One of the most enduring vignettes of the Great War is the story of its first Christmas - December 1914 - when Germans and British put up banners to wish the other the season's greetings, sang "Silent Night" in both languages, and eventually scrambled up from their opposing trenches to play a Christmas Day football match in No Man's Land and share German beer and English plum jam. After Christmas, they went back to killing each other.
The many films, books, and plays inspired by that No Man's Land truce are all convinced of the story's central truth that our common humanity transcends the temporary hell of war. When the politicians and generals have done with us, those who are left will live in peace, playing footsie, singing songs, as they did for a moment in the midst of carnage.
Now cross to Haifa on Saturday, when 19 diners were killed in a busy restaurant by a 23-year-old female suicide-bomber, her hair attractively tied in a western-style ponytail, to judge from the detached head she left as her calling card. Try to find the common humanity between the participants in this war. Try to imagine the two sides kicking a ball around, swapping songs.
The only place in the modern Middle East where Arabs and Jews coexist is in Israel, especially in Haifa. The restaurant young Hanadi Jaradat blew apart had been owned by an Arab family and a Jewish family for 40 years. It would be interesting to know whether it was targeted for that very reason, in the same way that, in Northern Ireland, the IRA took to killing the caterers and cleaners who worked at army bases. But the intifada is too primal for anything that thought out. It's more likely that once Miss Jaradat had slipped into Israel proper through a gap in the unfinished security fence the European Union and Colin Powell so deplore - any target would do. She was busting to blow.
The Palestinian death cult negates all the assumptions of western sentimental pacifism: If only the vengeful old generals got out of the way, there'd be no war. But such common humanity as one can find on the West Bank resides, if only in their cynicism, in the leadership: old Arafat may shower glory and honor on his youthful martyrs but he's human enough to keep his own kid in Paris, well away from the suicide-bomber belts. It's hard to picture Saeb Erekat or Hanan Ashrawi or any of the other aging terror apologists who hog the airwaves at CNN and the BBC celebrating the death of their own loved ones the way Miss Jaradat's brother did. "We are receiving congratulations from people," said Thaher Jaradat. "Why should we cry? It is like her wedding day, the happiest day for her."
I spent a short time on the West Bank earlier this spring. I would have spent longer, but to be honest it creeped me out, and I was happy to scram across the Allenby Bridge and on through Jordan to Iraq. Say what you like about the Sunni Triangle and RPG Alley, but I never once felt I was in a wholly diseased environment. On the West Bank, almost all the humdrum transactions of daily life take place in a culture that glorifies depravity: you walk down a street named after a suicide bomber to drop your child in a school that celebrates suicide-bombing and then pick up some groceries in a corner store whose walls are plastered with portraits of suicide bombers.
Nothing good grows in toxic soil. You cannot have a real peace with such people; you cannot even have the cold peace that exists between Israel and Jordan, where King Abdullah, host of the Arab-American-Israeli summit at the start of the road map, did not dare display the flag of the Zionist Entity, lest it provoke his subjects.
The problem is not the security fence, but the psychological fence - a chasm really - that separates a sizable proportion of the Palestinian population from all Jews.
AT THE time of that summit, I supported the road map because it seemed to me the best thing to be done was to thrust a state upon the Palestinians as quickly as possible. The present neither-one-thing-nor-the-other Palestinian Authority gives Arafat and company all the advantages of controlling their own territory with none of the responsibilities. Its anomalous status enshrines the Palestinians' victim status and means Israel gets a far worse press internationally than if it were dealing with a sovereign state.
But the main reason for conjuring up a Palestinian state would be to call their bluff. For six decades, nothing the Palestinians have done has made sense if the objective is to secure a state of their own. But, if the objective is to kill Jews, it all makes perfect sense. That's why, in West Bank towns, you see no evidence of nationalist fervor, only of Jew-killing fervor.
The Arab League's decision three decades ago to anoint a murder organization as the sole legitimate repository of Palestinian aspirations was perhaps the critical move in the terrorist annexation of whatever legitimacy this cause once had.
Today Arafat is received by the UN as a head of state, subsidized by the EU and, under Oslo, physically installed in a pseudo-presidential compound. Yet he shows absolutely no desire to run anything other than a murder operation. Ten years ago, the Palestinian Authority was given powers that fell somewhere between those of the Province of Quebec and the Irish Free State. In 1922 in Dublin, the shrewder chaps recognized that the dynamic in the situation would only move one way: once you proved you could run an all-but-fully-independent state, the all-buts would quickly fade away, as one by one they all did. Not in the Palestinian Authority. Arafat is a head of state in no hurry to get a state to head: having to attend to trade and highways and so forth only cuts into his core business. That may be all the more reason to burden him with it.
But the bloody toll of Saturday's bombing reminds us that there's another consideration. Before the Iraq war, I didn't give a hoot about WMD or any of the other lines peddled by Blair and Bush when they were auditioning justifications at the UN. The only reason for getting rid of Saddam was that America couldn't afford not to get rid of him: it was necessary to prick the Middle Eastern terrorist bubble, of which he was the most successful manifestation. There's a similar calculation to be made here: if America is serious about confronting Middle Eastern terrorism, it's hard to see what possible interest it has in rewarding the Arafat squat with nationhood.
Indeed, just as toppling Saddam pour encourager les autres is all the reason you need, so the fact that the sewer regimes of Araby use the Palestinian question as a catch-all excuse for their own failures ought to be the only reason you need for not buying into it. The Palestinian Authority is part of America's war on terror in exactly the way Saddam was: whether or not there are any specific links to al-Qaida is irrelevant; it's part of the same murky waters.
Unfortunately, few members of the Bush administration and no members of the British government recognize that.
So there will be more suicide bombings, and more condemnations of Israel's fence.
©2003 - Jerusalem Post