Grumpy Old Man: Fire in the belly

No matter how ugly the violence, we mustn’t lose sight of the best solution.

Scene of stabbing and shooting attack aboard a bus in the capital's Armon Hanatziv  (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Scene of stabbing and shooting attack aboard a bus in the capital's Armon Hanatziv
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
"On a day I happened to be carrying an M16 with rubber bullets, a youth of about 15 darted from an alley just 10 meters behind me and prepared to throw a rock. I pointed my weapon at his belly and he promptly dove back into the alley – only to reemerge, half dragging an elderly woman by the collar and holding her between us. The kid was actually smiling.
“I hesitated and then charged, which must have stunned him, for he let the woman go and ran. I fully expected the woman to turn toward the fleeing teenager, her fist shaking in the air, a twisted mouth pouring forth invective. Instead, as she trudged back into the alley, she gave me a look that said there was nothing these people could do to one another that would evoke the hatred they save for Israelis.”
I wrote this 27 years ago, in the summer of 1988, during the first intifada, after my IDF unit had finished a 30-day stint in Rafah, at the base of the Gaza Strip. It recounts an event that took place so quickly that its enormity, at least for me, didn’t sink in until afterward, when our patrol had rolled out to a quiet corner of town for a break.
At first, I doubted it had even happened.
But one of my fellow soldiers confirmed everything I had seen without the slightest bit of prompting. Previously, such behavior had been almost a cliché, especially the part about the way our adversaries hid behind their own people. But there he was, this kid with a fire in his belly, his eyes burning so bright as if to mock me.
FAST-FORWARD. It’s 2015. There’s a wave of unrest, including attacks against fully armed soldiers and police.
You wonder why the attackers do it when they know they’ll probably end up dead. (So much for the argument that letting terrorists know they won’t get out alive is a deterrent.) But there are attacks on civilians, too.
On unarmed adults. Then, a horrific attack in a neighborhood at the far northeastern corner of Jerusalem. A 13-yearold kid on a bike is stabbed. Thirteen years old! You scream to the heavens, Why him?! What did he do to you?! It’s not like some Israeli jet flew by leaving collateral damage. He was targeted. A kid on a bike! Then you find out that one of the two attackers is the same age. Thirteen! A kid! He raised a knife to take a life! What kind of society produces such monsters? Finally, you see the Palestinians and their sympathizers post all sorts of things on Facebook about the attacker and how “Palestinian children [are the targets of] dirty insults from the police of the occupation and settlers.” Pretty pathetic, this phenomenon called hibat al-Quds, or the Jerusalem awakening.
“Dirty insults” from the “police of the occupation and the settlers.” Goodness gracious! It’s not just in Jerusalem. An Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin (see? I’m not calling him an Israeli Arab, which has become such an insult of late) ran down a bunch of folks (Obama terminology) at a hitchhiking station in central Israel, one I had driven by a few nights earlier. And then, to make sure he had done the job, he hopped out and stabbed one of his victims before being overcome by a bunch of bystander folks (thanks again, Barack) and handed over to the cops.
The next day, the suspect says through his court-appointed attorney: “It was just a traffic accident.” Yeah. These things happen, after which the driver accidentally gets out of his car and stabs one of the victims.
ALL THIS being said, not much has changed in the way I view the whole thing. It’s getting a bit much to bear, but for someone who has long believed in the two-state solution – if only because it’s the best possible option alongside several lousy options – things are not going to change. After all, these are the people we’re going to have to live alongside of. They’re going to be either within knife-range or on the other side of a thick, high wall.
I know which one I want. To be frank, I want nothing to do with them anymore, just like they want nothing to do with me. The only difference is that while they think that I and my ilk will eventually go away, I know we won’t.
But I also know that they and theirs won’t, either. We’re in it for the long run – together, even if not amongst each other.
So let’s be honest: Saying they’re in the wrong is not going to put us in the right.
We’ve got some serious soul-searching to do, even now, for while what’s going on means people are in the wrong, it doesn’t exclude us. The only way we’ll be in the right is if we do what’s good for ourselves, even if it’s good (horrors!) for the other side.
What’s good for us isn’t entirely clear.
But it doesn’t include occupying another people. It has nothing to do with altruism.
I don’t care what’s best for them.
I care what’s best for us.
To start with, we should evacuate settlements.
This isn’t going to be popular with the settlers or their supporters, and it’s not going to solve the problem of who gets to launch missiles at Ben-Gurion Airport from Kalkilya. But it’s a start toward taking the high road, something we desperately need to do.
Today, wars are not won over who keeps the high ground, but over who can salvage world opinion, for it is this – not Beit Hadassah, not Beit El, not even Betar Illit – that will make us or break us.
What we have lost is not our security.
Nor is it our right to ascend to the Temple Mount. What we have lost is our ability to fall back on a relationship with the right people. These people are not in Russia. They are not in Britain or in France. They are in the United States.
Try as we might to portray the American people as being behind us, they are growing weary of putting their support where their wallets are. They are growing weary of sending their sons and daughters off to battle in places they can’t even find on a map.
And make no mistake – no matter how much the Americans fear Muslim extremists, they have little idea where Israel is, and less of an idea on how to stand up and be counted when it means mortgaging their treasure and the lives of their sons and daughters. An ally can go only so far when it is not itself being threatened, and while the entire world feels threatened by Islamic State and al-Qaida, it doesn’t place the Palestinians in quite the same category.
WE ARE under threat. We are even under siege, all by young people with fire in their bellies. But this is not quite enough to convince the rest of the world to stand by us, not when so much of what we hold dear is based more on religious teachings and texts than on something concrete that we can all hold up and point to with certitude.
Former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan said it best in a recent opinion piece: The solution “rests on the capacity to abandon the winner-take-all mentality… and replace it with an understanding that if both sides don’t benefit, everybody will suffer.”
Yes, we’re bitter. I get that. And we don’t want to be seen as rewarding the Palestinians for their rocks or knives.
But they are willing to practice what they call sumud, or steadfastness, something – let’s face it – that we are not.
And there could be a lot more of those 13-year-old boys ready to raise their knives. No matter how wrong it is, no matter how wrong the other side is willing to be, two wrongs do not make a right, especially if the party we ourselves are wronging is us.