It’s Not Normal!

Photo by Joanna M. Saidel
Photo by Joanna M. Saidel


In November of 2001, soon after two airliners were flown into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in New York, I attended a lecture called “War on Terrorism and Homeland Security” at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

I was working at that time as a research assistant for the renown scholar, Benzion Netanyahu, who had remarked to me a few weeks earlier that the terrorist problem needed to be addressed immediately because five years from then would be “too late”. His son, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the main speaker at the event. He thought along similar lines. He posed four simple questions about terrorism to his audience, Who’s doing it? Why are they doing it? What do we do about it? and What do we do to defeat them?

The Twin Towers burning on a beautiful September day in New York City By National Park Service ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Twin Towers burning on a beautiful September day in New York City
Photo by National Park Service ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Addressing the first question, he said that “there is no international terrorism, none whatsoever, without the support of sovereign states” and that “it is simply impossible to sustain an effective terrorist attack for months or years without the support of the terror regimes that stand behind them,” referring at that time to Afghanistan, “Arafat’s dictatorship,” the Sudan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.

Netanyahu remarked that internal strife among these “states” was superceded by their primary goal. He believed that “though they’re fighting and though they have their own separate agendas, at the heart of this terror network is a military Islam that seeks, that is guided, that is fueled by the very powerful anti-western mentality and behavior….When you hear that the militant Islamists hate the West because of Israel, they actually have it the other way around. They hate Israel because of the West. They hate Israel because it represents an island of Western values, of liberties, in a sea of what otherwise would be a completely unified Muslim-Arab sea.”

Netanyahu affirmed President George Bush’s modus operandi which was to make no distinction between the terrorist organizations and the regimes that harbor them. This was the Bush Doctrine, a term first coined by Charles Krauthammer to describe unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, and which came to include the philosophy of preventive war by pre-emptive action. This included attacks on states which sponsored terrorism. Netanyahu remarked in his lecture, “You can hit the terrorists again and again and again. It won’t stop them,” referring to the fact that action needed to be taken at the source rather than the periphery.

He warned: “You can only win internationally if you have moral fiber, because what the terrorists do, and the terrorist regimes behind them try to do, is to create a moral confusion. What terrorism does is to deliberately and systematically attack civilians to gain political ends. In this, terrorism is very different from the unintentional killing of civilians that very often accompanies legitimate acts. What terrorism does is obliterate the line drawn by humanity in the last 150 years in various conventions.”

Netanyahu presented two action scenarios: either providing “our governments the necessary moral backing to pursue this war against all the slings of criticism and opposition. Or, we can push the collective snooze button and go to sleep. If we do, we incur our common disaster.”

Five months after this address, on Monday, April 15, 2002, I spoke to his father, Benzion Netanyahu, following the National Solidarity Rally With Israel, held in Washington, DC., a four day event attended by an estimated 200,000 supporters. Benzion was anxious to know what his son had said in his speech and asked if he had spoken against the proposed conference of Ariel Sharon regarding “disengagement”, the euphemism for the plan that eventually resulted in the forced expulsion of 21 Jewish communities, approximately 10,000 Jewish citizens, which outraged a large segment of the Israeli population who believed Sharon did not have a mandate to take this action.

Menachem Begin with Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem, August 1977 Photo by Saar Yaacov GPO. (Israel Government Press Office) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Menachem Begin with Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem, August 1977
 Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 Saar Yaacov via Wikimedia Commons

Netanyahu announced, at that time, that he would vote in favor of the plan only if Sharon promised to hold a national referendum to determine the fate of the Gaza Strip and the so-called “West Bank”. Such a referendum never materialized and Netanyahu, after voting with the government, pending a stipulation that a public referendum be held within fourteen days, resigned shortly before the Israeli cabinet approved the initial phase of withdrawal. I told Benzion that I hadn’t heard his son  mention the Sharon conference but that he had spoken out strongly against the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat.

This pro-Israel rally at the Capitol included a 17 minute speech by Benjamin Netanyahu in which he once again commended President George Bush for his support of Israel and discussed the unified effort of the United States and Israel to fight the war on terror, saying, “Like the United States, Israel did not seek this war. It was forced on us by a savage enemy that glorifies in a culture of death, a culture where murderers are called martyrs and where suicide is sanctified,” a culture which forces war upon others by their relentless and unscrupulous forward march. As Golda Meir famously put it, “ I will never forgive the Arabs for forcing us to kill them.”. Netanyahu affirmed that there was no placating terror, no partnership for peace with such people, no negotiations and no concession to terror.

“My friends, an enemy that sends children to die and to kill other children is an enemy that cannot be placated. An enemy that openly preaches the destruction of our state is not a partner for peace. With such evil, there can be no negotiations and no concessions because the only way to confront, to fight, such evil is to confront it. The only way to defeat it is to destroy it. And once terror is defeated, I believe other Palestinians will come to the fore with whom we will forge a genuine and lasting peace.”

He spoke against apologists for terror and equated terrorism to totalitarianism, mentioning in contrast, the successful non-violent movements of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, stating,

“So now we must ask ourselves, why did all these people pursue their cause without resorting to terror? Because they believed in the sanctity of each human life, because they were committed to the ideals of liberty, because they championed the values of democracy; simply put, because they were democrats, not terrorists. That’s why.

But, you see, those who practice terrorism do not believe in these ideals. In fact, they believe the very opposite. They believe that the cause they espouse is so all-encompassing, so total, that it justifies anything and everything. They believe that it allows them to break any law, to discard any moral code, to trample all human rights into the dust. They believe that their cause permits them to indiscriminately murder and maim innocent men and women. They believe that it lets them blow up a bus full of babies.”

Netanyahu stressed the idea that those who target the innocent will never protect freedom and human rights.

Honing in on Arafat, Netanyahu stated that the means and goals of the PLO leader were illigitimate and would achieve politicide by suicide, contrasting Arafat’s heinous methods to those of his more successful counterpart, Anwar Sadat, who signed a peace treaty with Menachem Begin at Camp David in September of 1978.

Netanyahu highlighted his vision of what a true peace partner looks like, pointing as an example, to King Hussein of Jordan, (father of the current king) who had not only spoken of peace but had backed up those words with actions by taking a bold and personally dangerous stand when he visited the bereaved Jewish familes of seven girls who had been murdered by a Jordanian soldier while they were on a field trip to the ”Island of Peace.”

Referring to this incident, the Israeli Prime Minister said:

“Now, let me show you the difference between one leader and another. Until the day I die, I will not forget the day that King Hussein came with me to visit the bereaved families of seven young Israeli school girls, 12 years old, gunned down by a deranged Jordanian soldier. He knelt before the families, before the mothers and fathers. He was weeping. There were tears streaming down his eyes and he said, “Please, please forgive me. Please forgive me.”

King Hussein of Jordan photo© [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
King Hussein of Jordan
.Photo credit: CC-BY-SA Erling Mandelmann via Wikimedia Commons

King Hussein asked the families for forgiveness in the name of his country – an act of humility and courage- in an effort to maintain peace and goodwill with Israel. This example of compassion contrasted diametrically with the harsh actions of Arafat’s PLO and their affiliates (PFLP, DFLP, Black September, Fatah, etc.) who were responsible for scores of terror attacks, including airplane hijackings, bus bombings, the Munich massacre, Ma’alot, and the murder of wheelchair bound Leon Klinghoffer, who was shot in the head and chest before being thrown over the rails of the hijacked Achille Lauro.

Netanyahu used Arafat as an example of the true terrorist, a prototype of what was to follow:

“And indeed, Yasser Arafat is the quintessential terrorist. Both his means and his goals are illegitimate. Arafat pursues a goal of policide, the destruction of a state, by employing the means of suicide, suicide and mass terror. Arafat does not want a Palestinian state next to Israel. He wants a Palestinian state instead of Israel. Do you know what he does? He glorifies these mass killers. He calls public squares after them. He names buildings, streets in their honor. He has suicide kindergarten camps. He has suicide universities. He has suicide museums. For God’s sake, this is the man who pays the checks. He signs the checks for the explosives of the suicides. He is a terrorist, if there ever was one.”

In addition to a ceaseless onslaught of terror, Israel’s enemies have effectively pursued a parallel diplomatic track while generating a barrage of media propaganda which has been disseminated worldwide, thereby, exerting the maximum pressure possible on Israel to make concessions. The demand that land be exchanged for peace became the primary focal point of these efforts.

This is an idea that Benzion Netanyahu, opposed. We spoke of it in the historical context, particularly regarding the earliest partition plans, and about the accusation by Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Abba Eban, who blamed Zionist freedom fighters for obstructing a potential partition plan in 1944. Netanyahu mocked the idea.

Saidel: May I ask you a question?

Netanyahu: Go ahead.

Saidel: I think I mentioned to you that I had spoken to Abba Eban and that he had told me that because of Lehi and because of the murder of Lord Moyne, that a partition plan that was supposed to come forth in the British cabinet in December, on December 21, 1944, there was supposed to be a partition plan…

Netanyahu: Yes

Saidel:… and he said that because of the murder of Moyne, that plan was stopped.

Netanyahu: This man, I don’t attribute any value to his statements. He is… he is a … he is a worthless thinker… but… I could express myself much stronger. I am controlling my words. What I want to say is, what kind of partition plan? You know that his colleagues on the left accepted a Jewish State around Acre and Haifa and that was enough for them. Half of the Galilee and a little piece going along the shore. I mean who knows what plan they would suggest or whether they would suggest… they suggested that plan after the Peel Commission recommended the establishment of a Jewish state. They suggested that ridiculous plan and he considered it was fine and good, you know.

Abba Eban - 1970 By News service (eBay) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Abba Eban – 1970
Photo credit: News service (eBay) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Netanyahu: So they may have had such another plan in mind but nobody knows about it. And certainly the British would not come out in the middle of the war with a new plan of a Jewish state, particularly while catering for the Arabs. If not for Lord Moyne! He knows the reasons of the British Empire. He knows the British ticket they are holding and their concentration. He is really an irresponsible person – but I don’t want to go into that. It’s not worthwhile even considering.

At this point he became rather angry and added:

Netanyahu: It’s worthless! I mean it’s nothing! British plan of partition! And who said partition is good! Who says that? You can see now (1997) that Israel is all in an uproar about this plan which its own government, the leftist government, is planning partition… ..and so let’s not talk about it.

In 1997, there was talk of the revival of Security Council Resolution 181, commonly known as the 1947 Partition Plan. Our conversation about this topic led him to comment that the increasing strength of the Palestinian movement worldwide had emboldened them to make demands which might be equated to near political extortion.

Netanyahu: Well, they are trying, they are trying, they demand everything because they feel that they have support, strong support in America. And strong support of all the Arab countries, strong support in Russia, in Europe. So they want to go ahead. The main thing is they feel that they now have a government that wants to make peace with them at all costs. Whether it is at all costs or not we’ll see.

He felt that the media has been bias in its reporting.

Netanyahu: It’s a fact that many, many newspapermen who serve the American press are hostile to the real interests of Zionism. The leftists were all the time for the maximum concessions for the Arabs and so on. They believe they will buy peace. They will buy nothing of course. But that’s what they believe.

Photo by Joanna M. Saidel
Benzion Netanyahu in his study, Jerusalem, 1993
Photo by Joanna M. Saidel

During a telephone conversation on Feb 18, 2006, Benzion seemed tired. After all, he was approaching 100 years of age. He said, “I am longing for a rest”. He wanted to go to Italy for this rest but said that he could not because the situation in the country was so bad and he had so much to do. He felt that Israel had never been in a worse state than it was at that time. When asked what the solution was, Netanyahu stated that “what fixes things is history – whether or not a country can withstand certain events… Israel always has an enemy, that is nothing new.”

In August, 2006, we discussed land for peace and the long-term results of the Camp David Accords, whereby, Menachem Begin, who had risen from the ranks of the Irgun to become the Prime Minister of Israel, signed a peace treaty with Egypt wherein Israel gave up the Sinai peninsula, and set the stage for more land for peace swaps.

Netanyahu: I think he gave up a lot without getting anything… because the Egyptians didn’t turn into real (partners). They didn’t provide the peace which they had promised. They didn’t provide anything! Their attitude remained as hostile as ever – especially after the death of Sadat. They are Arafat’s close advisers and so on and so forth. And they do not… they keep the so called peace not only on cold temperature but on freezing temperature. So, they support everything, in every possible way, in the mouth of Arafat. So what kind of allies are they? What kind of friends are they?!

Netanyahu believed that this action of Prime Minister Begin was futile.

Netanyahu: Alright, so this is where he made his big mistake. He gave away the Sinai, which was a huge treasure, for nothing! Because he got nothing!

Menachem Begin and Zbigniew Brzezinski at Camp David By Perceval at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Menachem Begin and Zbigniew Brzezinski at Camp David
Photo credit: Perceval at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Despite this condemnation, Netanyahu attempted to give Begin the benefit of the doubt for making an effort toward peace.

Netanyahu: He was trying even to defend the peace, in some ways, but there’s nothing to defend there. It’s an ice cold, it’s a refrigerator peace, you know. But I don’t want to say that he changed his mind about the peace. Maybe he still considered it an important thing that he got the kind of paper from the Egyptians – that they are on terms of peace with Israel, not on terms of war. But of course Egypt was, thanks to this peace, drawn into the American circle to receive tremendous support both in weaponry and military training on the one hand and also financially on the other while Israel got nothing out of it.

Netanyahu saw the Camp David Accords as not only a loss for Israel but a gain for the Arab world and particularly Egypt. A new, more unified, anti-Israel policy emerged and solidified which was based upon the foundation that if they did not flinch, if they made an international uproar and utilized their oil leverage, while continuously demonizing Israel and using propaganda to educate their children and incite the masses, simultaneously demanding more and more land, they could, thereby, keep the ideals of the supposedly defunct PLO platform firmly in place in the hearts and minds of Israel’s enemies.

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David  By Fitz-Patrick, Bill, photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David
Photo credit: Bill Fitz-Patrick, photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Netanyahu commented further on the result of Menachem Begin’s agreement:

Netanyahu: Also in that peace it’s written that the Palestinian problem has to be solved. With the interference of Jordan they have also to be involved in Egypt and so on, and, in other words, it’s used as the rights of the… of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. Later Begin tried to save himself from this trap by saying that he didn’t mean by legitimate rights of the Palestinian people what the Arabs mean but actually it’s not only what the Arabs mean it’s also what the Americans meant, what everyone meant. The terror was very miserable terror. He yielded to it when he signed the agreement.

I asked Benzion Netanyahu whether he believed that globalization and materialism were a factor in the decline of fervent Zionism among the post statehood generations of Israelis – basically if they were getting soft.

Netanyahu: Is that what you call materialization, the age of materialism? This is true. I understand what you mean. That this affects a large part of mankind today there is no doubt about it. I don’t think that this is has anything to do with the situation of Zionism because Zionism faced an uncompromising enemy in the Arabs from the beginning until this day. In this respect nothing has changed, whether it is materialization or spiritualization. This is the factor which Zionism has to contend with. Unfortunately, the Americans who, in my opinion, mistake here their own interests, feel that they can support the Arabs and believe that they can buy this with their compromising Zionism, they can buy our affection. In my opinion they can buy nothing!

I countered these comments by suggesting to Netanyahu that, in the opinion of many, Zionism was dead, especially among a vast segment of American Jews.

Netanyahu: Zionism is not dead! Zionism is dead among those who, among those who never, who were never attracted to it. It may be, may be, may be, more… more …I don’t know how to put it…. maybe more, more, alienated, or let’s say, it may be more distanced, they become more distanced from American Jews, than it was before. That’s possible because there was, since the Jewish State was created, there was no Zionist education in America…. and American Jewry is moving toward assimilation. Very strong, at a very rapid pace. So assimilation and Zionism don’t go together.

Theodor Herzl - father of modern political Zionism and, thereby, founder of the State of Israel. By Herzl.jpg: unknown derivative work: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez (Herzl.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Theodor Herzl – Father of modern political Zionism and, thereby, founder of the State of Israel.
Photo:  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Netanyahu was joined in his opposition to land for peace by another Zionist, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who was quite clear about his feeling when I spoke to him about the subject.

Shamir: For Jabotinsky and for the Revisionist movement, the main principle was that the Zionist movement is the tool that the target of it is to create the Jewish State in Eretz Israel, in the land of Israel, and according to the opinions, to the views of this movement, the borders of the land of Israel have to be the historical borders of Eretz Israel, the land of Israel, as it is, as we can understand it in the Bible.

Saidel: The “Greater Israel”?

Shamir: The “Greater Israel”?…..I don’t like… nobody spoke about, the “Greater Israel”.… because Israel is a very small country and I think it is a lie!….. And nobody can express it, has a right to express it, about a “Greater Israel”! What is the “Greater Israel”? Israel is a little country! Even according to the views of the Revisionist movement. But the frontiers of this country, according to Jabotinsky and the Revisionist movement, have been, in the beginning until the World War, the land that is on both sides of the River of Jordan… the Yarden, the Jarden. And after the creation of the State of Israel, it was after the death of Jabotinsky, it was that the frontiers have to be from the Jordan, the Jordan River, until the Mediterranean. Because it will be a nonsense now to proclaim a war against the existing Jordanian Kingdom! Therefore, you can understand it without any doubt… that Israel is entitled to have, to create, this State of Israel and the borders between the River and the Sea. That’s it!

Saidel: And the borders north and south would be what?

Shamir: Well in the north it’s clear, the north… there are some historical views…. after the war of six days something changed, you know, about the Golan – but it’s clear from this approach that the Golan is also, the Golan Heights are a part of Israel… and there are no differences about it, no internal differences in the Zionist movement. Some people think that it’s permitted to give up the Gaza District but, according to the Revisionism, Gaza is a part of the land of Israel.

Saidel: Do you think someday it will extend to the River Euphrates?

Shamir: Please?

Saidel: Do you think that some day the border will extend north to the Euphrates as it says in the Bible?

Shamir: No. I believe that the existing borders of today, of the land of Israel, not of the State of Israel, will be the borders of the State of Israel. It means, in the north the Golan Heights will be part of Israel and in the Sud the Gaza, all the district of Gaza, will also be included in the State of Israel.

Photo by Joanna M. Saidel
Yitzhak Shamir in his office at the Knesset, Jerusalem, 1993
Photo by Joanna M. Saidel

Four years after this discussion, on June 13, 1997, I spoke once again with Yitzhak Shamir and asked him what he thought about Menachem Begin’s attempt to make peace by giving the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. His response was dismay.

Yitzhak Shamir: Well. It was a pity! It was a pity. I don’t think that it was absolutely necessary for him to give up some land. You know, I don’t understand people like the Jewish people, who have so little land and are talking and thinking all the time to give up or not to give up. I don’t understand ….because people who have such a land, such a small land, couldn’t think about giving up this little land that they have! I don’t understand this people! It’s a nonsense! A nonsense! Why to give up?!

Like Benzion Netanyahu and so many other Zionists, including the fighters for freedom who gave their lives in defense of the land, Yitzhak Shamir was an unflinching defender of Israeli territory. The idea of transferring lands which were wrested from enemy hands after attacks on the Jewish State, lands which were part of the ancient Biblical promise to the Jewish people, were incredulous to his thinking. Were he alive today, I believe that he would still plead his case, as would Benzion Netanyahu, against land for peace. Peace requires peace. Violence begets violence. There is no getting around it. Genuine peace partners are not hard to recognize.

Yitzhak Shamir: It’s not understandable to see Jewish people who are very poor from the territorial point of view and they are asking all the time themselves what to give up more, how to give up more. And having need, such a need to give up, I don’t understand it! And you have to explain to people you don’t have to do it! It’s not normal! It’s not normal. We have to be normal people!

About the Author
Joanna M. Saidel, Ph.D was the personal research assistant for the late Professor Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current prime minister, from 2000 to 2010. She authored the Doctoral dissertation, Revisionist Zionism in America: The Campaign to Win American Public Support, 1939-1948, and the Master’s thesis, Jewish Life in Latin America. She was awarded "First Place" in the International Art Competition, "My Jerusalem," by Mayor Teddy Kollek and Baron Edmond de Rothschild.