On the third day of the shiva mourning period for our beloved son Ari – killed in battle 12 years ago against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Nablus – we were visited by former American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer.
As Ari was born in Dallas, Texas, I confronted Kurtzer and asked him what the American government was prepared to do in response to the slaying of one of its citizens. After all, the post-9/11 era was fresh – a time when the US had declared it would pursue anyone who harmed an American anywhere in the world – and Islamic Jihad had proudly taken credit for Ari’s killing in a statement issued in Lebanon, a country with which the USA had diplomatic relations.
Kurtzer diplomatically fielded the question, and invited us to come to the embassy to discuss the issue with him at a later time (which we did).
Listening intently to this discussion was Brig.-Gen. (res.) Effie Eitam, then-head of Mafdal, the national-religious party.
When Kurtzer left, Eitam came over and sat next to me. “I must, with respect, disagree with what you said to Kurtzer,” he told me. “While it is true that Ari held American citizenship – and America should respond to his killing – Ari was first and foremost one of us, an Israeli, wearing an IDF uniform. It is the responsibility of our government and our army to react to his death, and not anyone else’s.”
I took Eitam’s comments to heart, and the next day had the opportunity to echo them to Ari’s commander-in-chief, Lt.- Gen. Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon (now defense minister). Caught a bit by surprise at my chutzpah – at that moment, I had become a real Israeli – he told me, in his typical no-nonsense, nonplussed way, that the air force had indeed bombed to smithereens the house from which the fatal shots were fired. He also promised that, no matter how long it took, Ari’s killers would be hunted down and “taken care of” – which, thankfully, they were.
Returning to Israel this week after a short trip abroad, and reviewing the newspapers since our boys were abducted, I was amazed to see just how many different people and institutions out there we were blaming.
We castigated America for its reticent, somewhat lukewarm condemnation of the kidnapping (in contrast to Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who visited the boys’ families and said, “If one hair on their head is harmed, there should be hell to pay!”), and even appealed to First Lady Michelle Obama to go viral with an appeal for the boys, as she did for the kidnapped Nigerian girls. We blasted the EU and its “foreign secretary,” acid queen Catherine Ashton, for waiting four days before even issuing a statement. And, of course, we criticized the UN, always so quick to obsess over the building of an outhouse in Efrat, but so reluctant to unequivocally condemn atrocities against Jews and Israelis.
While all these sentiments are not wrong, and it would indeed be nice for the world at large to share our pain and take a moral stand, the protestations are out of place. We must be the ones who take action, we – and no one else – must be the masters of our own fate. In fact, by focusing on the inaction of others, we actually distract ourselves from the task at hand; a task that we, and only we, can perform.
And that is why it is so gratifying to see that Israel’s response has been quick, calculating and comprehensive. By unabashedly sweeping through Palestinian towns and villages – something we should actually be doing on a regular basis – we are not only conducting the most thorough search possible for our boys, we are sending a message that says, “If you mess with us, we will do whatever is necessary to right the wrong, regardless of public opinion.”
Along the way, we are capturing – or recapturing, in the case of the many murderers freed in the Gilad Schalit fiasco – hundreds of terrorists who should have been behind bars long ago. (The most recent is Ziyad Awwad, who murdered police officer Baruch Mizrachi and his son last year on their way to Passover seder.) We are discovering and confiscating tons of weapons and ammunition cached away by Palestinians, to be used ultimately to kill Jews.
Indeed, I recall how Ari – who conducted many such searches during his army service, and whose unit was responsible for apprehending mass-murderer Marwan Barghouti – may he rot in jail until he dies – told me that every second Palestinian house had weapons hidden in it, with many families preferring to spend their meager earnings on bullets rather than bread.
Most of all, we are asserting our moral right to protect our citizens, showing no mercy to anyone who would dare take the life of an innocent. For each of our sons is a royal prince, and each of our daughters is a royal princess; would a nation not go to war if their royalty was kidnapped? Of course, by taking these actions we will be subject to the absurd charge of “collective punishment.” But let us, once and for all, put the lie to this false and scurrilous accusation that has no merit whatsoever. There is no such thing as collective punishment when facing a hostile nation, as the Palestinians certainly are.
That is why the Allies firebombed Dresden near the end of World War II, despite the high number of civilians they knew would be killed in that devastating raid. And does anyone seriously believe that only Japanese combatants were annihilated in the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima? As long as the Palestinians as a community seek our destruction and preach violence and Jew-hatred – and this is borne out consistently through their media and by polls which show they overwhelmingly favor the kidnapping of our people and suicide bombings – then they cannot hide behind the whimper of “collective punishment.”
Whatever weapons we have in our arsenal – from demolishing the homes of terrorists to the imposition of martial law in the territories – can and should be used to safeguard our people.
Students of the Holocaust know that, as part of their evil experiments, the Nazis would seat a mother and her child across the table from one another. They would then force the mother to choose between giving herself increasingly strong electric shocks, or giving them to her child. They wanted to see at what point the mother would turn against her own flesh and blood. The Palestinians are also masters at imposing no-win situations upon us; they will commit all kinds of atrocities just to instigate harsh responses from us, the victims, so that we may then be condemned and criticized by the world at large for reacting.
The only way to escape these no-win situations is to either prevent them from happening in the first place, or by dealing forthrightly with them when they do.
There is a second “blessing,” if you will, that has emerged from this national trauma in which we are now engaged. And that is the overwhelming sense of unity that has blossomed among our entire people, wherever we live. Who cannot sympathize with distraught parents who dread to imagine the fate of their kidnapped child? Who among us does not share the pain of these brave men and women, who must frighteningly turn over in their mind whether it is better for their son to have been killed or kept in captivity? The outpouring of prayer and sympathy, the unanimous identification in every Jewish community with the plight of these families, speaks volumes about the inner spirit and sanctity of The Jewish people. And that is why, regardless of the outcome of this desperate drama, we will emerge even stronger as a nation, and we will vanquish any and all foes who seek to deter our destiny.
As the daily prayer book beseeches: Our brothers and sons of the House of Israel who are beset by calamity or captivity, may the Almighty have mercy upon you and bring you from suffering to serenity, from darkness to light, from restraint to redemption, speedily and soon.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.rabbistewartweiss.com.