It’s been a week of death and foreboding. Israel is on the verge of a three-front war: against the Palestinians, against Iraq and against itself.
While 13 Israelis are sitting shiva after Monday’s bus bombing, the rest of the country is debating the violent settler resistance against soldiers closing down the illegal settlement of Havat Gilad — illegal not only by international standards but by Israel’s.
There’s a unity government but not much unity elsewhere. A front-page headline in Maariv (Oct. 21) had Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warning, “We Cannot Sink To Civil War Among Jews.”
In that same Maariv, Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said of the settlers, “I will not give in to thugs and dreamers.”
Israelis agree. A Globes/Smith survey (Oct. 20) published in all the Israeli
papers found that 59 percent believe illegally occupied outposts in the West Bank should be removed; 32 percent said they should not. The settlers’ violent resistance prompted several Israeli editorials to connect the dots back to the Rabin assassination (observed last week on the Jewish calendar).
Yediot Achronot (Oct. 21) said, “Those who start by throwing stones at police and soldiers will one day pull out a gun.” What these settlers did against the army “has been done daily in the territories for a long time. But it didn’t interest anyone, since it was lawbreaking against Arabs. They shoot at [Arab] olive pickers, pollute water wells with sewage, and run riot in a village, and the law shuts its eyes.” Now, “the golem has risen up against its creator.”
But if the Rabin era prompted Israeli introspection over incendiary language from the right and settlers’ camps, now there is enough verbal incineration to scorch every camp. The settlers seem to know it. Israel Radio (Oct. 21) quoted Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, a settler spokesman: “We, the settlers, also have to do some soul searching.” Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg of the Labor Party called the settler resistance “an Israeli Hamas.”
“The settlements,” said Haaretz (Oct. 21), “have been disastrous for Israel, and they indeed are the main obstacles to a peace agreement. … The time has come to put them in their place and finally overcome the fear of the thugs.”
The only criticism in the Israel papers stemmed from the transporting of the Israeli soldiers to Gilad before Shabbat ended. Maariv (Oct. 20) said that was “unnecessary and stupid … IDF commanders must not cause the Sabbath to be desecrated, especially by religious soldiers, via deceit.”
Some Maariv columnists disagreed. “Let’s face it,” said Yair Lapid, “there’s plenty of unnecessary Sabbath desecration in the territories. It happens every time the IDF protects some moonstruck gang that insists on going to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, every time that hotheads run riot in Hebron and Border Patrol units have to protect them.”
Chemi Shalev in Maariv (Oct. 21) argued, however, that “after six years of outpost expansion, including 18 months under Ben-Eliezer’s own baton, it is difficult to understand how the outposts overnight turned into a clear and present danger. The defense minister can say it was meant to ‘save lives,’ but a more appropriate description would be to save the Labor Party primaries … which stink of political opportunism.”
Maybe so, said The Jerusalem Post (Oct. 21), but “Why is political influence in favor of settlements kosher, while political winds in the other direction are not?”
Hatzofeh (Oct. 21) said Ben-Eliezer ignored “3,000 illegally built Arab structures throughout Judea and Samaria.” To only attack the Jewish illegal outposts is a “discriminatory and racist policy.” Akiva Eldar in Haaretz (Oct. 22) added that there are more than 600 instances of illegal Arab housing in Jerusalem itself.
Meanwhile, the European Union is reminding Israel that all Jewish settlements, even parts of Jerusalem, are illegal. The Associated Press (Oct. 21) reported that the EU has temporarily delayed but is planning tariff penalties on the Jewish products of East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan and Gaza, maintaining that the EU trade agreement with Israel only includes Israel proper.
Jay Nordlinger in the National Review Online (Oct. 21) said the problem is indeed Israel proper. One German furniture company, he reported, now affixes a tag on an export, “We herewith confirm that [the] above-mentioned goods are not of Israeli origin, nor do they contain to any degree Israeli components, nor have they been imported from Israel,” any part of Israel.
The Jordan Times (Oct. 21) said economic sanctions “may have a better chance [to succeed] when started in America itself,” such as the divestment movements at more than 20 American universities, because “the highly educated Americans will encourage others to follow suit.”
The looming war with Iraq and the meandering war with the Palestinians have earned Sharon poor grades in Israeli papers. Yediot (Oct. 13) said Sharon’s government has “proven that it has no policy which will lead to either a vigorous war on terror or a diplomatic solution.”
Ominous headlines cascade by the day. From Yediot (Oct. 8): “Tel Aviv Not Prepared For War”; and (Oct. 10), “80 Percent of Gas Mask Kits For Very Young Children Not in Full Working Order.”
And Maariv (Sept. 17): “Mass Gravesite in [Ramat Gan] National Park,” noting plans to bury Jews killed in an Iraq war.
Jane’s Security News (Oct. 2) found it “terrifying” that 70 percent of Israelis are willing to use nuclear weapons if it was a matter of saving Israel’s existence. Two days later, a Jerusalem Post poll found that 60 percent of Israelis believe that their country already is fighting for its existence.
Even before the bus bombing, Haaretz (Sep. 29) said there was no lull, “suicide bombers [were being] dispatched every five days.” But that very same day, Hatzofeh reported the government agreed to allow 33,000 Palestinian workers to enter Israel from the West Bank and Gaza.
A Jerusalem Post editorial (Oct. 22) asked, why is Israel satisfied with “a temporary lull in successful attacks, rather than an end to attempted attacks?” Did a lull mean an end to war? “Who are we kidding … when we release millions of shekels in seized PA tax revenue,” referring to U.S. pressure on Israel to hand to the Palestinian Authority 2 billion shekels — more than $400 million — in Palestinian assets that were frozen when the war began.
While Israel is arguing about sending the Palestinians money, the Palestinians are willing to send Israel money, at least to one Israeli. Maariv (Oct. 7) said Amram Mitzna, a Labor party candidate for prime minister, “confirms that he received a financial aid offer from Palestinians.”