Sunday, March 10, 2002

All-Out War

Sunday, March 10, 2002 6:51 AM

As I pack my bags, store away my silverware and dishes, scrub down the kitchen, repaint my room, and repair some of the damages I did to my apartment, it strikes me how much things have changed over the last twenty months I’ve spent in Israel. They say that one month in Israel is like one year in chul (outside of Israel,) so I’ve watched the equivalent of two decades race by.
Israel, and the entire world, are very different places than they were in August, 2000. When I arrived, Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, Clinton, Barak, and Arafat claimed to be inches away from hammering out some sort of arrangement, the economy was racing ahead, and there was a very brief taste of peace. Of course by this time I, and the majority of my friends in Israel, had a deep sense of foreboding. I remember, during this time of peace and tranquility, my friend Gil pulling me aside and telling me that, "There’s going to be a war soon, a big one, and not just with the Palestinians but with all the Arabs." Why? "When I was here ten years ago, I used to go to the Arab shuk. We Jews went about our business and they went about theirs. Today when I go, I’ve got Arabs following me around, threatening me, sizing me up, staring me down. They aren’t going to settle for just giving me the evil eye much longer." When discussing declaring Israeli citizenship with friends, and considering the mandatory two-year army stint, everybody told me, "Wait until after the next war."
In the West, every war is supposed to be the last. Wasn’t World War I the "War to end all wars?" War is seen as an occasional, necessary evil which must be avoided if possible and finished quickly and painlessly if not. In Israel, war is a lifestyle. Nobody in America really thinks ahead to the next war because there aren’t supposed to be any more. In Israel, the "Next War" is an inevitability. "In The Next War, there’s going to be a lot of anti-population warfare," Itzig tells me. When Zehava is trying to remember the word "Can" in English, she asks, "How do you say it? The thing you buy lots of whenever there’s a war?" Each war is seen as just one more battle in Israel’s endless struggle for survival.
Today, Israel is at war, and is in imminent danger of falling into a much larger conflict. In my last two weeks in Israel, the conflict began burning out of control. At the beginning of the Peace Process, upon a terrorist murder, the government would cut off ties with the Palestinian Authority with the understanding that they might never be restored. By the time Barak was negotiating away all of Yesha in March of 2001, the government would cut off ties for two hours after each attack, and the Palestinian negotiators would scream that Israel was "wasting time!" Attacks which killed ten or more people, attacks which happened once every year or two before the Peace Process, are now happening every single day, one after the next after the next. On Friday night, a bomb blast killed ten in Jerusalem, on Monday, a sniper killed ten more people, on Monday night, two terrorists with machine guns entered a restaurant in Tel Aviv and started mowing people down, killing three. Israelis go about their business, go to work, eat three square meals a day, and constantly hear about the scores of Israelis being murdered daily. This leads to a feeling of despair and impotence, which breeds rage. People are walking around, shaking with anger.
In response, Israel is moving in hitting back with less and less restraint. On Monday, a tank shell meant for a Hamas leader ripped through his car and killed his wife and children instead. Is there a difference between the two? According to western values, there is, but according to eastern values, there is not. Western civilization recognizes the concept of "intent." We recognize that there is a difference between mugging and murdering an elderly woman and accidentally hitting someone with a car. In the first case, it’s called murder, in the second, unintentional manslaughter. When Israel tries to hit a Palestinian terrorist warlord and misses, Westerners view this as unfortunate but unavoidable civilian casualties, Arabs view it as being identical to terrorism.
It is widely argued that the Palestinians have to use terrorism because they "have no other way." This is, indeed, an accurate statement. The Palestinians have no army which can fight Israel, "no tanks, no air force, no helicopters!" as Saib Erekat and Yassir love to bark out over and over. However, it must be said that they have no real means of pursuing their goals because their goals are unjust. Hitler had no way of legally exterminating the Jewish people, so he had to violate the Geneva convention to do so, Sadaam Hussein had no way of legally taking over Kuwait, so he did it illegally. Likewise, the annihilation of Israel is not a just cause, as Israel is a legitimate, democratic, and recognized country, and therefore there simply is no way for the Palestinians to achieve their goals legally.
In order for there to be a peace process, the Palestinians first had to be humanized. The image of the Arab in Israel had always been that of a savage with a knife clenched in his teeth, stalking his next victim. Gradually, Israelis came to see the real suffering of the Palestinians, self-inflicted though it may be, as a source of great frustration which had to be redressed if there were ever to be peace. Israelis began to see a distinction between "radicals" and the average Arab who just wanted peace and a little plot of land. This was essentially a projection of Israeli society onto Palestinian society. It was a model which was easy for most Israelis to understand because they viewed right wingers as their own "radicals" who were getting in the way of the average Israeli who also just wanted peace and a little plot of land.
In watching the situation unfold, however, this "humanization" has reversed. Israelis see suicide bombers blowing the heads off of infants, sadistically mutilating and torturing children, wiping out whole families, and intentionally killing non-combatants, grandmothers and grandfathers. Then, they turn on the television and see Palestinian women and children passing out sweets on the streets of Gaza and reveling the heroic slaughter of innocents. Are these those same average Arabs who wanted peace and a plot of land? They see Palestinian rallies, orgies of wild, animalistic violence, screaming, and shooting in the air. They see the Palestinian worship of death and killing, both of the suicide bombers and of Israeli babies and grandparents. Israelis see things in Arab society which are totally unimaginable in Israeli society. Israelis are coming to realize that they do not have so much in common with the average Palestinian as they once thought.
Jerusalem Post radio gave an interview about a year ago with a Jewish man who worked in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb. He had hired several Arab workers, and the whole business got along quite well. He decided, as a special gift, to give his best worker a bonus and a free cellular phone out of appreciation. He handed the gifts to the Arab man, walked inside, and heard a huge explosion. It turned out the Arab had taken the gifts and then turned right around and tried to plant a bomb in his boss’s car when it accidentally detonated. Last week, an Israeli in Efrat noticed a man from a neighboring Arab village walking through town. The Arab man had very friendly relations with many residents in the town, and was on a first-name basis with some. When he walked straight past many of his friends and acquaintances without saying hello, they called security. It turned out he had a bomb strapped to him, which was defused after security shot him dead. Last week in Jerusalem, an Arab walked into the office of his business partner, a close friend of three years, and shot him dead. Not because of a quarrel between them, just plain old terrorism. Who are the average Arabs who wand peace? How do you know that the Arab who you thought was your friend isn’t about to kill you?
"They aren’t humans," is an expression which I hear more and more on the Israeli street. "I refuse to believe that a real human being is capable of doing such things. They are animals." This dehumanization is very dangerous, especially for the Palestinians. Before a war, the enemy has to be dehumanized. In world World War I, the Germans became Huns, and in later wars, the Japanese became Japs, the Germans were Krauts, the Viet Cong were Gooks, and the Iraqis were Ragheads and Camel Jockeys.

The Palestinian Intifadah has formed a little bubble of anger in the Israeli mind. Every attack makes the bubble just a little bit bigger, each murder makes the anger rise just a little bit higher. With the latest series of gruesome attacks, the bubble is in danger of popping. Walking around on the street, you can now see the anger breaking through the surface. It breaks through when two people having a conversation start screaming at each other over nothing. You can see it in the way that people in their cars are on the horn in a split second, the way parents are overly anxious about their children. Everybody is living on the front lines, whether they like it or not. People are walking around shaking with rage and fear.

This is not a good state of mind in which to make balanced judgments, but people no longer want balanced judgment. As one cousin eloquently put it, "They keep saying that we’re about to blow up, so let’s blow the *&-* up already! How many people have to die?" The inaction of the government can be just as frustrating as the terror itself. It’s one thing to be killed by your enemies, it’s another when the government doesn’t seem to care. When former Prime Minister Netanyahu gave away Hebron to the Palestinian Authority, the Jewish community asked what would happen if the Palestinians started firing on their exposed section of the city. "We’ll send in tanks," said Netanyahu. Today, the Arabs are picking off the Hebron Jews like flies, but there are no tanks. During the first days of the violence, Barak threatened to abrogate the Oslo Agreements if the violence did not stop in two days. Two days later, he backed down. When Hizbullah kidnapped three soldiers, Barak threatened to bomb Beirut if they were not returned in 48 hours. 48 hours later, nothing happened. When Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated, Sharon announced, "What was will no longer be." But what was, small-scale strikes targeting individual terrorists while talking to other terrorists, and blowing up empty buildings, still is. Sharon threatened to bring the conflict to a "whole new level" if the Palestinians fired Kassam-2 rockets on Israel’s population centers, but now that they are indeed firing their missiles nothing seems to have changed. The government keeps saying that it isn’t at war one minute, and that the Palestinians have, "Declared war on us," the next.

Even more frustrating than the government’s inaction is the fact that the Intifadah has not brought real national unity. Yes, there is a national unity government including Labor, but the only people within the Labor party who are supportive of remaining in the government are those with cabinet ministries. Meanwhile, those in the Labor party who were not awarded ministries are constantly doing everything within their power to undermine the government. At the same time, a group of about two hundred fifty Israeli reserve soldiers, many of them officers, are refusing to serve in the settlements. While this movement has not snowballed into any sort of mass popular movement, and about 10,000 soldiers have signed a counter-petition decrying the move, it is still yet another visible split. One group of citizens who live in "Pre-1967" Israel have now declared that those citizens living in the post-1967 territories are no longer deserving of government protection and are challenging the sovereignty of the Israeli government. Can one imagine a group of soldiers who live in Jerusalem refusing to defend Tel Aviv because they don’t agree with the political ideology of the people living there?
Among the religious, there is also a feeling of despair. It is clear from the bible that attacks on the nation are signs of spiritual weakness and disunity. When the religious stray from "the path," G-d uses Israel’s enemies as tools to force the people to come together and become more religious. It’s known as the "No atheists in a foxhole" phenomenon. Yet there has not yet been any great awakening. As one friend put it, "I still say my morning prayers, I eat breakfast, I go to work, I come home, and I go to sleep. I keep hearing that these people are being killed, but I don’t know what to do about it. I honestly want to be woken up but I don’t know how to do it myself and I don’t know where to turn. We need a great leader."
If there’s one quote I’ve heard from both the right and left, the secular and religious, "We need a leader."
As I try to think out possible scenarios for where this is headed, they all lead in the same direction. It’s like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels I used to read as a kid, where you turn from page to page, and at the bottom of every page is a new decision. "You come to a cave. If you want to go into the cave, turn to page 87. If you don’t want to go into the cave, turn to page 16." Except in this case, while the decisions are different, the story has the same ending no matter what decisions are made: all-out war. It feels like being lost in a dark tunnel, and the only light you can see is the oncoming train.
If Israel follows the new campaign of the left and goes for a full withdrawal to the Green Line, terrorism will become much more horrible. There is no case in history between two warring parties in which one party retreated and the other party then decided to magnanimously stop attacking, and the Arabs aren’t about to set any new precedents. A full retreat will be a total validation of terrorism as a means of achieving political ends. It will be a pure, unadulterated Palestinian victory, and when you have a victory, you keep going. Arafat has repeatedly, clearly, unabashedly declared in Arabic that he is pushing for the complete destruction of the state of Israel. If he is winning, why would he stop?
A full withdrawal will also cause a huge rift within Israeli society. Either the Israeli government will destroy the West Bank and Gaza settlements, a rash act which will possibly result in a civil war, or the government will simply abandon the settlers to be murdered by the Palestinian Authority, which will also cause a huge split. Both left and right wing governments are responsible for placing these settlements in Yesha, and if the government refuses to protect them, the vast numbers of settlement supporters inside Israel are not going to sit calmly by and allow them to be killed.
If Israel were to make this hypothetical withdrawal, the 1.2 million Israeli Arabs would immediately rise up in full revolt. Already, Israeli Arabs (or Israeli Palestinians as they are now called) are carrying out terror and suicide attacks and assisting terrorist groups acting within the territories. Asmi Bishara, one of the major Arab members of Parliament, had his Parliamentary immunity stripped and is now on trial for incitement because he appeared before a wild rally arm in arm with Israel’s Sheik Nasrallah of Hizbullah, and called upon the Arab world to unite in holy war against Israel. The Israeli perception is that the Israeli Arabs view democracy as just another means of destroying Israel. If a revolt breaks out among the Israeli Arabs, Israel would have to either crush this revolt or retreat from further areas in pre-1967 Israel, mostly in the Galilee, which have a substantial Arab population. If Israel would retreat from further territory, it is difficult to see how the country could last five years.
This course is, for the time being, unlikely. The left has no charismatic politicians, no clear plan, and is in no danger of winning an election any time soon. More likely, the government will continue its current policy of inaction for as long as possible. Israel is under enormous international pressure to allow its citizens to be killed. "The world loves dead Jews," one relative tells me, "Look at the Europeans, they have all these holocaust monuments and memorial services, they always come to visit Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem,) they feel so badly during terrorist attacks, but when we fight back, when we don’t die, they hate us." At a certain point, however, Israelis are going to start fighting back on their own because nobody wants to die as part of some public relations ploy to keep the British and the French satisfied. Israelis are not going to give up their lives just to quiet the slander of British Foreign Secretary Cook.
If the government refuses to do what is necessary to protect the people, then the people are going to at on their own. The first acts of this are already being seen, as a Jewish terrorist group calling itself the "Committee for Road Safety" has started killing Palestinians at random, and a bomb was set off by the "Avengers of the Infants" at an Arab school in East Jerusalem yesterday. If it became more widespread, it could take the form of riots in Arab neighborhoods and loss of government control.
Israel is in a completely impossible position because it is trying to play two ballgames on the same field. Israel is desperately trying to remain an enlightened democracy with free elections and free speech, and is trying to maintain civilized society and to be a part of the free world. Unfortunately, Israel happens to be located in what is undoubtedly the single most inhospitable environment on the planet. The Middle East has the unfortunate combination of a stone-age tribal order combined with vast oil wealth. The mentality of the tribes is the same as African tribes involved in a blood feud, except the Arabs can afford tanks, fighters, and nerve gas to unleash on their subjects at will. In order to be able to call itself a democracy, Israel has to follow the Geneva Conventions and all the rules of the civilized world. The Arabs have never even heard of such things. Israel is trying to play touch football while its enemies are engaged in no holds barred street fighting.
However, Israel must remain a democracy if it is to survive. Modern wars are won or lost by technology, and the technological advantage requires a free and open society. In a dictatorial society, order is maintained at gunpoint, and the free exchange of ideas, so critical to technological advancement, is absent. If Israel were to become a totalitarian state today, it would lose its technological edge and be destroyed tomorrow. Israel must also remain democratic in order to maintain what little support it has in the free world. However, because Israel is surrounded by people who only understand the rules of the feud, that there are no rules, it must make it clear that it will do whatever it takes, using street fighter rules, to survive.
This is easier said than done. The Arabs, for their part, have no problems with such rules. One soldier in Gaza who served in the border town of Rafiah, which is half in Israel and half in Egypt, described how the Egyptians quelled the rioting that broke out on their side of the border in support of the Palestinian Intifadah, "A few Egyptian soldiers walked into the crowd and just opened fire with their machine guns, mowing people down. They killed a few dozen and that was the end of it." Where Israelis use rubber bullets and aim for the legs, Arabs use steel bullets and aim for the head. Where Israel uses tear gas, the Arabs use nerve gas.
When I ask one old-timer, now a "Peace Now" supporter, what he thinks Israel has to do to calm the situation, he has no illusions, leftist views not withstanding, "We just have to go in and wipe out a few villages." Speaking to one friend, a descendent of immigrants from Morocco, "If I had a button that I could push to do a holocaust on the Arabs, I would push it."
These types of decisions are not easy to make. It’s easy to say, "Go wipe out some villages," quite another to drive through the village, tell everybody to get out of their houses, and then send in the bulldozers. A friend who manned a checkpoint told me simply, "I hate doing it, but I have to do it. At the checkpoint, you go up to every car and get the people out at gunpoint, force them to stick their hands over their heads, and search them. Even to grandfathers and old ladies. I hate doing it, I don’t like being mean to people, but if I don’t then somebody is going to pull a gun and shoot me dead, and if the checkpoint isn’t there, than a suicide bomber is going to get through and kill twenty people."
The only option worse than taking these draconian measures is not taking them. The Arabs can always afford to lose a war. The only thing that happens to an Arab country when it loses a war is that it gets a new despot, and maybe loses some prestige. Lebanon today is dominated by Syria, which occupies most of the country, but Beirut still exists, and some day Lebanon will be strong enough to force the Syrians out. The only difference for the Lebanese people is that they are now being tortured and slaughtered by Syrian Bashar Al-Assad instead of Bashir Gemayel, Yassir Arafat, and the other warlords who controlled the country during the early 80s. Iraq can take over Kuwait and replace the Emirs with Sadaam, but what difference does that make to the average Kuwaiti? None.
Israel, on the other hand, can never afford to lose even one war. Israel’s total security paranoia is justified by the fact that if the Arabs ever defeat Israel, every Jew living in Israel will die. This is accepted common knowledge, and one need only read the speeches of every Arab dictator from Arafat to Hussein to see it. Everybody knows where the nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction being constructed by Iraq and Iran are pointed: Tel Aviv.
Israel today is running out of reasons not to go to war. The Palestinians speak only of driving the Jews into the sea, Europe is presenting a stone wall of hate, the Arabs are increasingly threatening to attack, and scores of Israelis are being killed in the streets every day. By constantly attacking Israel, condemning even the weakest non-lethal defensive measures, the world’s "opinion makers," being the media, foreign ministers, Colin Powell and the U.S. State Department, and the elite academia have totally discredited themselves. If all they can do is attack, slander, and malign Israelis, if all they only undermine and deny Israel’s right to exist regardless of Israel’s actions on the ground, then what does Israel have to lose by going to war? It may seem crazy, but the Israeli people are ready for war. The slogans put up by foreign peace groups all over Israel read, "Better the pains of peace than the agony of war." What they fail to mention is, "Better the agony of war than the peace of death." Israel is facing national death by allowing terrorism to continue torturing the nation and killing its citizens, causing many more to seek life elsewhere. Terrorism is shaking the foundations of national existence and life itself. For the average Israeli, at a certain point it becomes much better to pick up a gun and defend himself, giving him a greater measure of control over his fate, rather than wait for death to come and take him in the form of Palestinian terrorists.
If Israel withdraws from the territories, terrorism will become unbelievably worse, and Israel will eventually have to go to full war. If Israel refuses to act, the Israeli people themselves may decide to take "vigilante" actions, convinced that their own government refuses to protect them, which will force the government’s hand to all-out war. In the end it may be unavoidable. But what would all-out war look like? In the worst case, it wouldn’t be pretty or clean. The first step would be to wipe out the Palestinian leadership. Israel has, until now, avoided hitting political targets and only hit purely military or terrorist targets. This despite the fact that the Palestinians make no differentiation between political and military targets, having assassinated Israel’s cabinet minister. This discretionary method has proved ineffective. Because the political leadership, including Yassir Arafat, Muhammed Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti, and Abbed Rabbo, in addition to planning and directing terrorist attacks, also hold political power, they have been deemed immune from assassination. This would have to change. Next would be ordering the military to enter into Palestinian areas and begin large-scale destruction of civilian areas, "erasing villages" as one cousin described it, in actions modeled on the American and British method of rooting out terrorists in Afghanistan. Essentially, any villages or structures used to launch murderous attacks on Israelis or fire at Israeli soldiers or civilians would have to be destroyed. This could result in a partial or full expulsion of the Palestinians to one of the neighboring Arab countries. By violently rejecting all peace offers, and by dehumanizing themselves, the Palestinians may cause another "Nabka", another catastrophe for themselves. The remnant of the Palestinians may very well wake up one day to find themselves on the other side of the river.
This would, of course, involve major violations of International Law and human rights, much like what America and Britain are doing in Afghanistan, but because is has very little international clout, Israel will pay a heavy price. Israel could become an international pariah, possibly earning the dubious title of "rogue state." The United Nations would almost certainly enact economic sanctions against Israel, which would further crush the economy. Yassir Arafat’s goal has always been to provoke an Israeli response so severe that the international community would have to intervene. The question is whether the United Nations or NATO are prepared to intervene militarily, and I do not believe they will for several reasons. First of all, any NATO bombing would require enthusiastic American support. Israel’s decision to get "down and dirty" with the terrorists may cause a major rift in Israel’s alliance with America, and possibly even a temporary policy shift, but America will not support military action against Israel. The European Union, which seems to be trying to use good old fashion Jew-hating talk to find common ground and bring its member nation states together on foreign policy, will never act alone against Israel militarily because they simply lack the ability. Israel is not a third-world country like Iraq or Serbia, but an ultra high-tech nation whose army is totally committed to defending their homes. Unless Europe is prepared to lose hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers and pilots going up against the most modern and accurate military hardware the world has ever seen, it will not get involved. Likewise, if Europeans have made the decision to fully support the Palestinians in their quest to drive Israel into the sea, than they face losing a few of their major cities like Paris and London, as Israel is a nuclear power with the ability to carry ordinance over very long distances. Lastly, the Afghanistan war has proved that European armies do not even have the capability of operating outside of their own countries without hitching a ride from the Americans. The United Nations may send troops as well, but if they get anywhere near combat, they will simply be caught in the cross fire and die. One can’t reasonably expect a bunch of UN conscripts from India and Fiji to put their lives on the line for a Palestinian state.
The world may try to passively strangle Israel, but it is doubtful that they will become directly involved. Israel must execute and finish such a war as quickly as possible to mitigate the ill effects. As my cousin Rafi puts it, "We will lose the Americans, there will be sanctions, we will be hungry, but we’ll still be alive, and that’s better than what we’ve got now." After the war, the United States will sponsor some sort of Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy, and after a few decades left-wing poets wracked with guilt and self-loathing will write about the horrors we inflicted upon the guiltless Palestinian people, but Israel will live.
An all-out war is a horrible, sickening thought, and it makes me cringe to even imagine such a thing. War is really a roll of the dice. Who can name a single war in history which turned out exactly as planned? Israel needs peace worse now than ever before, but Israel’s existence is threatened, and Israel has to exist before it can coexist. The Jews have always flocked to compassionate causes. Jews are always vastly over represented in charitable organizations such as the Peace Corps, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. Our people flock to liberal and left-wing political parties throughout the world. However, misplaced compassion can be as evil as cruelty. The Talmud teaches us that "He who is kind the cruel will become cruel to the kind." By deciding to create the State of Israel, the Jewish people left the theoretical world of civilized, parliamentary debate and entered into the dirty world of international politics. Like every decision in real life, this was not a pure decision; there is no absolute right. The Jewish national undertaking was based on the fact that the Jews in the Diaspora, while enjoying the luxury of being a pure, powerless and blameless minority, also face repeated attempts at physical annihilation by Nazis, Cossaks, Poles, Catholics, Romans, etc. However, the decision to enter into nationhood is also wrought with difficult decisions. Today Israel faces a choice: do we maintain ideological purity and innocence by allowing ourselves to be annihilated, or do we decide to get our hands dirty and do what is necessary to survive against an enemy who does not share our morals and does not follow our rules. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in the Middle East, it’s that no decision is pure, and there is no absolute "Right Thing to Do." The best that can be done is to take all the facts and possible outcomes of a decision into account, balance the good and evil on both sides, make a decision, and pray to G-d that you did the right thing.

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