I've returned from a very interesting experience. I went overseas for a couple of reasons. One to enjoy myself, to get out of Texas, have a chance to relax after what was a grueling campaign for me and I was able to do that.
We first went to Italy. It was an unbelievable experience to go to a place where there are millions of mopeds and artifacts from centuries ago. I think the most magnificent moment was when we went to St. Peter's Cathedral which was ? I can't explain to you it's magnificence in its beauty - the art in Italy is beyond belief. We had a wonderful experience. During that period I flew over and had dinner with President Mubarak of Egypt and was there for a couple of hours. I didn't get to spend much time in Egypt but I did have a lot of time with the President of this most important country. I listened a lot. He's a man of ? a friend of America's; a personal friend of my family's and I was interested to hear his view of how to achieve peace in that part of the region.
Then I went to Israel. As I declared early, when I got to Israel I was there to listen and learn - and I learned a lot. I learned a lot about the history of Israel and the history of my particular religion and the history of religions that are now the dominant religions of the world. For those of you that have been to Jerusalem you know how amazing it is within the walls of the old city. How you can have a place of profound significance for the Christian religion right next to the profound place of significance for Judaism and for Muslim. It's a place where people from all religions are able to coexist. And it's a magnificent experience for me and my family and the other governors who were traveling with me.
I was able to learn a lot about the security needs of our strong friend and ally, Israel. It's hard to believe as a Texan how small Israel is, I mean, we're used to huge spaces. I just got off the campaign where I spent nearly everyday in a King Air trying to get from one stop to the other. Had I gotten on that same King Air and I took off out of Jerusalem it would have been no time before I'd be in either Jordan or in Syria. It's a small country and it was important for our Israeli host to remind our delegation of how really small it was so I got on a helicopter one day and flew with the foreign minister Ariel Sharon to see first hand how small the population was between, what has been over the course of history, enemy lines and population centers. We went to the Golan Heights where I was able to hear a general brief us on what the war was like to take the Golan Heights and then how important the Golan Heights are to the security of the people living in northern Israel.
An interesting anecdote happened when I was there. A lady popped up and said, "I need to visit with you Governor. I want to talk about the human dimension of what its like to live in the Golan Heights and, oh by the way, I was born in Laredo, Texas." This caught my attention and we had a long visit there on a mountaintop in northern Israel listening to this lady talk about life in a kibbutz. She was been living in the kibbutz for about twenty years. She heard the nationalistic call, moved to Israel her, and husband is now one of the larger avacodo growers in northern Israel but it was really interesting to hear the human side of what it's like to love a country as much as she does and yet have the concerns about living so close to a border of a nation that often posted a real threat to their way of life.
I saw democracy firsthand in Israel. Israel is the only democrat country that practices democracy in the Middle East. The Israeli government was more than happy to help us to see a lot. We had dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I also went by their house and had a personal visit, which was most interesting. I got to meet the opposition leader in the Knesset - General Barak. I went to see the Knesset in action as well in the calm moment but the speaker invited us to come over which we did. I met many of the ministers as well as cabinet officials, cabinet officials/ministers and some of the committee chairmen of the Israeli Knesset. And finally I learned of the great potential for our state in trading with Israel. We've got over $600 million of trade with Israel now. Israel is interesting, Israel is short on natural resources in terms of resources you find in the ground but it's very long on the most natural resource of all which is brain power. Israel has got a tremendous amount of talent - smart folks - many of whom have immigrated from places like Russia.
I was told by Natan Sharansky that last year in the country of Israel that there had been over three thousand entrepreneurial start ups in that country. I went and toured the defense facility of Ben Gurion Airport for a couple of reasons. One I am very interested in looking at Israel's development of an antiballistic missile system as well as hearing their plans for the galaxy airliner that is now been manufactured in conjunction with the Pitzger Family at Alliance Airport. I saw the wonderful business opportunities that exist not only within Israel but also hopefully with Israel and Texas entrepreneurs as well.
Finally, my wife and I really can't say enough positive things about the hospitality we received everywhere we went and for that I was most grateful. With that said, I'm really glad to be home. There's nothing like sleeping in your own sack!