Archive for October, 2008
Through honest query
By Ralph Dobrin
Three days after the Yom Kippur riots in Acre, I happened to bump into Shimi, a forty-year-old guy who lives in my neighborhood with his parents. “We’ve got to teach the Arabs a lesson,” he said. “We’ve got to hit them hard. It’s the only language they understand.” When I didn’t respond he continued. “We’ve got to kill all the Arabs.”
Now, that’s just the kind of thing Shimi would say. After all, he finished eight grades in a school for mentally challenged kids; most of his life he’s been unemployed and sits on a wall outside his home most of the day, saying “Hello, how are you” to everyone who passes by.
But I have often heard similar sentiments expressed by educated, cultured people.
I recently visited friends in Jerusalem. Two other couples had also been invited. Middle aged folk, living in the capital, they were pleasant folks, quitelyspoken, educated, cultured and with a sense of humor. All professionals and staunch supporters of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria.
We talked about kids growing up, computer programs, the joys of cycling and Israel’s hapless Prime Minister, Mr Olmert. At first his name elicted a few guffaws. Then the talk turned to the way Israel refrains from doing what they reckoned was appropriate retaliation when dealing with rocket attacks from Gaza and the growing hostility to the state by the local Arabs themselves.
One husband, a dentist declared: “We should have destroyed Gaza completely years ago. ”The others nodded. “We could destroy Gaza in half an hour,” the other husband said. “We have the firepower.”
His wife remarked: “As long as we have atheist left wingers running this country it will never really be safe for a Jew here.”
“Or anywhere else,” added the other wife. “The goyim will always hate us.”
The dentist said: “The next time they fire a rocket from Gaza, we should bomb them till they beg us to stop, even if it means wiping out half of Gaza.” He looked at me challengingly. Not hostilely. Just an expression that indicated that he realized that I was not a religious person and that I was probably an appeasing left-winger (which I’m not.) “What do you think, Rafi?” he asked.
“I think that we should most definitely develop our deterrence,” I replied. “But we are in a tricky situation. We don’t know how other countries would react if they saw half of Gaza smouldering in ruins, or if a hundred thousand people were killed.”
One woman looked at me with bewilderment. “What’s the big deal,” she asked. “The Arabs wouldn’t just limit themselves to a hundred thousand Jews if we were unable to defend ourselves.”
The dentist’s wife, who had a very friendly, pleasant face, suddenly looked at me with an expression of mild disdain and said: “It’s people like you who are the root of all our problems. No faith in God. Willing to give everything to the Arabs.”
I was quite surprised at this sudden outburst and responded: “As far as I know this is the first time we have met. So how do you know my views on religion and the Middle East crisis?”
She looked a little contrite. “I know it’s wrong to sum up people according to stereotypes,” she said. “And I didn’t mean to offend you, but you look and talk exactly like a left-wing liberal – and they are the cause of most of our problems. I hope you can pardon my directness.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “It’s actually funny, because when I meet left-wing liberals they think that I’m a right wing extremist.”
A birthday party
I went to a birthday party the other night. It was the birthday of a guy born in the 1920s, who has lived through many of the most amazing events of the 20thcentury and even participated in some of them in roles of leadership. Many of his old buddies were there with their wives. You could sum up the gathering as a collection of a thousand years of experience and savvy. They talked about old times – the British army, the Jewish Brigade and the wars in which they had fought as officers against the Arabs. They talked about their various subsequent careers – as professors or high echelon government officials and successful businessmen. There was a lot of banter, joking and laughter. It was a great evening.
And then someone mentioned the settlements in Judea and Samaria. The mood became sombre. A professor emeritus of psychology shook his head gravely and stated: “The settlements are our biggest problem. If we can get rid of them, we’ll be able to solve all our other problems.”
I was surprised that an obviously highly intelligent man with an impressive personal background could make such a sweeping statement. “We’ll be able to solve all our other problems!”Those were his exact words. I wanted to ask the professor if dismantling the settlements would placate Ahmadinijad and defuse his nuclear intentions; or would a Judenrein Judea make Hizbollah and Hamasrecognize Israel’s right to exist as a state; would our drug problems be solved; would the total absence of Jews from Samaria provide Israel with decent election system and lead to accountability among our politicians and leaders; would the transfer of Jews from all disputed areas help promote integrity in all sectors of Israeli society?
But I didn’t ask him, because I was sure that one of the other impressive folks would ask him if he were really serious about what he had just said; whether he had forgotten that immediately after dismantling all the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, the Arabs of that region went on a berzerk rampage, burning the buildings of the synagogues, and launching a two-year rocket bombardment of villages and towns within Israel.
But no one asked him any of these obvious questions. Indeed, what followed, amazed me even more that the professor’s statement. Almost all the guests nodded in agreement. One man said “Amen,” and his 70 or 80-year-old wife kept shaking her whole body and gasping: “Yes, yes, yes,” as though she was being physically thrilled.
I decided not to comment – not because I didn’t think I could hold my own in a debate with these erudite but narrow-minded folks, but I simply didn’t want to spoil the birthday party.
I went home in a pensive mood. How could people be so sure of their notions in the face of overwhelming evidence that a large part of the Arab and Islamic world is chronically unable to accept Israel as a fellow state. How could highly educated people with so much experience choose to ignore completely the fact that long before any Jewish settlement had been established in Judea or Samaria, the Arabs launched a series of wars with the declared aim of destroying Israel. For goodness sake, these people had lived through these periods. They themselves had fought to prevent the destruction of Israel.
There are countless indications that no matter what Israel does – short of complete capitulation of its whole current sovereignty including Tel Aviv – as far as most Arabs are concerned real peace is not an option – whether we uproot Jewish settlements or not. We might as well uproot Tel Aviv and Nahariya. We do havepeace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but no Israeli can safely travel to Cairo or Amman. And in the not unlikely event that the governments of either of these countries is taken over by radical Islamic elements, the peace treaties will be utterly worthless.
I figured that maybe the source of their rigid one-sided notion stems from a wish that is so fervent for real peace to develop between Israel and the Arabs, that they have lost their sense of perspective and proportion. After all, every sane Jew wants peace. Some simply choose to ignore certain basic facts. They make statements that are based on half-truths and wishful thinking. Paradoxically it’s an attitude that goes against intellectual integrity. It’s the antithesis of academic procedure. It’s a violation of professional ethics on the part of any scholar or intellectual. Indeed, it’s plain, personal dishonesty. Most humans are subject to it.
Integrity among Arabs
And that includes most Arabs who are clearly as myopic, narrow-sighted and intellectually dishonest as any other people on earth. Seldom if ever do we hear an Arab voice questioning the Arab part in starting the violence that is endemic throughout the Middle East. No matter what happens, Israel is always blamed as the cause of the problem. Arabs blast Israeli towns and villages with rocket fire and then act with deep indignation when Israel retaliates. Actually, this is exactly what Arabs have done since the conflict began generations ago. In 1948 they invaded Israel with the express, well-documented purpose of destroying a nation. They were thwarted and have been perennially furious that Israel defended itself and had the gall to defeat her would-be killers; Israel is blamed for the Arab refugee problem, which was the direct cause of the Arab invasion on Israel, while ignoring the 800,000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab lands at that time.
And the same reaction has repeated itself in every war against Israel. But why should the Arabs allow Israel to live in peace? After all, the whole world is telling Israel that it must withdraw. Even many Israelis like those veteran intellectuals at that birthday party.
There is only one way that problems can be solved – and not just the Israel-Arab conflict, but most problems that humanity faces, and that is to see the whole picture as honestly and comprehensively as possible. People must be able to accept their nation’s culpability in the creation of chaos. Germany did that after the Second World War (probably because she was totally subdued and suffered catastrophic destruction), but it was that mature attitude that quickly enabled Germany to again become one of the most enlightened and prosperous nations in the world. Also, as much as any other nation, it has been dedicated to peace for two generations.
Knowing what to focus on
Many Israelis who are focussed more on Arab suffering (the so-called Left-wingers) than the core source of that suffering, are actually displaying a fairly sophisticated and moral mindset – insofar that they are able to countenance that Israel might be responsible for the creation of the conflict. That in itself might be a commendable attitude. But as long as they are unable to go further than questioning Israel’s responsibility and see our adversary’s attitude for what it really is, they are displaying a dangerous cognititive flaw – dangerous insofar as it has already led to dangerous consequences for Israel, which if allowed to continue could lead to the fulfillment of the ambitions of Israel’s enemies.
* * *
The religious folk that I referred to earlier, seem to have a mindset that is actually contrary to their avowed way of life and their studies. Heshbon Nefesh (which loosely translated means “taking stock of oneself”) is a serious aspect of Judaism, and yet with regard to their attitudes towards Arabs and the Middle East conflict, it seems that this concept is seldom considered. Many religious Jews do consider the moral and pragmatic aspects of Israel’s stand, but they seem to be a small minority.Yet, perhaps those religious people who remain totally rigid regarding Israel’s divine right to the whole of this land are the ones who are being practical.
After all, the Arabs will need a sea change in their attitudes towards Israel’s right to live in peace as a sovereign state anywhere in this region. It seems clear that such an attitude on the part of a large part of the Arab world (and much of the non-Arab Islamic world) cannot be expected for decades and generations. Even the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan do not represent real peace and could disintegrate at any moment.
The enlightened world could help the Arab peoples see things as they really are. But clearly, few people are enlightened enough. The whole point is that for a real solution to the Middle East conflict – or any conflict – we must all have the ability to question the validity of our notions as honestly as possible and relate sincerely to those conclusions. That means Jews and Arabs alike – no matter the extent of our nationalistic fervor or brand of our beliefs.
When most people throughout the world will be able to do this, it will be the same as if the Messiah had come.