Israel Report

April 2003         

Freedom and the Land of Israel

By Michael Freund - April 15, 2003
When Jews around the world gather at their Seder tables tonight for the festive Pessah meal, they will be doing something that the country's leadership no longer seems capable of doing: remembering the past and reflecting on its lessons.

For hours on end, families will sit and review the events that took place in ancient Egypt, when the Jewish people chafed under the persecution of their oppressors and longed for redemption from their suffering.

Participants will read about how the nation's leaders stood firm in their demands, not willing to bend when it came to fundamental Jewish rights, such as life, liberty and longing for the Land. They will marvel at the Egyptian monarch's bumbling and inept handling of the crisis, grow angry at his use of violence and terror against innocent Jewish civilians, and savor the lasting victory of the Jewish people which the festival itself commemorates.

In other words, they will recall a time when, against all odds, the Jewish people emerged victorious, thanks in no small measure to their stubborn faith in themselves, their cause and their God.

How distant those qualities now appear, in light of recent events.

Hardly a year has passed since the Pessah massacre at Netanya's Park Hotel, which killed 29 innocent Israelis, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is already talking about forcibly uprooting Jews from their homes and making a deal with the Palestinian Authority.

In an interview earlier this week, Sharon spoke of the "painful" steps he is willing to take, such as "parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our history we will have to make painful concessions," he said. And so, the tough talk which followed last year's atrocity has now been replaced by feeble offers of concessions. Sharon's promises to rid the country of terror have dissolved into a readiness to reward it.

The perpetrators of violence, it appears, are to receive a state, while its victims will be asked to pay the price.

That is not what leadership, and certainly not Jewish leadership, is all about. Had such an attitude prevailed three millennia ago, the Jewish people would still be slaving under the sun in stone quarries outside of Cairo.

By now it should be clear that after a decade of Palestinian violence and terror, what is needed for Middle East peace is not Palestinian freedom, as Sharon seems to suggest, but Operation Israeli Freedom, one in which the Jewish state asserts control over all the territory west of the Jordan and uproots the terrorist infrastructure once and for all.

This is not just a matter of ideological necessity it is an issue of life and death. During the six years of the first intifada, when Israel controlled the territories, a total of 172 Israelis were killed in Palestinian terror attacks. By contrast, in the two and a half years since the outbreak of the current intifada, the death toll from Palestinian violence has soared to 763.

AS A cursory reading of the biblical account of the Exodus reveals, the Jews' ancient march to freedom began with a collective cry a cry to the heavens, emanating from the depths of the national soul, one which was rooted in the firm conviction that our cause was just and would therefore merit assistance from Above.

Freedom from Palestinian terror, like freedom from Egyptian bondage, can occur only once the Jewish people throw off the chains of self-doubt and self-delusion, and take the action necessary to make themselves worthy of being free. But if the lessons of Pessah aren't enough to inspire our leaders, then perhaps they should pick up a newspaper and take a look at what has been happening lately in the region.

Within the past few days, Saddam Hussein's iron head was kicking up dust in the streets of Baghdad, the Arab world was in a state of shock over the rapid demise of his regime, and American officials began putting Syria on notice that their behavior might soon earn them a well-deserved visit from the US Marine Corps.

This is a prime moment of strategic opportunity, one in which the Arab states are being forced to confront their own weaknesses and failings. But rather than seizing the occasion to exert Israel's strength and topple Arafat's rule, the government seems determined to apply the failed model of Oslo, as if nothing at all had happened in the interim.

They talk of negotiating with terrorists, as if we did not already try that once before. Sharon speaks of handing over territory, as though that has not already been done.

Even if, as some on the Right would like to believe, Sharon is simply bluffing, it was precisely the same kind of bluffing by Yitzhak Shamir that gave birth to the 1991 Madrid Conference, which ultimately paved the way for Oslo and all that it has wrought.

The time for games, and for bluffing, is over. Too many Jews have been killed, too many families have been destroyed to fiddle away precious months with diplomatic dances and diversions.

The battle for the Land of Israel is about to commence. The two roads before us are equally clear: one of faith, determination and fulfillment, or one of defeatism, dismemberment and retreat.

To win this battle, Israel must toss aside its daydreams of Palestinian moderation and show some long-awaited backbone in defending its interests. If we proceed forward unsure of ourselves or our rights to the Land all of the Land then what chance do we possibly have of succeeding? As Adlai Stevenson once said, "It's hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse."

Or, to put it into terms more suitable to tonight's Pessah Seder "in every generation, a person is required to view himself as if he too had left Egypt" imbued, as it were, with the same ambition which our forefathers nourished in the heat of the pyramids and the sands of the desert long ago. Namely, to overcome whatever obstacles they might have faced, as they marched toward their ultimate destination: the Land of Israel in its entirety.

The writer served as deputy director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office.

©2003 - Jerusalem Post;=1050380101439

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