- Arafat began his reign of terror with the Palestine
Liberation Organization before one Israeli ever stepped foot into the West
Bank or Gaza Strip.
- Theodor Herzl wrote that Zionism's twin goals were to
allow the Jewish people to "live at last as free men on our own soil,
and in our homes peacefully die." And Zionism has achieved the first:
a democratic, modern, liberal society, curious, scientific, on the cutting
edge of medicine, accountable, transparent, and extremely plural. (Whatever
hardships Arab citizens of Israel endure, they are mostly attributable
to the unremitting enmity to Israel of their cousins in the neighborhood;
and they are, still, the freest Arabs in the region.) Still, the second
goal remains elusive. The Jews of Israel still cannot be sure that they
will be allowed to die peacefully in their homes. In fact, the angel of
death has intruded on their ordinary civilian lives for more than one
The killings of Jews by Palestinians -- and, earlier, by Arabs who didn't
yet consider themselves Palestinians -- predated the establishment of
the state of Israel. The killers did not differentiate among their targets.
They just had to be Jews, random Jews, any Jews: socialist farmers on
some remote kibbutz in the Galilee, working people in Haifa, or ultrapious
(and, for that matter, often anti-Zionist) men and women from a town like
Hebron where Jews had lived innocuously and continuously since several
centuries before Mohammed set foot on this earth.
Nor, for that matter, is the specific phenomenon of suicidal murder altogether
an innovation of contemporary Arab and Muslim fanatics. This has been
a hot subject in historic Islam for centuries, and it remains so in the
mosques and schools of higher Muslim learning today, pro and con. The
widespread adulation of Al Qaeda and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, of Osama
bin Laden and Yasir Arafat, of Mohammed Atta and the young man on his way
to paradise because he perpetrated mass murder in Tel Aviv, is evidence
of the deep roots that this practice has in the culture of the Arab and
Muslim world. And let us name the phenomenon honestly. When pampered Saudi
princes praise the "martyrs of Palestine," and when Arafat himself
says (more than a bit insincerely) that he wishes to die a shahid, they
are (as Shimon Peres has pointed out) countenancing the idea of human
sacrifice as an active agent of modern politics.
Yasir Arafat, of course, has never been finicky about terrorism, and his
long history on that score mocks America's calls for him to renounce the
only craft he has ever truly known. Arafat's debut on the world stage
coincides with the beginning of the Palestinian revolution, which, it is
urgent to recall, commenced at least three years before the Six Day War.
This means that Arafat started the Palestine Liberation Organization before
one Israeli ever stepped foot into the West Bank or Gaza Strip -- or,
for that matter, prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem or walked in
the city's ancient Jewish Quarter. There were no "occupied territories"
back then, and there weren't really any disputed territories either --
except in the heads of the Palestinians. What Arafat wanted then (and
what I believe he still wants now) was to liberate not Hebron or Nablus
or Gaza (which in 1967 were in Arab hands) but Haifa and Tel Aviv, the
plains of Sharon, and the Negev desert. Or, as military historian Victor
Davis Hanson put it in The Wall Street Journal, "the current Arab-Israeli
war -- at least the fourth fought since 1948 -- is fought over the West
Bank: but that is only because... the Arab world lost the first three
wars to destroy Israel proper."
From the beginning, Arafat's tactics of terror were audacious: blowing
up airplanes in midair; taking children hostage in schoolhouses; skyjackings;
hijacking of buses; shootouts and bombings in crowded airports, theaters,
terminals, markets, beaches, restaurants, wedding halls. His most daring
moment was during the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which eleven Israeli athletes
lost their lives. (It was also the first moment when Peter Jennings showed
himself to be oh, so understanding of Palestinian terror.) But this terrorism
occurred only sporadically. It wasn't until the Oslo agreements and the
handshake on the White House lawn that Arafat's terrorism became a routine
feature of life in Israel. Israel obliged itself in 1993 to provide the
Palestinian Authority weapons (augmented, of course, by the armaments
the Palestinians smuggled and illegally manufactured themselves). And
those weapons became the instruments of Jewish death. The closer the Israelis
came to meeting Palestinian demands, the more intense the terror became.
Suicide bombing, in fact, didn't become the Palestinians' chosen mode
of day in, day out terror until the year 2000, when Israel offered Arafat
more than the old butcher probably ever expected.
Even my friend Tom Friedman, generally much too credulous about Arafat's
intentions, recently wrote that the Palestinian president and his compatriots
"have not chosen suicide bombing out of `desperation.'" The Palestinians,
he says, were offered "a peace plan that could have ended their 'desperate'
occupation, and Yasir Arafat walked away." He goes on to say that
the Palestinians "want to win their independence in blood and fire,"
and that is because "all they can agree on is what they want to destroy
not what they want to build.... Let's be very clear: Palestinians have
adopted suicide bombing as a strategic choice.... This threatens all civilization
because if suicide bombing is allowed to work in Israel, then, like hijacking
and airplane bombing, it will be copied and will eventually lead to a
bomber strapped with a nuclear device threatening entire nations."
If Friedman is right -- and I believe he is -- then the solicitude for
Arafat expressed by so many world leaders is itself perilous. Prince Sultan,
the Saudi defense minister, called the siege of Ramallah "the greatest
crime in the history of humanity." Is he out of his head? The Lebanese
president's bleatings on Arafat's behalf are more than a little hypocritical
given his decision to prevent Arafat's speech from Ramallah from being
heard live at the Beirut summit. As for the threat by Jordan's foreign
minister, Marwan Muasher, to send the Israeli ambassador back to Jerusalem,
he is playing an old, and silly, game. The Hashemites know all too well
that Israeli intelligence is their first line of defense against their
menacing Arab neighbors and that the Israeli military is their second.
That has been clear since at least 1970, when the Israelis turned back
Syrian tank divisions heading toward Amman. Israel guarantees Jordan's
survival. The king and his Cabinet can express their "deep anger"
at Israel's treatment of Arafat; but, in truth, he is a threat to them
as well, and as such they wish him nothing but ill. King Abdullah and
his advisers surely don't want Israel to give Arafat all the territories
captured from them in 1967, and they were desolated when it seemed that
Ehud Barak would do just that. They want the Jordan Valley in Jewish hands
-- as a buffer between emergent Palestine and their own country and also
to prevent chaos among the West Bank Palestinians from spreading to the
Palestinians in their own kingdom.
Arafat's most sincere partisans are not in the Arab world; they are in
the nations of Europe, whose leaders routinely threaten Israel with retribution
when it seeks to defend itself. Some of this is domestic politics: European
leaders must now cater to ever larger, and more militant, Arab and Muslim
populations within their own borders (a fact that should give pause to
Americans who wish to indiscriminately admit immigrants who would bring
their old hatreds to their new home). In the diplomatic strutting of European
states that once deployed real force around the world but now no longer
can, there is probably also some nostalgia for empire. Who really cares,
after all, what Belgium thinks about Israel's conflict with the Arabs?
The European states and, for that matter, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan are structurally incapable of truly influencing events on the ground
in Israel, the disputed territories, or the rest of the Arab world. They
cannot produce a real concession from Israel because they cannot produce
-- and haven't -- even a symbolic concession from the Palestinians. And,
for all their patronage and nurturing of Arafat, he has never given them
even a diplomatic crumb to take to Israel.
The European country that has hectored Israel the longest and most obsessively,
of course, is France. And why should we be surprised? After all, President
Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's attacks on the Jewish
state have accompanied a frightening intensification of anti-Semitism in
Then there is the left -- like the people who went to be with Arafat inside
his compound this month. These "progressives" are not a new phenomenon
in world affairs: They and their ancestors have been worshiping bloodthirsty
leaders for more than half a century. But with Stalin, Mao, and Castro,
there was, for a time, at least a veneer of brutal idealism. Zionism was
an expression of European liberalism, and there were Arab intellectuals
who imagined that their nationalism also would be nurtured by that source.
But, in practice, Arab nationalism has become a very nasty business, defined
everywhere by dictatorship. Palestinian nationalism is no different. Arafat
has no grand vision of human affairs whatsoever, no desire other than
territory -- and territory not as the seedbed for an inspired vision of
community but as a launching pad for war against the Jews.
Arafat could not possibly have stirred these activists' dreams of a just
society, because he has none. His scant program contains not even the
deceit of egalitarianism. Arafat is a fascist, and his fascism has at
its very core the hatred of Jews. And since he is unabashedly stirred by
this passion, one has to suspect his admirers as well, all of them (including
-- if I am permitted to go local -- the three Episcopal bishops of Massachusetts
and their political adviser, a priest in a Cambridge church, who in their
preaching and protests seem to think that innocent Jewish life is without
value). In France, already, synagogues are being burned and cemeteries
trashed. And in Israel, amidst a rage of daily terror, a young Palestinian
came to the seder door and murdered 28 men and women, one pregnant with
two children in her belly, never to see the light of day.
- Author Biography: Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief and
chairman of The New Republic. http://www.aish.com/jewishissues/middleeast/Its_Not_About_Occupied_Territories.
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