Israel has as much right to defend itself as everyone else - opinion

Countries are allowed to defend themselves against enemies vowing to annihilate them, but they don't afford the same right to Israel.

 PALESTINIANS CLASH with Israeli soldiers in Hebron earlier this month. (photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
PALESTINIANS CLASH with Israeli soldiers in Hebron earlier this month.
(photo credit: WISAM HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

On Sunday, a Hamas “scholar” shot five Jews in Jerusalem’s Old City, killing 26-year-old Eli Kay. Even as another innocent, Aaron Imergreen, fought for his life, the fight against Israel for fighting for its life intensified.

The New York Times and other media outlets want Israel to be the Jesus state, not the Jewish state, turning its other cheek, no matter how deadly Palestinians slap – which may be why reporters often minimize Palestinian provocations.

Countries are allowed to defend themselves against enemies vowing to annihilate them. Such context is missing from the Times’ op-doc Mission: Hebron.

In this 22-minute, 34-second video hit piece, half-a-dozen Israeli war veterans trash Israel, caricaturing their time served in Hebron. This “crockumentary” doesn’t identify them as “Breaking the Silence testifiers” – although Breaking the Silence’s Facebook page did. Isn’t it relevant that these propagandizing activists have a clear anti-settlement agenda?

With 9,000 Jews living near 215,452 Palestinians, Hebron-Kiryat Arba is volatile, heartbreaking, confusing. Anyone who cannot see Jews’ link to Hebron has no eyes; anyone who cannot feel Palestinians’ pain in central Hebron has no soul.

 Israeli security personnel carry a dead body down the steps following a shooting incident in Jerusalem's Old City November 21, 2021. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) Israeli security personnel carry a dead body down the steps following a shooting incident in Jerusalem's Old City November 21, 2021. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

The op-doc edits out such complexity. It begins: “Hebron… is predominantly Palestinian. But the Israeli military maintains direct control of a central area of Hebron… where a small community of Jewish settlers resides. This has made Hebron a long-running flashpoint of violence.”

While solely blaming Israel, the filmmaker Rona Segal ignores how 80% of Hebron functions normally, with minimal Israeli intrusions.

Segal’s mini-history mentions the Cave of the Patriarchs which Muslims, Christians and Jews revere; features crazy Jews (but no Arabs) shouting “it’s ours”; and hurriedly notes that “in the month of Av 5689, 53 of the victims of the Hebron massacre were buried.” Most history PhDs don’t know that “5689” is 1929 and that Arabs murdered 133 Jewish neighbors then.

That betrayal started Hebron’s Arab-Jewish chain of pain. Segal buries thousands of Palestinian attacks, including, most painfully, the Palestinian sniper who shot 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass in the head, and the terrorists who killed 12 Israelis in an ambush, creating an “alley of death” next to the “path of the worshipers.” The dramatic language shows how past and present keep colliding in that casbah.

Segal alleges “persecution,” with bullying Israelis – in uniform and out – arbitrarily harassing innocent Palestinians. That’s the crusading ex-soldiers’ Big Lie, the claims that “in general, we stop everyone”… “randomly”… “for no reason… when you don’t have intel.”

The film shows soldiers searching Palestinians aggressively – removing shirts to humiliate them. Segal’s camera never documents how the interactions begin – only the moment of maximum Israeli pressure on innocent-looking Palestinians. She doesn’t explain that suicide bombs were often hidden under shirts, or that many attempted stabbings occur during questioning – because carefully trained soldiers identified threats correctly.

I didn’t need much shoe leather to critique this op-doc crock. My son Yoni, who served in Hebron as an officer for four months, immediately noticed that “they tell the story in a vacuum, using video montages which only show Israelis hurting Palestinians,” overlooking Palestinian threats.

What most outraged him was the “blatant lie” about the randomness – “usually you go in with intel,” he said, “although it’s not always accurate, and with a strategy. You don’t go in just to bust shops.

“They also implied the army is there because we believe in the occupation,” Yoni bristled. “Soldiers are soldiers. We had a job to do. And we were under strict orders not to fraternize with the most ideological settlers. We avoided political conversations – it was not worth two hours of propagandizing on Shabbat for a quarter-piece of chicken.”

My other son’s friend, now stationed in Hebron as a paratrooper, happened to be in the kitchen as we discussed the video. I., who votes Center-Left, was equally insulted. “We never leave the Shin-Gimel” – the guard post at the base’s entrance – “without a specific plan based on intel,” he insisted.

Both detailed examples of soldiers disciplined for overstepping or being too aggressive. Both said their mission was not just to “guard the Jews” – as the op-doc claims – but to keep what Yoni’s commanders called shigra t’kina, normal routines on both sides, de-escalating tensions, not raising them.

When Yoni hosted us in Hebron two years ago, he explained that facial recognition software helped Palestinians function smoothly.

“We minimized the number of Palestinians we stop, because if you don’t have a security profile, the software green-lights you,” he noted.

Predictably, The Washington Post recently demonized that life-improving initiative as “a total violation of privacy of an entire people.”

THE HEBRON tinderbox is messy enough, Israel makes enough real mistakes, there are enough settler flamethrowers, that the exaggerations and lies are unnecessary.

The one-sided distortions reveal how the anti-Israel animus prolongs the conflict. Just as Western money pumped into Palestinian coffers without proper supervision feeds the Palestinian war machine, Western gullibility echoing Palestinian propaganda feeds Palestinian delusions that Israel will soon collapse.

Autocracies peddle lies; democracies cope with complexities. Lies feed violence; accepting complexity compels compromise.

I’m proud to belong to a democratic people struggling with dilemmas, who criticize their own when necessary – yet defend themselves.

Given a choice between winning the propaganda points Palestinians keep scoring – which imprisons their people in illusions, rigidity and misery – or navigating the messes we Israelis tackle, I feel lucky. Our people may not be the most popular, but we’re fair and functional – which is why we have won so far and will continue winning.

The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was recently published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.