Open Zion

07.13.12

An Alternative Travel Itinerary for Mitt Romney

Later this month, Mitt Romney will be visiting Israel.

I think we all know why he’s going (to boost his cred among American Jews) and what he’ll do there (follow his friend Bibi to the places official Israel wants him to see, where he’ll smile a lot, except at Yad VaShem, where he’ll be grim-faced and sport a kipa on his Mormon kopf. Also an emotional Western Wall visit. And a speech, in which the Jewish people’s genius and resiliency will be evoked, as will our shared faith heritage, with a barely veiled nod to Barack Obama’s supposed perfidy. There will also be a brief, perfunctory visit with Palestinian officials, but no other Palestinians will be visible). In this day and age, we could Photoshop the whole thing, and save both money and carbon emissions.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the Western Wall or Yad VaShem, places I’ve stood grim-faced and emotional any number of times myself. But on the off chance that Mr. Romney is taking alternative itinerary suggestions, I thought I’d offer a few!

The Wall

The other wall.

Truth be told, it will be all but impossible for Romney to get to his perfunctory meeting with Palestinian officials without at least seeing Israel’s Security Barrier (aka: the Wall)–all 25 concrete feet of it, soaring into the cerulean summer sky–but as impressive as seeing the Wall from a distance can be, there’s really nothing quite like standing right up next to it and imagining it cutting your hometown in half.

There are a number of organizations that offer partial tours (not the whole barrier of course! It runs for hundreds of miles, in and out of the Palestinian West Bank [but mostly in], and who has time for that?), but Romney’s best bet might be Ir Amim, an Israeli NGO dedicated to “an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future.” On an Ir Amim tour, Romney would learn about the Wall, sure, but also about the impact of 45 years of Israeli policy on Jerusalem and the exploitation of history for modern political ends.

Make sure to wear a hat and bring your water bottle!

Jordan River Valley

After his perfunctory meeting with Palestinian officials, which will almost certainly take place in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Romney could easily tootle around the Jordan River Valley, because that’s where Ramallah is located.

His people should set Romney up with the Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East. They’ll teach him about the heartbreaking degradation of the Jordan River, revered in all the Abrahamic faiths, a once-roaring waterway now reduced to a pathetic trickle, over 98% of its fresh water diverted (largely but not exclusively by Israel), with agricultural run-off and raw sewage making up a goodly amount of what remains. (So: No swimming!)

Romney could then visit any of the dozens of Palestinian villages with fresh water springs that have been taken over by either Israeli authorities or armed settlers. These springs are part of the Jordan River’s ecosystem, but rather than feeding the river, they’ve been diverted to serve the water needs of Israel proper and/or the settlements – Palestinians have access to only about 14% of the region’s Mountain Aquifer. Of course, this would mean allowing non-officials into his photo-ops, but I’m sure there are plenty of Palestinians who would be happy for the chance to talk to a powerful American.

Once again, though, bring that water bottle! In my experience, village council buildings often have literally no water in their pipes.

Bereaved Families for Peace/Combatants for Peace

The Jordan River Valley is super hot in July, so Romney and his entourage will no doubt be relieved to hear that my next suggestion is an indoor one.

Why not chat over a plate of humus with members of Bereaved Families for Peace and Combatants for Peace? Both are Israeli-Palestinian organizations made up of the people who have paid the ultimate price in this conflict: They have either lost loved ones, or fought the battles.

Or, in some cases, both. I’m sure that Israeli Combatant for Peace Elik Elhanan would be grateful for the chance to talk to Romney about losing his 14 year old sister to Palestinian terrorism; Palestinian Combatant for Peace Bassam Aramin would no doubt be equally grateful to talk about losing his 10 year old daughter to the Israeli military.

Of course, if a Presidential candidate doesn’t have time for chit-chat, Romney could always read a few personal stories on his iPad on the plane ride over, here or here. I’m sure everyone would understand.

Tel Meggido

But enough humus–time to get back outside, and see a little archeology! Romney should really go to Tel Meggido, aka: Armageddon.

A) He’s read about it in his Bible; B) It’s a stunning locale and recognized World Heritage site (you know: like Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity); and C) There’s a water shaft that descends 25 meters to a 70-meter long tunnel which is both an engineering marvel, and a welcome relief from the oppressive Israeli summer.

When he emerges from the cool, dark tunnel, Romney could use the walk back to his car to reflect on the dozens of civilizations whose remains he’s just visited: Layer upon layer of people who secured the highest mountain around in order to keep themselves and their people safe – but failed in those efforts because they and those they fought never learned how to stop fighting.

On second thought, maybe Romney’s people should just call me.