In that pregnant pause between World War One and the unleashing of the unprecedented human disaster that was World War Two, democracies had the opportunity to change history; to forestall Hitler’s naked aggression.
What was missing was neither arms, nor manpower, nor the mechanism for putting an end to Hitler’s plans, for the democracies had all three. The only thing that they lacked was the will to do so.
War weary, desiring peace above all else, the people, and their leadership simply chose the path of least resistance, closing their eyes to Hitler’s invasions, accepting his lame excuses, indeed, blaming themselves. Two hours after proposing his Non-Agression pact to France, Hitler’s tanks were streaming across borders to reoccupy the Rhineland, in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Lord Snowden in Britain, responded thus: “In my judgment Herr Hitler’s greatest crime was not the breach of a treaty, because he had provocation.” (Hitler had complained Europe wasn’t disarming quickly enough. Lord Snowden was indignant on his behalf.)
Hitler’s previous peace overtures had been ignored, Lord Snowden complained to the British Cabinet, “but the people would not permit this peace offer to be neglected.”
War-weary governments of war-weary peoples sometimes create a reality more to their liking. They encourage their people to climb into bed and pull the covers over their heads. And only when the bombs destroy their bedrooms, do people finally look up, surprised, wondering why they hadn’t seen it coming.
The people of Israel have been lulled by their leadership into a similar state. Ever since Oslo, we have been fed smooth-sounding platitudes about giving peace a chance. But Oslo’s slap of thin veneer over the deep, rotting fabric of Jewish-Arab relations and insoluble religious and cultural antagonisms that have fueled the Middle-Eastern conflict for centuries, has disintegrated, leaving things pretty much where we started.
Except now, instead of the rocks of the intifada, our negotiating partners have guns we gave them because our leaders told us they needed guns, because how else could the Palestinian Police keep order? And now they tell us the problem is Arik Sharon visiting the Temple Mount; or a young boy who was tragically killed in the war zones created by Arab rioters.
But the reality is that when we turned on our televisions after finishing our New Year’s prayers for a good and peaceful year we were confronted by a full fledged armed conflict no further than a ten minute drive from every single house in Israel.
From Psagot, outside Jerusalem, to the road outside my own home in Ramot, to the heart of Tel Aviv’s Yaffo, to the main roads to Haifa, crowds of rock and gun-wielding Palestinians and Arab-Israelis shot at everything that moved. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, mostly on the Arab side.
And Arab leadership, our negotiating partners in this peace initiative in which we have invested so much hope, and for which we have taken so many calculated risks, shocked us by transmuting in the blink of an eye from dark-suited diplomats into frothing rabble rousers.
And what has a been the response of our leaders? “Peace is expensive,” Benjamin Ben Eliezer (or Fuad) vice-Minister of Defense told the news. “We are in the last stages of the peace process.”
It is just this kind of Orwellian doublespeak that makes me despair that our government has the ability and the will to fulfill any of its minimal obligations to those that put them into power. And that obligation is to protect and defend and maintain order and civilization.
No baby in its crib should have bullets flying over its head, as happened in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, where rioters opened fire on civilians in their beds. No wounded Israeli soldier should be left behind to bleed to death in the face of Arab rioters, as happened in the Tomb of Joseph.
Peace is expensive, Mr. Eliezer. But war is even more so. And you are a minister of the State of Israel. Your job is not to blather on about peace. It’s to defend the people of Israel. Period.
While his own country burns, Mr. Barak flies to meet the American Secretary of State, Ms. Albright, and Yasir Arafat, who couldn’t care less about the well-being of the Palestinian people he intends to rule – viewing every death as a chilling public relations victory for his side.
The time has come to ask: Do we have a partner in this process? And if so, where are the fruits of our labors? Show me the money, Mr. Arafat. What you can bring to the negotiating table except for platitudes and arrogance and Third-World disdain for human life. Otherwise, there’s nothing to talk about.
As for my own leader, Mr. Barak, I’d like you to read this before you go:
“Delight in smooth sounding platitudes, refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the State, genuine love of peace and pathetic belief that love can be its sole foundation….utter devotion of the Liberals to sentiment apart from reality [all these things] constituted a picture of … fatuity and fecklessness which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt, and through free from wickedness and evil design, played a definite part in the unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which, even so far as they have unfolded, are beyond comparison in human experience.”
(Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm)