Back in Cincinnati, Hugh Gallagher runs a company that makes U-bolts for trailers. So he knows a few things about connections. But it wasn't until he went to Jerusalem with Glenn Beck that Gallagher began to get his arms around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I've been here three times, but this time I've got more in-depth understanding of what's going on," Gallagher said, as he filed toward the hilltop that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims know as the Noble Sanctuary which Beck made use of as a backdrop for his ongoing tour of the Holy Land.
"The Palestinians here have a lot of problems," he said, "but at the same time, lots of problems they've made for themselves. It's obviously a very complicated problem, but if the Arab countries had assimilated the Palestinians, there wouldn't be a Palestinian problem. For three generations of Palestinians to be living in refugee camps is just absurd!"
Gallagher paused and let his fellow Americans move past him; they were concerned citizens who, like himself, equated Israel with righteous resilience and Beck with straight talk from the heart. Beck's "Restoring Courage" campaign was winding up with its fourth straight event in Israel. He talked about the need to "stand by Israel" and also to restore personal responsibility. And if, during the 90-minute finale, the word Palestinian would not pass the broadcaster's lips, the absence went unremarked by travelers whose weeklong itinerary, according to Gallagher, included no exposure to the other side.
"It would've been interesting to hear what the Palestinians had to say," Gallagher said, "but our tour guide, who's an ex-army major, told of instances where he talked to Palestinians and they say Jews were raping Arab women and on and on and on. But more people in the U.S. need to have a better understanding of what's going on."
Many watched from home. Beck's staff reported 1,400 "viewing parties" worldwide tuned to GBTV, the Internet channel ($4.95 a month through September) on which Beck has appeared since leaving Fox News. Of those who signed up online to go to Israel with him, several who could manage the $6,000 fee spoke affectingly of those who perhaps could not but went regardless "to make a statement," said Gallagher. The Americans appeared to number about 500, though Beck's organization claimed there were more.
"They're not rich people, most of them," said Sharon Lambly, 71. One of the few Jews in the group, she retired to Sedona, Ariz., after vice presidencies at IBM and Hershey and after she found her faith in the system shaken over the past eight years by behaviors in Washington: "the absence of leadership and clear thinking," she said.
"He says, 'Support Israel,'" Lambly said of Beck, "but what he's basically saying is, 'Do good. Do things the respectful way and change things.'"
It was indeed a largely positive message Beck delivered under a cerulean sky in what resembled a megachurch service, albeit one adapted to a holy site shared by three faiths. The band and singers hit notes evoking Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in that order of appearance. "This plot of land, though tiny, is big enough for three religions," Beck exulted. "It must be as big as God's heart!"
But it was not all light. "We had several people back out at the last minute," Beck said, moments after the Jerusalem mayor proclaimed the basis of the city's economy should be tourism. "The Middle East is a very dangerous place." He gave one award to survivors of a horrific home invasion in a West Bank settlement (without identifying it as a settlement) and another to an Israeli supermarket magnate whose outlet in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc sells to both Arabs and Jews. He warned of a Nazi resurgence and mocked anyone who did not recognize militant Islam as the force driving the Arab Spring.
During quiet moments, the bleats of protesters drifted up from the back, where several dozen Israelis protested Beck. Some objected to his support for settlements. Others opposed him as the most prominent figure of evangelical Christians (though Beck is Mormon), the so-called Christian Zionists whose support for Israel in many cases harks to an "end of days" narrative that not only welcomes the return of Jews to their biblical homeland but also requires them to convert to Christianity to survive the apocalypse. "Evil is growing," Beck said at one point, speaking on what will happen. "Darkness is coming."
"A lot of people find it suspicious," said Shoshana Mageni, 65, who traveled from a settlement near Hebron. "The question is, Who is doing it for what reasons? If their real agenda is to ultimately convert the Jews to Christianity and they're putting their foot in the door. I'm not sure."
On the other hand, evangelical support helped lift American legislators to their feet for much of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's May address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. "Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Glenn Beck you take everyone with a personality and try to analyze, you find a problematic thing that he said," says Danny Danon, the Likud parliamentarian who hosted Beck at the Knesset earlier in the summer. "We are not in a position to be picky about who is supporting Israel and who is not, and why now and not before."
If much of the world sees the conflict from the Palestinian perspective, Israel was still an underdog on Wednesday night. Lambly said she originally made plans to go to Israel a year from now but moved up her plans because "with the Palestinians going to the U.N. and all, I hope there'll be an Israel."
She smiled and followed the directions of the ushers to the area where the bus would arrive. Scott and Sheila Powers were already waiting. "We recognize there's good and evil working in the world," said Scott, a Houston native who now lives in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates; he works in petroleum. "We wanted to stand in the light. Many Muslims walk in the light as well."
Sheila waved away the controversy over evangelicals and the Jewish state with a question. "Do you think they need our support, really?" she said. "But it's not about logic. It's about faith."