May 30, 2002
To hear some of Israels supporters, if you
think the United States should stop meddling in the Middle East you must
want to see Israel and the Jews exterminated. This is an accusation, not
an argument. It denies the possibility of a middle ground. You must favor
one bloody extreme or the other.
To hear some of
Israels critics, on the other hand, Israel is the worst tyranny in
recent history. Have they already forgotten Maos China, Pol
Pots Cambodia, and Idi Amins Uganda? How about
Castros Cuba, or Mugabes Zimbabwe?
For all its sins, Israel
hasnt even approached these monstrosities. During its recent
crackdown on the West Bank, which was brutal enough, we heard words
like genocide and massacre, which turned out to be wild
exaggerations. True criticism requires a sense of proportion, not unbridled
My own view is not
that Israel is evil, but that its a dangerous ally for the United
States. September 11 proved that. It was confirmed by the absurd Israeli
reaction, which was to insist at once that the terrorist attack had nothing
to do with Israel. If that were so, why would it even be necessary to say
details are more telling than the stories that make headlines. To my mind,
one such detail is the Israeli harassment of Palestinians at West Bank
security checkpoints, where ambulances are often deliberately delayed for
hours by Jewish soldiers. Several Arab women in labor have lost their
babies as a result. One lost twins. Another was actually shot by a soldier,
but somehow survived and delivered a live child.
Stopping women in
labor from reaching hospitals! Such cruelty is hard to imagine. Most people
couldnt bear to treat an animal like that. But for the Israelis it
seems to be not an excess but a policy. I havent
heard of any official apologies or punishment of the soldiers.
things were being reported long before the recent wave of Palestinian
terrorism in relatively normal times. They dont make
headlines; they are routine. But they help explain Palestinian fury.
They are unnecessary
to Israels professed goals and the values Israelis
are said to share with Americans: democracy, freedom, and so forth. But
they may be necessary to a darker, unacknowledged goal: making life in
Greater Israel unbearable for the Arabs. To Americans,
democracy means majority rule with protection for minorities; to Israelis
it means something radically different. What it does mean is all too clear
in the daily experience of the Palestinians, in details of life that make
little impression on outsiders.
Letting babies die at
birth should especially concern Israels conservative, pro-life Christian backers in this country; but it doesnt seem to
merit their attention in the way Chinas forced late-term abortions
once did. Many of the Arabs, after all, are Christians too; but apparently
they are the wrong kind of Christians, since some American Christians
refer to them as Christians in derisive quotation marks,
when they are forced to notice them at all. It seems that these Arabs are
mostly Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, rather than true
Bible Christians. No compassion for them!
international outcry if any regime physically prevented Jewish women in
labor from reaching hospitals! Nobody would dare defend such a practice,
even if he were nasty enough to like it. But it certainly wouldnt be
ignored, or passed over in silence.
In my youth Id
heard all about the German concentration camps, but Ill never
forget my shock many years ago when I noticed that the sweet old Jewish
woman at the local deli had a number tattooed on her wrist. I tried to
picture her experience: I wondered what sort of man could make a living
coolly tattooing numbers on young girls.
In the same way, I
wonder what sort of man can bear to stop a screaming woman from
getting medical care. Wouldnt anyones natural and
overpowering impulse be to rush the ambulance along? In the presence of
agony, even a bigot should forget his animosities.
As atrocities go, this
may seem a small one. Its not nearly as bad as planting a bomb in a
crowded restaurant, let alone flying a jet into a skyscraper. But it tells us
something unnerving about what kind of allies we have gotten ourselves
mixed up with, and are being held responsible for.