Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Palestinian Nationalism

In 1948, there was no talk of a state for the Palestinians. If one walked on the streets of West Jerusalem in those days and asked a random person where the closest Palestinian place of worship was, he would be pointed to a synagogue. Today’s main English Israeli Newspaper, the Jerusalem Post, was then known as the Palestine Post; the Palestinian Philharmonic was comprised of Jews, as was the Palestinian unit in the British army that fought in the Second World War. That’s because the term “Palestine” referred not to a national or ethnic identity, but simply to an area of territory. The 1922 League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine refers to those who inhabited the country as either “Jews” or as “…non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The lack of the word “Palestinian” is not some gross bureaucratic oversight, but simply a reflection of the reality that, at that time, there was no cohesive national group that laid claim to Palestine other than the Jews. Therefore, anyone who lived in this area was referred to as a Palestinian, much like anyone residing in California is called a Californian, without regard to race, religion, nation of origin, or language. Furthermore, Californians do not have a national identity distinct from Oregonians or Arizonians. They are all Americans, just as 1922 Palestinian Arabs, Syrian Arabs, and Egyptian Arabs, while identifying first and foremost by tribe, clan, and religion; identified collectively as Arabs.

Prior to the birth of Zionism in the 1890’s, there was already a tiny population of both Jews and non-Jews. Jews, mostly religious pilgrims, attained a majority in Jerusalem in the 1850s, and many other holy cities attained Jewish majorities shortly thereafter. Still, the country was largely empty. In 1857, the British consul to the region commented, “The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population." Mark Twain published a book on his travels to the Holy Land, Innocents Abroad, in 1867. He describes The Jezreel Valley, originating in the Judean hills and terminating in Israel’s third largest city, Haifa, today the breadbasket and industrial powerhouse of the State of Israel, as desolate and abandoned. “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] -- not for 30 miles in either direction. . . . One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings.” Mark Twain also visited the major Arab cities of Nazareth, Jericho, and Bethlehem, from which suicide bombers and mortars are emanating every day in the fight for “free Palestine.” “For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee... Nazareth is forlorn... Jericho lies a moldering ruin... Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation... untenanted by any living creature... A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds... a silent, mournful expanse... a desolation... We never saw a human being on the whole route... Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country... Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes... desolate and unlovely...” His words are confirmed by a Turkish Census of 1882, which counts the Muslim population of Palestine as 141,000, on a land which is today home to 9.2 million people.

The Arabs living in Palestine today are, in fact, a collection of people from every corner of the Arab world and even Europe. Their mass immigration to Palestine is well documented by Ottoman, British, and even Arab sources. By 1939, even Winston Churchill had noticed that, “Far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied.” Spurred in large part by the rapid economic growth and employment opportunities created by Zionist and British land reclamation and industrialization products, Arabs began immigrating as rapidly as the Jews.

The first mass riots and violent disorder in Palestine began in 1929 when the Arabs came to realize that they would soon lose their majority. Under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti (caretaker) of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, politically the Yassir Arafat of his day, the Arabs revolted in an attempt to become a part of the future state of Syria. As a local Arab leader proclaimed to the British Peel Commission in 1937, "There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented. . . . Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it." Over and over again, Arab historians and spokespeople repeatedly denied the existence of “Palestine.”

The idea of the existence of the Palestinian people did not begin to pick up steam until after 1967. Between 1948 and 1967, the “Palestinians” of Judea and Samaria, known today as the West Bank, were called Jordanians, carried Jordanian passports, and identified Jordan’s King Hussein as their leader. Likewise, Gaza was a part of Egypt and the Arabs there were identified as Egyptians. The rest, those who had remained living under Israeli sovereignty, attained full citizenship, carried Israeli passports, and identified themselves as “Israeli Arabs.” Those “Southern Syrians” who had left Palestine as refugees during the 1948 war and wandered to Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt found themselves as permanent refugees, denied citizenship in any country. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO,) today headed by Yassir Arafat, was not founded until 1964. It was first chaired by Ahmed Shukairy, who had denied the existence of Palestine less than 10 years earlier. Then, after the Six Day War of June of 1967, the map changed, and so did everything else.

This heterogeneous assortment of Egyptians and Jordanians, Christians and Muslims, who had been living in the Jordanian West Bank and Egyptian Gaza were suddenly dominated by Israel. Israeli Jewish Western culture is a polar opposite from the surrounding Arab Eastern culture, and the Arabs were unable to adjust. One can never expect an Arab to stand tall, place his hand on his heart, and proudly cry out they lyrics of Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem, “The soul of a Jew yearns… To be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem!” The surrounding Arab nations, their armies smashed, decided that they could not militarily defeat Israel, and these former Jordanians and Egyptians were left to their own devices.

This assortment of people, refugees in countries which refused to offer citizenship, former Egyptians and Jordanians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and Arab citizens of Israel, now had much in common. None of them belonged to a nation. The Syrians had Syria, the Egyptians had Egypt, what did they have? When someone came along and offered them a unifying vision, told them that they were something, Palestinians, rather than nothing, who can blame them for believing it? Just as the Pre World War II Germans, defeated and starving, were ready to believe Hitler’s myth that they were really heroic superhuman “Aryans,” the descendents of ancient pure Nordic stock; so all the refugees and defeated, stateless Arabs became “Palestinians,” descendant from the ancient “Philistine” people of the bible. A proud and dignified history stretching from the beginning of time was retroactively applied to these people whose original homeland had been “unjustly stolen” by the Jews.

But why does all this matter? Every nation on Earth was created for a heterogeneous mixture of peoples at its origin. The Jews, descended from Abraham, a Babylonian from the city of Ur, have picked up people from every race and nationality throughout their travels on the globe. The Palestinians today fit the definition of a nation, sharing a language, a flag, a leader, an identity, and a future. A nation formed 4,000 years ago does not have stronger rights than one formed 35 years ago, just as a 75 year old man does not have stronger rights than an 18 year old boy. Likewise, by the standards of secular western culture, the inalienable human rights of people who live in the West Bank and Gaza are not nullified by the fact that they believe in the Palestinian Lie. Greek soldiers, while making war with the Turks, would often recite lines from the Illiad and the Oddysey to each other as a battle cry to boost morale. Nobody believes that Odysseus actually battled a real Cyclops, but it is still a part of the collective national history of the Greek people and in no way diminishes their claim to nationhood.

The danger of the Palestinian Lie is that it serves as the basis for an even bigger lie, that of the yearning for a Palestinian state. Every day we hear that Palestinians are fighting for an “independent Palestine.” Under the guise of a movement of national liberation, the Palestinians have, in fact, seized on every justification that Zionism used to create Israel and perverted them into justifications for the destruction of the State of Israel. The Jews have the right to a state? Well, so do the Palestinians! And, since the borders of the ancient Palestinian homeland, in an act of cosmic coincidence, just happen to perfectly correspond to those of the modern Jewish homeland, then Israel must become Palestine. The Jews have a Diaspora? Now the Palestinians have a Diaspora whose number Arafat places, through another coincidence, at “Six million refugees!” The Jews have an ancient history here? So do the Palestinians, who are now the descendents of the ancient Philistines. The Jews wanted to be able to breathe free? Well, the Palestinians just want to breathe free of the Israeli occupation. The Jews have the Holocaust? The Palestinians have Al-Nabka, the “tragedy” of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

It sounds so symmetric, so perfect, but it’s really just a thin veneer. Of course, the words always come out perfectly. The simple Palestinian desire for the “Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees” which is “enshrined in international law” sounds like a just and noble cause for which to fight, but it is not. International law makes no stipulation for a “Right of Return” of Palestinian refugees, only of a “just settlement” which can include compensation or integration into the local society. While the Geneva Convention does, in fact, call for repatriation of refugees, the Palestinians are not signatories and never can be as long as they continue firing rockets and mortars from built-up civilian areas and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians, acts which are themselves naked violations of the Geneva conventions. The constant refrain of, as Palestinian Spokesperson Saib Erakat loves to bark out, “A Palestinian State based UN Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338!” is yet another hollow farce. A quick glance at the text of these resolutions reveals that the word “Palestine” and “Palestinian” does not in fact appear in these resolutions. The resolutions only call for a partial Israeli withdrawal from “territories occupied” in the Six Day War and the recognition of other states living in the area.

The best indicator of intent is action, and the actions of the Palestinians are not those of a people fighting for a state. If the Palestinians are truly fighting for an independent state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, why did they reject one at Camp David II? When asked this very question on his recent visit, President Clinton simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.” It is said that Arafat had to reject the offer due to domestic pressure, a fact which says more about the true objectives of the Palestinians as a whole than about Arafat. The idea that Arafat and the Palestinian leadership viewed the Oslo accords as a lead-up to a Palestinian state is fiction. This is where Palestinian Nationalism’s mimicking of Zionism stops. From the beginning of the 20th century, the goal of Zionism was to create a Jewish state. The first step was the creation of agricultural projects throughout the wasteland, followed by road building, the construction of an electric grid, the formation of hospitals, schools, universities, and, eventually, local government and leadership. The idea of a Jewish army was never spelled out as a goal of Zionism and was mentioned only in passing. In fact, the first units of what would later become the Israeli army were simply small bands of armed Jews defending their collective farms, only later to be unified into a single fighting force. By contrast, Arafat’s first and only act of leadership in the Palestinian Authority was the formation of militias and the procurement of arms to be used in a future conflict with Israel. The Palestinians were happy to continue receiving their electricity, water, and basic needs from Israel, even as they plotted to destroy it. The Palestinian Authority did not construct roads, bridges, homes, universities, water purification plants, or any sort of local economy. The dirty work of administering the territories was left to Israel, or simply not done at all, and the Palestinian people sat in increasing squalor.

In fact, the Palestinians have never been truly inspired by statehood. The most revealing document is the Palestinian National Covenant, drafted in 1964 as the founding document of Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. This document does not contain the term “Palestinian State” and refers vaguely to the Palestinian right to live, ”.. in accordance with their wishes and entirely of their own accord and will.” (Article 3.) It is a statement that could mean anything, including annexation of Palestine to Syria, Jordan, or Egypt. If the PLO’s goals with regard to statehood are vague, their goals for Israel are delineated with deadly precision; “..the Palestinian… must be prepared for the armed struggle and ready to sacrifice his wealth and his life in order to win back his homeland and bring about its liberation.” (Article 7) “…the retrieval of Palestine and its liberation through armed struggle.” (Article 8) “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” (Article 9) “Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war.” (Article 10) “national (wataniyya) unity, national (qawmiyya) mobilization, and liberation.” (Article 11) “…the liberation of Palestine” (Article 12) “..the liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence…” (Article 22.) The list goes on and on.

Palestinian nationalism is Zionism’s evil twin brother. Zionism’s primary goal is to gather in the Jews of the world and create a sovereign Jewish state. Palestinian nationalism’s goal is to destroy the Jewish state and disperse or murder its inhabitants. That is why, at Camp David II, when Arafat was forced to choose between a viable Palestinian State in exchange for declaring an end to the conflict, he ran for his life. A Palestinian state ends the statelessness of the Palestinian people, thereby removing the justification for armed struggle. A Palestinian State reveals Palestinian nationalism for what it really is, simply a disguise for the unchanged goal of the complete destruction of the State of Israel. No compromise can ever be reached between these polar opposites, and until the Palestinians relinquish the dream of eradicating Israel and reversing Zionism, there is nothing to discuss.

Monday, January 28, 2002

Hello People

I went to the doctor and she said it was a severe sinus infection, so she perscribed me antibiotics and Ibuprofen and sent me to the pharmacy. The best part of it all is that I didn't have to pay a dime for the checkup or any of the drugs. Since I'm always sick, I'm thinking I should go to three doctors every time for every malady and collect a bunch of antibiotics to take back to the U.S., so when I get sick here, I can just take what I collected in Israel fro free rather than shell out $60.

When I asked where to pay, the pharmacists started laughing at me. The Ibuprofen seems to kill the pain almost as well as the vicadin, without the drowsiness, but it kind of makes me feel like puking. Oh well, can't win 'em all. I started taking the pills they gave me and they have helped me greatly. It still hurts, but only a little bit, so now I am at the lab working again. The explosive pressure has also died down substantially. I am beginning to suspect that my constant contraction of diseases has something. Sorry that you couldn't get through last night, but I can't find my celphone. The stupid thing got turned off and is buried under one of the heaps of stuff in my room, so I can't call it and listen for the ring to find it like I usually do.

Mom: Sorry I didn't call last night. I had forgotten that it was my turn because I called two weeks ago, but now I remember that that had counted as your call and you had agreed to pay for it, so it was really my turn.
Otherwise things are great.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Bombings, Shootings, and Intrigue

Eli Hobeika made the headlines again. He was the Christian Phalangist Warlord who, while allied with then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in 1982, commanded the Christian militia which entered the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian camps and massacred hundreds if not thousands of Palestinian civilians. The massacre was conducted in revenge for the assassination of Hobeika’s commander, Bashir Gemayel, the self-declared Maronite Christian president of Lebanon. Ariel Sharon is facing an indictment for war crimes in Belgium; charges which were, by pure coincidence, brought immediately after he was elected Prime Minister, nineteen years after the incident. Hobekia, the man who planned, coordinated, and executed the massacre, was not mentioned in the indictment and has announced his desire to testify against Sharon. This week, several prominent Belgian members of parliament came to visit him and he agreed to testify. Those plans were indefinitely postponed, however, when he and three of his bodyguards were blown to smithereens by a massive car bomb as they entered his armored humvee at 9:40 Thursday morning.

The car bombing will be attributed to Israel. There is, or course, the motive of getting rid of a witness, and the Arabs attribute everything from currency fluctuations to hailstorms to Zionist conspiracies anyway. A new organization called “Lebanese for a Free and Independent Lebanon” claimed responsibility for the assassination. After Israel’s withdrawal from the Lebanese Civil War, Hobeika switched sides and supported Syrian Dictator Hafez al-Assad’s decision to invade and occupy Lebanon, where the Syrian army has been ever since. Hobeika’s support for Syria may be what made him a target, but we’ll never know. Imagine the frustration of planning and carrying out a perfect car bombing operation to publicize your cause, only to have it attributed to Israel.

Hafez Assad’s sickly son, Bashar Assad, took power after his father’s death about two years ago. He is quite young and inexperienced at 37, and has been facing increasing challenges to his country’s occupation of Lebanon. His response to challenges to his authority has been to attack Israel in order to provoke an Israeli retaliation, thus justifying his country’s presence in Lebanon to protect the defenseless Lebanese from Israeli aggression. Thursday night, Hizbullah forces, also under the command of Bashar Assad, launched a barrage of rockets and mortars on Israel’s northern cities, but there were no injuries. Israel responded by launching incursions into Southern Lebanon and bombing some targets to no effect. Sharon has, in the past, responded to Hizbullah attacks in northern Israel by bombing Syrian military installations in Lebanon.

Otherwise, the situation is continuing as normal. There was a shooting attack on a bus stop in Jerusalem on Thursday and two people were killed. One of the victims was a survivor of the massacre at Hebron in 1939, when that ancient Jewish community was destroyed in a previous “intifadah.” All the Palestinian terror organizations have now agreed to launch all-out war on Israel. This must be the seventh or eighth time Hamas has “declared all out war,” and promised to make the lives of Israelis “living hell.” One wonders how many times they have to declare war before they think we get it. Arafat also launched into a tirade of scathing clich├ęs that Israel has “Crossed every red line” and is “humiliating” him.

Today, the Sbarro Italian restaurant in downtown Jerusalem was blown up for a second time, having reopened its doors just a few months ago after completing repairs from the first time it was bombed. One passerby was killed and there are at least 100 casualties. Interestingly, this time it appears that the suicide bomber was a woman. That would be yet another first for Arafat.

Israel has been busy too, running in and out of “Area A”, areas of supposedly full Palestinian sovereignty, a term with less and less meaning by the hour. Last week, the army reoccupied the entire city of Tulkarm for several days and made house-to-house searches for weapons, and then raided a Hamas bomb factory, killing four. It seems that Israel is gradually losing its fear of guerilla warfare. At the beginning of the conflict, most analysts were terrified of reentering Palestinian areas and engaging in street fighting. It was assumed that there were thousands of suicide bombers ready to throw themselves onto approaching Israeli tanks, and that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had worked out elaborate plans to inflict huge casualties on the Israeli Defense Forces. That now appears not to be the case. Israel keeps stepping up its actions, and there is relatively little resistance.

That’s not to say that Hamas and the PA aren’t trying. Yesterday, they launched three crude Kassam 2 rockets on Jewish communities in the Gaza area. The Kassam 2 is an easily constructed but inaccurate home-made rocket capable of carrying 10 pounds of explosives. The rocket has a long enough range to strike into the heart of every Israeli city. Hamas and the PA have also been trying to manufacture primitive chemical weapons such as mustard gas. Traces of rat poison and other chemical agents have been found on the corpses of several suicide bombers, but they so far have had no effect. The fear is that Arafat can attach a 10-pound canister of mustard gas to several Kassam 2 rockets and launch a chemical attack on Israel. The army today announced that the Palestinians have successfully smuggled Kassam 2s into Tulkarm, only a few miles from Tel Aviv, and are now capable of launching an attack at any time. Sharon announced that the army would reoccupy any city from which Kassam 2s originated, so it’s only a matter of time now.

Arafat is still contained in his headquarters in Ramallah, his office surrounded by Israeli tanks. His release is conditional the capture of two terrorists who assassinated Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi. In yet another display of increasing sanity and understanding, the Bush administration publicly backed Israel’s decision to keep Arafat imprisoned. As White House spokesman Aryeh Fleischer told reporters, “The president understands the reason that Israel has taken the action that it takes, and it is up to Chairman Arafat to demonstrate the leadership to combat terrorism." Secretary of State Colin Powell has demanded a better explanation from Arafat over the weapons ship captured a few weeks ago. Arafat’s “internal investigation” revealed that it was in fact a Romanian ship which was actually transporting construction materials to Israel. He did not say where the arms had come from. Aryeh Fleischer, however, announced that Arafat had indeed paid for the arms, and that the incident, "has immensely complicated the prospects for getting a return to the peace in the Middle East." The Bush administration is now supposedly considering cutting all contacts with Arafat, closing the Palestinian Authority office in Washington, and cutting off all American funding. The process has already started by declaring the “Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade,” a splinter of a splinter of Yassir Arafat’s Fatah gang, to be a terrorist organization. Anthony Zinni came out earlier today and compared Arafat to New York mafia boss Carlo Gambino, and said that Arafat’s security service chiefs are like mafia bosses who boast about their weapons and how many people they have killed. He referred to Sharon lovingly as a “Papa Bear.”

Meanwhile, the shekel keeps falling and falling in value. On January 1st, I could buy a bottle of coke for five shekels. Today, it costs 6.25. This is further complicated, as the 5 agurot (0.05 shekel) coin has been largely removed from circulation, so I end up paying 6.30. The shekel, which was at 4.05 per dollar at the beginning of 2000 and actually strengthened against the dollar during 1999, is expected to continue devaluing and eventually level off at around five shekels per dollar. Everyone with any savings in shekels has already converted to dollars.

I Hate Being Sick!

I've been incredibly sick lately. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, and it's so frustrating! I just keep moving from one malady to the next to the next since the middle of December. In the last month and a half, I have had maybe one week total without any sort of illness. I started by waking up in the middle of the night puking about a month and a half ago, and the puking gave me a sore throat so bad that I couldn't talk for three days, and then the sore throat gradually became a cold, and the cold went away but my ears stayed stuffed, and it then became an ear infection, etc. etc. I had a few days of healthiness last week during Shabbat. Then, I woke up early (5AM) in Jerusalem last Sunday so I could photograph the sunrise, and I felt fine. But on the bus, when I had almost arrived in Be'er Sheva, I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion and achiness, so I went straight home and lay down. By Monday, it had gotten so bad that it hurt to get out of bed or even move a limb, even just to go to the bathroom. Gradually, that became a sore throat by Wednesday, which transformed into a stuffy cold on Thursday. Friday night (erev Shabbat) I was just getting over the cold when my head started to hurt. It just got worse and worse. I think it's a sinus infection. On Shabbat day (yesterday), I took about five Advil (Spaced out, of course) and a bunch of anti-cold and flu medicine, but it didn't help in the least. I then went home last night and tried to go to sleep, but it hurt so badly I couldn't sleep. It feels like somebody took a balloon, dipped it in sulfuric acid, inserted it inside my brain, and, at every beat of my heart, is trying to inflate it, or like one of those horrible creatures from "Alien" has been gestating in my brain and is now trying to get out. Then, I remembered I had all sorts of prescription pain killers left over from all of my ear maladies in Santa Barbara, so I checked and sure enough I brought them with me to Israel. Now, I'm on Advil, decongestant, and I also took two vicatin. However, the vicatin made me punchy, and right now my head is swimming and I feel like I'm walking everywhere on a cloud of warm air. I decided not to go to work since I'm working with water and electronics, and the equation goes: Electronics + Water + Mind altering drugs = electrocution. The vicatin has helped to reduce the pain but I can still feel it trying to break through the drugs. I have a doctor's appointment at 3:30 (about two and a half hours) and hopefully she'll know what to do. This is really a drag!

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

The True Judge

Today has been a very bad day. At around midnight last night, Kikar Tzion, an open square in the middle of Ben Yehudah mall in Jerusalem, was blown up by a pair of suicide bombers. After paramedics arrived, a car bomb exploded and killed more. The car bomb was apparently timed to go off after the first two explosions to kill as many paramedics as possible. Overnight, another road attack killed one more person, and then, twelve hours after the Jerusalem attack, a bus bomb in Haifa blew up, killing about 15 more people. The numbers are still coming in, but the total seems to be around 25 people in one day.

I was in Jerusalem last night, having spent Shabbat there. I had tried to get a hold of some friends who live in the city to get together and catch up. We usually meet up in Kikar Tzion, but I couldn't get a hold of them, so I decided to hop on the bus to Be'er Sheva and come home instead. I would like to say, "Thank G-d I couldn't get a hold of any of my friends." It leaves a hole in my mental defensive wall to see a place so familiar blown up. Yes, I would like to thank G-d for not killing me, but how can I? If I were to ask another Jew to do something for me which is forbidden for me to do such as driving on Shabbat, eating non-kosher food, or killing someone, it is exactly the same as if I had done it myself. How is dying any different? If G-d decided to kill somebody in my place, am I supposed to say thank you? No. I think that I have a better understanding of why, when we hear that somebody has died, we say the blessing "Baruch atah hashem, elokainu melech haolam, dayan emet", or "Blessed is Hashem, ruler of the universe, the true judge." We don't know all of the facts, we don't have access to all of the information, and it's not our place to judge why such things happen. There may be a plan, but we aren't privy to the details, so the best we can hope to do is just cope and keep going.
And the world does keep turning, however much we hate that fact. We immediately start repairing the damage to our defensive walls. "Well," I tell myself, "I have class on Sunday morning in Be'er Sheva, so even if I had been able to get a hold of my friends, I would have left before midnight because the last bus is at 11:00, so I wouldn't have been at Kikar Tzion for the bombing." Then, earlier today, the bus bomb in Haifa went off. "Well, let's remember, more than 450 people have been killed in road accidents in Israel this year, while only about 150 have been killed in terrorist attacks, and even the terrorist attacks have been mostly individuals driving cars who were ambushed, not busses, right? So it's still safer to ride the bus than drive a car, right?" But somehow, riding the six through downtown Jerusalem and looking at the blown out and charred remains of the facade of Sbarro's Italian Resturaunt, the numbers don't quite seem to add up.

But, numbers or no numbers, the world keeps turning none the less. The networks show the scene of the destroyed bus in Haifa, seats and bus parts strewn all over the street, little bags with human body parts blowing in the wind. And then they return us to our regularly scheduled programming. Stories of people filter through. A friend of mine from ulpan had her best friend, age 20, engaged to be married, blown up. The secretary at work, whose daughter is the same girl in my ulpan, tells me one of her roommate's friends is in the hospital fighting for his life. People who knew I was in Jerusalem last night call me to make sure I'm still ok. The names start going by on the television and I look to see if any of the last names sound familiar, but none do. I don't say thank G-d, I say "hadayan haemet," the true judge.

The politicians come on television. Peres pretends to be angry and says it's all Arafat's fault, but then calls on the government not to take action. The right wingers come on and say, yet again, that we have to go in and take out Arafat. The left wingers say we have to "apply pressure," whatever that means, to get Arafat to live up to signed commitments.

Zinni, the new kid on the block, appointed as Special Mideast Envoy by Bush, gets on television and says how badly he feels that we're all going to die. Bush peels himself away from video fly fishing or whatever it is he's doing in his free time at Camp David in order to make one of the usual bland statements, "Blah blah blah Arafat, blah blah blah cycle of violence, blah blah blah one hundred percent effort." The army will probably go into the Palestinian Autonomous Areas once again for a while. Then, after a few weeks, the diplomats will begin the usual tricks of reversing cause and effect, and say something like "The reason for terrorism is the Israeli Occupation," and the government will succumb to the pressure and withdraw again.
Baruch atah hashem, dayan emet.

The Right to Live in the Land of Israel

Rabbi Chaim Lifschitz opens the door to his office. “Come in, take a seat,” he says with a grandfatherly smile. It is my first week in Israel, and I’m still somewhat jetlagged, so I groggily do as told.

“What you have to understand about Israel,” he says by way of introduction to the country, “is that what you see on the news, more often than not, isn’t true.” He reaches behind him and pulls out an archived edition of National Geographic. He leafs through the pages until he finds an article on Israel and points to the paragraph for me to read. It is an interview he gave with the authors of the article. It quotes him, “’Israel is a land of extremes,’ says Rabbi Lifschitz…” The article goes on with Rabbi Lifschitz describing the different groups and ways of life in the country.

“Okay. What do you want me to understand from this?” I ask.

“Wait one minute.” He reaches behind to the shelf again and pulls off a copy of Life Magazine. “They came because they wanted to interview a Rabbi, so I said okay. They came over with their tape recorder and asked me some questions, and I was quite happy to answer. Then it came to the settlements. They asked me what I thought of the settlers in Yesha (the West Bank and Gaza Strip.) I told them, ‘They are the cream of the cream of the crop, the most righteous of our generation, the best of our youth.’”

He flips through the magazine and finds the article, throws it in my lap, and points to the paragraph, “Rabbi Chaim Lifschitz says, ‘The settlers are all crazy.’”

“I don’t give interviews any more,” he states conclusively.

Living in Israel today, one feels the constantly grinding pressure of the anger of the entire world directed at this tiny people living on this miniscule plot of land, a nation with a smaller population than greater Chicago and the landmass of the state of New Jersey.

The most obvious manifestation of this global rage is in the media. The most extreme is, of course, the Arab media. This morning I was in Jerusalem listening to the rock classics of the ‘80s on Jordanian state radio. At a quarter past 10, the DJ began reading the English news, hacking it out in heavily-accented cave-talk like English, “The Palestinian Holy Martyr Raed Karmi, who was massacred last week by the war-mongering Sharon government, after he sacrificed four Zionist imperialist oppressors to Allah, was laid to rest today… etc., etc.” The Arab news is usually so incredibly venomous and propagandizing as to be painful to listen to by anybody with even a pretense of objectivity.

The blatant falsification of real events, such as the Life Magazine interview with Rabbi Lifschitz, is much more dangerous. It appears in Time Life, it looks real, it’s in a reputable magazine, it feels objective, and if one didn’t know better, there would be no way of knowing that the quote is a total fabrication. Worse, there is nothing that can be done about it. The French media is still hooked on its own fabricated story, which is based on hearsay, about Israeli soldiers who gang-rape Arab women so that when the women go home, their families will kill them to preserve family honor. Of course, the story is difficult to completely disprove, a fact which is true of most fabrications. It is also difficult to disprove that there are no leprechauns in Ireland, or that there is no Loch Ness monster, which is why the burden of proof is on he who makes the claim.

Last week, CNN’s “World Report,” which broadcasts clips and news stories from all over the world, took a clip from the Palestinian Broadcast Authority. It showed clips of rioting Arabs screaming and burning flags, all the while the “reporter” is angrily listing off slogans while pretending to sound like a real news report, “These people fight and martyr themselves because they know that every day brings them one day closer to final victory and liberation over the racist fascist Zionist imperialist oppressors!” All the while, militant Islamic chanting and drum beating was ringing forth in the background. As I watched this, my jaw dropped. It’s not shocking that the Palestinian Authority would produce such a video, but it’s outrageous that it was shown on a supposedly unbiased medium, CNN, sandwiched between a story form Italy on the restoration of the Tower of Pisa and a story from Colombia about banana farmers, as if it were just another “perspective.” Of course, a little message at the end informed the viewer that CNN does not necessarily endorse the views of the producers of the news clip, which makes playing propaganda designed to incite suicide bombers perfectly acceptable.

It’s not just in the media. In every aspect of life, in every venue, Israel is constantly stamped with the mark of ”Illegitimate.” The Magen David Adom (Red Jewish Star) is still refused entry into the International Red Cross because they will not adopt the cross, with its religious implications, as a symbol. This in spite of the fact that the Red Crescent, the relief organization for Muslim countries, was long ago accepted without protest. Today, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not travel to Belgium because the Belgian courts are going to indict him for crimes against humanity there. The case is the Sabra and Shatillah massacres, which occurred during the Lebanon War, in which the Arab Phalangist Lebanese militia slaughtered thousands of Palestinian civilians after the Phalangist leader, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. Sharon was Israeli defense minister at the time, and Israel was allied with the Phalangists, so Sharon was found “indirectly responsible” by an Israeli commission of inquiry, and later won a libel case against Time magazine for inventing a story which claimed that the whole massacre was his idea. The real irony is that the commander of the force which actually committed the massacre, the person who was there on the scene and personally gave the orders for and oversaw the mass killings, volunteered to go to Belgium to testify against Sharon, totally unafraid of ever being held accountable by the same Belgian court for his actions. It is also, sadly, not surprising that the same court refused to even hear a case by Arafat’s victims on the same charges.

At every turn, the nations of the world constantly point to Israel to remind the Jews of the fact that they are still outsiders. The United Nations, over its half-century of history, has poured fully a third of its resources, time, and resolutions into passing condemnations of Israel. That’s 33% of its resources dedicated to a country with 0.09% of the world’s population. Are Jews really that evil?

Of course, everything has its logical explanation. As far as the news media is concerned, there are always the “conspiracy” theories, that somehow because the oil barons and sheiks of Saudi Arabia have a controlling influence over CNN, they will push for stories biased against Israel. I believe that the real reason is much simpler. The news media has a very heavy leftist slant and will always “root for the underdog,” no matter how grotesque and evil his methods. This generation of reporters was raised on Watergate, in which a free press uncovered serious crimes against the constitution, crimes which would not have been uncovered had the system been left to itself. For better or for worse, the news media now considers itself an organ of democracy. Rather than simply reporting the facts, the function of modern journalism is to bring down authority, to destroy the system. Israel, with a functional democratic government, is the authority figure. The Palestinians, in their quest to destroy Israel, are trying to bring down this authority, and therefore will always elicit the sympathy of the media. It wasn’t always this way. Prior to the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel was rightly perceived as being constantly on the brink of annihilation, news stories always featured “brave little Israel.” In “The Revolt,” Menachem Begin remembered that during his days fighting in the underground against the British, the American and British newspapers would often come up with quite flattering and totally untrue stories about the heroics and bravery of the Irgun, his organization.

Even the behavior of the United Nations is perfectly understandable. The majority of nations in this world are dictatorships, whose leaders and representatives to the UN do not represent the people but the interests of the leaders themselves. It is expected that any Palestinian state will be a totalitarian despotism. Therefore, these dictators wish to strengthen their hands by crushing any democracies which are teetering on the brink, like Israel, lest these democracies prove that the people of largely despotic regions of the world, like the middle east, are capable of living free. After all, with Syria sitting on the UN Security Council drafting international law while their country has had 26,000 troops illegally occupying Lebanon, and the Sudan on the UN Human Rights commission while their country still practices slavery, the organization lacks a certain amount of credibility. Europe, for its part, will naturally go along with the Israel-bashing because they are more strongly dependent on Arab oil and are also afraid of upsetting their rapidly growing and increasingly vocal Muslim minorities.

There is always an explanation, just like there was an explanation for the Holocaust, which happened because the Germans scapegoat the Jews for their dire economic problems. The Spanish Inquisition, in which the Catholic Church killed thousands of the best and brightest of the Jewish people, happened because the Catholic Church wanted to solidify its power base. The Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem because the Jews had revolted and Rome needed to crush even the smallest inkling of independence among its peoples. Each case of anti-Semitism, on its own, is easily explained. But when it happens again and again and again, when lighting strikes not twice but constantly, then one has to conclude that there is something deeper going on.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the late 1800s Theodore Herzl wrote “Der Judenstaadt,” the article which set the Zionist movement in motion by laying out the building of a Jewish state as a diplomatic and physical initiative rather than just a vague yearning. In his case, he believed that the Jewish state was to serve as a remedy for anti-Semitism, his initial plan of combating anti-Semitism by mass conversion of Jews to Christianity having failed. In his vision, the Rabbis were to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem but have no political authority, the country was to be ruled by aristocracy, and the official language was to be German. Herzl believed the root of European anti-Semitism to be the homelessness and weakness of the Jewish people. Therefore, the cure for anti-Semitism was to make a Jewish country where the Jews could be a majority, stand on their own feet, and face the other nations as equals.

The persistence of anti-Semitism and the hatred of Israel must therefore be considered one of the major failures of Zionism. Because Zionism has achieved Herzl’s main political goals, that is, the Jews are a majority on the land and now face the other nations of the world as equals, and yet anti-Semitism persists, it can be concluded that his belief that the roots of anti-Semitism are the weakness and homelessness of the Jewish people is incorrect.

And herein lies the difference between the religious and secular perspectives. From the secular point of view, the world simply is, and there is no higher order. As Carl Sagan put it, “The universe is neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.” In a secular universe, the ideas of right and wrong are purely human concepts, and therefore dependent on the mood or spirit of the times. All moral justification for one’s actions is based on what other people think, because that’s the only standard there is. The constant criticism and white hot anger directed at Israel by the nations of the world is therefore totally devastating to some secular Jews because they undermine their belief in their right to exist here. This is why, at the beginning of the Intifada, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who has been involved in the state since before independence, who was on hand and involved with the Independence War, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the 1967 war, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, and the first Intifada, said, at the beginning of this crisis, that it is the worst crisis Israel has ever faced. That is not to say that all secular Jews think this way, or that all secular Jews do not believe in the inherent right of the Jews to live in Israel. Ariel Sharon, who is also secular, made a more calming and reasoned speech that, while the country is going through tough times, it’s been through worse and made it and will make it through this. However, there is a clique of left-wing secular Israelis, lead by Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, the authors of the failed Oslo Accords, who are constantly berating themselves before the UN and groveling to the Europeans, who portray themselves as the “Intellectuals” whose duty it is to show their misguided brethren how wrong they are and bring them back to the “right” path.

This is not the outlook of the religious Jew. In the universe of a religious person, right and wrong are woven into the very fabric of creation. Righteousness and evil are as real and as constant as gravity and electromagnetism. There is no need to seek personal justification for the right of the Jews to live in Israel from the other nations of the world because we have the Tanach (the bible), which validates over and over, hundreds of times, the intimate and unbreakable connection between the Jewish people and this specific plot of land. That is not to say that the voices of condemnation and lies in the media and the ostraciztion and illegitimization of Israel should be ignored, just that they should be kept in proper perspective. Israel exists in the real world, and it faces a real-world crisis of legitimacy, a crisis which can have dire effects on the ability of Israel to survive if left unchecked, and it must fight back accordingly. When a religious Jew makes his case to secular Jews or people of other religions and nationalities, he should not thump on the Tanach because most people to not believe in the Tanach, he should use rational argument and try to fit Israel’s case into the moral and ethical “flavor of the month” as best he can. However, the religious Jew will always know that his right and duty to live here comes not from Gerald Kessel of CNN or Kofi Annan of the United Nations, but he who created them.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

What to Do, What to Do

The biggest news story last week by far was Israel's spectacular seizure of the "Karine A." The vessel was a cargo ship loaded with 50 tons of weapons including anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and long-range Katyushka rockets with long enough range to be capable of hitting any city in Israel, plus C4 explosives for suicide bombers and more accurate mortars to assist the Palestinian militias in targeting Israeli towns and villages. The vessel was loaded in Yemen with arms shipped from Iran. It then proceeded up the Red Sea along the Saudi coast and was to dock in Cairo. In Cairo, the cargo was to be transferred to three smaller "fishing" vessels and transported to waters bordering the Palestinian Authority areas of Gaza and the Egyptian controlled Sinai Desert. The weapons were all wrapped in a watertight plastic seal. They were to have been dropped in the water near the coastline, later to be picked up by fishing vessels originating from the Palestinian Authority. The weapons delivered to Egyptian Sinai were to be smuggled into Gaza by means of underground tunnels to bypass Israeli border control.

The skillfully planned operation unraveled when Israeli commandos boarded the vessel at 4:00 AM while it was en route in the Red Sea, 500 Kilometers from Israel, capturing the entire crew by surprise in "Operation Noah's Ark." The captain said he woke up in his bunk to find a gun in his face. The ship was then detoured to Israel's southern port of Eilat where the weapons were put on display for all to see, and the politicians and big-shots all said this proved Yassir Arafat had no intention of keeping the cease-fire, wants a war, etc., etc. Critics said that the government could have waited until the vessel came to Israel and was cynically timed to coincide with General Zinni's visit to Israel, as well as to provide a morale boost, but it seems clear that it was much easier to seize all the weapons at once than wait for them to be transferred to three different ships, forcing the military to waste lives and time digging up tunnels and chasing fishing boats around.

The seizure provided both a major morale boost and a major political victory. The capture was probably the first "clean" victory in the last 15 months, which did not skirt into gray areas of international law, did not involve injury to any civilians, and most importantly did not result in casualties for either the good guys or the bad guys.

Politically, it has been a godsend. Israel was just inches from coming under pressure for freezing settlement construction, a move which would "spark a further escalation in the cycle of violence," as the papers like to put it, by providing a concrete and material victory for terrorism as a means of political advancement. The sheer magnitude, as well as the offensive nature, of the weapons makes it clear that the Palestinian leadership is planning for some sort of "final showdown" against Israel.

Of course most of the world tried to shrug its shoulders. There were calls of, "Maybe it's supposed to go to Hizbullah in Lebanon," or, "Nobody can be sure that it came from Iran," or, "Arafat probably just didn't know," all of which would have been deniable if the military had followed the decision of its critics and decided not to seize the vessel early but waited until it approached Israeli waters. By capturing the vessel intact and the crew alive, there was no shortage of evidence to parade around. Take, for instance, the captain of the vessel, Omar Akawi, who, being a total idiot, agreed to be interviewed with reporters and openly spoke of receiving his orders to proceed with the mission after the September 11th attacks and even after Arafat had declared his cease-fire last month, and receiving those orders directly from the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority. Also, by having captured all the weapons intact, the government was able to make fools out of those trying to pretend the weapons didn't come from Iran by pointing out that the writing on the weapons themselves was in Farsi. After initial hesitation, even the United States State Department, whose talent for selective amnesia is legendary, came out and announced that they concurred, the weapons came from Iran and were ordered by Arafat, and Arafat had better do some explaining. Arafat agreed to launch an investigation, which is as credible as Al Capone launching an internal probe of his organization to determine who was behind all those tax fraud allegations.

Of course, Islamic Jihad and Hamas disavowed their earlier cease-fire declarations and Hamas launched an attack which killed four Bedouin Israeli soldiers on the Israel side of the border. Israel then retaliated by destroying several structures near the location of the attack. The Palestinians claim they were homes, Israel says that they were being used by the Palestinian Authority. It seems that they were actually both, and that the families who owned the homes had used them to dig tunnels under the border to Egypt to assist with weapons smuggling. The navy then sank a vessel belonging to the captain of the arms ship, and the army re-destroyed the rebuilt runway of the Gaza airport.

While the capture of the Karine A was a major victory for Israel, it doesn't signify any major shift in the overall struggle, but is part of a gradual trend. During the previous elections, the debate between the left and the right was between continuing with negotiations and making concessions during war versus unleashing Israel's military might. Of course, the vast majority voted for the latter, but what they got was a toned down version. Sharon's strategy seems to be closer to a gradual escalation and slow burn than the "final showdown" that Arafat wants. The reasons for this are simple. In the early 1990's, Arafat was given diplomatic legitimacy by the United States and Israel. This means that he can kiss cheeks with the leaders of not only backward totalitarian states like China and Iran, but also the United States and the free world, without incident. If, at the beginning of his term, Sharon had simply "sent in the troops" and brought the level of the conflict up to what it is now in one blow, destroying the Gaza airport, closing the borders, setting up a long-term presence in Palestinian-controlled "area A," destroying Palestinian Authority governmental institutions, and keeping Yassir Arafat caged in Ramallah, the United Nations would have easily passed a resolution to send "peacekeepers" to the territories and the United States would have been too shocked and embarrassed to stop it with a veto. Arafat's dream has always been to provoke a Tienamen-square style massacre of his people which would generate the necessary sympathy for him to internationalize the conflict, and might land Ariel Sharon in the defendant's chair next to Slobodan Milosevich for war crimes to boot. The credibility and intentions Palestinian Authority and Yassir Arafat had not yet been delegitimized in the eyes of the Bush administration as they had been in the eyes of Israelis. The conclusion was therefore drawn that the United States must realize that Arafat is not a legitimate leader on its own. This process started when Powell came to the region to try to calm tensions, only to be discredited by the continuation of the violence. Then came by far the biggest knock to the Palestinian Authority, the September 11th attacks. While this did not completely delegitimize the Palestinian Authority, it definitely brought about the realization that more often than not, the roots of terrorism are not legitimate political demands and grievances but just blind hatred. Later, Bush announced that he still favored a "Palestinian State." which was echoed by everybody down the American diplomatic chain of command. It was expected that this major endorsement, the first by an American President, would be met with some sort of Palestinian answer in the form of scaling down the conflict, but instead Arafat launched a wave of suicide attacks, which further embarrassed the United States. After that came Zinni's first mission to Israel in December to try to secure a cease-fire, which was met by the worst wave of suicide attacks on Israeli civilians yet, infuriating and making a fool of Zinni. "Operation Noah's Ark" is just one more nail in the coffin of the Palestinian Authority's legitimacy, proving that even when Arafat has a cease-fire on, he is also planning a major escalation and cannot be taken seriously.

While the left wing is still understandably moaping about with their heads in their hands sobbing about the failure of the Oslo process, I am disappointed that nobody among the right wing seems to be asking themselves, "How can Israel get out of this mess?" Every action that the government takes is simply a reaction to an Arab action. Israel, with its massive military superiority and the full backing of the United States, is still playing defense against a few bands of loosely confederated low-tech terrorists. The right wing of the government, having had a much more realistic picture of the true nature of Palestinian intentions, is finally in a position of overwhelming public support and is capable of achieving a solution which would guarantee Israel's future. Sharon is the first prime minister since Rabin who is able to dedicate resources to more than just his own day-to-day political survival. The propaganda posters all over Israel today read "Zeh Byadayim Shelanu!" (It's in our hands!) yet there do not seem to be any initiatives or new ideas coming forth from the best and the brightest of Likkud on how to get out of this political tar pit. If they don't start talking about a long-term solution, then they are going to lose public support.

What would be required to reach a solution? Before a solution can be reached, Israel must come to several conclusions.

First and foremost, the conclusion must be reached that there will never be a true peace. There may someday be a Pax Israela, a peace based on the fear of what Israel is going to do if attacked, but never a mutual agreement of coexistence. The Arabs deem Israel to be illegitimate, the Jews to be alien foreigners, and all of Israel to be their rightful property. The Palestinian leadership has publicly announced that they are modeling the current intifada on Hizbullah’s fight against Israel in southern Lebanon. That war went on for twenty years, and I expect that the Palestinians are prepared to go on for at least that long, considering they have nothing to lose. There is nothing Israel can say or do to change their opinion. "From the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea" is the usual Palestinian refrain when asked what boundaries they expect to encompass their future state, which doesn't leave anything for the Jews.
Secondly, negotiations are not the way. Israel has learned the hard way that negotiating with Palestinians is a catch-22. If Israel gives nothing, then it is perceived by the Palestinians as an oppressor and the enemy. When Israel makes concessions, it is regarded as weak. After all, if the Israelis are making concessions, the logic goes, then they must be frightened of us Palestinians! Any concessions of land, guns, and money which were made in negotiations during the last decade are now being used to attack Israel. It must be assumed that this trend will continue. There is no diplomatic solution to the conflict, and no agreement will be reached.
Third, Israel cannot continue to hold all of the territories because that would necessitate absorbing enough Arabs that they would soon become a majority, forcing Israel to either give up on being a Jewish democracy or set up a minority-rule system which spells endless internal conflict plus total diplomatic illegitimacy. “Shipping them out” is not an option because Israel, a country without natural resources, would probably be slapped with debilitating economic sanctions. Therefore, by process of elimination, the only option that remains is ceding territory. Both Likkud and Labor prime ministers have done exactly that, but that was with a partner whose declared goal, at least in English, was to coexist with Israel. Today, there is no partner for coexistence, and withdrawing from territory will definitely be perceived as caving in to terrorism and is bound to encourage more of the same. Israel’s situation today is often compared to France’s situation in Algeria, in which a colonial power, France, was forced to withdraw from a colonized people, the Algerians, due to terrorism. In the end, the move brought peace to France and freedom (and chaos) to Algeria. However, the two cases are not analogous in that Algeria had no claims on France, France had no historical claim to Algeria, and France had the Mediterranean Sea to protect it from further attacks from Algeria. None of these are true with Israel and the Palestinians.

In my opinion, Israel should redraw its own borders without regard to any previous borders, be they those of Area A,B, and C from the Oslo accords, the 1967 cease-fire lines, or the 1947 partition resolution from the UN, all three of which are now null and void due to Arab military attacks. It must do so in concert with the Bush II administration, which will provide diplomatic legitimacy to the moves. The Bush II administration is currently very sympathetic towards Israel’s dilemma and this sympathy and understanding, which is not guaranteed indefinitely, must be taken advantage of. Israel should draw clean, straight, short borders or make use of natural boundaries that would provide Israel with a defensive edge. These borders should also include some Arab villages in pre-1967 Israel which are close to the territories, thus allowing Israel to jettison much of its Arab population. During negotiations with the Palestinians at Taba, Barak offered to give up territory inside pre-1967 Israel in exchange for the Palestinians’ relinquishing territory inside post-1967 Israel. The right and left both reacted with horror, the right because this could later be used to justify further territorial demands inside pre-1967 Israel, the left because many kibbutzim and towns, which they had assumed to be immune from the “painful sacrifices” they were asking the settlers to make, were suddenly on the chopping block. I believe that in the context of a unilateral solution, such a withdrawal would give the diplomatic initiative to Israel. The Palestinians are now claiming that they want 100% of the land up to the June 4th 1967 border. However, they have also claimed that they will take any land vacated by Israel. Israel, by withdrawing from a very small area of land packed with Arabs on the Israeli side of the border, will force the Palestinians to change their demands, because demanding a Palestinian state on all of the land occupied in 1967 would necessitate a voluntary Palestinian withdrawal from land in pre-1967, something which they can never do. Such a move would effectively eliminate the June 4th, 1967 border.

The Israeli Army, being out-manned and out-gunned, has always despised fortifications and relied more heavily on the combination of offense, intelligence, and chutzpah (nerve), such as the capture of the Karine A last week, than defense. However, a withdrawal from some of the territories need not necessitate that Israel stop entering them militarily for targeted interceptions, destroying weapons factories, or to make arrests. It is better to focus on both offense and defense. Israel can also mount a stronger defense today than it could in 1967 because technology, from satellite scanning to electronic motion-sensing security fences, is at a much higher level now.

At the same time, areas with religious or strategic significance should be maintained and built up. Perhaps a massive settlement construction campaign in Hebron, the second holiest city of Judaism, should commence to strengthen the Jewish hold on that city. Any settlers in settlements which are in the territory which is to be ceded to the Palestinians could then be offered free housing in Hebron instead, an offer which is sure to attract many of the idealists and dreamers. Any settlers who wish to remain in their settlements should be allowed to do so, and these settlements should be defended as Islands, with armored convoys taking them to and from “Contiguous Israel” as was the situation with the Hebrew University campus in East Jerusalem before 1967. No Jew should ever be driven from his home in Eretz Israel, ever. Meanwhile, measures should be taken with Arabs living in “Contiguous Israel” to ensure some sort of reciprocity in the relationship between the Israeli Arabs and the Israeli government. Anyone even remotely associated with the Palestinian Authority or preaching the destruction of the State of Israel should have his or her citizenship revoked, as is already permitted by a law passed in the Knesset. Don’t make them move, but don’t let them vote. Meanwhile, those Arab villages and cities that express a desire to coexist, such as Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, should receive the lion’s share of the money and resources from the state to help them better themselves.

It can be expected that any military withdrawal from areas to be handed over to the Arabs will be accompanied by an increase in violence. This was the case with Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. Hizbullah, which knew that the withdrawal was coming because Barak had announced it in advance, stepped up their military campaign against the Israeli Army in anticipation of the move in order to be able to claim victory. Under a barrage of mortars and rockets, the Israeli Army raced out a full month early! The politicians declared victory, “No soldiers lost!” they proudly announced, not realizing that the Palestinians were watching and, based on Hizbullah’s victory, planning an intifada which has now taken hundreds of Israeli lives. Therefore, the Israeli must always respond to fire with even more fire, especially during a withdrawal. No mortar or missile attacks can go unanswered; no building from which gunfire emanates can be left standing. Nixon had to bomb Hanoi to get America out of Vietnam.

In the long run, I really believe that this is the only way. Most right wing Israelis have come to the realization that Israel can’t hold all the land, and most left wing Israelis have come to the realization that there will never be peace. Israel finally has a stable and trustworthy prime minister, and I think it is only a matter of time before some sort of unilateral option is exercised.

Friday, January 11, 2002


The last month has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity centered around getting the peace process "back on track," with all of the big-wigs issuing statements and making speeches, and everybody else reading volumes into every sentence, word, and punctuation mark. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres is running from place to place like a chicken with his head cut off, still rambling on about the Oslo accords as if there hasn't been a war going on for the last year. The Europeans are pressuring Israel to give up on the Mitchell Report, published as part of a previous cease fire agreement at the beginning of the war, in which Arafat agrees to turn off the Intifadah for seven days and in exchange Israel agrees to a plethora of obligations which were never agreed to during negotiations, such as cease ! all settlement building, throw open the borders of Israel to Arab workers, transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority, et cetera et cetera. Europe now wants Israel to give up on the seven days of quiet, which basically means that Israel fulfills all of its obligations and Arafat does nothing. To this suggestion, Sharon said, "No," so Xavier Solana, the European Union representative undiplomatically called him "stupid." Sharon knows very well that the Arabs are wholly incapable of restraining themselves for a single day, let alone seven, which is why he agreed to the report in the first place. Bush, for the first time, said the two words which make every pro-Israel news addict cringe, "Palestinian State," saying that he hopes to see one some day. Sharon de! cided to jump on the bandwagon too and said he wants a Palestinian State, and then Colin Powell gave a speech a few days ago on middle east policy in which he also said he wants a Palestinian state, and now everybody is squawking, "Palestinian State" like a flock of parrots.

The fact of the matter is that none of this diplomacy makes any difference whatsoever. If Israel withdraws from any land, the war will just move that much closer in. If Israel stops building settlements, the Intifadah will not stop, nor will it if the borders are opened, or even if Israel withdrew all the way to Tel Aviv behind thousand foot high stone walls and dug a moat around it filled with vicious man-eating alligators. This is no longer about 38% of "historical Palestine," 42% of "the occupied territories," the June 4th 1967 border, the return of the refugees, area A, area B, area C, or anything else. An entire civilization is e! xperiencing a massive temper tantrum. It's Jihad now, and the rest of the world had best figure that out.

The first whispers started way back during Clinton's first term. The previous Jihad, the Gulf War, was behind us and everybody was supposed to be friends now. The peace process was "on track," the Commies were out, and New World Order was in. Then began the cycle of Iraq of kicking out weapons inspectors, the US bombing Iraq, and Iraq letting weapons inspectors in. After the cycle had repeated itself a few times, Clinton just seemed to get sick of it and gave up on weapons inspectors. The first victory. Then came the bombings. Prior to the Israeli Prime Ministerial elections, a series of horrible bus bombings killed scores of Israelis, in the first major outbreak since the first Intifadah. Hamas was saying, "Don't forget about me, I'm still here and I can still hurt you." Another victory. The constant state of corruption and brutality in Arafat's regime slowly raised the heat from tepid to simmering. Everybody forgot about Iraq, and now Saddam is back and looking pretty good; no sanctions, no inspectors. By the time Arafat got to Camp David II, it was far too late. He knew it, Israelis on the street knew it, but Clinton and Barak had no idea. Sharon went up ! to the Temple Mount, Har Habayit, and that was the match.

And now, the tiger is out of the cage. The Jihad is on! Ishmael is back on his feet and dusting himself off. All this time, you thought Ishmael wanted to talk to you over buttered scones and tea about the problems of the Arab world, education, the economy, healthcare? All this time, Ishmael was licking his wounds, he was mending his armor, and sharpening his sword. And now, he's standing, blood pumping, adrenaline rushing, lightning reflexes, ready to fight. And just when he's ready for the next round, what happens? From the clouds, as if from heaven itself, two steel birds come flying in to destroy the infidel's greatest city! Ishmael is off his knees. He's not talking to al-Yahoud, those Jews, any more, he's not listening to the big chief of the west in the great white house, George Bush son of George Bush. The street is alive with violent electricity. One who stands against the Jihad is standing against g-d himself, and will be swept away like a feather before a hurricane.

Bin Laden, Saddam, and Arafat all have one thing in common: they love the Jihad, each in their own way.

Bin Laden is the snake. He hides in his borough for months at a time. Silent, motionless, unseen. He strikes without warning, a tiny animal with the power to kill an elephant. Saddam is the hawk. He flies high above from a commanding position of power. He sees everyone and everyone sees him. He has an entire country, and has millions to sacrifice for his cause. He wants to glide on the eddies, to ride the wave of rage as high as it will take him.
And what is Arafat? Arafat is the piranha. He's in a feeding frenzy, right in the trenches with the rest of the Piranhas. Arafat is in his element. He is reliving the days of Black September, when, after attempting to murder King Hussein of Jordan and take his throne, Hussein sent his armies in to wipe out the PLO and anybody suspected of being associated with them. He is in Beirut in '82, with the whole world watching him as the Israelis surround and shell him in his bunker. ! He is in Gaza, with the rest of his cutthroat piranhas getting snuffed one by one, this one by an Israeli missile, that one by one of the other piranhas. He'll land on his feet. He has to. He always does. Anything else would be unbefitting of the legend which he sees in himself.

Negotiating with a Jihad does about as much good as reasoning with an oncoming locomotive. No, there will be no deal, no cease fire. Bin Laden will not be turned over, Saddam will not resubmit himself, Arafat will not turn back. Another generation of Arabs has been flushed into the sewers by its own heroes.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Personal Matzav Update

I am now officially a grad-school dropout. I talked with my bosses yesterday and we all decided that it would be best if I left Ben Gurion without finishing my degree. The main reason was that I could not cope with my studies because of my difficulties with the language. Also, Environmental Engineering is very chemistry-oriented, whereas I am a Mechanical Engineer. I therefore had to deal with both changing disciplines and dealing with a new language. I came to the decision after my boss/mentor started drilling me on some basic principles in environmental chemistry and I came to realize that I simply was not learning the material and I do not have a knack for it. I decided that it would be better to cut my losses and move on than to continue throwing more of my time into something which I am not understanding very well.

This was also complicated by several additional factors. I have not been receiving my full stipend and have been forced to live very meagerly over the last several months because the university is out of funds, and they can not find money for me for next semester. I also have my $40,000 student loans from my undergraduate degree still to pay off, and there is no way to do that in Israel, especially with the economy here the way it is. I also have to be back in America on March 23rd for my sister's Bat-Mitzvah, and I could only find a ticket to get there, but not to come back.

My plan at this time is to finish up the semester and get credit for the courses I am now taking, so that I can use them if I decide to finish the degree later.

Monday, January 07, 2002

Trying to Fly

It's really really really cold today. In fact, it's snowing up in Jerusalem right now. I hope the snow comes down here. As if that were not bad enough, a strong wind kicked up a dust storm, so now I'm choking on freezing dust particles. The Shekel is at 4.55 per dollar now, so I think I should buy as much food as possible before prices go up.

I've been looking at getting plane tickets for Gabby's B-mitzvah.

Here's the deal:Using those frequent flyer miles, I can catch a flight from Tel Aviv to San Francisco which would leave on the 18th of March, have an almost 24 hour layover in England, and then continue on its way and get to SFO on the 20th/21st. The problem is that all of the returning flights are booked full through May 5th or so. In case that doesn't work out, I also have reservations for round-trip tickets, but they will come out to about $925, and I only have $799 in my bank account. I suspect that the price is so high, for the off season especially, because I'm ordering from Israel and the taxes are astronomical here. I just asked my "agent" in SF to try to find me some tickets at reasonable times, so we'll see what he can come up with. He has given me good prices in the past. I also need to see if I am continuing here or not, because the winter semester ends on February 26th or so.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Hard Times

As proof positive that there's a cease-fire on this week, the politicians immediately dove into sectarian squabbling. The first issue to fight over was the budget. As the Israeli economy takes a nose dive, the budget had to be amended to reflect the lower revenues for 2002. Every ministry, including defence, has to cut back expenditures by 9%, and of course nobody wants to. The country has started another year without a budget.
Earlier in the week, Arafat, who has been holed up in Ramallah for the last few weeks, wanted to go to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem. The cabinet ordered that he not be allowed to go unless he hand over the two killers of the recently assassinated tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi. He refused, so it came to a showdown and Sharon didn't let him go. The United States was very understanding on the issue, and it had virtually no political fallout.
Later in the week, President Moshe Katzav announced that a former Arab Member of Knesset (MK) had suggested that he stand in front of the Palestinian Assembly and announce a year-long cease fire. The President, who is with the right-wing Likkud party, is usually only called upon for ceremonial functions, so it was quite a surprising idea. When Foreign Minister Peres got wind of the plan, he immediately moved to crush it, fearing that someone other than him might get credit for making peace. Sharon deemed it to be against his policy of not negotiating with Arafat, so he nixed it. The logic goes that if Arafat stops shooting, then there's a cease fire, so there's no need to announce one.
Meanwhile, the Knesset was running out of things to argue about, so they decided to write the "Shabbat Law." The law seeks to sort out what is permissible and what is not on Shabbat according to the State of Israel. The religious parties agreed that places of entertainment would be allowed to remain open, but that places of business and stores would stay closed for the duration of the Sabbath. If the bill were to pass, it would be yet another self-defeating move by the religious parties attempting to impose Shabbat on people, which will result in a further backlash against the religious and a further distancing of Israelis from their religion.
Now that the secular new year has come and gone, everybody seems to be lamenting over the problems and horrors of the previous year. We all knew that 2001 was going to be one of those years we try to forget but just can't. The headlines of today look pretty much the same as the Jerusalem Post Headlines from January 1, 2000: Twenty wounded in Netanya bomb attack; Stones and Firebombs Close Ramallah Tunnel Road; Calls for Calm after Kahane Slayings, etc. The government is cranking out year's end statistics for 2001 including everything from terror to pollution.
This year, 181 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks, 86 of them in the territories, 101 of them in pre-1967 Israel. Seven foreign citizens were also killed by Palestinians. 455 Palestinians were killed in the territories and 10 in Israel pre-1967 Israel by the Israeli Defense Forces.
556 Israelis were killed and 40,000 were wounded in road accidents. Environment Minister Tzahi Hanegbi announced, "1,000 people die every year because of air pollution in Israel's large cities."
And never mind the economic tailspin. On January first, a dollar cost 4.04 shekels, today it costs 4.47. In the last two weeks, I've been watching the shekel to dollar rate rise from 4.21 to 4.48. This is supposedly a natural reaction to the decrease in interest rates aimed at spurring the economy, but in the end it all works out the same: the little money I actually have is worth even less now.
Israel has entered its first recession since 1953, with negative GDP growth of 0.5%. Israel's major industries; technology, defense, and tourism, all took a major beating. The dot com to dot bomb disaster in the states is hurting the tech sector, with 20% of tech startups closing, and electronics sales down by 20%. Tourism is also hurting, down 50%, although Jewish tourism is actually up 3% because of all of the solidarity missions coming from abroad. According to most accounts, the intifada has had almost zero effect on the economy, except for tourism, which would be down anyway because of the recession and the 9-11 attack in America. Meanwhile, unemployment of Arabs in Gaza is at about 80%. Israel had replaced the Palestinians with foreign workers from Thailand and Romania for security concerns. Now, the government has decided to try to start getting rid of the foreign workers to drive up the price of labor and help keep what money there is within the local economy.
But, there is always good news. The enormous GDP growth rate of 6% in 2000 is expected to help the country through the recession, and the lower shekel is going to help manufacturing and exporting, although that doesn't help me much.
Meanwhile, India and Pakistan are getting ready for a war, and, as usual, somebody always makes a profit from somebody else's disaster. In this case, it's Israel, which happens to be one of India's major suppliers of weaponry. The economic collapse of Argentina is also helping Israel, which is gearing up for a wave of immigration from Argentina's 200,000 strong Jewish community. Immigration is the life blood of this country, bringing in foreign expertise and helping to build the economy. 44,000 people made aliyah (immigrated) last year, mostly from Russia. However, half of those people are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Israel's definition of a Jew is somebody with one Jewish grandparent or someone married to a Jew, is different from Judaism's definition whereby a Jew is anyone whose mother is Jewish or went through an Orthodox conversion. The sectarian conflicts of twenty years from today are brewing even now. Israel's population now stands at 6.5 million, with 5.3 million Jews and 1.2 million Arabs.
With the ever increasing population, the Army is experiencing a manpower glut. There are two types of soldiers in the Israeli Army: combat soldiers and jobniks. Combat soldiers are mostly volunteer and do all of the fighting. Jobniks are either clerks and broom-pushers or technical people. Non-technical Jobniks are considered dead weight in the Army, so they are not particularly wanted. This prompted a move by the army to allow combat soldiers to extend their service by one year and in exchange receive full pay (most soldiers are given enough money during their three year mandatory service for a bus ride home and a coca cola.) This is hoped to take the burden off the reservists and save money for the army in the long run. I suspect that Israel, with its ever increasing population, is gradually moving closer to a more professional, volunteer army.
There has also been a significant reduction in the acts of violence, with the average time between suicide and armed attacks on Israeli civilians decreasing from once every one hour and twenty minutes to once every two hours ten minutes. American General Zinni landed in Israel a few hours ago and he's supposed to start pressuring people to move towards an official cease-fire. I wish him luck, but I don't think he'll have any. It has been nice, through, to go a few weeks without any major bombings.

Unilateral Withdrawal

I received the following letter from someone on the email list, and I'm sure it reflects the thoughts of a great many people:

I pretty much agree with everything you have said, but I personally believe that Israel must in the end evacuate all the settlements in Gaza and WB and simply get the hell out of those areas, UNILATERALLY. Israel does not need to wait for an agreement with the Palestinians, because as you've observed, they are not interested in one. Ehud Barak recently concluded that Arafat is interested in a two-state solution, one state for Palestinians and one for Palestinians and Jews (Israel) but with the Pal. Right of return, so that the demographics would be quickly skewed in favor of the arab population---demographic suicide. I believe Israel needs to evacuate the WB and Gaza simply because they will never give Israel peace. I personally believe that settling those lands was the worst mistake Israel ever made. I don't believe that by doing so there will be peace. What it will do though, is give Israel the moral high ground and make it clear to the Pal. And the world that having made that singularly magnanimous gesture, the Pals. now have everything they need to create a viable state---no more excuses (not entirely unjustified) that a chunk of land pockmarked with Jewish settlements, IDF forces and access roads makes it impossible for them to have a cohesive state. Evacuation renders that whole argument completely moot. I would retain a 2 or 3-mile buffer all around that border and make it clear to the Pals. That any incursions into Israel proper will be met with the same response as any act of war on a sovereign nation. If and when there was a real peace agreement they could talk about return that buffer zone. Now when Israel goes into the WB or Gaza to carry out reprisals it does it from the position of an occupier, a very unsympathetic place to be, and unfortunately, one with absolutely NO VIABLE FUTURE FOR ISRAEL. As my mother, a committed social Zionist, said, better a small and secure Israel that a larger one perpetually at war. I see no other way out. By taking those actions unilaterally, Israel declares that it doesn't need the Palestinians to achieve an acceptable level of safety for its citizens. This is essentially what Israel did in S. Lebanon--come to the conclusion that being their, with its promise of a protective buffer for N. Israel, just wasn¹t worth the cost.

Here is my response:
This is essentially what everybody has been talking about for the last 15 months - how can Israel extricate itself from this situation? The answer, everybody from Barak to Bibi Netanyahu has said, is "Unilateral Separation," whereby Israel removes itself from "Yehsa", the acronym of "Yehuda, Shomron, and Aza," or, in secular terms, "The West Bank Gaza Strip" without signing any treaties or as part of any deal.
Such a plan sounds nice as a five second sound byte, as Barak likes to say, "It'll be us over here and them over there." Unfortunately, the plan has several drawbacks that the talking heads are studiously avoiding. The main problem with this strategy is that there are quite a lot of us over there, and even more of them over here. To be specific, there are about 1.2 million Israeli Arabs living inside pre-1967 Israel, and there are about half a million Jews living in Yesha. The second problem is that the government will eventually have to draw a line somewhere, and there is going to be a huge fight, possibly even a civil war, between Jews when it comes time to make that decision. The third problem is that there is still a question as to whether building a wall is physically possible, and whether it will actually do anything to increase Israel’s security. Still a further question is how the Palestinians, the Arabs as a whole, and the world will react to such a move.
Unfortunately, you can't exactly draw a line to separate the Arabs and the Jews. The stickiest situation by far is Jerusalem, whose neighborhoods are arranged in a checkerboard manner, alternating between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods intertwined and surrounding each other, usually separated only by a street or sidewalk. Before 1967, there was a line running through the center of town with a no-man's land, armed soldiers, and landmines, with East Jerusalem controlled by Jordan and West Jerusalem controlled by Israel. Jews were not allowed to visit the Western wall, the Mount of Olives, or any other holy sites on pain of death. After the reunification of the city, the city was annexed, its Arab residents offered citizenship, and a huge Jewish settlement drive attempted to surround the Arab section with Jewish neighborhoods to prevent any future redivision of the city, leaving pockets of Arab neighborhoods in a sea of Jewish ones. The last phase of this plan is being implemented today with the construction of the Har Homa neighborhood, approved by then Prime Minister Rabin and started by Netanyahu, which would be the final nail in the coffin of the idea of the redivision of the city by blocking the last open and undeveloped land passage between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Arabs, for their part, responded with a settlement drive of their own, building dozens of Arab settlements very close to the outer ring of Jewish neighborhoods, making the map even more confused and messy.
Jerusalem is a small model of the situation Israel faces today. Anywhere you draw a line, there is going to be a mixture of Arabs and Jews on both sides. This is where the idea of ethnic cleansing comes in. If, as was suggested by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, 95% of the West Bank and Gaza are ethnically cleansed of all Jewish residents and transformed into a racially pure Arab state, the question remains, where are these half million Jewish refugees going to go, and what can be done about the 1.2 million Israeli Arabs living inside pre-1967 Israel? Are they to be ethnically cleansed as well, or will we put that off until the next war?
The act of driving people from their homes and destroying houses, schools, libraries, synagogues, and lives is not as simple as taking a vote in the Knesset. The people who live in these towns and villages have invested huge pieces of their lives and themselves in building them, and have suffered heavy personal losses during the recent violence to retain them, and I'm sure many will fight to defend them. Imagine if you were living in, say, San Francisco, California, and the U.S. Army surrounded the city and told you that you had one day to pack your things and leave before they came through and razed the city to the ground? I think that many people would have more than just harsh words for the Army. It also raises the question: if we are going to run away from certain pieces of territory because we’re being shot at, then where do we stop? Remember, the 1967 border is not an internationally recognized border but only a cease fire line, which is an important distinction because you can count on the fact that the Arabs, once they have Yesha, will begin making claims inside Pre-1967 Israel. What if everybody leaves the Yesha and then they start attacking, say, Be’er Sheva or Ashkelon, which, according to the partition plan of 1947 was to be part of the Arab state, not the Jewish one, do we then run away from Be’er Sheva?
Would building a fence between Arab and Jewish areas stop terrorism? Perhaps, but I doubt it. The main problem is the length of the border. The security border with Lebanon in the north is about 30 miles long. Israel has been hurriedly constructing a security fence along this border since its withdrawal a year and a half ago, but there has been no shortage of kidnappings and infiltrations anyway. The 1967 cease-fire line is hundreds of kilometers long. Many particularly violent Arab settlements and cities, such as Tulkarm and Silwan, are located exactly on this border, which makes the creation of a buffer zone impossible. The border is also arbitrary, not based on natural barriers or straight, short lines, but it was made wherever the fighting happened to stop in 1948. It is convoluted and bends back on itself in several places. The construction of a high-tech electronic security fence along the entire length of this border with motion detectors and cameras would be prohibitively expensive. Certain areas in which terrorists and infiltrators tend to cross in greater numbers can be made with high-tech fencing while the remainder can be made more low-tech, with landmines and barbed wire. However, to a determined suicide terrorist, these obstacles may not prove enough, and it will take years to build anyway.
A unilateral retreat from Yesha will also not provide Israel with any more diplomatic legitimacy than it had before. The Arab world, with or without treaties with Israel, will never truly recognize this country until the Arabs, as Bob Marley would say, "Emancipate themselves from mental slavery," and rid themselves of tyranny. Terrorism from Yesha existed long before Israel’s capture of the area in 1967 and will persist long after any withdrawal. The choice, therefore, is not between a big Israel eternally at war and a small Israel at peace, but a big Israel eternally at war or a small Israel eternally at war.
Europe, as well, is not about to become friends with Israel. I have observed that regardless of Israel's actions, whether it exercises restraint or fights, withdraws from land or builds settlements, assassinates terrorists or is the victim of terrorists, Europe issues a steady stream of condemnation and hatred towards the Jewish state. Israel's actions seem to be just a pretext, and I think that Europe's open anger and hostility towards Israel is deeply rooted in Europe, not Israel. If Israel were to withdraw from all the territories completely, Europe might pat Israel on the back for a few minutes, but then the Palestinians would start making territorial claims inside pre-1967 Israel. The Europeans may even initially oppose this idea, but, then the Palestinians will send a wave of suicide terrorist attacks into Europe and weaken their resolve, just like they did in the 1970s.
In retrospect, however, I think Israel has to look inward to find the true cause of many of its problems. This country likes to practice a policy of "constructive ambiguity," as Clinton called it. By this policy, Israel does not define and announce explicitly what it is doing, but at the same time makes its intent clear through its actions. Sometimes this policy is necessary, as, for example, in Israel's nuclear program. Israel has quite a stockpile of nuclear weapons. If need be, Israel has the power to destroy the entire Middle East in a matter of minutes. However, because Israel does not want to be subject to international nuclear regulators or to diplomatic pressure to disarm, it has a "mums the word" policy. Maybe we have them, maybe we don't. Everybody knows that the big building in Dimona, a few kilometers from where I'm sitting, is a working nuclear reactor, and everybody knows that the spent fuel rods from this reactor are used to make weapons, but nobody says anything. The facility is jokingly called the "Beit Haroshet Garini," garin being either seed or nucleus in Hebrew, and therefore the full title can be translated as either "Seed Factory" or "Nuclear Factory." Often times, however, "constructive ambiguity" is used to iron over internal differences and avoid making a decision. Such was the case with killing terrorists until recently. I remember when a targeted killing was attempted on the son of the military leader of Hizbullah, the Israeli generals got on television and smirkingly said, "Last night, one of our F-16 fighters accidentally dropped a bomb which accidentally landed on the house of this terrorist leader, coincidentally just as he was in his living room, and accidentally killed him." Or the time when Netanyahu tried to kill Hamas leader Khaled Marshall in Jordan and the operation was botched. The Mossad spies were supposed to put something in his ear that would make him sick and die without anybody being able to figure out it was them, but instead they botched the operation and got caught, and King Hussein of Jordan threatened to execute the spies of Marshall died. Marshall kept getting sicker and sicker and Israel kept saying they didn't do it until they came forward with the cure in exchange for their spies. I was very relieved when, recently, the government finally came out and said straight out exactly what it was doing, and that anybody who tries to kill and Israeli citizen will become a target himself.
Such constructive ambiguity was also used with the settlement drive. There was great internal debate as to what, exactly, was to be done about this land, whether it should be settled or given back, and what can be done about the Arabs living in it. After Israel’s miraculous victory in the Six Day War, people began expecting miracles everywhere. Israel decided to start building settlements and simply not worry about the rapidly growing 1.7 million Arabs on the land (today 3.2 million.) After all, if Israel’s birth and continued existence was dependent on miracles, why not expect just one more? Rather than letting idealism set the goals and realism get them there, people threw realism out the window and acted purely on idealism.
It must also be remembered that Yesha isn’t just land, it’s the heart of the heart of the Jewish homeland, with Hebron, the first capital of the Jewish people and burial place of the patriarchs, Shechem, where Joseph is buried, Jehrico, the city of date palms, the place where the sun stood still for Joshua and the walls came a tumblin’ down, and many other places mentioned in the bible; Shiloh, Beit Lechem (Bethlehem), Elon Moreh, the list goes on. This is where the bible actually happened, not Tel Aviv or Haifa, and the Jewish people will always have a very strong attachment to these areas. The combination of attachment to the land and the belief in the ability of Israel to work miracles whenever it chose led to a disorganized, mass movement into these areas. Rather than being controlled by the government, the settlers controlled the government through their actions by setting up makeshift settlements wherever they chose and then waiting for the government to recognize them retroactively. This action undermined the authority of the Israeli government. When the government came under fire internationally for having started a settlement drive, it again embarked on a path of constructive ambiguity. By not annexing these territories, they were technically leaving all options open, but by building in them, they were de-facto annexing them. Israel effectively held sovereignty over the land, with Israeli courts holding jurisdiction over the land, Israeli sewers and electric systems being hooked up to it, and Israeli homes being built on it. As the circumstances of the Six Day War, with the near destruction of Israel, the fact that Israel is only eight miles wide without this land, and the strategic necessity of holding some of this land, faded from the memory of the world, it became harder and harder to officially annex it. The sudden appearance of the Palestinians after 1967, a people who had never before existed and therefore never been taken into account, and who now had a deep and historical claim to the land in the eyes of the world, made it even more difficult to annex.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but I believe that the government could have done a much better job managing the Yesha settlement drive. If, instead of allowing the settlement drive to take control, the government had channeled the energy on step-by-step, pragmatic, and achievable goals, we would be in a very different situation today. The Jordan River valley runs from the Kinerret (Sea of Galilee) in the north to the city of Jericho near the northern bank of the Dead Sea, in the south. This valley is considered a strategic necessity for Israel. Its eastern edge is bordered by the Jordan River and its western edge is lined with enormous sheer rock-faced cliffs, capable of stopping a tank assault on central Israel. This area is also very fertile land, and almost completely devoid of Arabs. The government should have simply bitten the bullet and annexed this land, thus removing any question as to its status, and then launched a major settlement drive to spur agriculture and industry. Rather, the government placed a few hundred families there and then ignored it, and today it is assumed that it will end up in the hands of Israel’s enemies. Likewise, rather than setting up tiny settlements in the heart of every major biblical city, the government should have focused on maybe one, such as Hebron, and started a huge building drive to try to affect the demographic balance of the city and place a permanent Jewish hold there. Today, there are only a few hundred families living in Hebron who are much easier to remove than would be a whole city. The lack of pragmatic planning and the decision to gamble the future of the country on a miracle has caused much of the quandary that Israel finds itself in today.
Israel must extricate itself from this mess by itself. Europe and the Arab regimes will condemn Israel regardless of what it does because they do not deem Israel to be a legitimate entity, and therefore their yelling and screaming must be ignored. In my opinion, Israel must hold on to and annex as much land as it can while annexing as few Arabs as it can, and that is what this war is being fought over. I would encourage the government to officially annex those areas that it deems necessary for its security and leave the rest after the fighting stops, or at least slows. A unilateral withdrawal from any settlements at this time would be extremely destructive, as it would be handing our enemies a victory as well as sparking a civil conflict. The more that Israel gives under duress to its enemies, the more encouragement and validity Israel will be giving to terror as a means of negotiating. After all, if Arafat can get more by fighting than through negotiating, and he doesn’t have to sacrifice any of his honor by lowering himself to talking to Israel, then of course he will continue fighting. Some settlements which are too far out and too difficult to defend will eventually be evacuated, but only after fighting has subsided. I don’t think that this could have happened at the beginning of the conflict because it would spark a civil war, and Israel does not need to fight a civil war while simultaneously fighting a billion Arabs with both hands tied behind its back. I personally know many people who were prepared to go down and physically fight the army to prevent the Temple Mount from being handed over to Arafat. However, there is nothing like a long, bloody conflict to dampen people’s enthusiasm and bring the realization: Israel can not physically hold all of Yesha.
This country was built by ideological zealots, and as we learn from the story of Chanukah, zealotry has often been necessary to save the Jewish people. The boundless constructive energy of the idealists of Israel must be channeled and used pragmatically for the good of the people of Israel. Idealism will tell us where we're going, and pragmatic realism will get us there.