Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gaza Matzav

"You didn't really check it."

The uppity customer seemed to arouse shopping mall security guard from his topor.  Nobody wants to work on a Saturday night, just a few hours after the end of Shabbat (Sabbath.)  "Just go through."

"No, if you're going to check my bag, you have to open it up and look inside!  How do you know I'm not carrying something?  There's a matzav!"

I first got word of the matzav, the "situation," in synagogue on Saturday night.  Rav Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modiin, was teaching a class on Chanukah, the revolt against our Greek tormentors which had started 2,144 years ago in the very same town of Modiin.  Not wanting to desecrate the sanctity of Shabbat, Rabbi Lau had refrained from mentioning the bad news he had heard from his neighbors.  After evening prayers brought Shabbat to a close, as everyone turned to leave the synagogue, he stood up and announced that the modern-day tormentors of the Jews, the Arabs, had struck.

"A barrage of missiles has hit southern Israel, and military operations have begun against Gaza.  We should stay in shul and recite Tehillim (Psalms) to pray for the safety of our people and our soldiers."

The matzav has been a long time coming.  In fact, it never really went away.  Maybe it started with the second Intifada, which never really ended.  Or maybe it began when the state of Israel was declared, after which the state has not experienced a single day's peace, or perhaps when Mohammed exterminated the Jewish community of Mecca.  Perhaps it can be traced all the way back to Abraham, expelling his son Ishmael, the biblical ancestor of the Arabs, from his tent in order to protect his other son Yitzchak (Isaac,) the biblical ancestor of the Jews, from Ishmael's violent impulses.

This particular round of violence was unavoidable.  The late Yasser Arafat's gang, Fatach, in English, "Conquest," pulled off some of the most spectacular terrorist atrocities of the 1970's and 80's but then tacitly, although never officially, recognized the right of the non-Muslims of Israel to live free of Muslim rule in the 1990's.  The newer gang, Hamas, "Fanaticism," sprung up as a more purist anti-infidel organization and overthrew Fatach, but is now also seen as growing soft.  Hamas, like its predecessor Fatach, has been forced to make certain compromises with reality.  A "hudna," Arabic for cease fire of fixed duration, of the past few months during which Hamas has reduced its rocket fire at Israeli cities from an average of six a day down to an average of three per day, and in exchange Israel turned the other cheek, has expired.  During this hudna, Hamas had been busily arming itself with longer-range missiles for the big fight coming.  Meanwhile, breakaway gangs had seen the mere fact that Hamas had been willing to negotiate anything with Israel as a serious violation of Arab pride, and began firing missiles into Israel on their own.  In failing to kill a sufficient number of Israelis, Hamas was quickly losing legitimacy and public support, and no choice but to go to war.

Similarly, in Israel, with no military action against the last seven years of rocket bombardment from Gaza, accompanied by endless negotiations to expand the Palestinian State, the country had been swinging hard to the right.  With elections only a month away, this war could serve as a welcome distraction for Barak and Livini, the two liberal candidates who were so instrumental in creating the monstrosity of Gaza we face today.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the peace processors who authored the Oslo negotiations of the 1990's, which brought the horror and bloodshed of the Second Intifada, had been safely quarantined to the editorial pages of the New York Times for the last eight years.  But with the new incoming administration, they are being pulled off the benches and given rank and influence.  With a relatively friendly president in the White House for another three weeks and an unknown Obama administration in the wings, it was now or never.

For us, the little people, life goes on as normally as possible for most, and ends for some.  After one of the longer-range Grad missiles struck Ashdod, killing a mother of four, I called my friend Gali who lives there to check in.

"Hey, man, good to hear from you!" he yelled through the receiver, "I've got something you might like.  I have a six-outlet extension cord with those weird American plugs!"

"The American plugs are normal," I answered, "it's the Israeli ones that are weird."

"Ha ha.  Okay, so I'll put it in a box and write your name on it, and next time you are in Ashdod, you can look through the rubble of my apartment and dig up the box."

One of my friends at my new job got his reserve duty callup.

"You going to Gaza?" I asked him.

"No.  I asked my commander.  They always send us out there to Shechem or Ramallah to guard the checkpoints.  Then they take the young full-time soldiers who were on the checkpoints and send them to Gaza.  I'd much rather go to Gaza myself.  Checkpoints are boring."

There is, of course, always the concern that a local sympathizer will go haywire and engage in a psychotic jihadist killing spree, as during the Merkaz HaRav massacre or the two bulldozer attacks a few months ago, so security is much tighter.  In fact, there was a multiple-stabbing attack in Modiin and riots in majority-Arab East Jerusalem, but thank god no fatalities so far.  As I'm writing this, I'm in a car driving up north with some coworkers for a project meeting.  There was a brief debate on whether to take the Wadi Ara highway, a short-cut valley through the hills of Carmel which is lined on both sides by Arab villages and sometimes subject to flying rocks when the locals are particularly seething, or to take the hour-long detour.  We decided to go for it.  The rainy weather which has stifled Arab attempts to set fire to the Jerusalem forest and slowed Israel's air force for the day has probably silenced their stone artillery as well.

The matzav is just something you have to deal with to live in the holy land.  Our neighbors in Gaza are raised from birth to revel in the glory of gore and death.  Hamas' children's shows look like grade-B horror flicks, with children barley out of diapers brandishing knives and singing of the honor of drenching the land with their blood.  Every generation of teenagers is brainwashed with heroic music videos of their older brothers from the previous wars throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli border guards or blowing up Israeli school buses.  There's no way to modify such a society, either with carrots or sticks.  The only authentic long-term solution is to ask them, as humanely as possible but with full firmness, to please pack up their bags and seek life elsewhere.  The modern post-Judaism ruling class of Israel, with its moralistic preening and vanity, is incapable of doing so for fear of losing an international popularity contest they actually lost long ago, and so we must be prepared to bear this matzav for at least another generation. 

In reality, this is merely another barbarian containment operation, the sort of thing that must be gotten over with every few years.  The situation at the end will likely look the same as it did a few months before it began, but we dare not stand idle.  Like India, Indonesia, the Phillipines, or any other state unfortunate enough to be located on the bleeding fringes of the Islamic world, Israel is again being probed and challenged.  The question the fanatics of Hamas are asking is whether Israel is ripe for fatach, for conquest through jihad.  We must again risk our lives to answer, "No."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Secretary Hillary

In appointing Hillary to Secretary of State, Obama has made not only a clever political maneuver, but probably the least bad decision possible, at least as far as Israel is concerned. During the election, Obama's paying homage to Jimmy "Israel is Apartheid" Carter and seeking advice from Zbigniew Brzezinski on the middle east was enough to cause any lover of Jewish political freedom in Israel to break a cold sweat.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a known quantity. Sure, there was the time she hugged Suha Arafat immediately after one of Suha's anti-Semitic tirades. I don't think Hillary actually believed Suha's rehash of medieval accusations that Jews poison wells and the like; she was merely doing the smart thing rather than the right thing. And let's remember, Suha's husband Yasser said and did far worse and still received kisses on the cheek from Israeli Prime Ministers. The main thing I like about Hillary is that, despite her failure in this election, no ego that big sits still for eight years. She is running for President in 2016, age or no, and she will need to avoid alienating her Jewish supporters.

Let's be clear; this will be no Bush administration. No more friendly Whitehouse meetings with the latest Israeli Prime Minister, both pretending to care about the lack of a 23rd Islamic Arab state called "Palestine" for the press while dealing with adult issues like Iran and Al Quaida behind closed doors. For eight years, under Bush, the Democratic party has complained of his squandering the goodwill of the world the United States received by the death of over 3,000 civilians on September 11th, or of having alienated anonymous moderate Muslims by passing moral value judgments about America's adversaries. The new focus on America's "image abroad," rather than achievement, is worrisome because a clash of interests is coming.

America's European allies share none of America's sympathy for Israel's predicament. Europe views Jewish political independence not only as annoyingly cumbersome in disrupting relations with their Arab suppliers of energy, but also as enraging to the surging Islamic minorities gestating within their own borders. In Europe you don't need to be a classical anti-Semite to want to see Israel wiped off the map, a realistic assessment of your own self-interest will do. Hence, every time Bush visits Europe he is hounded by dignitaries and world leaders exasperatedly imploring him to please "do something" about the Middle East. "Something" always boils down to accelerating the destruction of Jewish villages, sanitized as "Settlement Dismantling," or lowering Israel's defenses by removing life-saving checkpoints, sanitized as "Easing Up Restrictions."

The real clash of interests will come when Obama's promise to support Israel's freedom clashes with improving America's image abroad. President Clinton's response was to sidestep the issue by having an all too willing Israel feed the alligator of the Palestinian Authority, arguing that supplying them with land, weapons, and vast sums of cash was in Israel's interest. Now that this method has been discredited, and Hillary's husband's foreign policy legacy is forever tarnished by this failure, I have hope she will have learned. I don't have faith in Hillary to do the right thing, but I do have some hope she will do the smart thing, and perhaps give Obama a moment of pause before opting for image over substance.