I don’t usually get so personal in these columns, but today I want you to know that I feel particularly blessed. I am in the Holy Land with my friends, Dr. Ben and Candy Carson.
Israel is one of my favorite travel destinations in the world. This will be my eighth visit. It is the first trip there for the Carsons and it is truly a privilege to escort them through this remarkable country.
Dr. and Mrs. Carson are deeply faithful Christians, who I suspect will soon find themselves enveloped by the deep sense of spirituality that is palpable in the air of Israel. They will no doubt be very moved by the experience of touring Israel’s capital city Jerusalem, a city sacred to Jews, Christians and which, despite not being mentioned in the Koran, has become significant for Muslims too.
There we will walk the same streets traversed by Jesus, gaze upon the Mount of Olives, and visit the Western Wall, a retaining structure that is all that remains of the Second Temple, built on the very spot where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac.
We plan to see Nazareth, and to head north to explore the Galilee. With Christmas fast approaching we hope to also be able to visit Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus now under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
On the secular level, this visit will be a fact-finding mission for Dr. Carson. He is not a politician, but rather a man of many intellectual accomplishments who is visiting Israel to gain a deeper understanding of the many complex forces at play in the Middle East.
Dr. Carson will fly along Israel’s narrow borders to see for himself the immense defense challenges that Israel faces. At its narrowest point Israel is just nine miles wide. The capital cities of surrounding countries that seek to attack and ultimately destroy the Jewish state are in closer proximity that many major American cities are to one another.
Perched along Israel’s border with Lebanon is Hezbollah, a terrorist organization supported spiritually and financially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Few Americans realize that Hezbollah is second only to al-Qaeda in terms of the numbers of Americans killed by this brutal terrorist army with global reach.
Syria also sits along a section of Israel’s northern border. There, the brutal chaos of its bloody civil war continues unabated. “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” said President Obama in August 2011. However, despite President Obama’s assertion that Bashar Assad must go, he is still ruling the country with an iron fist while over 190,000 Syrians have gone to their graves.
To the south of Israel is Hamas, a terrorist organization whose founding charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and whose reign of terror also holds the Palestinians of Gaza in its grip.
Even while Egypt and Jordan fight to maintain their internal stability while faced with challenges from radical Islamist elements, their borders with Israel have been quiet since peace deals were reached between Israel and these two neighbors. Like most pragmatic thinkers and successful businessmen, Dr. Carson believes it is important to learn from what works and to adopt best practices that have proven successful. To that end, he will make time on his short trip to visit Jordan and examine the Middle East of today from that country’s perspective.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Christians and other religious minorities are under immense threat, in many cases desperately fleeing for their lives from their ancient communities. Dr. Carson will visit with Christians residing in the Palestinian territories, as well as Christian Arabs in Israel, where the right to worship is respected and Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites are protected.
This trip will be jam-packed with important stops all along the way that will underscore the most deeply held values of Dr. and Mrs. Carson. The Carsonswill also devote time to exploring areas of great interest, from the booming entrepreneurial technology sector within Israel to cutting-edge medical developments to innovative programs helping at-risk teenagers.
This whirlwind will undoubtedly contain the deep and thoughtful experiences that will help shape Dr. Carson’s perspective on Israel and the broader Middle East. Like you, I look forward to hearing his impressions, which he will share with us all on TV, radio, and in newspapers and other online outlets.