Jenin as metaphor

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Consider the facts as Israel understands them. The world’s top terrorist base for suicide bombers was located in the single square kilometer of the Jenin refugee camp, where the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, supported by Iran and Syria, was dominant. At least 20 of the recent suicide bombers who deliberately attacked Israeli civilians inside Israel came from this base. When Israel attacked it, its defenders strapped on explosive vests and booby-trapped homes and narrow lanes, taking a considerable toll in Israeli soldiers’ lives.

The Israel Defense Forces weighed and rejected the obvious, “American” option, of simply bombing the entire camp into oblivion. Instead, they repeatedly called upon civilians to leave. Eventually, to deal with the terrorist holdouts, the IDF bulldozed about 100 buildings in the center of the camp, leaving booby-trapped bodies under the rubble. Yes, tragically, some civilians were killed. Yes, widespread infrastructure damage was inevitably caused. No, the IDF did not deliberately target innocent civilians. It fought a just war.

Now Israel is accused worldwide of a “massacre.” The accusation feeds widespread comparisons between the Holocaust and the Israeli military operation in the West Bank. Europeans are weighing a variety of sanctions. Italian leftists march in Rome dressed approvingly as suicide bombers. The United Nations has decided to investigate.

Why are we singled out and falsely accused? Why the world’s double standard? Why is legitimate– and needed–criticism of Israel so devalued by these calumnies?

Some of the answers are obvious, and relate to Israeli mistakes and misdeeds. There is nothing here to justify accusations of holocaust and massacres. Nevertheless, there are some indefensible positions that render it easier to criticize Israel. For example, the ongoing and anachronistic occupation of most of the West Bank and Gaza, and expansion and fortification of settlements that constitute a key provocation in the eyes of Palestinians, many Israelis, and all of the world. Or the systematic loss of credibility, since this Intifada started, of the IDF Spokesman, who has rarely if ever been able or willing to explain acts of humiliation and dehumanization of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at roadblocks. Or the needless delay in allowing journalists into the Jenin camp. Or the simple fact that the current Israeli government has no realistic strategy for peace to accompany, and put into perspective, its justified determination to stamp out terrorist bases like Jenin. Or the counterproductive siege of Arafat’s headquarters.

Or the clumsy attempts by some Israeli spokespersons to borrow the metaphors of September 11 (“Arafat is our bin Laden”) and to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as if it did not have political and human dimensions that require political and human solutions. These render it more difficult rather than easier for Israel to convey the horror of suicide bombings to world opinion–although it must be noted, with gratitude, that the United States administration and public have by and large remained supportive of Israel.

Some of the answers should be obvious, but seemingly are not. Israel’s hard-line supporters in the US, mainly Jewish and fundamentalist Christian organizations, make the mistake of lobbying on the basis of an “Israel can do no wrong” position that ultimately damages Israel’s credibility even further. Israel’s military campaign has in some ways played into the hands of a Palestinian strategy designed to internationalize the conflict, regardless of the cost in Palestinian lives and well-being.

Some of the answers reflect objective realities that even the most talented Israeli spokesperson has difficulty dealing with. We are the occupier; the Palestinians are the occupied, fighting a war of liberation. We have tanks and attack helicopters, their only weapon is themselves. As the underdog, they are permitted to smuggle weapons and suicide bombers in ambulances, but we may not shoot at ambulances. In short, no matter what we do, they look far more appealing to an otherwise neutral TV audience in a 20 second clip, which is what public diplomacy has been reduced to these days. And where the audience is by definition not neutral–when satellite stations like al-Jezira enter the homes of 200 million Arabs–we don’t have a chance.

Finally, and most significantly, some of the answers are extremely disturbing. The Muslim world is being systematically indoctrinated with anti- Semitic diatribes by Islamic extremists. Europe caters to the millions of Muslims on its electoral lists and nurtures its own legacy of anti- Semitism. The Europeans are particularly frightened of the shock waves emanating from potential instability in Morocco and elsewhere in the Maghreb. Some European leftists now appear to be adopting Yasir Arafat, who is by any objective standard a terrorist murderer and a pathological liar, the way they worshiped the mass murderer Mao Tze Tung 30 years ago.

As Oriani Fallaci, often a harsh critic of Israel, put it on April 12, all this is “much more grim and revolting because it is conducted and nourished by those who hypocritically pose as do- gooders, progressives, communists, pacifists, Catholics.”

Twenty-first-century anti-Semitism is being directed not just against synagogues in Tunisia and Europe, but against the Jewish state itself. Absolutely nothing Israel has done could conceivably justify this phenomenon. This is the most alarming truth of the current campaign against Israel.

Yossi Alpher is the author of the forthcoming book “And the Wolf Shall Dwell with the Wolf: The Settlers and the Palestinians.”

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