The land and people of Israel are again experiencing one of those spasmic eruptions of Arab violence that are always a rude awakening to the complacent. Too many Arabs feel unrestrained enough to shoot, stab, murder and maim innocent people, and too many others join in the post-attack celebrations. It’s the law of the jungle, except insofar as only one side remains inhibited from fully responding. And even as attacks proliferate, and parents in major cities are keeping their children home from unprotected schools, there is some consolation in that most people are not being stabbed or shot, and the most dangerous places in Israel are still safer than Chicago or Washington, D.C. But that is small comfort. What can be done?
Terror cannot be absolutely stopped because it is nearly impossible to thwart a crime in progress by a perpetrator who does not care whether he lives or dies and might even prefer death. But it can be deterred, especially by imposing penalties on societies that spawn such monsters until the decent among them rise up in protest. Such penalties have been outlined here and elsewhere, with more vitriol directed at the recommenders than even at the terrorists. It has not yet been accepted that, while there may or may not be a military solution, there certainly is no diplomatic solution. Israel is engaged in a zero-sum game for its very existence and should be taking game-changing measures to protect its existence and the lives of its citizens. That it is not done is arguably attributable to two factors: such deterrence comes with a heavy diplomatic price for Israel and, most regrettably, the murder of Jews by Arab terrorists confers a diplomatic benefit of sorts to Israel.
The latter needs explanation so as not to be misconstrued as suggesting that Israel wants the terror, allows it to happen in whole or in part, or doesn’t strive to prevent it and protect its citizens. None of that is true – but, nonetheless, the horrific murder of Jews does allow the government to claim, rightly, that it can make no strategic concessions in such a precarious security environment. It eases the pressure from hostile foreign elements, here including the present American administration, at least for a few weeks. When it happens again, there’s another reprieve of several weeks. And so it goes, horror after horror, shooting after shooting, stabbing after stabbing. This sequence will also die down – invariably then promoting a call for new concessions and the release of the terrorists who committed the aforementioned crimes – and then the grisly carousel starts turning again.
The former proposition is also true. Israel sustains and tolerates a hostile population in its midst – sworn to its destruction and including also Arab citizens and even some Knesset members – because the diplomatic outcry that would come from taking the necessary deterrence is perceived as intolerable. Notwithstanding the obvious hypocrisy – the number of deaths in Syria in the last five years is probably at least five times greater than the number of Palestinian deaths in the last 100 years – Israeli politicians are intimidated by the fear of diplomatic pressure and pejorative UN resolutions. Witness PM Netanyahu’s feckless acquiescence to another settlement freeze in response to an Obama threat not to veto pending resolutions in the U.N. that call for a Palestinian state, declare all settlements illegal, condemn Israel as an occupying force, etc.
This kowtowing to Obama might seem prudent in the short term but paying this diplomatic blackmail will eventually catch up to Israel. What’s next? Will Israel cave in and cease responding to rockets from Gaza if threatened with a hostile resolution? Will Israel cave in and agree to a Palestinian state, cave in and divide Yerushalayim, cave in and accept the bogus Palestinian “right” of return? The problem with
paying extortion is that once you pay, the price just keeps escalating, so why pay even once? This is true especially because, as certain the sun rises in the east, Obama will recognize a Palestine before he leaves office. (And why not? He’s recognized and embraced every other rogue entity on the planet – Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, etc.)
The temporary diplomatic respite Israel gains when its citizens are attacked and murdered by Arabs also provides a needed release valve for many American Jews, and even some rabbis, who are more comfortable mourning and grieving death than they are promoting self-defense and Israeli supremacy. That’s not to say they prefer death, G-d forbid, just that they are more comfortable with victimization. Many rabbis (I exclude myself) have stock sermons lamenting the loss of innocent Jewish life and how we have to not despair and how we have to fight evil – but become tongue tied when actually asked to defend any real world practice of fighting evil. This is a strain in Jewish life that won’t easily disappear.
It is typified by Golda Meir’s famous quote: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” I have never found this to be a very intelligent statement nor an especially admirable sentiment but it does resonate with a large segment of American Jewry. There are too many people who prefer the narrative of victimhood than the narrative of victory or power, as if enduring the violent loss of innocent lives per se conveys moral virtue and inflicting pain and suffering on evildoers is necessarily reprehensible. (In fairness to Golda, her second proposition in that famous quote is absolutely true: “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” )
I don’t envy PM Netanyahu his job, whose problems do not lend themselves to facile solutions. But he is stuck in a grim calculus of his own making. Long ago he hinted that terror that did not actually take Jewish life would not draw a muscular military response (a robust rhetorical response, of course, is always forthcoming). For example, the road I most frequent when I’m in Israel – Highway 443 – has been subject to stoning (i.e., the Jews who travel there, not the “road”) for well over a year. There has been damage and some injuries but no deaths. No death, no real response, and the road remains largely open to Arab traffic from Samaria.
So Netanyahu has to strike this ghastly balance: “accept” on some level a relatively small, defined number of Jewish deaths, few enough that they do not mandate forceful military retaliation but not too many Jewish deaths that would either compel him to respond with overwhelming, transformative actions (and risk diplomatic denunciations) or do nothing and jeopardize his political standing. The precise number that triggers the response – but never the effective steps of deterrence – is a mystery. For comparison’s sake, Ariel Sharon endured the deaths of hundreds of Jews before the Netanya Park Hotel Seder night massacre pushed him over the edge (30 Jews was murdered that one night, including seven couples, husbands and wives, r”l) and prompted him to launch Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Again, “accept” does not mean he desires it; just that he has rendered himself impotent in responding. Today’s Jerusalem Post just reported that one more massive terrorist attack will result in Operation Defensive Shield 2. One more…)
The “Palestinian President,” Mahmoud Abbas, whose term expired 7.5 years ago, has his own grim calculus, and that accounts for the ongoing dispute in Israel as to whether he is fighting terror or fomenting terror. In truth, he is fighting terror. In truth, he is also fomenting and inciting terror. That is not a contradiction at all. He has to satisfy enough of the lust of his people for Jewish blood in order to maintain his own position and street credibility without going over the tipping point with too many Jewish deaths at which point the Israelis will either send him packing or give him the Arafat treatment – banish him to his Ramallah compound where he can stay until he dies. The Abbas magic number – above which the Israelis end his career, below which his own people will end his career – is also a mystery.
The only way to end this macabre dance is through strength, not weakness. To freeze settlements for one, to ban Jews from ascending the Temple Mount (and not for halachic reasons) for another, just invite not only international pressure, as phony as it is, but also actual disdain. No other nation in the world will stand up for Jewish rights in the land of Israel, and certainly none if the Jews don’t do it ourselves.
The civilized world in Europe and America is nervous enough about the growing jihad that it will need a convenient scapegoat on which it can blame world insecurity, their own decline and their own spinelessness. We need not look too far for that scapegoat. With the Western world’s strategic positions collapsing in Europe, Russia, the Middle East and in America, it stands to reason (as they see it) that the United Nations should be entertaining resolutions about Palestinian statehood and the like, because, you know, that will solve all the world’s problems and mollify the jihadists.
The diplomatic storm is coming anyway, so Israel might as well do the right thing – protect its citizens, restrict the rights of the terrorists and their supporters and celebrants no matter how many they are, settle the land of Israel in its entirety and prepare for a rocky road ahead.
This wave of terror will end soon but others will start. Tempering the assertion of Jewish rights and the preservation of Jewish life in Israel by trying to placate Barack Obama is a fool’s errand. He will make every effort while he is in office to weaken Israel incrementally, and this will happen no matter what Israel does. Attempting to wait him out – his term ends, mercifully, in fifteen months – is attractive but misplaced. Who knows who will succeed him? And why should the march of Jewish destiny be held hostage to his or anyone else’s whims and prejudices?
The prophecy of the return to Zion that has unfolded in our day should supersede the wishes of any politician. It should also give us needed strength and confidence in the road ahead. Jews did not return to Israel to cower in the face of the enemy nor calculate how many Jews must be murdered before the might and wrath of Israel are awakened.
“He who saves one Jewish life, it is as if he has saved an entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a).