When the pipe bomb went off in the lively seaside village of Netanya recently, I remember thinking: Oh no. Here we go again.
The “I can’t condone” of the Palestinians (why can’t they say “We condemn?”) The hemming and hawing of the politicians. And, sure enough, there was our Prime Minister talking about boxing matches, and how it was true that in a fight you sometimes had to absorb blows, but that we, Israel, would deliver the final “knock out.”
My dear, 86 year-old father-in-law was in a bank only a few blocks from the blast. Both he and my dear mother-in-law, who survived Auschwitz and slave labor marches, have lived in Netanya for 22 years. Often they tell us they have been the best years of their lives.
And so, when I think of Mr. Barak’s boxing ring image, I wonder where my in-laws fit in. Does Mr. Barak mean to stand behind them, shove them into the ring and sit back and watch the results? Isn’t a government supposed to fight the battles of citizens like my in-laws? Isn’t that what a government of an independent state fights so hard to win independence for?
Just a few weeks ago as part of the peace accords, Mr. Barak opened the jails and let Palestinians convicted of aiding, abetting (and in certain cases, actually committing) murder out. One of the men released was involved in the kidnapping and murder of Israeli soldier Nachshon Wachsman. At a press conference, Nachshon’s mother, Esther, pointed out that “A country has to be worthy of the sacrifices its citizens make to defend it. A country which forgives those who murder and injure and destroy its citizens, has lost the moral right to demand these kind of sacrifices.”
I discussed this subject with some friends, firm Barak supporters, people who believe deeply in the peace process. One of them was a man who saw the heaviest fighting in the Yom Kippur War, a battle in which only five tanks out of 28 remained after Egyptian shelling on the way to cross the canal.
He is a brave man, a good man, a war hero. He loves Israel with all his heart. “These terrorist attacks are terrible,” he acknowledged. “But we can’t let the extremists deter us from pursuing what is best for our country. And that is peace. Once the Palestinians have something to cherish, they won’t want to endanger it with these kinds of attacks. If you have nothing to lose, you become more extreme.”
Would he agree, I asked him, that everyone in the country is divided over one central point: Not over peace. Everyone wants peace. But on whether, down the road, after all the agreements are hammered out and signed and ratified and implemented, whether that precious thing will happen? Will it exist — real, touchable, feelable. A peace not of words, but of deeds? A peace where my father and mother- in- law won’t be shoved into boxing rings with murderers. Where they, and all the other men, women and children of Israel, will be beyond the line of fire?
He agreed. “But think about it,” he continued. “It will make no sense for the Palestinians to encourage terrorism after they have a state and a stable economy and all the opportunities to grow. Things will be good for them. Why would they want to endanger that?”
“And since when has good sense ever played any part in the history of the Middle East?”, I couldn’t help replying.
And in the meantime, as we are pursuing this beautiful, ephemeral, shining ideal that is out there in the distance, pursuing it even though we admit to ourselves it may all be a mirage — like some precious spring of water conjured out of longing by desert wanderers dying of thirst – what of the reality?
As we move towards the dream, are we not divesting ourselves of all the most precious reasons the Jews had to found the Jewish State in the first place? Relinquishing our ability to defend ourselves, to punish those who attack us? After all, the bombs in Netanya were put together in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. If, as the police and army have been telling us ever since Oslo and the new peace rhetoric became popular and acceptable, that “we’ll do our best, but such attacks are impossible to prevent altogether” giving the world reason to say, as the BBC did after the pipe bomb in Netanya: that the Israelis “are used” to these attacks being part of the peace process, then what, in heaven’s name, is there left for us?
Is it, to paraphrase the ultimate obscenity of terrorism expert Yoram Schweitzer: “We can learn to live with terrorism. After all, traffic accidents claim many more victims ?”
I don’t think any human, for any reason however lofty, should be asked to learn to live with terrorism. If we become a country that is unlivable, indefensible, and completely without the basic national self-worth to reject such attacks as the heinous crimes they are, then we have no choice but to ask ourselves: What reason does our State have to exist at all?