Who’da thought I’d ever side with MKs from Bayit Yehudi or the loony Right flank
of the Likud on matters concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I’m a
two-stater. Anyone who thinks Israel can get away with annexing the territories
and remaining a state for the Jewish people, much less a “democratic” state,
either has poor math skills, is delusional in thinking that the Palestinians
will acquiesce to lesser rights or agree to be resettled elsewhere, or is so
devoutly religious as to believe that God somehow will see us through our coming
But here I am, nodding in agreement with MK Yoni Chetboun
(Bayit Yehudi), that eminent lawmaker who said earlier this week at a
demonstration that releasing Palestinian prisoners who murdered or planned the
murders of Israeli civilians meant “giving in to terror and turning our backs on
bereaved families.” And with Danny Danon (Likud), our illustrious deputy defense
minister, who said that those set free “will be considered celebrities by
Palestinian children, and will be sent from stage to stage.”
terrorism has always been personal.
It has struck down people I’ve
During certain hot periods, it has led me to think twice about
getting on a bus. It has made me look at every unattended bag and briefcase as a
bomb with my name on it.
Vestige of the ’70s that I am, I think I’m the
only one left who gets itchy when walking by any large kitchen appliance left
outside for the junkman. And why not? I walked by and was just around the corner
when the refrigerator blew up in Zion Square in 1975.
(And speaking of
Danon’s “celebrities,” look at the distinguished funeral the Palestinian
Authority just gave the purveyor of that attack, Ahmed Abu al-Sukkar, who died
last month of natural causes at 78.) Terrorism leaves a chilling imprint. You
don’t have to see the blood and body parts to be sickened. Worse, it is too
often an irreversible process. The dead cannot be brought back to life, and many
among the badly maimed can never be made whole again. (The same goes for their
families.) The immediate effect is no different from that of a battlefield. Yet
the implications go much deeper.
While terrorism is an indiscriminate
process, the real targets are not soldiers arrayed in combat formation or even
just carrying personal weapons. The targets are those who cannot defend
themselves at all, the younger or older the better. And therein lies the great
differentiator, the element that perhaps best accentuates the “us” vs “them,”
for if there is one thing that sets us apart from the Arab world, it is our
values about life. You needn’t look far for proof these days, whether it’s in
Syria or in Egypt.
It is true that there have been Jewish terrorists.
They and their supporters are among the scum of our society and should be
treated accordingly. Yet such behavior among Jews has never been more than an
anomaly. Similarly, some of our politicians and a handful of senior people in
uniform might have a somewhat cavalier attitude toward collateral damage. But I
don’t recall a single instance in which our side, as a policy, has ever
specifically gone after toddlers or old people with a drone – or with any weapon
for that matter.
Does this make me feel that Arabs are bloodthirsty? No.
Does it make me think they are natural-born killers? No. What I do believe is
this: Their culture has less aversion to death than does ours. Ask the mother of
just about any dead suicide bomber.
If they were to limit this to their
own side or perhaps to attacks on our combat troops, as the Japanese did in
World War II, I’d say this would be something for the textbooks. But they don’t.
They go after people who are weak and defenseless. And perhaps most agonizing
for those of us willing to make huge concessions and even endanger ourselves to
make peace, they then spit in our collective face and name public squares and
school gymnasiums after the people who carry out these attacks – when at the
very least they could just pretend to have changed.
This is enough of a
difference for us to capitalize on if we’re to say that we as Israelis are
decent people with core human values – whether it’s in our policies for averting
terrorism or our policies for punishing terrorists.
In the open letter
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office released last Saturday evening to
justify Netanyahu’s stand on a prisoner release, the prime minister did not
sound too optimistic. He said that one reason it was “important” to return to
talks was “to exhaust the chances of ending the conflict with the Palestinians”
– not to try to achieve peace or somehow obtain a modicum of momentum for the
process to continue, or something else sounding even vaguely hopeful or sincere.
I’d like to think it was a slip of the keyboard, but our prime minister’s
history tells me otherwise.
If that’s his approach to the peace process,
why do something so permanent? Sure, some of the prisoners would be released
soon on the basis of time served, but others have some serious stir left. So why
not offer, say, a settlement freeze? It was another of the preconditions
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid out for returning to
Netanyahu has declared a freeze before.
True, a lot of good
it did – Abbas loosened up only in the eleventh hour, too late for anyone to
maintain momentum. But what bad did it do? What did it cost us? Some individuals
might have faced financial penalties (and their losses should have been covered
by the government), but at the end of the 10 months we went right back to
building. And something more: The whole thing enabled us to make an important
point to US President Barack Obama, who committed a severe tactical blunder by
having brought up the idea of a settlement freeze in the first place: Think
before you open your altruistic mouth.
As we proved, a freeze can always
The release of prisoners can’t, at least not without risking
the lives of soldiers and security personnel once again.
Where I seem to
differ from some right-wingers who are against a prisoner release lies in the
when. I believe you can and even must bend your values a bit when it comes to
swaps, as took place with Gilad Schalit, or when there’s a done deal that both
sides can swallow and it’s time to pay.
But merely to get the
Palestinians to sit down and start talking? I can think of a lot of things we
might have done to nudge Abbas & Co. back to the table. If the Palestinians
were to demand that our prime minister shave his head, I’d say do it. A great
comb-over can always grow back.
But so early in the game – nay, before
the game can even start – imprisoned terrorists should be off-limits. Not just
because they might be recidivists or because their freedom could embolden others
who note the revolving door or because it would deeply sadden the families of
the victims. Keeping them behind bars would maintain a potent symbol not only of
who we are, but of who we aren’t.