1st report from Israel

Jerusalem, Sunday, 830am - I arrived in Israel late Friday afternoon a few days before I am slated to speak at the well-regarded Herzliya conference on Monday morning. I have visited Israel just once before, in 1993, for a wonderful trip that lasted 10 days. Some initial impressions:

- Jerusalem and its hills are much more beautiful than I remember. Though a little chilly yesterday, I visited the top of the Mount of Olives in several spots and was able to see both east, towards the West Bank, and West towards the Old City. It was a clear day, allowing views all the way to the Dead Sea and Jordan and well beyond Jerusalem proper. The air was fresh and vital, a wonderful breeze was blowing all day, the sun was warm and inviting. And the views....well let us just say this is a place of unnatural natural beauty.

- The newly erected "Security Fence," separating Israel from the lands of the Palestinian Authority, is very present in and around Jerusalem. There can be little doubt that resolving the final status of Jersusalem will be difficult, and consequential.

- Modern communications is simply a wonder. When I landed in Israel my blackberry and phone worked just like home, keeping me in real time communication with the office, my listserves, my friends and family. I am writing this from my laptop, which has a global wireless connection. After breakfast this morning I came back to my room and scanned over the internet the major American papers and sites like Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo to get caught up on the elections last night.

On the way in from the airport my cab driver, a Palestinian Israeli, had a cell phone mount on his dashboard and what looked like a GPS. He took several calls during the trip into Jerusalem, putting on his wireless ear piece to talk. And of course he played American music for the entire drive.

In recent years most of my travels have been inside the US. With my 3 kids getting old enough to allow me to leave my remarkable wife for some longer trips, I plan on traveling more this year to see how globalization and this communications revolution is changing the world. As someone who did a great deal of traveling as a younger guy, before cell phones and the internet, before cash cards and computers, it is remarkable how different traveling is today. You feel much less "away," much less distant from my American life, as it all comes with you now wherever you go. All of this makes travel, distance somehow much less a hardship. It is a very different way to travel than even when I was here in 1993. Very different.

This new global communications network is creating a truly global web of information, bringing all the worlds people closer together. We are all becoming more mobile, more connected, less distant from one another. Half the world's 6 billion people are now on this global communications grid, something that will without doubt do much to spread ideas, spur the desire for personal freedom and democracy, and increasingly lift isolated and poor communities from poverty and ignorance.

But as I am reminded, here in Jerusalem, even in this modern age, identity, faith and history can be monumental barriers to overcome, no matter how wired and connected we may all be.

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