Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, has generated headlines lately by urging singer Alicia Keys to avoid “soul danger” and cancel her July 4 concert in Tel Aviv. Keys and other celebrities should ignore Walker and visit Israel. They may be amazed at what they discover.
I was fortunate to see Israel for the first time last week, thanks to the America-Israel Friendship League. Five of the eleven journalists on AIFL’s fact-finding trip were new here. Keys and other artists likely would find Israel at least as surprising as we did.
First and foremost, Israel’s omnipresence in the U.S. media makes it sound like a superpower. But as much as anything, Israel is impressively compact. At just 7,992 square miles, it is slightly larger than Clark County, Nevada (greater Las Vegas), but smaller than New Hampshire. Israel is crowded on three sides by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. It could fit 157 times within the land masses of those countries.
Israel is not just small. It’s svelte. At its thinnest point, near Netanya — just north of Tel Aviv — Israel spans just nine miles. The land separating Israel’s Mediterranean beaches from its border with the Palestinian Authority covers roughly the same distance as does Manhattan between Battery Park and the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, or Los Angeles from the Santa Monica Pier to the La Brea Tar Pits. Conquer those nine miles, and you chop Israel in two. Given this existential danger, the late foreign minister Abba Ebancalled this and the rest of Israel’s narrow waistline its “Auschwitz boundaries.”
Nevertheless, Israel is the little country that could. Within a desert that is hostile in every sense, Israel has become a prosperous nation with a per capita income of $29,512, its Central Bureau of Statistics reports. In 2012, Israel’s GDP expanded by 2.7 percent, while America’s grew just 2.2 percent. Israel’s unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, vs. 7.6 percent in the U.S.
This start-up nation has pioneered plenty, including drip irrigation, the computer flash drive, and the PillCam, which lets doctors remotely examine a patient’s digestive tract after he has swallowed an aspirin-sized camera.