Changing the Game, or More of the Same?

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published December 31, 2008, issue of January 09, 2009.
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Here’s the context: A few days after the Thanksgiving holiday, at a party he attended reluctantly, he met and chatted up a young woman. Somewhat to his surprise, she gave him her phone number. A few days later, he called her and arranged a dinner date for December 28. Having asked around about her, he’d learned, among other things, that she was an ardent Zionist. Determined to make a terrific impression, he figured he’d best bone up on Israel, about which he knew virtually nothing. So he started following news reports, of which there were quite a few. Thus primed, he picked her up on the 28th and headed to one of his favorite restaurants, where they had the following exchange:

He: “Some weekend, huh? The Israelis really let Hamas have it.”

She: “It’s horrible. It’s so endless, so needless, so pointless.”

He: “Well, maybe this time Hamas will learn its lesson. They can’t just shell Israel day-in, day-out and expect the Israelis to swallow. I mean, what’s Israel supposed to do?”

She: “Yeah. That’s the official line. ‘We had no choice.’ That’s what they always say.”

He: “I don’t understand. I thought you were a Zionist. Are you saying Israel did have a choice? What kind of choice? There were more than 300 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza into Israel in just this last week, almost 3,000 in the last year. The Israelis warned Hamas over and over, and Hamas did nothing to control the firing. You can’t seriously believe that Israel didn’t have the right to respond?”

She: “I’ll tell you what I think. If you tuned in a week ago, or a month ago, then for sure you’re right. Tactically, the Israelis had to do what they did. No country can allow its citizens to be threatened every day by rockets. But if you tuned in five years ago or, better yet, 20 years ago, which I was too young to do — but I’ve read the history — or better yet 40 years ago, before you and I were born, well, then it’s a very different story. You’re looking at one month in a story that’s been going on for 487 months; you’re looking at one droplet in an ongoing tsunami. Look just at the droplet, and Israel’s totally right; look at the tsunami, and nobody’s blameless. Forty-one years of missed opportunities, of terror and misery, of reciprocal stupidity, of random killing and purposeful killing and collateral killing, of dead kids and dead women and dead flowers and dead hopes.

“You know what? Hamas was co-founded in 1987 by Ahmed Yassin, a quadriplegic who spent his paralyzed life confined to a wheelchair and guiding what he called ‘the armed resistance’ against Israel — the Qassam rockets, the suicide bombings, the whole rotten bloodletting. By the time the Israelis assassinated him in 2004, he was nearly blind. But they’re all half-blind, they’re all paralyzed.

“And yes, dammit, I am a Zionist. I hope and I pray and I sort of expect that my kids will be Zionists, too, and their kids as well. But my God, I am so afraid of how they will react when they watch the documentaries that tell the whole truth about these days, about these years. Can anyone seriously believe that today’s attacks will solve anything? So maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a renewed cease-fire. Excuse me, but that’s not a solution, it’s a respite. You think during their time-out people will come to their senses, decide there’s a better way? C’mon, give me one shred of evidence, one precedent that justifies your thinking that.

“But let’s be clear about one thing: I want a Jewish state. I want a democratic Jewish state. I want a democratic Jewish state that is safe, that is at peace with its neighbors. It’s just that I don’t think Israel’s leaders have a clue as to how to get there, any more than I think the Palestinians do.”

He: “Alright, enough. Let’s say I agree with everything you’ve said. But what you haven’t said is what you would do.”

She: “I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask. If you put the question that way, then Israel’s action makes perfect sense. Hamas fires rockets on Friday, Israel bombs on Saturday and Sunday. Logical. But my grandmother used to say, ‘Beware of logical conclusions that don’t make sense.’ The question you need to ask is how to put an end to the miserable reality, how you can change the rules of the game. What Israel is doing now is just an enhanced version of its standard response — more planes, more bombs, bigger bombs. What’s the end game? What’s the strategy?”

He: “Funny you put it that way. That’s exactly what Ehud Barak said in his interview with Fox News — ‘Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game.’”

She: “I’m impressed; you’re really up on this stuff. But I don’t think Barak and I are talking about the same game. He wants a longer cease-fire and no more rockets and no more tunnels for smuggling in weapons and explosives. But look what’s bound to happen: Israel bombed the best targets in what it calls its ‘target bank’ on the first day, and by the third or fourth day it’ll be bombing sub-prime targets, and there’ll be more and more dead and wounded bystanders, and Fatah won’t be able to maintain its dialogue with Israel, and the new law and order in Jenin will fall apart, and every ounce of benefit Israel may wring from all this will be buried under a ton of new anger, new hatred.”

He: “Wow! I didn’t know a Zionist could talk this way. How about another drink? How about New Year’s Eve?”


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