Eitan Ronel, a retired lieutenant colonel, returned his rank insignia to the Israeli army chief of staff this week, along with a letter full of bitterness. “Human life has lost its worth and values we were raised on, such as purity of arms, have become a bad joke,” he wrote.
Ronel’s protest over the army’s conduct in the territories is not the first and won’t be the last. The reserve pilots, the Sayeret Matkal commandos and the 12th-graders got there before him. Before them, there were the four Shin Bet security agency chiefs and the former head of the Mossad. On top of that, we’ve got B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and Gush Shalom (“Peace Bloc”), plus the Yossi Beilins and the Yossi Sarids and the Avraham Burgs, who are big on peace with the Palestinians and feel their pain. We have committees of inquiry investigating how and why Palestinian women and children were killed in this or that operation. We have a Supreme Court to which every Palestinian can appeal. We have a media that will not allow the least injustice or wrong to slip by. We have columnists whose hearts ache along with the Palestinians.
What I would like to know is why there is no one on the other side crying out against the Palestinian Authority’s policy of hatred and bloodshed. Where is their B’Tselem? Where are the Palestinian refuseniks who object to the murder of women and children?
How come, when civilians are accidentally killed in one of our military operations, everyone clamors right away for an investigation, while their suicide bombers have no qualms about boarding a bus packed with children or entering a crowded restaurant and blowing themselves up, fully aware of who they are taking with them? Not only are they not denounced, but their families are treated with respect and showered with perks and pensions.
While we quarrel bitterly over ways to resolve the conflict, the Palestinian government has only one way, and it begins and ends with violence. The Palestinians imbibe hatred of Israel with their mothers’ milk. From childhood, they are taught that the Jews must die.
In their textbooks, it doesn’t say, of course, that the ones who stole their rights were the Arab countries, who invaded the land earmarked for them in the United Nations partition plan when they attacked in 1948. It doesn’t say that they were liberated from Arab occupation only in 1967 — by Israel. Actually, it’s been easier for them to push for an independent state under Israeli control than it would ever have been under Jordanian-Egyptian rule.
Whenever a truly historic moment arises — the Oslo accords, the Clinton-Barak initiative — that’s when they go on a spree of suicide bombings in the heart of Israeli population centers. The Palestinians have crossed all the red lines. They have turned Israeli peaceniks into radicals, rousing them into angry rebellion against what is happening around them. But while we respond, while we torture ourselves, while we keep asking ourselves every second if we haven’t gone overboard and maybe it’s time to stop, the Palestinians have never shown the slightest regret over any attack, no matter how massive, no matter how cruel.
Instead of the Palestinian Authority keeping Hamas in check, it is Hamas that sets the tone. Even in times of grief and pain, the two peoples are poles apart. When we bury our dead, we weep quietly at the graveside. For them, every funeral becomes a raucous demonstration of hatred and incitement against Israel.
Israeli society is mired in gritty debate. The government is being criticized for not doing enough to end the conflict. Before the intifadas, there were signs that coexistence was possible. Tens of thousands of Israelis flocked to the territories — to have their teeth fixed, to have their cars repaired, to do their food shopping. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians worked in Israel proper.
Today, the only contact is via the barrel of a gun, the army checkpoint, the helicopter gunship, the Qassam rocket and the explosive belt. The Israeli army reprisal attacks in the territories may be brutal, but there are also people who feel sorry for the Palestinians’ bitter lot.
Here one finds anger mixed with compassion; there, one finds anger mixed with loathing. Below the surface in Israel, hopes for peace continue to rumble. For them, hatred is total and blinding. Here they are with President Bush’s road map staring them in the face, promising them a state of their own, yet they won’t do the one thing that will open the gate: dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Abu Mazen was ousted as Palestinian prime minister and his successor Abu Ala will follow the orders of Arafat, who knows no other way but terror.
It is not a fence that will change things but tearing down the wall of hatred that the Palestinians have built between the two peoples.
Yoel Marcus is a lead columnist for Ha’aretz, www.haaretzdaily.com, where this article originally appeared.