Palestinian protester 520.
(photo credit: Reuters)
It’s a strange world, indeed, when the one place in the Middle East that seems
the most stable and secure is the State of Israel. This is the spring of Arab
Tunisia has fallen, Hosni Mubarak is gone, Yemen is in danger,
Hezbollah has taken over Lebanon, Saudi troops have moved into Bahrain,
Jordanians are nervous, Syrian officers have fired on protesters, and in the
skies above Libya allied missiles fly, seeking to destroy Muammar Gaddafi’s
defenses.Only in Israel do things seem quiet. It’s the nahafoch hu of
the Book of Esther, a world in which what unfolds is precisely the opposite of
what might have been expected.
The similarities don’t end there. For just
as in Esther, the apparently massive battles at the end of the book were
precipitated by Haman’s vendetta against a single man, so too, here in the
Middle East, everything was unleashed by a policewoman’s slapping a Tunisian
vegetable vendor, and his subsequent decision to burn himself to
Once on the subject of parallels, we ought to note Mordecai’s
warning to Esther, as well.
“Do not imagine,” he tells her, “that you
will escape with your life just because you are in the king’s palace” (4:12).
There is no stopping this crusade, Mordecai is wise enough to understand – and
all the protections of the palace will do nothing to protect her.
right, of course. So why do we assume that the fires can burn in Tahrir Square,
in Yemen, in Beirut, in Bahrain and in Tripoli, but that all will remain forever
calm in Gaza City, Nablus, Ramallah and Bir Zeit? Young people there are not
connected to the Internet? And they’re not on Facebook? And we assume that
they’ll be content to be left out of the spring of Arab youth? NOW LET’S play
out what happens if those cities erupt. Against whom will the protests be
directed? Libyans (both the rebels and Gaddafi’s loyalists) despise Israel, but
they do not have the luxury of pretending it is the cause of their ills. Syria
is technically at war with Israel, but no one in Damascus could plausibly claim
they have a repressive regime because of Israel. The same is true in Bahrain,
Yemen, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Even Egypt.
But that would not be the
case in Gaza City or in the West Bank. Should those protests erupt, when
everything is no longer as calm for the Jews as it is now, who will be blamed?
In Ramallah, the problems may be the result of the Palestinian Authority, and in
Gaza City they are the fruit of Hamas’s policies. But surely we know enough to
understand that protesting Gazans will not accuse Hamas, and marauding Ramallans
are not going to blame Mahmoud Abbas.
Once again, Israel will be blamed.
And when that happens, the eyes of the entire world, already focused on the
Middle East and all too happy to examine Israel with laser-like intensity, will
look and watch. And if IDF troops have to help quell protests in Ramallah, which
is a stone’s throw from Jerusalem, or in Nablus, where matters could easily get
out of control, to whom will these troops be compared? In the eyes of the world,
the IDF soldiers putting down the protests in Ramallah or Nablus will be the
equivalent of Mubarak’s troops in Tahrir Square, Saudi troops that have crossed
the Bahraini border, Syrian officers who’ve now started firing on civilians and,
worst of all, Gaddafi’s forces, now the target of a new European
No, it will not be fair or just. And at this moment, it looks
highly unlikely. But the central point of the Book of Esther is that often what
seems most unlikely is precisely what can unfold. And why should those protests
not begin? Why should Gazans and Palestinians be the only ones to sit out the
revolts, when they’ve already had two intifadas which earned them some serious
progress? And what are we doing to prepare? What thought is being given to how
we might put those protests down without looking like Mubarak or Bashar Assad or
Gaddafi? Yes, it is true that Israelis (including Arabs) are infinitely freer
than the citizens of those other countries will probably be for decades, but
that will not convince anyone. That Israel has done more to create a Palestinian
state than have the Palestinians may also be true, but that fact, too, will fall
on deaf ears.
Nor should we forget that our current government has raised
tone deafness to a near art form. In the aftermath of the horrific murder of the
Fogel family in Itamar two weeks ago, there was a chance – a small one, but a
chance nonetheless – to remind the world of the utter evil against which we are
arrayed. But snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, our government, in its
great wisdom, chose to announce the construction of 500 more housing units
across the Green Line. Whether the building is justified or not is not the
What mattered was the timing. By the next morning, it was the
construction, not the murders, that was being reported around the globe. Another
opportunity missed. Just imagine how effectively we’d be likely to handle the
fallout from mass protests in Nablus and Ramallah.
King Ahasuerus was not
evil incarnate, at least not the way that Haman was. He was just stupid, a
bumbling monarch with no vision, no spine and no strategy. But when push came to
shove, the Book of Esther reminds us, being a fool is not much less dangerous
than being evil.
Purim is now behind us. The costumes are gone, the
drinking has ceased and the merriment has ended. So now, we’ll see. Did anyone
read the megila? Did anyone learn anything? The writer is senior vice president
of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His latest book, Saving Israel: How the
Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End won the 2009 National Jewish Book
Award. He blogs at http://danielgordis.org.
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