- - Thursday, June 6, 2019

Hope and respect will help bring peace throughout Israel.

Tonette and I visited Israel this past week. I saw a glimpse of that hope while visiting a company called Alon Group in Samaria. There we spoke with owner Rafael Alon and his team. Of the hundreds of people that they employ at that factory, about half of the workforce is Jewish and the other half is Arab.

Rafael says he loves all of his employees. And he notes with pride that his workers make about two and a half times as much at his factory as people make in the Arab areas. Having a good-paying job makes people much more interested in keeping their job and maintaining their homes without conflict.

A fatal attack nearly closed the company down, but the employees stuck together. They did not allow tragedy to tear them apart. They were united.

Solid jobs that allow people to put a roof over their head and food on their table brings hope. And those who have hope are peaceful people. Yet another reminder of how free enterprise helps improve the lives of the many — in Israel and around the world.

The visit to Alon Group was also a reminder of the harm being done by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). A movement that claims to help Arabs actually hurts them by imposing real costs against companies that hire both Jewish and Arab workers. If the employers have to lay off people because of the impact of BDS campaigns, everyone gets hurt — including the Arabs.

As governor, I signed an executive order that prohibits state agencies from entering into contracts with companies that boycott Israel. My order stated that “Israel is a firm and faithful friend of the United States.” It is important that leaders in the United States understand the facts and speak out in defense of Israel. I will continue to do so.

Mutual respect is the other key element to achieving peace.

As the sun rises each day in Israel, I hear the sounds of morning prayers. I see the towers from mosques all over the city in Jerusalem. And there are steeples from the Christian churches. Jews, Muslims and Christians living and working together. It is a visual sign of religious tolerance in Israel that you rarely see in other parts of the Middle East.

Walking into the Old City through the Damascus Gate, I stopped at the home where Mark Twain stayed while visiting Israel. Later, we prayed at the Western Wall and walked through the plaza near the Temple Mount that is open to the public.

As a Christian, I was honored to return to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is built over the place — known as Calvary or Golgotha — where we believe that Jesus Christ was crucified and over the site of the empty tomb. The church is filled with visitors from many different religions and from many different places.

Tonette and I walked along the Via Dolorosa (translated as the Way of Suffering), which is the path believed to have been taken by Jesus on His way to crucifixion. We walked the path with visitors from around the world.

Along the way, we stopped to look through a doorway at the Dome of the Rock — one of the most recognizable sites in the world. Muslims freely enter through the doorway, but access is limited, so we just stopped to take a look.

In Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity — where Christ was born. To get to the church requires a change in transportation as the area is under the control of the Palestinian National Authority (PA).

Later, we visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. This is where Abraham and Sarah are buried. The tombs are important to Jews as well as Muslims — Christians too. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, Hebron came under Jewish control for the first time in roughly 2,000 years and the 700-year-long restriction limiting Jews to the seventh step outside the tombs was lifted.

Today, tourists are allowed to enter and the site is run by Israelis, but the surrounding area is under the control of the PA. Inside the tombs, the Arabic on the walls remains as a sign of respect. Visitors get to fully appreciate the importance of the area to various religions.

On stop after stop, we realize that respect is the only way to achieve lasting peace in the region. And that respect must be mutual.

For those looking to judge Israel from outside its borders, I would encourage visits to see what I saw and a chance to truly understand the facts. All too often, people are caught up in the rhetoric — instead of understanding the reality of the situation.

Hope and respect are the keys to peace in Israel.

Scott Walker was the 45th governor of Wisconsin. You can contact him at swalker@washingtontimes.com or follow him @ScottWalker.

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