Israel in the Face of Aggression

At the outset the obvious should be stated, as Abraham Lincoln stated it in his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. There was no moral equivalence between the two sides in the Civil War. One side would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish.

There is no moral equivalence between the objective of the terrorist group Hamas to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible and the response of Israel to stop the flow of thousands of rockets directed against it. The directive to massacre all Jews is unmistakable in the Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas) broadcast of July 20, 2014. It called on Jihad fighters “to enter settlements (towns in southern Israel) to kill them all… they are all invaders, they are all criminals… have no mercy on them.”

Nor is any moral equivalence present in the desire of Israel to settle the Arab Israeli conflict by peace negotiations without conditions, and the refusal of Palestinians authorities to do so.         

On one side of the equation is the focus of Hamas, whether its political or military wings or its religious council (Majlis al-Shura), on destruction, and continuation of violence, even massacre, against Israeli citizens, rather than concentration on building a progressive prosperous society, in spite of obvious problems. The fighting in Gaza has revealed the wastage by Hamas of the human resources and the material, bought from funds given by the international community. 

The funds have been used to buy sophisticated machinery and thousands of tons of cement and other materials in order to obtain rockets and to build a network of underground tunnels from which to attack Israeli civilians. The network of the tunnels, of which so far 32 have been destroyed, has cost at least $90 million. Each tunnel has used amounts of construction materials that could have been used to build 86 homes, seven mosques, six schools, or 19 medical clinics. In addition, 160 exploited children have died while being used to build them.

On the other side, if not without blemish and being subject to objective and appropriate criticism, is the constructive record, the process of nation building, of the State of Israel. Since 1948 this has continued in spite of the relentless hostility of the Arab world, of bigoted bias, discrimination, and use of double standards by the “international community,” and the deceptive Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood that projects Palestinians as the most grievous victims in the world.

That process of successful nation building with all the diversity -- religious, ethnic, and economic -- in Israeli society, continues even though unacknowledged by much of the media, mainstream churches, human rights activists who decry Israel’s attempts at self-defense. Little or no attention is paid to the remarkable innovative activity of Israel, in areas of high tech companies, medical research, pharmaceuticals, health care, cyberspace, drip irrigation, electronics, or academic scholarship.

Of the making of books on Israel there is no end, but, in view of the Hamas brutality and hatred, it is refreshing to read a new book, Israel since the Six-Day War, written by Leslie Stein, the Australian historian. It provides an up-to-date broad survey,  precisely and clearly written, of the struggle of Israel to overcome the Arab aggression against it and survive as a Jewish state. Based on secondary sources, the book, though it has a long chapter on social and economic developments, is essentially concerned with Israel’s actions and policies in dealing with the threats against it and the efforts to reach peace with the Arab states and the Palestinians.

Those threats have been based on hatred of Israel, and often of Jews. That hatred has been inculcated from Palestinian kindergartens on. Schoolbooks show maps of “Palestine” that include all of what is Israel. It is sickening that Palestinian groups engage in Holocaust denial or distortion. Palestinian Authority broadcasts have denied the Holocaust death camps and excused them as “disinfecting sites,” and that Hamas documentaries explained that it was Jewish leaders who planned the Holocaust.

The hatred reached a low point in encouraging acts of suicide bombers, and then expressing adoration of the actors. That adoration is even extended to the terrorists who carried out the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Summer Munich Olympic Games on September 5, 1972.

Israel has defended itself and has been prepared to make peace as it did with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The peacemaking procedure should be an exemplar for the Palestinians to follow: negotiation, conciliation, arbitration. Israel offered to return the Golan Heights it had captured in 1967 in return for peace but Syria refused the offer. Similarly, Israeli prime ministers Barak in 2001, and Olmert in 2008 offered peace, but were turned down.  

Stein deals with the issues facing Israel in nonpolemical fashion as its population has grown from 650,000 in 1948 to eight million today. One is reminded of the heavy cost paid by Israel in defeating the Arab invasion, by armies of Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, and Egypt with a contingent from Saudi Arabia, in 1948 when 6,000 of its soldiers, one per cent of the population, were killed. Then, and as now by Hamas in Gaza in 2014, Arab aggression has been the cause of hostilities. No Arab country, except Jordan and Egypt, has been interested in real peace with Israel.

Nor has the Arab world ever acknowledged its responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem caused by its invasion of Israel. It was Jacob Malek, the Soviet Union’s delegate to the United Nations, who asserted, “The existence of Arab refugees in the Middle East is the result of Arab attempts to scuttle the UN General Assembly’s decision regarding Palestine.” The contrast is startling between the refusal of the Arabs to resettle Palestinians, and the conduct of Israel that has assimilated and integrated Jews from all over the world, especially those from Arab countries, a million from Russia and 125,000 from Ethiopia, and has faced the task of incorporating diverse elements, Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews in its society.

Nor has there been any moral equivalence in the tactics of Israelis and Palestinians towards each other. Perhaps few of the millions of people waiting to undergo security examination at airports remember why this is necessary. Palestinian groups made the hijacking of planes an art form. Between 1968 and 1977 those groups attacked 29 civilian passenger planes. In July 1968 an El Al plane en route from Rome to Lod (now Ben-Gurion) airport was hijacked, and its Israeli passengers detained in Algeria. In February 1970, a Swiss passenger plane was blown up by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP) group.  

The most dramatic single event was the hijacking in June 1976, by the PFLP, together with the members of notorious German Baader-Meinhoff terrorist gang, of an Air France plane en route from Ben-Gurion Airport to Paris: the plane was taken to Benghazi, Libya before landing at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. The successful rescue of the Israeli hostages by an Israeli unit did lead to the death of the unit’s commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the present prime minister. The most gruesome event was the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled retired Jew who was murdered and thrown overboard by Palestinian terrorists who had taken over the cruise ship Achille Lauro in October 1985.  

It is interesting to compare the views and actions of U.S. Presidents on Israeli policies. Jimmy Carter in 1978 depicted Israeli settlements in “occupied territories” as contrary to international law and an obstacle to peace. Richard Nixon was the first President to visit Israel and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin thought he was the most well-disposed president towards Israel. President George H.W. Bush in 1991 claimed, somewhat incorrectly, that Israel had benefitted from U.S. soldiers risking their lives in Iraq to defend Israel in the face of Iraqi Scud missiles. This was indeed one of the lowest points in U.S.-Israeli relations. Bill Clinton in December 1998 issued a plea for the PLO to amend its Charter. President Obama called for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Pessimism is not a worthy political disposition, but to quote Lincoln again, “with high hope for the future, no prediction is ventured.” At present, there is little indication that the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, is genuinely willing to accept Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. One can acknowledge that Palestinians may be genuinely troubled and offended by Israeli roadblocks and IDF patrols, but equally they should recognize that Israel before the 1967 war did not covet land claimed by Arabs. Its modest aims have always been to extricate itself from the threat of extinction. That remains the case in the Israeli response to Hamas aggression.