Last week I received a note from an old friend, the writer Stephen Vizinczey. It came in response to one of my columns dealing (among other things) with Israel's security fence. The United Nations had recently condemned Israel for building a wall to keep out terrorists. Canada voted with the majority. I wrote that condemning a country for trying to protect its commuters, shoppers, or restaurant patrons from being ambushed, maimed, and murdered is standing morality on its head.
"I watched a documentary about Palestinian orchards destroyed to build the wall on the family's farm, with children, women crying," Vizinczey wrote from London. "You cannot say that destroying these people's livelihood is all right because of Hezbollah or Arafat or whoever. What could those people do about any of it?"
My friend, the author of such bestsellers as In Praise of Older Women and An Innocent Millionaire, isn't anti-Israeli, let alone anti-Semitic. His father, a schoolteacher, was murdered by the Nazis. Vizinczey has no soft spot for terrorists; he simply feels that ruining some Palestinian fruit farmers will not enhance Israel's security. "If you take away their farms," he asks in his note, "what will they do?"
Vizinczey's views are shared by a substantial minority of Israelis. They include Lieutenant-General Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli army's chief of staff. The general has reportedly infuriated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz in recent weeks by publicly questioning Israel's tough policies in the West Bank and Gaza, including the security wall. Lt.-Gen. Yaalon is concerned that such policies will aggravate Palestinian hatred and drive ordinary people into the arms of the terrorists. He all but poses the same question as Vizinczey: "If you take away their farms, what will they do?"
Many Jews have become ultra-sensitive about any criticism of Israel, for excellent reasons. Anti-Semitism, either undisguised or thinly disguised as anti-Zionism, has turned from a trickle into a flood in recent years. It's important to retain perspective, though. Vizinczey and Lt.-Gen. Yaalon illustrate that it's possible for people to disagree with Israeli government policy without being anti-Semitic or even anti-Israeli. Whether they're non-Jewish observers like my friend, or active Jewish defenders of Israel like the army's chief of staff, dissenters deserve to be heard without having their motives questioned. But while it's possible for dissenters to be honest, it's equally possible for honest dissenters to be wrong -- as I believe both Vizinczey and Lt.-Gen. Yaalon are in this instance.
The views of credulous and impressionable people are shaped by the last image that flashes across their TV screens, but news clips or documentaries make an impact even on analytically minded skeptics. Vizinczey is no exception, and neither am I. If my friend's views are influenced by TV images of the crying family of a fruit farmer, mine have been influenced by TV images of the grieving family of an Israeli teenager.
The Palestinian fruit farmer's wife and children are crying because, under the policies of the Sharon government, their orchard is being destroyed to make room for Israel's security wall. The Israeli teenager's parents are grieving because their son has just been killed by a suicide bomber. The date of that news clip is 2000. There's no Sharon administration yet, no tough measures, no security wall. There's only Ehud Barak in the Israeli prime minister's office, pursuing the most conciliatory policies.
Mr. Barak -- the man described by the BBC's Gerald Butt as "a dream come true" for those voters "who admired and supported the late Yitzhak Rabin" -- did none of the things during his tenure as prime minister that Lt.-Gen. Yaalon is now cautioning Israel's government about. On the contrary. Between 1999 and 2001 he attempted most of the things my friend Vizinczey would recommend. He did so to no avail. The violence continued. It was only after two years and a civilian death toll of more 370, including the teenager in the news clip, that Israel's voters turned to Mr. Sharon.
The belief that Mr. Sharon's intransigence has been fuelling suicide bombers is an illusion. The truth is the opposite: It has been the intransigence of terrorists that has brought Mr. Sharon to power.
Peace eludes the region because the Arab (and Muslim) world cannot come to terms with Israel's existence. Whether or not Arabs are justified in their rejection of the Jewish state may be disputed, but the fact of their rejection is beyond dispute.
The liberal fantasy of Yasser Arafat as "a partner for peace" with Israel has been farcical all along. Mr. Arafat himself has only occasionally bothered to hide his ultimate aim, which he described in a 1972 conversation with the Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci: "Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else."
Mr. Arafat and his colleagues may have changed their tactics in the intervening years, but there's no evidence that they've changed their strategy. Mr. Barak's failed attempts at concessions illustrate this convincingly. It's futile to make concessions to someone who isn't interested in the deal itself. The devil for such a person isn't in the details, but in the whole. It isn't a Jewish Jerusalem that is anathema to Mr. Arafat, but a Jewish Tel Aviv.
This is the reality of the Middle East. It doesn't make Mr. Sharon's government immune to criticism. Questioning the wisdom or utility of a defensive measure, as Vizinczey or Lt.-Gen. Yaalon are doing, is one thing. Condemning Israel, as Canada did in the UN, is quite another. A country cannot be condemned for trying to wall out terrorists.
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