s rather annoying. French, Italian, Portuguese, Farsi and even Hebrew do the same, but Hebrew takes it to a whole other level. EVERYTHING is gender based. Even adjectives and adverbs. Like nothing I’ve ever encountered. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You just have to memorize every single word. It’s crazy hard to learn. Besides being difficult to understand and speak. Takes a lot of practice. And patience.
If being The Ambassador is anything more than just attempting to be a nice open-minded person who sees all people the same way, then it’s the fact that he sacrifices and dedicates a ridiculous amount of his free time to learning the language of the people he wishes to plug into and get to know. If there were any money to be made in being The Ambassador I’d be a very wealthy man. But alas this is all just to titillate the brain, nurture the heart and try to make the world a slightly better place.
Having done this in several other countries already, I know what to expect to a certain degree. More than many. On the other hand I do not pretend that one experience will be like any other nor that one trip will help inform any future ones. For each country on earth, each people and culture, is entirely different. We are united in our shared humanity. But most of the time that seems to be where the similarities begin and end. If you’ve ever smashed a live monkey’s head in with a small hammer in order to eat its brains (considered a delicacy in China and Indonesia) then you already know this. I’ve seen much in my travels. I have no idea if I’ve done anything remotely close to help increase the amount of peace in the world. But I pray I have. Or why bother? I always look back on the first time I went to Brasil and especially in the lesser known areas when the people would discover you were from America and were attempting to speak their language, they would act so thrilled and honored. Super happy just from your being there and speaking their language. The same experience in Iran. They treated us as if we were aliens from another planet. They were absolutely in awe to see Americans up close and in the flesh. And when they discovered the reason for our visit, “to help foster more peace”, they were even more trilled and happy. These experiences give me hope. For what we are about to do. I know it will take much more than any of us have the energy or time for in this life. But I do hold out hope that we can one day see peace in the Middle East. Not for any religious ideal, but simply out of a sincere love for humanity. Shouldn’t that be enough?