For days now, I have been watching in dismay as Israeli citizens face random attacks, some deadly, by Palestinian assailants on the streets of their cities and towns. Children have been orphaned, parents have lost children, and some survivors are doubtless scarred for life.
I have been waiting to see whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose false claims about Israel supposedly changing the status quo at a Muslim holy site helped trigger the unrest, would seek to calm the situation or inflame it still further.
I have been following the journalistic acrobatics of some mainstream media, such as the BBC and The New York Times, which seek to avoid calling a spade a spade in reporting what’s happening, blurring the distinction between who are the arsonists and who are the firemen.
I’ve been observing the international community largely languish in silence or, at best, issue mealy-mouthed statements calling for “restraint” on both sides, hewing to the 50-yard line.
And I’ve been wondering, not for the first time, what it would take for the world to wake up and acknowledge – without equivocation, resort to moral equivalence, or diplomatic gobbledygook – that Israel, the lone liberal democracy in the Middle East, is facing violence which must be condemned unequivocally, and that it, like any other nation, has the obligation to defend itself.
It’s striking how, when it comes to these issues, some otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people in government, media, or think tanks, just shut down their critical faculties. Instead, they resort to a Pavlovian response mechanism that essentially rejects any possible legitimacy for the Israeli position and blindly defends whatever Palestinian narrative comes along.
In this mindset, if Israelis are being shot or stabbed, they must have done something to “deserve” it.
If Israeli authorities mobilise the army and police to stop the terrorism, then, by definition, Israel is using “excessive force.”
No matter how inflammatory President Abbas’ speeches at the UN may be, he is a man of “peace.”
No matter how many times Israeli leaders call for face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel is always branded as the “obstacle” to peace.
Undoubtedly, some of the individuals who express these views, and the institutions they represent, are ideologically blinded. Down deep, they just can’t abide the notion of Jewish self-determination.
But there are others who hope to see a two-state accord, allowing both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue their national aspirations alongside one another, and I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.
Yet I do question their strategy.
While they do not hesitate to push, prod, and criticise Israel when they believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel isn’t acting in the spirit of a two-state vision, they’re too often deafeningly silent when it comes to Palestinian behaviour – including right now.
By indulging the Palestinians, rationalising their every misstep, coddling their leaders, going along with their unilateral steps at the UN and elsewhere, ignoring incitement and glorification of “martyrs,” and excusing every turndown of an Israeli two-state offer, these presumably well-intentioned actors are making the achievement of a two-state agreement less, not more, likely.
After all, if the Palestinians aren’t held to a higher standard of conduct (or are quietly believed to be incapable of it), how in the world could they ever responsibly govern a state of their own, and not become yet another volatile, undemocratic Arab nation?
And if that’s the prospect, why would Israel, already facing a region in turmoil that only promises to get still more so, now conclude that the Palestinian leadership can be a reliable partner for peace?
But with all my grief at the attacks in Israel, and all my despair about how much of the international community is (and is not) reacting, there’s one thing that gives me hope – Israel itself.
No matter the danger, Israel remains unbowed and unbent. It will defend itself as it must, and it will teach the world, which faces its own terrorist threats, a few lessons in the process. It will continue to yearn for enduring peace, even as its adversaries clamour for Jewish blood. And the people of Israel will not for a single moment stop living and contributing to one of the most exciting, innovative and creative countries on the planet.
Shortly after a Tel Aviv discotheque was attacked by a Palestinian terrorist 14 years ago, killing 21 young people, someone came along and wrote on the charred building façade: “They won’t stop us from dancing.” Indeed, they won’t.
David Harris is Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. © American Jewish Committee, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.