Politics & Policy

In Israel, Part Iii

In case you’ve just tuned in, we’re in the middle of an Israel diary, or Israelpalooza, or something like that. Part I of these jottings appeared Monday; Part II appeared yesterday. Welcome to Part III.

Just to refresh, I’m talking about a trip–an “insider’s tour”–arranged by the American Israel Education Foundation, “a supporting organization of AIPAC.” (I was imprecise in my identification on Monday.) We left off yesterday with–what? The Ethiopian absorption center? Right. To observe these slim, elegant, dignified Africans as they undergo the process of becoming Israelis is . . . memorable.

‐Move, now, to a discussion with Oded Granot, a big television presence here in Israel. He has the affability and verbal ease of a television presence. You think, “No wonder.”

But he is more than an attractive personality: He is a specialist on the Arab world, having studied for years, interviewed all the players, and so on.

He makes a couple of points (or rather, many): Yasser Arafat is following the Hezbollah model, meaning this: Hezbollah drove the Israelis from Lebanon, by their constant terroristic harassment (as this understanding holds); why shouldn’t the PLO try the same in the territories? Hence Intifada II.

A point about Iran: It won’t be so easy to zap their nuclear operation, as in Iraq almost 25 years ago (not that that was easy–believe me; I’m not belittling it). The Iranians, having learned the lesson, have scattered their facilities, not leaving a likely target.

A point about Syria: “Many patients have had their eyesight saved” by the fact that Basher Assad ascended to the dictator’s throne. (This is not a profound point, just a crack–young Assad was an ophthalmologist; Granot seems to think he wasn’t a very good one; I have no opinion.)

(I do have an opinion on this: Boy, is ophthalmologist hard to spell!)

The fence, all Israelis concur, has been a resounding success, at least for now. “But at one thing we have failed,” says Granot: “We have not yet turned Arafat into an irrelevant person.” And “he simply won’t compromise, because he is a symbol more than a leader.” A genuine leader compromises, certainly for the good of the people he leads; a symbol–no compromiser.

There are many among the Palestinians who could rise to leadership, and some Palestinians were, indeed, rising in the West Bank and Gaza . . . before the Israeli Left–the Oslo-ers–called the PLO back from Tunis. The PLO, natch, quickly set up a vicious police state–just as they had done in Jordan, years before (and just as they had done in Lebanon, too). Arafat wasted no time in intimidating all opposition. Soon he had none. Jimmy Carter, and others, perfumed a laughably fraudulent “election” (against a hapless old lady). He hangs on to power through terror and coercion. Arafat terrorizes the Israelis, yes; but–let us not forget–he terrorizes the Palestinians too (not that the “world community” cares much about this; nor do they care about his massive theft from “his people”).

Nearly every Israeli now admits that Oslo was a tragic failure (some think criminal failure). Even those who do not admit it might blurt out the truth, with the proper serum. But here we are.

Oh, Abu Mazen? Was there hope for him? Sure–which is why Arafat had to make it impossible for him. After one too many death threats, Abu Mazen bade farewell. A leader should not have to be a martyr.

Sharon’s “disengagement,” says Granot, is “a risky experiment”–but it has come to that. (Senator Gramm, talking about his budget law, said it was “a bad idea whose time has come.”) Negotiations with the PLO have proven futile–everyone concedes that now. Granot: “For 15, 20 years, Palestinian officials have told me, ‘We know the right of return is unrealistic, we know that we can’t insist on it, we know that it won’t be part of any final arrangement’–but, in the end, they cling to it, they won’t let it go,” cratering every deal.

I ask what I regard as the $64,000 question (or is it up to $64 million?): If Israel retreated to the ‘67 borders, would Palestinians be content with that, allowing Israel to live in peace, agreeing to coexistence? Or would they fight on for the rest of the country, perhaps after breathing for a bit. (This approach, in PLO parlance, is “incrementalism.”) The question cannot really be answered, but neither can it be ignored. It is the big calculation. For Granot’s part, he considers the ‘67 borders “suicidal”–a word he does not choose lightly.

The Palestinians are world-champion grievance-perpetuators. Granot meets little Palestinian kids in Lebanon, moppets who have never been in Israel. You ask them about themselves, and they will say, “I was born in Haifa,” “I was born in Jaffa”–so are they coached. Of course, their grandfathers or great-grandfathers might have been born in those cities . . .

Finally, a bit about the U.S. election. I paraphrase: “If Bush is reelected and succeeds in Iraq, this will have a big effect on the region–including the Palestinian question. If he fails, or the U.S. fails, it will be a disaster. The worst Arab leaders will say, ‘We are the master of this region now, not the U.S.’ Iran will be emboldened, when it least needs to be. A U.S. pullout would be a green light for the extremists.”

No, let this be the final word, from Granot: The Arab press, though still nothing–nothing–like free, has come a long way (thanks, in large measure, to the exposure of many Arab journalists to the Israeli media, or “the Israeli model,” as it is called–which is just press freedom). “In the past, [the Arab press] could not be used for anything–it was all propaganda. Now, you can actually learn something, once in a while.”

Which is to the good.

‐I’d like to say a couple of words about Palestinian journalists–before moving on to yet more words about media and the Middle East. As a rule, Palestinian journalists consider themselves, not journalists, but foot soldiers of the revolution. (I am conveying a consensus.) The idea is not to report dispassionately, to deliver the news “without fear or favor”; the idea is to advance PLO objectives. There is plenty of fear, and plenty of favor, unfortunately.

Arafat controls the PA media very, very closely–if you slip up, you could find yourself the victim of a mysterious crime, perpetrated by “unidentified gunmen.”

I could go on–and it is true that the Arab media, generally, are improving–but I will rest on an excellent Jeff Jacoby column, published last month, found here.

‐Meet, now, Gideon Meir, deputy director general for public affairs in the Foreign Ministry. He is a longtime diplomat, serving, for example, in Ottawa and London–he knew Tony Blair when the now-PM was a young man. Meir had been told, “Watch this fellow–he will be prime minister someday.” Whaddya know?

And that name, Meir? Any relation? No–but worth a try!

His presentation is called “The Media as a Third Party to the Conflict.” At a conference in Germany once, a local journalist said to him, “Shouldn’t there be a question mark at the end of your title?” Meir responded, “No! There should be three exclamation points!”

We have a little fence talk. The Right, we are told, had long been opposed to a fence; it went against their ideology. The Left was pro-fence–and, over time, Sharon and the Right acceded. But the fence, in many quarters (quarters abroad), is considered a distinctly right-wing move.

Given Israel’s separation of powers, the supreme court often rules against the government, on the fence and other matters. Speaking of courts: “The PLO put the victim on the stand” at the Hague (this is Meir talking). “We have a word for that–chutzpah.”

More Meir: “The European media–especially the BBC–say, ‘Wall, wall, wall.’” In point of fact, 3.8 percent of this “separation barrier” is wall, for special reasons. What the barrier does, explains Meir, is give the IDF precious time to respond to a suicider. (The fence is electronic–an intruder is detected.) Lives hang in the balance. In short, the purpose of the fence is to prevent irreversible events; the fence itself is reversible.

Another fun fact (if you will excuse the word “fun”): Barak, at Camp David, offered the PLO 95 percent of the territories; the fence, as it snakes now, leaves them 85. Again, that fence can be moved, or torn down altogether, should the happy day ever arrive when it is unnecessary.

Get this! The Russian foreign minister has just paid a visit to the region–and the PLO had the nerve to tell him, “In six months, there have been virtually no suicide bombings.” That’s because of the fence–and, besides, Israel has to stop many, many attempts, constantly. We return to that word: chutzpah.

Israel “pays a price for its democracy,” says Meir–in this country, a journalist is almost completely free of restrictions (he can’t poke around in the nuclear facility); in Palestinian-controlled zones . . . well, that control is total. A journalist better watch his back. This can create a freaky imbalance in the news out of the region.

Meir talks some more about the fence, and other security measures, and the hardship they impose on Israelis–as well as Palestinians–as they go about their daily lives. (We touched on this in yesterday’s installment.) But, despite being energetic complainers in general, Israelis don’t complain much about this, says Meir–and then he tells a joke.

This Russian emigrant comes to Israel, and he’s met by an official. Says the official, “Welcome to Israel!” “Thank you,” says the man. “How was Russia?” asks the official. “I can’t complain,” says the man. “How were you treated there?” “I can’t complain.” “Could you provide for your family?” “I can’t complain.” “Were you comfortable?” “I can’t complain.”

“Well, tell me,” says the official. “Why have you moved to Israel?” The man’s eyes get big and he says, “Here I can complain!”

Meir, a little more sober: “The other side can celebrate and exalt death”–their suiciders, their martyrs, and so on. That is a death cult. “But we have to go on with our lives. We can’t pause much over our losses, much as we grieve.” And some of the victims’ families think that the government–or society as a whole–really doesn’t do enough.

Back to the media: El Mundo, the Spanish paper, had a sympathetic–almost romantic–photo of a suicide bomber, together with a shot of his mournful, reflective father. The paper’s lead? “He [the bomber] died last Friday together with 19 young Israelis in a suicide attack in Tel Aviv.” Well, at least the 19 got a mention.

And then there was Jenin, that outrageous fraud. Our friend Saeb Erekat had gone on CNN to say that 520 Jenin residents had been killed, their bodies taken to the Jordan River to be dumped–also, the IDF had simply destroyed Jenin. The place no longer existed.

In truth, 7 percent of Jenin was destroyed (and for very good reason–this was a terror factory). And 56 Palestinians died, most of them terrorists. Israeli forces lost 23 of their own. Israeli losses would have been greatly minimized had they gone about their anti-terror business less “sensitively,” to use a word bitterly debated in America these days.

Meir shows a clip of a CNN correspondent talking about Jenin, subtly working in some Holocaust analogies. Disgusting. Of all the people who misreported Jenin, says Meir, only one apologized to his readers for misleading them: Phil Reeves of the Independent, who therefore should win some kind of award.

The Guardian, true to itself, compared Jenin to Sept. 11.

Meir touts a Canadian documentary called Jenin: Massacring Truth. Among those who don’t come out so well is that parody of a U.N. envoy, Terje Larson.

We are then treated to a kind of hit parade of journalistic horror: There’s the picture of the bleeding Israeli who had been saved from a mob by an IDF soldier–a picture represented all over as showing a brutalized Palestinian. (What’s in a caption?) And, most revoltingly, there’s the cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating–yes, eating–a Palestinian child. The prime minister is saying, “What’s wrong . . . You never seen a politician kissing babies before?” This lovely work won Britain’s Cartoon of the Year. The director of the society bestowing the award was asked what would happen if cartoonists drew similar images of Arab leaders. The man responded, with bracing honesty, that those cartoonists probably wouldn’t stay alive very long–fatwas and all.

‐Can we end on such a depressing note? No. Let me say a couple of things of a Biblical nature. (Yes, you read that right.) I am interested to learn that when Scripture speaks of a “land of milk and honey,” it does not refer to cow’s milk or what bees make–it refers to goat’s milk and honey from dates.

Also, a visit to the Holy Land can alter your conception of “wilderness.” When I was young–in our Midwest–”wilderness” meant to me vast, thick forests (as in Little House in the Big Woods). I did not think of desert–stark, bleak, nasty desert. That wonderful Biblical phrase “the waste howling wilderness” takes on real meaning in this land, as you can just hear the wind howling in that wasteland.

Well, that’s enough for one installment–see you tomorrow for Part IV?

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