Israel Report

March 2002         

The Crossroads Of History

By Avi Davis - March 20, 2002
Those volunteer orderlies and emergency medical crew who scramble among the blackened ruins and human remains in Israeli urban centers, have now become familiar to many of us. Every few days, their frantic efforts, video-taped within the caverns of horror once known to Israelis as buses, popular restaurants, dance halls and malls, are as unfathomable as they are gruesome. Viewing the mutilated corpses is so difficult that we avert our gaze. Indeed, much like a mystery novel whose chilling plot is endlessly retailed by the same pulp-fiction author, one can sense, even among the reporters and television anchors, a growing tedium in reaction to the devastation. This, as Charles Dickens once put it, is the “frequency of exposure that is the wet-nurse of indifference.”

While the urge to turn away from depravity may be a natural human instinct, this is a story that will not disappear with a tap of the remote or turn of the page. Thats because Israelis are not some distant people of whom, in Neville Chamberlain’s infamous phrase, “ we know nothing.” For they are us. Their lives, centered on the acceptance of the rule of law, respect for the sanctity of human life and a recognition that force is an option of last resort, not the first, is identical to the fundamental ethos that drives Western culture. They are men and women who go to work, send their children to school, engage in political debate and pray in the belief that dialogue, not violence can resolve most human disputes. They are a people motivated by a basic need for the advancement and betterment of human life, an aversion to poverty and a willingness to take risks for the sake of peace. This faith in humanity explains how it was possible for a nation, whose consciousness was hammered on the anvil of war, could forego experience and better judgement to believe that a terrorist, sworn most of his life to the annihilation of their country and the murder of Jews, would suddenly have a epiphanal change of heart and transform himself into a peace partner.

Yet as each day goes by and more innocent Israelis lose their lives, it should be clear to anyone still paying attention that the struggles of the Jewish state are only a precursor to a fate that may be awaiting us all. Human history, having gasped its way through hundreds of centuries of unprovoked blood-letting, honor killings and anarchy has endured to arrive, and only recently at that, at an acceptance of certain inalienable rights - the framework for what we know as civilization. Included among these rights is the notion that every human being has the right to live to live in freedom and that every life is sacred.

But such a concept seems increasingly anathema to vast populations on this planet. This week it was reported in Saudi Arabia that five young women died when the firefighters sent to rescue them from a burning building refused to do so because they were not dressed in proper Islamic attire. In Pakistan a wave of killings of medical doctors – people associated in the extremist imagination with middle class affluence and therefore with the West – has rocked Karachi. One doctor was killed by his own patient as he was being attending by him.

This growing indifference to the preservation of life has not been lost on Arab leaders such as Yasser Arafat or Osama Bin Laden. In a cynical reconstruction of the very concept of humanity, they have elevated the value of death while correspondingly de-emphasizing and cheapening the significance of life. They have raised martyrdom to a social value, co-opting religion as their vehicle of dissemination and injecting it with their own strain of anti-Western bile. In this process they have engineered thousands, if not millions of human time bombs, people for whom suicide bombing is not only a political statement but a sacred religious duty.

This then, is the impending world of the future. A battleground between competing visions of humanity, a world in which suicide bombers, with no remorse or conscience, explode themselves in major urban centers throughout the world in an attempt to terrorize populations into an acknowledgement of their power. While the United States received a bitter taste of such nihilistic adventurism on September 11, there are few other countries who have yet recognized the approaching peril.

Among them are the countries of Europe. The European Union position has not only been equivocal but decidedly hostile to Israel’s battle to defend itself against such terrorism. Unacknowledged by the Europeans, whose lifestyle and level of prosperity differs only marginally from the Israelis, is that they face the same risks from Muslim fundamentalism. Frances’ Muslim population is 15% and growing at a rapid clip. It has become a hotbed of radicalism. But myopia grips the French leadership and at the helm of this blind man’s parade marches French President Jacques Chirac, whose outrageous comment that Israelis must learn to love peace more than war, betrayed a striking ignorance of reality. It made obvious that he has yet to understand that when a suicide bomb detonates in Jerusalem, its convulsive echo resounds in the capitals of every western democracy.

If that is the case, then world leaders must understand, as the U.S. President undoubtedly already has, that they can no longer remain morally adrift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The disturbing presence of European moral relativism, or left wing rhetoric that blames only Israeli intransigence as the cause of the conflict, is an analytical lapse that will breed appalling consequences. At risk is no less than the soul of humanity. We stand therefore at a crossroads in history. And at this junction there may well be only two sign posted directions – life and death. Let us hope that the world’s leaders are imbued with enough moral clarity to be able to tell the difference.

Avi Davis is the senior fellow o the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies and the senior editorial columnist for the on-line magazine

©2002 - Ha'aretz

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