Calculus of Death

In the last three years, during what is known as the al-Aqsa Intifada, the death-credit syndrome has come back to haunt Israel with special intensity. The numbers, of course, are much more modest ? in the dozens or hundreds rather than millions. Compared to the German fascists, the Islamofascists have harder work to do, because the Jewish community they are trying to annihilate is armed.

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P. David Hornik

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By November 1947, when the United Nations voted on whether to establish a Jewish (and an Arab) state in Western Palestine, the Jewish people had recently accumulated an impressive number of death credits ? about six million of them. Before the Holocaust, it was harder to make the case for a Jewish state, in which Jews would not simply be at the mercy of their enemies or dependent on the goodwill and protection of host societies. One could point to massacres in the Ukraine, pogroms in Poland, vicious incitement in many places, but it wasn?t impressive enough, and with the exception of the British government for a short period after World War I, the Zionists were not able to prevail in the capitals of the world.

Six million, though, was an imposing figure, enough to play a key role in convincing two-thirds of the UN to vote in favor of creating the State of Israel on November 29, 1947. It wasn?t enough, however, to dissuade the U.S. State Department and Defense Department from embargoing arms to the new state in its War for Independence - in the hope that it would be crushed by the Arab invaders, thereby sparing the U.S. what State and the Pentagon expected to be a nuisance and a headache. But on the strength of its own grit and determination, arms supply from the Soviet bloc, and the wave of international sympathy, based largely on death credits - which had led to the state?s establishment in the first place - Israel was able to survive the onslaught and set about the task of state-building.

In the last three years, during what is known as the al-Aqsa Intifada, the death-credit syndrome has come back to haunt Israel with special intensity. The numbers, of course, are much more modest ? in the dozens or hundreds rather than millions. Compared to the German fascists, the Islamofascists have harder work to do, because the Jewish community they are trying to annihilate is armed. But the principle is similar. Israel absorbs blows, letting its citizens be picked off and murdered, until a particularly large and grisly attack gives it enough death credits that it believes the world ? and particularly the Bush administration ? will tolerate its taking military action.

It happened, for instance, in the case of the Park Hotel suicide bombing on Passover eve, March 27, 2002, which killed 30 and wounded 140. Before that, Israel had spent a year and a half, more or less, passively absorbing numerous attacks of almost comparable magnitude, including the one at the Dolphinarium disco in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2001, which killed 21 mostly very young Israelis, after which Prime Minister Sharon informed us that ?restraint is strength.? But, in the case of the Park Hotel, the numbers combined with the symbolism of attacking Jews during a religious ceremony added up to enough death credits that Sharon launched Operation Defensive Shield. Even then, a mere week later, President Bush mustered his grimmest and most menacing expression, the one he uses for the likes of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, to proclaim that ?Enough is enough!?

At present, Israeli forces have resumed hunting terrorists in the territories, and the White House and State Department are not complaining too notably. That?s because, in the wake of the August 19 bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 civilians and scorched babies to death, Israel again figured it had acquired enough death credits to allow it to fight back for a while.

True, there had already been terrorist attacks and Israelis killed during the hudna that began at the end of June. On July 7, for instance, 65-year-old Mazal Afari was killed in her home at Moshav Kfar Yavetz, and three of her grandchildren lightly wounded, in a suicide bombing by an Islamic Jihad terrorist. On July 15, 24-year-old Amir Simhon was stabbed to death on the Tel Aviv beachfront by a terrorist from the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade. But these were paltry numbers, inconsequential. Presumably, Sharon calculated that if he were to say, ?This is no cease-fire; my people are still being murdered; I am ordering the IDF to resume operations against the terrorists,? the death credits would have been woefully insufficient and Israel, not the terrorists, would have been blamed for derailing the hudna.

Then, on August 12, there were two more suicide attacks, one in Rosh Ha?ayin and one in Ariel. But these were poorly executed, each taking the life of only one Israeli ? again, not enough to register at all on the death-credit calculus. The next day, the Jerusalem Post editorialized: ?Yesterday?s suicide bombings could easily have killed dozens of Israelis, as could have the many similar attacks that have been thwarted since the hudna was declared. The game of tolerating missile attacks, suicide bombings, and shootings so long as ?only? one or two people are killed is a cynical and bloody one.? The editorial went on to advise that the U.S. and Israel give the Palestinian Authority an ultimatum ? ?either crush the terrorists now, unconditionally, and without excuses, or Israel will do so itself.? Not surprisingly, the suggestion went unheeded.

Then came the August 19 bombing. Its 21 dead and over 100 wounded were victims of the terrorists who targeted them. But they were also victims of the death-credit syndrome, whereby the U.S. and Israeli governments allow Israeli citizens to be murdered so long as the numbers are small and unimpressive to them, and wait for much larger numbers to be murdered before Israel is allowed to act.

Ten years after the launching of Oslo and three years after the launching of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the upshot of U.S. and Israeli policy is that the terrorist organizations are thriving as never before in the West Bank and Gaza and an entire generation of Palestinians has been poisoned with genocidal hatred. Yasser Arafat, having waged a terror war for ten years, is still sitting in his compound a few miles north of Jerusalem. Israel is now subjecting the terrorists to assassinations and pressure, activities that are of little efficacy as the renewed suicide bombings attest. Yet Israel continues to strut around like a Hamlet, speculating openly about reoccupying Gaza or finally doing something decisive to divest Arafat of his power.

Since nothing short of reoccupying all the territories and dismantling the PA terror-entity ? steps that neither the U.S. nor Israeli governments are prepared to countenance ? will suffice to end the death-credits game, the likelihood is that the game will continue. It will take a successful, catastrophic terror attack of much larger proportions than twenty or thirty dead (such as the abortive attempt to blow up the Pi Glilot fuel depot in Rishon Letsion on May 23, 2002, which could have incinerated thousands of Israelis) to convince those two governments that Israel has attained enough death credits to take drastic, final action. As for the citizens of Israel, they seem too dazed, traumatized, and resigned to demand that their lives be taken seriously. It is not a pleasant thought.

[This article appeared in FrontPage Magazine on Wednesday September 10, 2003.]



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