This is a remarkable story in human terms but there is an extremely important point for understanding the Middle East embedded in it as well.
On June 14, Palestinian terrorists opened fire on a police car travelling on a road, en route from Beersheba to Jerusalem. One policeman, Yeheshua Sofer was killed. Two others were wounded. Sofer was due to be married in three months. It took a month but members of the cell were finally captured. They spoke quite freely about this attack and others they had planned for killing Israelis.
During the interrogation, one of the leaders remarked that only two weeks earlier his six-year-old daughter had been given a free operation in Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem to remove a tumor from her eye. The operation had been paid for by an Israeli organization.
Reading this, I recall a number of similar past instances. In one famous case, the Palestinian who later attacked Israel had been saved from injuries inflicted by another Palestinian in a quarrel. There have also been examples of terrorists playing on the sympathy of Israelis claiming they needed medical attention–especially in one bloody attack on the Gaza-Israel border–not to mention the use of women and children to smuggle weapons or even to carry out suicide attacks.
The Western reader–if he doesn’t go in for some elaborate theory in which somehow Israel is still to blame–might see this and other such cases as examples of human ingratitude, the kind of thing often found in private life. There is also a psychiatric explanation: the person involved is in some way deranged, causing him to behave in an “illogical” manner.
Yet beyond irony and insanity, both falling short of the needed explanation, this kind of situation is important because it challenges the common Western theme of kindness and concession as inevitably leading to moderation and peace. There is another misleading flip side of this view, too: the concept that what seems like inexplicable violence or “fanaticism” is a direct response to ill treatment.
Thus, for those locked into the kindness breeds kindness model (which often does work in personal life), terrorists must be shown to be suffering from poverty or personal suffering (even though statistics show this to be untrue) or understandable outrage at bad treatment (ignoring the possibility of their engaging in alternative behavior, like making a compromise peace or building a democratic society).
Yet the main missing explanation explaining such behavior is ideology and world view. If you think that the divine being has ordered you to wipe out Israel and the Jews (or Christians and the West also), if you have no self-critical facility whatsoever, if you believe (and are told by the West) that you are always a victim, if you put a priority on revenge rather than improving your situation, and if you view your opponent as sub-human (racism is more frequently deployed by elements in some parts of the “Third World” against the West than vice-versa nowadays, whatever was true in the past), then your conscience will be untroubled by having your daughter healed as a gift and trying to kill the maximum number of Israelis thereafter.
Where have things been different? Obviously, one can insist on one’s dignity and right to have a country of one’s own without developing such behavior. We have seen this in dozens of cases over previous decades. You don’t have to invoke such names s Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr or Mahatma Gandhi in this case. Quite average nationalist leaders far from sainthood have pulled it off repeatedly.
Indeed, such an approach is not only more moral but more effective. After all, if you are willing to compromise with your opponent, the latter is more willing and able to give you more of what you want. If the Palestinian movement had adopted such an approach–which is still lacking to this deay–there would have been a Palestinian Arab state in 1948 (UN partition), or in 1979 (Anwar al-Sadat peace initiative) or in 2000 (Camp David/Clinton plan), or at many other times in history.
Of course, there are cases–fewer but genuine–of individual Palestinians saving the lives of Israelis who would otherwise have been murdered. But here’s the catch: those people have to hide their identities from other Palestinians while to kill deliberately Israeli children, even in 2010, makes one a hero.
Moreover, it is also misleading to conclude that people want to wipe out Israel because it is doing something so horrible–that there is a proportionality at work here–as to justify such treatment. Again, the problem lies in the ideology and worldview of the radicals, as well as their expectation of total victory, that drives the process. Israelis as a whole discovered this between 1992 and 2000. Sympathy, an attempt to provide a balanced narrative, aid, payments, concessions, compromises, offers all failed. Indeed, not only did they fail but in many respects these actions made things worse–at least more dangerous–for those who tried that method.
One of the times I came closer to being killed so far was when an Arab driver returning from taking supplies to the Gaza Strip or bringing workers into Israel so they could make living smuggled in a suicide terrorist. Six months after the day I saw the dead killed by that attack in the street around the corner from my home, a high-ranking U.S. diplomat told me–with pomposity and a slur on Israel that would have marked him as a vicious antisemite if he weren’t a Jewish careerist–that no terrorist had ever come into Israel that way.
Incidentally, and this is an absolutely true story, the day before the March 1996 bombing, I had passed by a woman in full Islamist dress (by no means normally dressed for an Israeli Arab Muslim woman who might merely wear modest clothing and a hijab) outside the Dizengoff Center mall looking at the door (and possibly checking out the security) about 20 yards from where the suicide bomber blew himself up some hours later. I thought to myself: what a great democratic and open country this is that in the midst of a terrorist bombing campaign she could walk through Tel Aviv without anyone bothering her in the least. I wondered later if this was coincidental or part of the terrorist operation. If you want to compare the reality of Israel from the way it is portrayed in biased media and academic writings, ponder that story.
These stories are in no way to say that you don’t treat children with eye tumors, or not let people make a living or send in supplies, or look askance at people merely because they belong to a specific national or religious group.
But you also let wishful thinking take over your mind or allow hopes of gratitude to bolster your expectations in an irrational manner.
And you never ever strengthen individuals or organizations who want to kill you and wipe you out on the basis of believing that generosity will make them moderate.
This basic calculus, of course, does not apply just to Israel’s situation but to a West facing attacks by revolutionary Islamists–including the September 11 terrorists and those in Britain’s tube or Spain’s railroad attacks–as well. The idea that compromises, concessions, flattery, and gifts are going to buy popularity or immunity will simply not work.
Note to Western leaders, academics, and journalists reading this: Remember to condemn the people who commit deliberate terrorist murders and refuse to make real peace, not the ones who operate for free on the “enemy” side’s children and take risky concessions to try to achieve peace.