Saturday, January 23, 2010

Whither Israel? Part I


by Stephen Schecter


1st part of 2


October 2009. The Egyptian Minister of Health announces that Israeli doctors will not be welcome at a breast cancer awareness conference in Cairo and hails the conference as a wonderful example of regional cooperation. A few days later the Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation announces on its website that doctors from Israel will be attending. The foundation, its website proclaims, had launched intensive diplomatic efforts to that effect. Welcome to the new Middle East!

Same as the old one, it seems. And the Western world wants Israel to negotiate a peace treaty with Palestinians that would give the Jewish country a terrorist state on its eastern and southern borders with a corridor running through it. Perhaps the American president is thinking of the day when Fatah will host a conference in Ramallah on how to blow up Jews without incurring democratic displeasure. Of course, Jewish psychologists previously invited to attend the conference will have their visas rescinded at the last moment, because Palestinian intellectuals protested at even that semblance of normalization. And lest the reader think I am exaggerating, he or she would do well to scrutinize the recent brouhaha in the Egyptian press about the treason of translating Israeli literature into Arabic. The best the defenders of that policy could bring to the argument was: know thine enemy. In Jordan, another country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel, any professional establishing ties with his Israeli counterpart is immediately blackballed by the anti-normalization committee. So much for peace treaties; and so much for education as a path to peace.

Who in his or her right mind could actually believe that the Arabs want peace with Israel? Who could actually believe that a Palestinians state would be anything other than a springboard to liquidating the Jewish state and slaughtering its inhabitants? Apparently, plenty of people, including half the population of Israel; including the people who know it would happen.

Meir Shalev, an Israeli author, once wrote a book called Esau. In it he described an imagined scene from the Arab riots of 1929 which had all the earmarks of veracity. An Arab shepherd comes from the mosque, the very same Al-Aqsa mosque from which the very same cry still resounds — 'death to the Jews' — and lops off one of the legendary breasts of his faithful customer, Miriam, and cripples her baby son in her courtyard. I have no doubt that what the character Ibrahim did in this story the many Ibrahims of today would do again if they could only invade Tel Aviv itself. But Meir Shalev has placed himself in the peace camp. Ein brera, we have no choice, he would argue, or the Jews will become as violent as their enemies, trying to hold on to land that does not belong to them. But the land does belong to them, has belonged to them ever since Abraham walked it and bought that cave in Hebron for an inflated price so that he could bury his wife there.

The Palestinians, and the entire Arab Muslim world to their back, do not recognize that at all. Hebron, they say, has never been Jewish and under Arafat they destroyed as many of the Jewish holy sites in the West Bank as they could. Jerusalem, too, they argue, does not belong to the Jews and never has, the Jewish presence in that city being but a lie no less monstrous than the Holocaust itself. And in their ongoing perversion of history, the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslims continue to accuse the Israelis of wishing to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to take over the Temple Mount and there rebuild the Temple, which, they say, never existed in the first place. Jerusalem denial, Temple denial, Holocaust denial, they are all of a piece, part of the century-old hostility to the Zionist movement which was always accompanied by the cry, 'death to the Jews', and followed soon enough by riot, murder and terrorism, the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim triple weapon of choice.

Let us not forget that the leader of the Palestinian cause, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was in league with Hitler, as was the head of the Iraq insurgency in 1941, Rashid Ali, whom the British had to depose by force. The Holocaust the Arabs are quick to lay at the doorstep of Europe had its accomplices throughout the Arab world, and the expropriation, murder and expulsion of 850,000 Jews from Arab Muslim countries after the State of Israel was established in 1948 was but the continuation of that policy. So today. The textbooks used in the schools of the Palestinian Authority have wiped Israel off their maps in anticipation of the day when their people will carry out this dreamed of extermination for real. And these are the neighbors with whom successive Israeli governments, backed by a majority of Jews world wide, seek to make peace.

The folly of such a policy ought to be apparent to a five-year-old. Indeed, it probably is apparent to a five-year-old, but not to grown adults, Jew and non-Jew, throughout the Western world, who not only cannot imagine what alternative there is, but continue to indulge the Arabs in their never-ending mendacity. And yet the solution is simple, as simple as it always has been when one is faced with an implacable and hateful enemy to whom compromise and peace are anathema. The Palestinians have to be defeated militarily, a goal perfectly within Israel's capability. Once that is done, with Judea, Samaria and Gaza under IDF control, Israel should move to annex those territories, declare martial law and make life difficult enough so that their Arab Muslim inhabitants will leave. If the Israelis do not know how to do that, they could consult with the Kuwaitis, who expelled 350,000 Palestinians after they supported Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, or with the Palestinians themselves, who have reduced the once majority Christian population of Bethlehem to a small minority. And to make it clear to the Muslim Arab nation, which has consistently supported the Palestinians in their aim of liquidating Israel, that the sovereign Jewish state is here to stay, Israel should at least close down the Al-Aqsa mosque and its neighbor, at best demolish them, and upon their ruins rebuild the Temple.

But the Arab and Muslim world will scream, people will say. Yes, they will scream, and then they will calm down. Hizbullah will shake in its boots and silence their guns. Iran will understand that if they threaten Israel their fate will be worse than that of the Palestinians, without Israel's having to bomb any nuclear facility. Even Saudi Arabia might think of opening up diplomatic relations with Israel, for a country that can demolish the Al-Aqsa would surely be ready to inflict a similar punishment on Mecca. One thing is for sure; no Arab or Muslim country will allow its resettled Palestinians to wage war against Israel from within its borders, because if there is one thing the Arab Muslim world respects, it is the firm exercise of authority. The Ottoman Empire, so Shalev suggested in his book, kept the peace within the borders of its many and far-flung provinces by having a mobile gallows do the rounds every year. Thus did the sick man of Europe live far longer than any could have imagined.

The world will never let us get away with it, the Jews will say, once again placing themselves in the sandals of their ancestors who went to scout out the land of Canaan when Moses urged them to conquer it. In the report they brought back they said the land was inhabited by giants in whose eyes they felt like grasshoppers. Two temples, two exiles and two returns later, the Jews still feel like grasshoppers in the eyes of the world, sending emails around the globe listing their many Nobel prizes in order to persuade themselves and the goyim that they are really entitled to the land, that they are the good guys worthy of protection. But the world does not care, nor would it care more than a day once Israel finished off its enemies and reasserted sovereignty over the land promised to the Jews by God and the Balfour Declaration. Deep down the problem is not the world, but the Court Jew mentality with which Jews have been approaching their existence ever since Mordecai. And beyond that, their fundamental ambiguity about the covenant to which they signed on back at Sinai, when they said we will do and we will listen and then proceeded to break the first three Commandments before Moses had even had time to engrave them in stone.

I am my brother's keeper, the Jews proudly pound their chests, and ask where the Palestinians would go if Israel annexed Gaza, Judea and Samaria and cleaned them out. What about the innocent Palestinians, they ask, not understanding that both Fatah and Hamas have so criminalized Palestinian society there are no innocents left. Their women protect their gangsters and their mothers raise their sons to be suicide bombers. Where, it may be asked, are the Palestinian counterparts of Amos Oz and David Grossman? Where are their liberal voices demanding that the Palestinians understand the Jewish narrative? Dead silent, they are, and it matters little whether they are silent out of complicity or intimidation. There are no ten just men in Ramallah just as there were none in Sodom and Gomorrah. And that is because Palestinian society is nothing more than organized child abuse. Moloch worship, as the Bible says. And the only thing to do with the Moloch worshippers is to tear down their groves, smash their idols and uproot them from the country down to the last man, woman and child. So Moses explained to the Jews in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They didn't listen then and they don't listen now. And so they perish, just as Moses said they would. Eldad Regev. Ehud Goldwasser. Gilad Shalit. Their families. All of us. The fallen and the fallen-to-come. And all the Holocaust memorials with their vows of never again are nothing but hollow and impotent protest, mocking the dead and the living.

ONE CAN, OF COURSE, EXPLAIN THIS AS THE BLIND SPOT OF DEMOCRACY. For not only do the Swedes indulge the Palestinians, not only do Barack Hussein Obama and his Jewish advisers, but so do the Israelis right across the political spectrum. Even Netanyahu promotes the lie that a Palestinian state is feasible and desirable, while Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords, refuses to admit they were a colossal mistake. There is no conflict without a solution, he continued to trumpet even after the collapse of the Clinton Camp David talks, even after Arafat and Co. launched wave after wave of suicide bombers into Israeli cities. To Jerusalem they were marching, a frenzied Arafat intoned over and over to his frenzied audience, and Beilin responded with his quip that after all, we are all human beings. Which Olmert confirmed when he looked into Abbas's eyes and declared he saw a good soul, though that same good soul felt impelled to telephone Samir Kuntar, the terrorist released from Israeli jails in 2007 in exchange for two dead soldiers, and wish him happy birthday. In 1979 Kuntar had shot a Jewish father in front of his daughter before clubbing her to death. But Abbas is a moderate man, the intellectuals of the Western world assure us. As Fatah is moderate when compared to Hamas, the media, unable to count by more than twos, assure us on the evening news. And now even Hamas is moderate, since there is always one more militant group waiting in the wings to assume the mantle of terrorist.

Yes, this is how democracy works. Unlike traditional society, modern society is not organized according to the difference of status. People are not legitimate only if they are born into the aristocracy and filled with blue blood. Everyone is held to be equal, even if in fact we are all different. But this difference is no longer used as the self-evident truth according to which society runs. No, it is exactly the opposite. We hold these truths to be self-evident, the American Declaration of Independence asserts, and so in modern society government is not the property of those who count as opposed to those who do not, but rule of the people, by the people, for the people. This too is not quite fact, but it does serve the function of providing a formula that justifies the way modernity works in the political sphere, keeping the government on its toes because the people can always throw the incumbents of office out by voting for the opposition. The media help them to clarify their choices by framing political questions, always complex, into binary choices: yes or no, for or against, moderate or extremist. This too is functional for democracies, because even for complex questions a decision has to be made, and a decision is always yes or no.

In the end, in the long run, overall, as historians would say, we tend to say yes in modern society: yes to peace, yes to progress, yes to reform and yes to compromise. In the end, in the long run, overall, we say yes to women's rights, yes to abortion, yes to gay marriage, yes to health insurance, yes to global border crossings of goods and people, even if so much yes also brings its share of grief. And we do so because we believe that people everywhere are, deep down, the same, want the same things, dream the same dreams, peace and love as the Beatles sang it. This too is mental sleight of hand, to which the rising divorce rates testify, but we continue to believe this nonetheless because it too is functional for democracy. The belief is part of the structure of expectations democracy generates, even if we do not see it that way. Indeed, we tend to think such expectations are simply a fact of human nature. Deep down people are basically good, and if they are not, then that is because other people, bad people — people with illegitimate wealth, power or privilege, we think — are doing something to distort their basic goodness. No one can seriously believe that Palestinians actually want to be martyrs, actually hate Israelis and want to destroy them. After all, they are people too, are they not, victims of disappointment? Surely, there is something that can be done to wean them from their violence, give them a stake in hope, prosperity and democracy. Surely they too, deep down, want to compromise. Surely, in short, they are like us, virtual if not actual citizens of democracy.

Only we do not say it quite like that. We do not add the kicker that indicates they would be like that if they lived under a democracy, because we do not demand that they democratize. No, we stop short of that because we frame our expectations as universal expectations about people, regardless of the society in which they live. We presume they are people like us because democracies, unlike traditional societies, do not exclude whole swaths of people from membership in society. Paradoxically, as a result, society hides from its members, and differences are now seen as differences between people, not between societies. Thus we cannot imagine there are societies in which child sacrifice, beheading, stoning, honor killings are part of the normal conduct of business, part of the structure of expectations which helps organize those societies and conditions the behavior of their members. During a feud in the Jordanian parliament one member bit off the ear of another; a third member shrugged it off as an incident that happens in parliaments around the world. And we shrug off his shrug, just as we shrug off the horrible slanders that circulate in the Palestinian press.

And so we do not hold the Palestinians to account. In spite of all the road maps demanding an end to incitement of violence against Jews, we do not insist they put that into effect before beginning negotiations. In spite of what history has shown, that democracies do not go to war against each other, we do not insist that they have a functioning democracy before they have a state. No, instead we keep deluding them and us that they can have it all: Jew hatred, terror, violence and blood lust on the one hand, and negotiations, peace and a state of their own on Israel's borders on the other. After all, we are all people, are we not? We would all respond to a cleric's call for 'death to the Jews' and lop off a woman's breast in front of her child, would we not? We would all, like Samir Kuntar, kill a father in front of his daughter and then club her to death, only to return thirty years later to a hero's welcome, would we not?

Of course we would not, we say, but we do not see that the reason why we would not is because we live in a democracy. Only democracies, and the modern society of which they are the political formulation, have taught us to bridle our human passions. We are taught that not only in sermons and schools. We learn that every day: in the market place, in political parties, in courts, in the movies, to the point that we expect people to be decent, to compromise over the most deeply held convictions, to refrain from murder even when every fiber of our being calls out for it. It used to be that it was legally okay to kill your spouse and/or your spouse's lover if you found him or her, but especially her, in bed with someone else. Today crimes of passion are outlawed, and if you kill your spouse and/or your spouse's lover you go to jail. You may still want to, most probably do want to, for human nature has not changed, not since Cain and Abel or Joseph and his brothers, but the legal system has, because society has. Which just goes to show that society is not made up of people. It is composed of structures of expectation, backed by ways of organizing difference. And that is the one thing democracies do not see. And because they do not see that, cannot see that, democracies keep getting taken to the cleaners by societies that are organized on different and hostile principles.

So the Nobel Prize for literature laureate, José Saramago, who wrote a book called Blindness in which he explores the moral consequences of being cognitively blind, does not himself understand what he wrote, having had the stupidity to compare the Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to Auschwitz. So too all those who call Islam a religion of peace when it is anything but that and worry about discrimination against adherents to a religion which openly calls for war against anyone who resists the faith. The Palestinians stage-manage the death of the lad who became the poster boy of the second Intifada, but the media of the Western world that were quick to pick up and disseminate this blood libel never recanted their error and never made a big deal about telling the world about it. For they too do not understand that lying is a way of life in the Arab and Muslim world. Even George W, Bush, whose gut instinct was more right than all the analysis of the intellectuals who derided him, could not bring himself to label the enemy as Islam. To him too all religions are peaceful, since under conditions of democracy they are. But Islam does not operate under conditions of democracy and makes no bones about its open hostility to democracy and the modern world it harbingers. To Islam, America is the devil incarnate, and its way of life is nothing more than an ever steep slide into lap-dancing, homosexuality, prostitution and AIDS. When denying Israeli doctors attendance at that medical conference in Egypt, the head of the Egyptian Medical Syndicate justified his country's decision by accusing Israeli doctors of participating in the torture of Palestinians and stealing the organs of Palestinian prisoners, a charge repeatedly made in the moderate Palestinian press. What does one do in the face of such patent lies? Laugh them off? Call the accusers crazy, as one calls Ahmadinejad crazy for his Holocaust denial? As one called Hitler crazy? Or take these people at their word and call them on it, understand that there is indeed a clash of civilizations that has to be dealt with?

The irony is that Western civilization, the only part of the globe that is truly modern, no longer sees itself as a civilization. All the other ones Huntington identified in his book of that title were and still are defined by religion — Buddhist, Confucian, Islamic, Russian and Greek Orthodox, Spanish Catholic, even Animist. Not the West, which used to see itself as Judeo-Christian, but no longer does. Instead it is proudly secular and proudly multicultural, which means it is paradoxically unable to measure the threat against it. It is critical of its own tradition, but tolerant of all others and especially of others that would do it in. The Western reaction to the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammad is an eloquent case in point. Indeed, modern society is the only swath of societies in today's world that does not see itself as a civilization and the only one that appreciates the global reach of modern history. With its face resolutely turned toward the future, it engenders a mental framework that understands everything in terms of the world to come. Islam is peaceful because when the Islamic world finally goes democratic, Islam too will become peaceful. And when Russia finally embraces democracy, it will no longer act as an empire. And when China democratizes, the Dalai Lama will be welcomed in Tibet. In the meantime we treat them as though all we hope has already come to pass, because how could it not? History is on our side, is it not? The new Middle East is already here, however bloody its birth pangs, however much Jewish blood must again flow to make it a reality. Peace in our time, once again.

Stephen Schecter


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