A war we dare not lose

By Chris Kenny

adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer  

The Advertiser – 10 June 2006


IN what we call the War on Terrorism, we should all empathise with the Israelis or, to be conspicuously even-handed, the Israelis and the Palestinians. These are the people at the epicentre of the global struggle of our time. Like Berliners during the Cold War, their daily lives personify a broader struggle.

Perhaps if John F. Kennedy were alive today he would travel to Jerusalem – sacred to Christian, Muslim and Jew – and proclaim to the world that: “We are all Jerusalemites.” The Israelis are bellwethers in a global challenge vital to our future. This battle is not between civilisations but for civilisation.

It pits liberal democracies and moderate Muslim states against extremist terrorists determined to forge a global Islamic caliphate ruling over a repressive, Taliban-style regime.

The struggle is one that the Israelis understand better than the rest of us. The war we are learning about has been their lot for decades. The jihadist ideology aims to dispense with moderate Muslim governments and Western liberal values in the same way that radical Arabs have long-aspired to eliminate the state of Israel. Just as Israel battles extremists in order to preserve its existence, so must we defend the values of freedom, democracy and tolerance that underpin our civilisation.

Last month, I saw how Israel and its people live with the daily threat from terrorism. Many organisations, and even nation states, oppose Israel’s existence. At the heavily fortified northern border we looked across a UN patrolled no-man’s land on to Lebanese rooftops, just a stone’s throwaway. This part of Lebanon is controlled by the Islamic extremist Hezbollah group, committed to the destruction of Israel and funded by the Iranian Government – whose President has repeatedly called for Israel’s elimination. A 45 minute-drive later and we were on the Golan Heights, looking across to a Syrian village and again, to a country opposed to Israel’s existence.

In Jerusalem, we spoke with Arnold Roth, a Melbourne-born expatriate whose daughter Keren was killed in a suicide bombing attack in a Jerusalem pizza bar. In Tel Aviv, we met a Russian immigrant who spent 11 months in a hospital burns ward after a similar attack.

We met UN officials who detailed the daily inconvenience and violence confronting the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. We saw sickening TV advertisements and educational aids which teach Palestinian children to glorify suicide bombers.

Yet amid these horrors we saw great diversity and even a hint of tolerance. On the Islamic holy day of Friday in Ramallah we heard the Muslim call to prayer, an hour later we saw Christians praying at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and that same night we joined a Jewish Sabbath dinner in Jerusalem. We met Arab-Israelis, Christian-Palestinians and Jewish agnostics as well as Israeli Druze villagers who are ethnically Arabic, whose religion derives from Islam but who are loyal to Israel. We visited a child-care centre where Arab, Christian and Jewish toddlers are marvellously (though sadly only temporarily) oblivious to their differences.

Israel is a thriving democracy and economic success story. But the unresolved problem of the stateless and impoverished Palestinians remains its running sore and Achilles heel.

The Israel/Palestine dispute involves issues of statehood, historical rights, family connections and regional pressures. But the jihadists inject their extremist ideology and tactics into this dispute to ensure it festers. They then cite the Israel/Palestine imbroglio to fuel the resentment that underpins their worldwide jihad against Western civilisation.

When Israel took the remarkable step of unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, the extremists didn’t embrace peace. They continued to fire rockets from the new sanctuary of Gaza, aiming to kill Israelis. And the despairing Palestinians elected a hateful Hamas Government, born out of the insidious Muslim Brotherhood and committed to the destruction of Israel. So the trauma for the Israelis and the Palestinians – and all of us – goes on. If this were a simple notion of Palestinian statehood, it conceivably could be settled. Terror attacks would cease, leaders would negotiate borders and the removal of some Jewish settlements and the two states could be established roughly along the 1967 border, possibly with some special arrangements for a mutual capital in Jerusalem.

Instead, the extremists use an evil perversion of Islam to prolong the trauma. They recruit suicide bombers and preach hatred.

As civilians are killed in suicide bomb attacks, children die when Israel retaliates against the terrorists and neighbourhoods are both protected and seriously inconvenienced by Berlin-style security walls and fences, the people of Jerusalem live the inevitable horror that confronts us all if we fail to realise the challenge and defeat terror.

Just as the terrorists aim to debilitate Israeli resolve, they aim to kill and wear down democrats and moderates in Afghanistan, Iraq and in South East Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. In Israel everyone knows it is a fight for survival. We need to understand ours is a similar fight. Our only hope – difficult as it may be – is to emulate the toughness and resolve of the Israelis and the patience of Palestinians who eschew violence. Like them we have no choice but to tackle the extremists head on, until civilisation triumphs over terror.  

• Chris Kenny travelled to Israel on an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council study tour.