Israel’s Agony

As I write, Israelis are finding it increasingly unsafe to leave the confines of their apartments and homes.

Whether on buses or in cars, walking or simply standing on the street, Palestinian terrorists have launched what is, in essence, a third intifada. Citing frustration with a peace process that has gone nowhere as justification and incited by their own ineffectual leadership, these individuals have stabbed innocent bystanders on the sidewalk, shot families in their cars as their horrified children looked on and shot up buses. No place is completely safe right now, because there are no “rules” to the war that these people are waging against Israel: no rules, and no sense of moral ambivalence. Israel is the evil occupier, sitting in their land, and they must be evicted, to paraphrase Malcolm X, “by any means necessary.” That leaves a lot of room for the unconscionable.

It is tempting to suggest that the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu are at least partly to blame for all of this. His preoccupation with the effort to frustrate the West’s nuclear agreement with Iran gave him ample opportunity to drag his feet on those issues of greatest concern to the Palestinians, thus fanning the flames of their anger. The Prime Minister has proven repeatedly that moving whatever “peace process” there might be with the Palestinians– or working creatively to fashion one– is not high on his agenda. In the process, he has created precious little reason for hope among the population of young, disaffected Palestinians.

But much, much sadder to me than these truths about Netanyahu is the fact that his policies, while not helpful in the short run, are not the cause of what’s going on right now. The cause of what’s going on now is the most inconvenient truth of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Palestinians of the Arab street, if not the Arab governments themselves, have yet to come to terms with the very existence of Israel: to accept its presence in the Middle East as a fact that will not change. It’s not an issue of one state or two, or how the borders are drawn, or what future land swaps there might be, or how water will be allocated. Israel’s very existence on what these Palestinians regard as Arab land is simply unacceptable to them, and to those political and religious leaders who wickedly encourage their mayhem, and they will fight as brutally as they need to in order to achieve their ultimate goal–the removal of Israel from the map of the Middle East.

Lest I be accused of painting with too broad a brushstroke, let me be clear. I have no doubt at all that there are Palestinians who are sick and tired of this ceaseless bloodshed, and simply want to be left alone to live their lives, and be done with this struggle. I don’t know if they’re a silent minority or a silent majority, but I do feel for them. And I’m also sure that they know that the full wrath of Israel’s military power is likely to come down on their heads because of what’s going on in Israel’s streets right now. But they are terrified to make their voices heard, because the violent arms of Palestinian resistance could come down on them. 

The United States government, along with most of Europe, has completely bought into the idea that Israel’s settlements in the lands it captured in the 1967 war are what stand in the way of progress towards peace. The settlements may well be ill advised, for a variety of reasons, but it is simply not the case that, if the last one were removed tomorrow, there would be peace. Remember Gaza! Israel’s withdrawal brought Hamas on the border, not peace. Until and unless all of Israel’s adversaries are genuinely prepared to acknowledge Israel’s existence, there is no process in sight that might lead to peace. If Americans vote their pocketbooks, Israelis tend to vote their fears. Netanyahu’s long tenure as Prime Minister is all about Israelis voting their fears. That’s the real vicious cycle here.

Israel is facing unenviable choices right now. The barrier that it erected some years ago to prevent suicide bombers from entering into Israel from the Palestinian territories and wreaking havoc has been largely effective, but at a great price in the international community. If the price of security now is to blockade Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem and flood the cities of Israel with Border Police, Israel will do that, but again, the price will be steep. It will serve to further isolate Israel.

As long as Jodi Rudoren and her ilk insist on writing stories in the New York Times about “the latest shooting by Israeli forces of an alleged Palestinian attacker,” Israel will be portrayed as the aggressor in this struggle, not the victim. It won’t matter how many innocent civilians are stabbed or gunned down. I wonder how would America react if random stabbings and shootings were carried out day after day in her major cities in the name of jihad? How would New York react if you couldn’t go on a train or a bus, or even wait for one, or send your child to school alone, for fear of being stabbed or shot?

Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.