The state of Israel and its citizens are confronted by the greatest peril in the nation's history. Iran and its proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, seek to "wipe Israel off the map"—and Israel's longtime faithful defender, the United States, seems to have gone wobbly. On such an existential threat, there is a fundamental difference between the United States and Israel: Americans are in the bleachers; Israelis are on the playing field. As the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, "We can't afford to err twice."
The situation is starkly clear—but not to a world so bored with the conflict, so used to quick fixes, so confused that it has succumbed to the most specious moral equivalency. It makes no distinction between the inexcusable, indiscriminateviolence of terrorism that deliberately targets the innocent and the very different, unavoidable defensive violence of theauthority responsible for protecting its citizens. It's the difference between the arsonist and the firefighter. Israel is expected to act as if it has to win the Moral Man of the Century award. It is not enough for it to be 10 percent more moral than other nations. It has to be 50 percent more—which means it would not survive.
It was the Six Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967 that transformed the image of the "plucky little Jewish state" whose people made the desert bloom into a cartoon of a brutal, aggressive collective called Israel. Despite the fact that Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser was about to attack (with 100,000 soldiers on the border and peacekeepers expelled), Israel received the odium for the pre-emptive strike in which it defeated the Arab armies (an eager Syria and a reluctant Jordan joined in). Israel then offered to return the territories it conquered in exchange for peace with its neighbors, only to be faced with the three no's from the Arab summit in Khartoum: no peace, no negotiation, no recognition.
In succeeding years, as the Arabs continued terrorism and invasion (the Yom Kippur War), it was the attackers who got the sympathy. The images on the world's TV screens were not of terrorists on the rampage but of armed Israelis responding to terrorism, and the explanatory word responding often got lost in the chaos. The repeated implication is that Israel is guilty of "disproportionate" response. Nobody ever bothers to explain how a country with a population of 7 million, concentrated in a narrow strip of land smaller than New Hampshire, in a sea of more than 100 million Arabs in states the size of the United States, could ever fight a war of equal attrition. Israel had to adopt the approach of a disproportionate military response to maximize the possibility of deterring further attacks.
The TV pictures are framed not in terms of the survival of Israel or the security of the state but of self-determination for the Palestinian Arabs, with Israel seen as the bully oppressing the underdog, the occupier dealing with the occupied. The question that emerges is: Why doesn't Israel do something for these people?
This marks the success of the Palestinians in shifting the ground of the debate. Though their goal is to destroy Israel, they suggest they are simply trying to secure the right of a small minority of dispossessed Palestinian Arabs. The focus has shifted from the right of Israel to survive to human rights, to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and not the human rights of people under siege in their homeland for 60 years. The truly brutal reality is that Palestinian maps still do not show the State of Israel; for the Palestinians, the occupation began in 1948, and they refuse even to accept the formula of two states for two peoples since it would imply a state for the Jews. How else to comprehend the Palestinian rejection of Jerusalem as the sacred city of the Jews and the Western Wall as the Second Temple, questioning the core of the Jewish faith and the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, the destination of Moses?
That is why it was disturbing to read of President Obama's rationale for the formation of Israel as a result of the Holocaust without referring to the 3,000-year-old connection that the Jews have to the Holy Land. It is but a short step from this historically inaccurate perception to conceive of the Jews as the guilty party. It is revealing that when the president speaks about daily humiliation of Palestinian Arabs, he ignores that every Israeli is searched numerous times during the day, even on the way to weddings or bar mitzvahs; that Jewish schoolchildren have to be protected by perimeter fences and armed guards at the schoolhouse gates; that guards are required in shops, cafes, restaurant, movie theatres. Arab villagers, on the other hand, do not need to have guards at their shops, cafes, or restaurants, or for children on the way to school or on hiking and camping trips. Why? Because the Israelis do not target the innocent. The president could have acknowledged the suffering of Israeli victims of Arab terrorism "for more than 60 years" when he talked of the "suffering" and "pain" of Palestinians "for more than 60 years." Even more disturbing was the juxtaposition of his reference to the Holocaust, the deliberate murder of 6 million Jews for the fact that they were Jewish, and his assertion of Palestinian suffering in pursuit of a homeland.