Graffiti On History's Walls
TO SINGLE OUT ISRAEL as the only state that must restore a refugee population is to hold the Jewish state to a different standard. Or, perhaps, the more accurate term is double standard. Against such a backdrop, with a history so cynically manipulated by its enemies, the distortions and outright untruths that characterize more recent relations between Israel and the Palestinians should probably come as no surprise. There are virtually countless examples from which to choose, but last year's "massacre" by Israeli forces at the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin is particularly illustrative.
A Palestinian suicide bomber, on Passover eve, killed 29 people and injured 140 in the Israeli city of Netanya. It was the sixth terrorist bombing that week. The Israelis responded by sending troops into the West Bank, including the refugee camp at Jenin, the principal home of the bomb makers. A 10-day battle ensued. The Palestinians, with support from U.N. representatives, alleged that the Israelis had massacred hundreds of innocents, carried out summary executions, refrigerated the corpses, and removed them. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian spokesman, reiterated the claim of many hundreds killed. The media accepted his version. But subsequent news reports, and even Palestinian testimony and writings recently collated, established the fact that groups like Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad used women and children as shields during the fighting. The reports showed, conclusively, that there was no massacre of Palestinian civilians and documented that the Israelis exercised great restraint during the battle to minimize civilian casualties while suffering an inordinately high number of their own as a result.
Distortions and untruths, unsurprisingly, characterize the Palestinians' political dealings with Israel, as well. A critical moment in the relationship was the Oslo agreement of 1993. There, the negotiating principle was land for peace. What Israel received was no peace in return for its offer of land. The most generous Israeli offer of land for peace came at Camp David three years ago. Then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat 97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, including the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The Camp David offer was not only rejected by Arafat but used as a provocation to launch a campaign of violence and terrorism that continues to this day.
The notion of land for peace bears exploring. If it is taken to mean that Israel must turn over more land until peace is achieved and Arab belligerence ended, the incurious may be left with the conclusion that the lack of peace must be the result of Israel's failure to yield sufficient land. Nothing could be further from the truth. There have been thousands of terrorist attacks since the second intifada began, three years ago. The only way Israel has been able to reduce the number of suicide bombers is eliminating their sanctuary by controlling the West Bank through occupation and sealing off Gaza.
But the story is not one of occupation of the West Bank by Israel. If the term "occupation" had any relevance at all, it was lost three years ago with Arafat's rejection of Barak's proposal for a Palestinian state. The issue is Palestinian refusal to grant Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state. Israel's battle is not the battle of Jew against Muslim. It is a battle against the hatred of the Jews and their connection to the land of Israel. How else to comprehend the Palestinian rejection of Jerusalem as the sacred city of the Jews and the Western Wall as the Second Temple, except as a rejection of the Jewish presence there? "There was no temple in Jerusalem," Arafat said at Camp David. "It was only an obelisk." To question the core of the Jewish faith is hardly an indication of readiness to resolve the conflict.
Quite the contrary, the spiraling Palestinian violence evidences a single-minded determination to continue the conflict. The insight of Amos Oz, the liberal Israeli writer, is pertinent. He is haunted, he said, by the observation that before the Holocaust, European graffiti read, "Jews to Palestine," while today it has been changed, to "Jews out of Palestine." The message to Jews, Oz says, is simple: "Don't be here, and don't be there. That is, don't be."