As an historian not a theologian, I dislike speaking of “evil” when talking politics. All governments are imperfect collective expressions of flawed human beings. Good-and-evil talk regarding states encourages deadlocks; fighting evil precludes compromise. Still, some actions truly are evil, as are their perpetrators and enablers.
Firing an anti-tank missile at a school bus is evil – as Hamas terrorists did last week. Celebrating the slaughter of a baby and her sleeping family, let alone slaughtering them, is evil – the villains remain at large; Gazans cheered last month. Honoring the criminal who masterminded the infamous Seder suicide bombing which murdered thirty people is evil – as the PA is doing. Isolating a kidnapped soldier from loved ones and the Red Cross is evil - as Hamas is doing. These outrages, among others, demonstrate how the Palestinians keep escalating a solvable border dispute into an existential fight over Israel’s right to exist.
With much of the human rights community and the United Nations serving as Hamas enablers and Palestinian Authority lackeys by keeping silent about such sins, this regional tragedy goes global. Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, finally recognized that this world blind spot ignoring Palestinian wickedness and Jew hatred mocks his organization’s supposedly universal values. Idealistic students should embrace Advancing Human Rights, Bernstein’s attempt to reboot the human rights system, especially with many now, suddenly, realizing that the Arab protests disprove Palestinians’ conceit that theirs is the central Middle East problem. Unfortunately, this sloppy, selective indignation against Israel has tarnished Bernstein’s old allies and these core ideals.
In his new book, The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama, Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School seeks limits and legalities within war’s ugliness. Displaying philosophical sophistication, moral judgment and a stick-to-it-iveness that Judge Richard Goldstone never displayed – neither as biased scold nor as recent penitent -- Carter understands President Barack Obama as a reluctant warrior, an outraged outsider turned responsible insider. While focusing on Obama, the book demonstrates how rationalizing Palestinian violence has undermined the Western quest to keep war “a rule-governed activity,” as the Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer calls it, “a world of permissions and prohibitions – a moral world … in the midst of hell.”
Closer to home, the failure of those who call themselves "pro-peace" to condemn Palestinian crimes intensifies the Great Betrayal Israelis have experienced since Oslo. Obscuring clear moral issues including targeting a school bus with neutral warnings against "escalations of violence" equates Hamas terror tactics with Israeli defenses, discouraging compromise. Every Kassam launched, every mortar fired, every weapon smuggled into Gaza blasts away at the Israeli left''s delusions that the Palestinians want peace and the Israeli center''s hopes for a workable solution. Who can negotiate with baby killers, suicide bombers and delegitimizers? Why trust “guarantees” of an international community which cannot muster appropriate outrage at brutal murders?
When fellow citizens in the south sleep huddled in concrete-reinforced rooms, most Israelis head for their psychological shelters, remembering the false promises of peace with the Palestinians from Oslo and the Gaza disengagement that spawned suicide bombings and Kassam storms. Each eruption in Gaza reminds Israelis that Gilad Schalit, the kidnapped soldier who has become a national icon, just endured his 250th Shabbat in his Hamas hole, isolated, terrorized, deprived of his most basic human rights.
While debating just what price to pay, all Israelis desperately want him home. Aspiring peace-makers seeking a game-changing gesture should remember this shy, vulnerable 24-year-old dual citizen of Israel and France. Barack Obama could transform the Middle East by visiting Israel, confronting Palestinian incitement directly, and proving his power by helping free Gilad Schalit.
Absent that, people of conscience must remember this suffering, sensitive, sports fan. Every Passover Seder table should leave one seat empty for Gilad Schalit – symbolizing his parents’ perpetual feelings of emptiness. In that spirit, last Thursday 250 Young Judaeans and Federation of Zionist Youth activists quite literally stopped everything to broadcast their message to Gilad: you are not alone. On the 1747th day of his round-the-clock nightmare, these participants on Young Judaea’s Year Course gathered in downtown Jerusalem. Suddenly, at noon, they all shouted “HaTzilu” – Help! – and froze for five minutes, one minute for each year Schalit’s life has been frozen in hell. They will soon post the “Freeze-Out” video on the Internet – to fight what Michele Freed from Michigan called the “compassion fatigue” people abroad seem to be experiencing, as the same story has dragged on for five years.
“This day was arranged by the members of Garin Arevim, a group of participants who have chosen to spend extra time during our year working to aid victims of terror attacks including the Schalit family,” Joel Srebrenick of New Jersey explained. When I congratulated Year Course’s director Adam Jenshil on this initiative – I was privileged to address the group before the “Freeze Out” – Jenshil insisted, “It was all the participants’ doing.” He smiled, “this gives me hope!”
The next day, while jogging just outside Zion Gate, I passed thirty-three seventh graders from the Zomer School in Ramat Gan who had just spent a week walking to Jerusalem. Their educator explained that he proposed the journey to Jerusalem as a bar mitzvah project – but the students decided to walk for Gilad Schalit. Other initiatives continue popping up, including a new Website for sending messages to him: www.meetgilad.com.
Ultimately, politicians not the people will decide Schalit’s fate. But these spontaneous grassroots initiatives demonstrate the Zionist response to evil. For over a century, young idealistic Jews have been blunting anti-Jewish hate with love, choosing to build when others try destroying us, defeating enmity with creative, constructive activism. Year course’s Jenshil was right – this does give us hope! Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” [email protected]