Obama wraps up Middle East trip
Friday, January 13, 2006
CHICAGO ABC 7 NEWS
By Chuck Goudie
Illinois Senator Barack Obama is wrapping up his journey to the Middle East. One of his final stops in Israel was the Yad Vashem, the country's Holocaust museum and memorial.
After 10 days of non-stop talking with government and military leaders in Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and finally Israel,Senator Barack Obama Friday ended his first Middle Eastern tour with the sound of silence.
Senator Obama's eyes drifting skyward under a mosaic memorializing the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. On his final day, Obama paid a somber visit to Yad Vashem, Israel's impressive Holocaust memorial and museum. Yad Vashem is a saying from the Old Testament which means, "Give them an eternal name."
Again, in stark silence, Obama placed a wreath next to the eternal flame burning in the memory of those lost in the Holocaust. Then, in a biting wind atop the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, Obama reflected on what he saw at the memorial and what he has learned since arriving in the Middle East earlier this month.
Our interview overlooked hallowed gravesites on the mountainside. Below us at the foot of the mount was the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus stayed in Jerusalem.
"As you travel through the Middle East what keeps on striking home to me is how similar everyone is, and yet the degree to which we can find differences to fight wars over. It requires a great deal of empathy, I think, between various sides to overcome this history and live in peace," the senator said.
Even peace is defined differently in Jewish settlements across the West Bank of Israel. Among them, Karne Shomron, northeast of Tel Aviv, deep in the heart of the West Bank, where it is known as Chicago Street, for the dozen Jewish families that have moved there from Chicago.
Some in Israel paid closer attention than others to this week's official visit by Illinois Senator Barack Obama. They would be the hundreds of Jewish Chicagoans who have returned to the holy land the past two decades.
Twenty miles northeast of Tel Aviv, the mountainside settlement of Karne Shomron, population about 6,000. In this West Bank neighborhood, a quiet street nicknamed Chicago. This has been home to one family that moved from Chicago eighteen years ago, a bookbinding craftsman named Chaim Spring.
Spring travels from Israel to Chicago several times a year for his custom bookbinding business but considers Israel home. He invited his rabbi, also a Chicago native and some Chicago neighbors to his home Friday. We discussed the upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections and the recent stroke suffered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"We don't take too seriously all the discussions that take place," Spring said. "Because here was Sharon, for example, who two weeks ago was a superhuman figure, now is lying on his back. So things change rapidly, and there have been times we felt almost any day someone will take our settlement out."
"I was brought up with the idea this is our homeland and this is where we belong," said Shelley Trattner.
Since Trattner and her three children moved to Israel from Chicago, they have watched the violence around them. One day four years ago it touched her family when her son and his wife were sitting in a West Bank pizza shop.
"A suicide bomber came in and exploded himself there, killed a lot of people. My son was one of them hurt badly," said Trattner.
He survived, but danger is constant for the more than 5 millions Jews and 1 million Arabs living within Israel's borders, all of whom are directly affected by security walls constructed under Prime Minister Sharon that have curtailed suicide bombings.
But settlement rabbi Sidney Gold of Chicago says many Israelis don't feel any safer.
"The wall isn't a straight line. It meanders and is not an easily defended line. If the wall was a solution, they would've done it years ago," said Gold.
At the end of his week in Israel, Illinois Senator Barack Obama says he is optimistic that the US can guide a peaceful solution.
"Because of the distraction of Iraq, and the work we've been having to do there, we probably haven't been paying as much attention to what is happening here in Israel as we should. We need to be much more actively focused here, and that is one thing I will be focused on when I get back to Washington," said Obama.
Illinois' junior senator returns to Chicago Saturday morning having visited Iraq, Israel and three other Gulf states.
Obama says the US needs to seize this moment in history to move the process forward and suggests that if both the Israelis and Palestinians bring humility to the table there is always hope for peace.
Senator Obama met Friday with the American-Israel political action committee that lobbies in Washington on behalf of Israel's interests.
Obama says he will return to Washington with newfound appreciation for the difficult struggles ahead in this region and renewed hope that the United States can help Israel and the Palestinians transcend their many differences.