Israel Report

May 2002         

Israel! O Israel!

Three homely truths on Israel's behalf.

By Michael Novak - May 16, 2002
Israel at the moment is in mortal peril. Its enemies have been becoming smarter, better organized, more thoroughly imbued with hatred and animosity, and intoxicated with signs of weakness they think they have detected.

Above all, Israel's enemies have discovered a weapon almost impossible to block. They have invented human bombs. They sew explosives into the civilian garments of males and females of almost any age. We should not be surprised one day to learn of bombs being hidden in an infant's baby carriage.

What her enemies have not counted on is Israel's capacity for reawakening, for toughness, for resolve. And for intelligence and ingenuity.

There is another secret weapon that no one speaks of: the strength of God. Israel is also the bearer of a Mystery, even when many in Israel are unwitting, even unwilling, to think so, or even be so.

Many small tribes have come and gone in human history. Have long ago disappeared, their languages (if written) now known only to a half-dozen scholars in the world. Not so the tribe of Benjamin.

The worldwide bonds of Jews, wherever they may be, scattered round the world, are primarily of the spirit, chords of memory, a mysterious unity of shared interior destiny.

It is safer, of course, to think of this in secular terms to keep it out here in front of us, where we can manage it. But in the twilight of the day wonderment slips under our defenses.... What else is going on? What else?

Being Jewish is one of history's greatest stories. Perhaps it holds a hidden key...opens a secret door.

There are some things that are never said, on behalf of Israel. Here's one: In 1946, more than 20 million European refugees from World War II, and scores of millions more in Asia, even in Africa, were seeking desperately to move toward home, or at least to settle down wherever they were, and to build new lives. Even in 1950, millions of refugees still remained. By the year 2000, virtually all of these had found homes, often even prosperity unrivaled in the past, and opportunity never earlier known.

But not those refugees dwelling among the richest peoples of the world, the Arab lands and all their oil fields. There more than three million Arab refugees are still being kept in camps, despite severe labor shortages in the nations of the oil fields, which have been importing laborers from all over Asia, as far away as Bangladesh and Indonesia. These poverty-stricken refugees were deliberately kept within these camps for political reasons. They were kept as breeding camps for terror. As wounds festering with hatred.

This has been one of the cruelest uses of human beings in our lifetime. Around them, just to the East, lies unparalleled wealth and luxury, in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. While they are kept in misery, and lack of opportunity.

Why do Arabs treat Arab brothers so?

Why do we? Why does the United States pay scores of millions of dollars to help keep these peoples in these awful camps?

There is much work to be done in the Middle East. There is still much poverty there, despite the enormous wealth from black gold, crude oil whose existence was known for centuries but whose utility awaited the discovery of a modern political economy, in faraway America.

For this wealth was conferred upon the region, let us recall, chiefly by American ingenuity in inventing the piston engine, in figuring out how to convert crude oil into usable gasoline, and in working out the techniques for drilling, transporting, storing, and dispensing gas and oil at local filling stations around the world.

There is vast poverty in the Middle East, down below the thin crust of sheikdom. And knowledge is now widespread about how to create wealth from the bottom up, as once poverty-stricken East Asia has, as China and India are now doing. There is absolutely no need for the misery in the Arab refugee camps. These camps are a blot on the conscience of Islam. They are a blot on the conscience of us all.

But the biggest blot of all is the unconscionable political decision of the Arab states to maintain these camps in existence, as weapons against Israel. It is wrong to use human beings as political weapons.

These camps were built to be forms of weaponry. The individuals actually blowing themselves up today are only doing retail what the Arab regimes began doing wholesale much earlier: using whole camps as silent weapons.

Finally, let us voice some homely truths about any future Palestinian state.

In 1949, there were about 50 nations in the world for the launching of the U.N. and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, well more a hundred new independent states have come into existence, and rather swiftly gained international recognition. The world seems to welcome new independent states. So there has been every presumption for a long time that the Palestinians might well want, and ought to have, a new state.

The Palestinians might, of course, have chosen to become a federal republic of Jordan, or even of Syria, or Lebanon. But they might have taken stock, and decided (improbably) that there is enough economic possibility to carve out a small, thriving commercial republic at the crossroads of three continents, on the West Bank of the Jordan, and around the crescent into the Gaza Strip.

At this point, the world would rightly have expected the Palestinians to develop a political system (there is much experience in the world in developing a wide variety of political systems) that would shelter them within the rule of law, with firm protection for individual and minority rights, a free press, an independent judiciary, and the rest. And also, at least a rudimentary outline of a dynamic economy that could provide incentives to their needy and talented people, so as to undergird a new democracy with real economic promise, for the poor as well as the already proven middle class.

Instead, during the past 50 years, the Palestinians have achieved neither of these elementary conditions. They have squandered their talents, and wasted much blood, on terror and war.

The face the Palestinians show to the world is the hideous face of Yasser Arafat, corrupt, dishonest, cruel, wanton. Yet anyone who has met Palestinians of culture, civilizing experiences, and traditional Arab manners, knows that men and women of their quality set a very high standard before the world. It is an outrage that such good people must be embarrassed before the world by Arafat's public blustering. It is such a waste of precious time and opportunity that they are forced into the background by the physical threat his thugs pose to their families.

It is the tragedy of the Palestinians that their movement has been dominated by thugs. It is the disgrace of the Arab world that these thugs have gotten their lush financing from the political and economic elites of neighboring Arab nations, not least from Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. And also from the stupid among the Europeans.

These three points are, I believe, homely truths. They are truths too seldom expressed:

It is wrong, inhuman, and unacceptable:

(1) to use the living human flesh of men and women as human bombs, who walk with apparent innocence among other human beings in the normal activities of human life, in order to blast them apart;

(2) to keep the poor and the needy in the misery of refugee camps, at the heart of the richest region on this planet, and to hold them there as political pawns and weapons; and

(3) to pour out on war and terror precious energies and talents that ought to be going into the building of an admirable civic and political order, and a vibrant commercial economy, able to energize a talented people with opportunity and expanding prosperity.

Providing they have a realistic political and economic foundation ready, the world leans toward wanting Palestinians to have an independent country (if that is what they choose). But the Palestinians need concurrently to construct a political economy that will give their aspirations body. They have not done that yet.

May God swiftly send them able leadership, so that they can.

©2002 - National Review


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