My Word: A New Year in an old world

It was hard to ignore the images of the rows of sheet-wrapped bodies, some pathetically small. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I thought.

Boy allegedly affected by chemical weapons in Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Boy allegedly affected by chemical weapons in Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was hard to ignore the images of the rows of sheet-wrapped bodies, some pathetically small. “There but for the grace of God go I,” I thought.
You don’t have to be a deeply religious Jewish Israeli to believe that Divine intervention is more effective than the UN at protecting us, Syria’s southern neighbors.
More than anything else, the situation in Syria has demonstrated – again – that the United Nations has failed at its No. 1 mission, keeping the world safe. Right now the question on the minds of most leaders is how to react to a butcher like Bashar Assad who thinks nothing of carrying out a massacre of his own citizens. The question that most needs answering is how he was allowed to get to the stage when he felt safe enough to do it.
The former ophthalmologist – originally hailed in the West for being a European-trained doctor – has proven that he is first and foremost his father’s son, and his father managed to get away with similar massacres before him.
There is a commonly held belief that had there been television in the Second World War, the Holocaust would not have happened.
This theory, if it had not already been shot to pieces during the Rwanda massacre or the atrocities carried out in the former Yugoslavia – to name but two sad examples – should be taking its final gasps, choking on the chemical weapons being used on innocent civilians.
The world is watching. It’s watching like never before. Not grainy black-and-white newsreels on a cinema screen but gory pictures of red blood and white sheets on plasma TVs, computer screens, laptops and smartphones. Thanks to the wonders of the social media and modern technology, we carry the worst images of the world in the palms of our hands – and all we do is hit “Like” and “Share.”
In the virtual world, there should be no more surprises. Unfortunately, there are plenty and many are far from pleasant.
One of the truisms of military intelligence is that it is only as good as the person who interprets it. Interpreting what you see with eyes blinkered by a certain worldview is not helpful.
In the same way that families have never before taken so many photographs of their children with so few pictures preserved in albums to show for it, never has the world been so exposed to events in its various neighborhoods and yet had such an unclear picture of what’s going on.
Israel can (and presumably does) help with intelligence and in other strategic ways. It is also already providing medical treatment to more than 100 Syrians in hospitals which ironically have come under massive missile fire in the past while the world “tut-tutted” – some at our fate, some at our response.
And that is another reason for the “there but for the grace of God” feeling.
If nothing else, the Syrian tragedy shows, once more, that Israel can ultimately rely on no one but itself.
Any eventual peace agreement on any border which depends on an international peace-keeping force will be worth as much as an ice cube in the sun as a means of keeping cool. The hotter it gets, the faster it will evaporate.
A FRIEND joked that “the only good thing about the Syrian situation is that it is a cure for polio.” Permit an Israeli under pressure some black humor; compared to what else the world is prepared to forgive it’s not so bad.
She was moved to make the quip after noting that last week’s top headline news in Israel was the pros and cons of a mass polio vaccination campaign for children ahead of the start of the school year. It was accompanied by pictures of cute kids dutifully opening their mouths to receive two bitter-tasting drops of the Sabin vaccine. By the middle of this week, the photos had been replaced with those of parents lining up at gas-mask distribution points to receive protective kits for their families.
I was not among them. Having received a triple dosage of the “Be prepared” philosophy – it’s the motto of the Scouts, the Nahal Brigade and my mother – I collected our kits last summer.
In one of those surrealistic, onlyin- Israel moments, I combined a trip to the mall to purchase back-toschool supplies with a stop at the distribution center for the kits that are meant to protect us in the event of chemical, biological or nuclear warfare. (Although, here, too, I admit I trust in God more.) Ha’olam keminhago noheg, as Maimonides put it: The world carries on as usual.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visiting the country this week, still considers the Israeli-Palestinian dispute the region’s central problem.
In a parting interview with The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon, the EU’s ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley, said he thinks “in Europe the prevalent image is of Israel, or an Israeli people, that has no interest in the peace process.”
The misperception, he notes, comes from polls showing that Israelis place the peace process “lower than where most Europeans imagine it should be” when ranking their daily concerns.
I’m as guilty as the next Israeli on this count, but that’s no reason to shoot me, even figuratively. When I buy school supplies at the beginning of the academic year, I’m more concerned with the type of education my son is going to receive, the cost and his general well-being than whether Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat have made progress in their negotiations.
A surprising number of Israelis this week showed more tension over the question of who was going to win the Big Brother reality TV show – ultimately it was Ethiopian-born model Tahunia Rubel – than what was going on in the real world.
Friends overseas have nervously asked whether it’s safe for their children and relatives to visit at this time. My answer: They are kidding themselves if they think they are any safer abroad. If this is what Assad is willing to do, just imagine what would be the result were the jihadist rebels to get their hands on these nonconventional weapons. Or Iran. Tehran is undoubtedly watching what happens in Syria and learning.
The world is not a safe place – but it has nothing to do with whether Israel continues to build homes in places like Ma’aleh Adumim or Ariel. In fact, the whole world is safer because it is Israel – and neither Assad nor the rebels – sitting on the Golan Heights.
In the meantime, the Jewish New Year is almost upon us. And, although I admit it hardly seems normal, I expect the queues and balagan at the supermarket will be worse than those for gas masks – not because we’re stocking up for war but because, unusually for Israel, this year it is a three-day holiday.
The world, our world, is not coming to an end – and we need to eat, drink, give thanks, and celebrate.The writer is the editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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