Aiton Birnbaum

Thomas Friedman, Rafah, Riyadh, or R&R

Thomas L. Friedman makes valid points in his op-ed, “Israel Has a Choice to Make: Rafah or Riyadh” (April 26, 2024).  Bottom line, he strongly advises Israel to avoid incursion into Rafah.  In fact, a deal to free all hostages may prevent the planned operation, at least in the short-term.  Meantime, here are a couple of thoughts and questions from an American-Israeli:

  1. For many Israelis, Oct. 7 was a violent, preconception-shattering wake-up call.  We and our leaders had assumed that our neighbors would eventually see that Israel wasn’t going to disappear, and would realize, like us, that building peaceful and cooperative relationships is in everyone’s best interest. This would facilitate mutual security, and economic prosperity based on employment, tourism, Israeli and foreign investments, and development of agriculture and hi-tech.  Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2006, so there was every hope that Gaza would develop their own version of Singapore on the Mediterranean, at peace with Israel, with the good life for all.

But we weren’t listening to what the Hamas leaders, the Hamas Charter, and the population of Gaza (who elected them) and of the West Bank (who overwhelmingly support them, according to recent surveys) were saying and doing.  Both before and after 2006, they said that they want Israel destroyed, and all the Jews gone (i.e., ethnic cleansing, “from the River to the Sea”).  And they did all they could to promote those ends: terror attacks, brainwashing their young with UNRWA assistance, building terror tunnels, and training for the first barbaric Oct. 7 massacre of civilians, with the promise of more, bigger and better yet to come.  They have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that they strive not for the good life, but for death to Jews everywhere, and to the Jihadist good death, with 72 virgins awaiting them in the next life, to reward their contribution to global Islamification.

So the so-called two state solution that Mr. Friedman continues to espouse now needs to be reexamined: Many Israelis rightfully wonder — is it at all realistic?  Are there other examples of countries existing side-by-side, where one of the countries’ raison d’etre is the other’s destruction?  If so, how has it worked?  And if any such examples do exist, are the geographic, demographic and historical conditions in any way comparable to the situation here?  If not, Mr. Friedman, we all need to review and rethink.

  1. Why is the onus on Israel in Mr. Friedman’s op-ed?  Why is it apparently only Israel and Israelis who need to recognize and make this fateful decision?  Why shouldn’t Mr. Friedman pose corresponding questions to everyone else with a stake in the future of the Middle East?

For instance, he might say that Hamas has a fateful decision to make now:  Release or Rafah.  Immediately offer the release of all hostages in exchange for ending hostilities.  With the hostages released, the IDF could withdraw and Israeli leaders would have achieved at least one of their main goals. Hamas would be able to play up its apparent “victory”, and hopefully commence with the rebuilding of Gaza under international and Arab auspices.  If Hamas continues to refuse release of the hostages, then what happens in Rafah will be the responsibility of Hamas and its supporters; they began the current conflict with heinous war-crimes, which continue every second that they hold the hostages.  So Hamas and Gaza decide:  Release or Rafah.

Or Mr. Friedman might turn homeward and say that the Biden administration has a fateful decision to make.  The USA and the West have pressured Israel to curtail IDF operations in Gaza and postpone moving against the Hamas terror stronghold in Rafah.  At the same time, they have forced Israel to allow massive humanitarian aid into Gaza, much of which is commandeered by Hamas.  The international aid is a lifeline for Hamas, and it forestalls any chance of significant uprising against Hamas from within Gaza.  This has removed all incentive for Hamas leaders to release hostages.  They get to keep the hostages, thus defying, torturing and humiliating Israel (from their point of view), and are under no military or internal pressure to make any sort of deal.  The biased positions of the UN and Hauge, and the gullible demonstrators in the West provide Hamas with further encouragement.  Thus, despite all his critical support for Israel, President Biden has inadvertently put America’s ally in a corner with no real alternative but to renew the attack.  So, Mr. Friedman might say that President Biden has a dramatic decision to make about his current policy of pressure on Israel and continued aid to Gaza:  Reverse or Rafah.

Similarly, Egypt could make a dramatic decision at this point, and reconsider their previous policy not to allow Gazans into Sinai, or provide iron-clad guarantees to stop future arms shipments to Hamas through Egypt. Reconsider or Rafah.

The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank could be asked if it can make a dramatic decision to revamp their “Pay to Sleigh ” policy of rewarding terrorists for killing Jews, and to revise their educational system to foster peace with Israel instead of “forever war”. Revise or Rafah.

While we’re at it, perhaps Iran might be pressured, if they truly cared for the people of Gaza, to consider a dramatic decision to recant their avowed goal of annihilating Israel.  Recant or Rafah.

If Mr. Friedman continues his erudite analysis based on shattered preconceptions, I can only recommend for him to leave consideration of Riyadh or Rafah in favor of some apparently much-needed R&R.  If American students want to rewrite their own history, and — for example — call 9.11 a brave and wonderfully-successful assault by intrepid freedom-fighters against the oppressive, Satanic colonialist USA regime, then even more R&R for them.

The vast majority of Israelis now have very little faith in significant Palestinian desire for lasting peace with Israel.  This is one of the main tragedies of Oct. 7:  Hamas and Palestinian support for its ideology may have succeeded in killing the chances for real peace in our time.  Looking at the history of Islam, perhaps they have actually cured us of our former illusions that there ever was such a possibility.

We all have a dramatic decision to make now: Recognize Reality or Regress and Rely on unfounded hopes based on denial and wishful thinking.  Following Mr. Friedman, it seems we will all have to live, or die, with the decisions we make, and we all need to know the choices.  For as Israel goes, so shall Judeo-Christian and Western civilization go as well.

About the Author
Aiton Birnbaum is originally from NY, and studied at UCLA and Rutgers. He now resides in Israel, and is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of trauma, using methods such as EMDR. He co-founded "Divorcing Peacefully" and Israel's National Organization for Collaborative Divorce, and trains lawyers and therapists in this approach. He has published a number of articles on psychology, history and the Bible. He also writes music, sings with the Zayit ensemble, and combines therapy with the outdoors.
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