MidEast

Civil Rights Activist: Strong Relationship Between U.S., Israel Necessary for Stable Middle East

“A strong and impenetrable relationship of strength between America and Israel” is necessary for peace and stability in the Middle East, civil rights activist Ashley Bell told The Tower this week.

Bell is the co-chairman of the 20/20 Club, a bipartisan group of African-American political leaders who are seeking to change how the political system addresses criminal justice issues that negatively impact that African-American community. In 2008, at the age of 27, Bell became the youngest-ever elected county commissioner of Hall County in Georgia. He participated in a “life-changing” trip to Israel with AIPAC along with a group of elected officials from the Atlanta area, and now serves on AIPAC’s national council.

“To visit Israel helped me understand Israel as a concept, as an ally to my home nation, as an incubator for innovation, as a good kid in a bad neighborhood,” Bell said.

I realized that Israel is surrounded by enemies and those enemies are the same enemies as [those of] the United States. … I understand how complex the issues are after going to Israel. And now I understand that anything less than a strong and impenetrable relationship between America and Israel is actually a provocation for more violence and more unrest and instability in the Middle East. So I’m doing my part to make sure that relationship stays the same and stays strong.

Bell said one of the most important moments in his visit to Israel was when a mother in Sderot showed him a video of children reacting to a siren warning of an incoming rocket from Gaza.

I saw these children who are about four to six years old, as soon as they heard the sirens, begin to reach out their hands for each other and sing this Hebrew song. And this Hebrew song lasted 10 or 11 seconds. [The mother] told me that they know when they hear the siren, [they] sing the song and reach for each other and go into the shelter, because when the song ends, the bombs hit. It was chilling for me because the American in me would wake up that next morning demanding that my government annihilate whatever was coming after children that day. The American in me would say that there is no compromise, there is nothing than stop me from advocating every day that whoever was launching rockets at my kids is annihilated and wiped off the face of the planet. But then I understood that the reason Israel can’t do that is the complexity of their relationships in the region and the complexities and geopolitical landscape that require a different approach. But I understood and I hurt for that mother. So for me, I want Israel to have the same opportunity that Americans have: absolute sovereignty and the ability to defend themselves. And the only way they can do that is because of a strong Israel-American relationship.

Bell added that he saw his role as “speaking truth to power” to dispel misconceptions about Israel in the African-American community.

Far too many times in the black community, we have a perception that it is a racial issue, when Palestinians sometimes like to market themselves as similar to African-Americans. … I think that that’s intellectually dishonest. I want to protect the legacy of what we fought for in our country from the civil rights movement forward. I don’t want that tarnished by this movement in Palestine trying to co-opt the civil rights movement, trying to co-opt the struggle for freedom that we had to go through in this country. So for me it’s personal. …

I feel that I have to speak out in my community to let people know that Israel as a country is a unique place and that their treatment of people of African descent is unrivaled, because they’re the only country in the history of the world that has invited people of African descent into their country free, not bound by chains. So from its conception it has been hospitable, it has been more than welcoming of all Jews of all colors, and no one’s saying that in my community. So my part is to speak out and speak truth to power so that we can have another voice.

A 2015 study conducted by Prof. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, a director at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, found that “40 percent of children in Sderot experience symptoms of anxiety, fear, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

According to the IDF, Palestinian groups have launched over 11,000 rockets at Israel since it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, with over 5 million Israeli civilians living under threat of rocket fire.

[Photo: Jim Ormond / YouTube ]