Politics & Policy

Collapsing Temples in Gaza

Don't misread the Mideast.

Some 3,000 years ago, Samson brought down the Philistine temple in Gaza, and this month, Gaza stands a good chance of bringing down the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Israeli parliament members who oppose Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan–and/or the undemocratic way he and his new, left-wing allies are trying to impose it on the nation–plan to vote “no” on his budget. Under Israeli law, if the budget is not passed by March 31, the government falls and new elections must be held.

If that happens, it will come as a shock to most Americans, because they have been seduced by the happy talk of media Delilahs, here and in Israel, into believing that since Arafat’s death, Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere have embraced the idea of peace and democracy, and that only a small minority of Israeli fanatics oppose the retreat from Gaza. Both of these beliefs are patently false, and the pretense that what is happening in the Holy Land bears resemblance to the genuine peace and democracy movements struggling to be born in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran is proof that Samson was hardly the last man to be eyeless in Gaza.


Here, first, is the way Palestinian Arabs have manifested their alleged embrace of peace and democracy in the months since Mahmoud Abbas replaced Yasser Arafat. Abbas was elected last January 9 with 62 percent of the vote, but, as Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki clearly shows, this was not a vote against terror: Two thirds of Palestinians still see terror as an effective weapon, and they give all credit for Israel’s decision to withdraw from Gaza to the terrorists.

Hamas, the largest of the many Palestinian terrorist groups, boycotted the election, claiming it was based on the “illegal” Oslo “peace,” but they did field candidates in the municipal election for control of Gaza on January 27, winning 77 out of the 118 seats–a victory margin of 67 percent. This huge Palestinian terror majority makes no secret of the fact that they intend to drive Jews out of Israel and Americans out of the Middle East. They are closely allied with all the other terrorist groups in the region, and with all the terror-sponsoring states. During both Iraq wars, they marched in support of Saddam Hussein; today, they march for Syria, and for Hezbollah, along with allied Palestinian terror groups like Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the terror wing of Abbas’s own party, Fatah.

On March 11, there was a big pro-Syrian demonstration in Gaza. Thousands of armed, masked Palestinians waved Palestinian flags tied to Syrian and Lebanese ones. They burned American and Israeli flags, along with effigies of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, with the caption “You have no place here.” As usual, they all screamed “Death to America” and “Itbah al Yahud” (“Kill the Jews”), as well as “Yes, yes,” to Syria and Hezbollah.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the man our press keeps assuring us is “a moderate,” has made no move to disarm these men or the hundreds of thousands of others like them who form a majority of all Palestinians in the West Bank as well as Gaza. Instead, he proposes to integrate gunmen who are not already members of the Palestinian security forces into their ranks, arming and training them with huge new infusions of American and European cash.

Last week, Abbas sent a different message to the beleaguered minority of Palestinians who actually do want peace–those who try to thwart planned terrorist attacks by reporting them to Israeli authorities. Fifty-one Palestinians are currently under Palestinian death sentences, more than half of them for “collaborating” with Israel, but executions have been suspended since August 2002. On March 3, Abbas lifted the ban, ordering the execution of 15 of them this month.

This “progress” is more than enough to satisfy our road-map partners, but it is nowhere near enough to satisfy Palestinian gunmen. When Abbas tried to hold a meeting in Gaza last week, Islamic Jihad gunmen broke it up by surrounding the meeting hall and firing a hail of bullets into it. That sent Abbas and his cronies scurrying back to Ramallah in the West Bank. There, on March 10, Palestinian gunmen from Abbas’s own party–Fatah–followed suit: They broke up the meeting he tried to hold there, too, firing their guns and smashing windows and chairs. And of course, Kassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians in Gaza continue: There were two more last week, along with an automatic weapons attack in Hebron, wounding two Israelis, plus the bombing of a beachfront nightclub in Tel Aviv on February 25 that killed five and wounded 50. But for the vigilance of Israeli counterterrorism forces, there would have been many more.


So much for post-Arafat Palestinian peace-and-democracy lovers. How about that allegedly tiny, unrepresentative band of Israeli fanatics who oppose the Gaza withdrawal? In fact, a majority of Israelis may well be opposed; certainly, millions of them are, and the refusal of the Sharon government and its new allies in Israel’s old, Stalinist elite to allow their voices to be heard is tearing Israel apart, bringing it to the brink of civil war.

Opponents of the retreat from Gaza have mounted a series of ever-larger popular protests, in the capital and all across the country, drawing crowds as large, colorful and varied as the well-publicized ones in Lebanon. So far, despite many false, purple-prose accusations to the contrary, all of these demonstrations have been completely peaceful. Everyone who participates in them–from Uzi Landau, leader of the opposition in parliament, to the settlers themselves and all of the settlement leaders–has sworn, repeatedly, to respond to government force only with passive resistance, not with violence. A few of the Jews scheduled to be uprooted from their homes in Gaza are talking about the Masada option, but that involves suicide, not murder.

Significant as these protests are, they pale in comparison to the fact that today, for the first time in Israel’s modern history, there is a large-scale rebellion by members of the one institution that, heretofore, has truly unified the many diverse groups that make up the state of Israel: the Israeli Defense Forces. In the past, there have been small-scale publicity stunts by coddled, left-wing IDF elitists–not long ago, 500 of them signed a letter vowing to refuse orders to defend their fellow Israelis in “the territories”–but this is different. This time, 10,000 ordinary IDF men have signed a letter vowing to refuse to evict fellow Jews from Gaza, Judea or Samaria, and the number of signers is still growing. These men know that Jews have been driven from Gaza before: by Romans, Crusaders, the French, the Ottomans, Arab rioters in 1929, and the Egyptian army in 1948. But never before were they expelled by their fellow Jews, and 10,000 IDF men swear that they will not be the first to do so.

Sharon and his new allies in Israel’s old, left-wing elite–allies in Israel’s deeply flawed justice system and in the univocally left-wing Hebrew media–have responded with increasingly hysterical and draconian attempts to demonize the opposition and to criminalize legitimate dissent. Despite the absence of any violence on the right, the number of questionable “administrative detentions” is steadily growing, along with the number of indictments and threats of indictment for the Israeli crime of “incitement”–a crime with an ever-more vague and expansive definition. Sharon and his allies are establishing new, special courts with new, special rules, readying 900 new prison cells, and hiring 1,000 new policemen to cope with growing dissent now, and to forcibly evict Gaza’s 8,000 Jews from their homes, farms, schools and synagogues in June.


But the ranks of Israeli protesters are not confined to those whose primary attachment is to the land. They are swelled by the ranks of those who are committed to Israeli democracy, and feel that it is dying. To begin to understand the latter group, you have to start with the fact that Sharon never gave Israeli citizens a chance to vote on his withdrawal plan, and that he set his face against allowing them to register their opinions, even in a nonbinding national referendum.

Israelis did, however, have a chance to vote on a very similar Gaza withdrawal plan. It was offered by Sharon’s Left-wing opponent in the election of 2001, the election that put him in power. Sharon ran against it and, as a result, won by the biggest margin in Israel’s modern history. In office, he made a 180-degree turn and proposed a slightly different Gaza withdrawal plan. His would be a unilateral withdrawal, not one negotiated with the Palestinians in exchange for more peace promises that almost no one in Israel still believes. But the bottom line is the same: Israel is to relinquish forever its ancient, historic claim to Gaza, forcibly evict the 8,000 Jews who live there, and turn the land over to the Palestinians, a people who did not exist until 1964.

Sharon argues that this will make Israel safer by allowing Israel to disengage itself from all contact with the Palestinians. When the IDF chief of staff and the Shin Bet secret-service director said their evidence showed it would put Israel in greater jeopardy, Sharon dumped them both. When members of his cabinet said that in a democracy, he could not proceed with his plan without giving Israeli voters a say, he dumped them too. When his own conservative party, the Likud, said the same thing, he rejected all their appeals.

The result was a major split in the Likud, and the desertion of old allies from other parties, leaving Sharon without a majority in parliament, but he did not relent. Instead, he formed a new coalition with the left-wing party Israelis had rejected at the polls, the Labor party, and made longtime Labor politician Shimon Peres a virtual co-prime minister.

Peres is very popular in EU and U.N. circles, but he is one of the most deeply distrusted men in Israel, as evidenced by the fact that at 82, he has run for prime minister more often than any man in Israel’s history, but has never been elected to the post.

All this helps to explain the rising tide of rebellion in Israel, but to fully understand it, you have to see it in context, as Israelis do. The original land-giveaway plan, the so-called Oslo peace plan, is that context. Most thoughtful Americans know, now, that it was a catastrophic failure: More Israelis were murdered and maimed during the Oslo “peace” years than in all of Israel’s previous wars combined. What most Americans do not know is that this outcome was foreseen by the average Israeli man on the street.

There never was a Jewish majority in Israel for Oslo, and Israel’s Druse citizens rejected it too. Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor party was able to force it through parliament only because Israeli Arab members voted for it en bloc. When protesters argued that this was illegitimate, Israel’s monolithically left-wing Hebrew media branded them “racist,” insisting that Israeli Arabs are as much citizens of Israel as black Americans are of the United States.

In fact, they are not, and the comparison is a gross and gratuitous insult to black Americans. Black Americans fought, bravely, in every war this country ever had; Israeli Arabs, with only a handful of mainly Bedouin and Christian exceptions, have always refused to fight for Israel, and in every war, many of these “citizens” rooted, openly, for the enemy. Israeli Druse, on the other hand, serve in the military on the same basis as Israeli Jews; so, too, do Israel’s actual black citizens–the tens of thousands of black Jews who arrive half-starved from persecution in Ethiopia, and immediately insist, to a man, on standing proudly beside their brothers in arms in the IDF. Rabin’s tragic assassination–by a loner like Lee Harvey Oswald–and his subsequent elevation to something like sainthood, made these facts verboten in the media, but they are facts, nonetheless.

In Oslo days, the great, conservative Israeli majority–the three million Mizrahi Jews who are native to the Middle East and never left it, the one million Russian Jews who emigrated from the old Soviet Union in the last few decades, and religious Jews from all over the world, along with much smaller numbers of secular European and American-born conservatives–was overwhelmed by the tactics of the Israeli Left, and took the great betrayal of Israeli democracy lying down, for the most part. Today, millions are determined not to let that happen again.

Should Americans be dismayed if they succeed in making the Gaza withdrawal a dead letter, at least for the present? Natan Sharansky, President Bush’s favorite philosopher of democracy, thinks not. He thinks a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state is possible, someday, but that much more work must be done, and many more years must pass before that miraculous transformation takes place. In the meantime, it would be a bitter irony if we were to celebrate the birth of democracy in the wider Arab world by helping to destroy it in Israel in order to create a Palestinian terror state as hostile to American interests as it is to Israeli interests.

A Palestinian state would be hostile to Lebanese interests as well. In an event that politically correct historians, diplomats, and journalists have erased from their memory banks, but in fact, it was a sudden influx of Palestinians that terrorized Lebanon’s Christians, destabilized the country’s successful old religious balance, and precipitated the civil war that Syria used to justify its invasion and its brutal, ongoing occupation. These Palestinians are still there, in “refugee” camps Lebanese police and soldiers dare not enter. Some of them have slipped across the border to fight us in Iraq, and to bomb and behead Iraqis who are fighting for their freedom. The rest await a signal from their masters in Syria and Iran to join with their old allies in Hezbollah to smash the hope of freedom so movingly displayed by Lebanese Christians, Sunnis, Druse, and even a few Shiites who are brave enough to defy the watching Hezbollah goons.

Barbara Lerner is a frequent NRO contributor.


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