Tomorrow, September 28, is the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the so-called Second or Al-Aqsa Intifada, the wave of Palestinian terrorism that left thousands dead and pretty much killed off Israelis’ faith in the possibility of peace with the Palestinians. Two surprising and very important articles appeared in the Israeli press today to mark the occasion.
One, on the Ynet website, is an op-ed essay by Sever Plocker (pronounced “Plotzker”), Yediot Ahronot’s widely respected and devoutly centrist economics editor and senior political commentator. It’s titled “The great national test: A decade after second Palestinian Intifada, Israel approaching fateful decisions.” The other piece is a brief story in the Jerusalem Post giving the total number of people who died in the conflict in the decade now ending. The Post relays the numbers, without comment, from a new report issued today by B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization.
The second Intifada hardened Israel in the face of terror attacks and boosted Hamas, but did not take away the basic willingness of the majority of Israelis to withdraw from most of the territories in exchange for a diplomatic-security agreement.There is no doubt that U.S. President Barack Obama referred to the lessons of the second Intifada last week when he addressed the Palestinians in his clearly Zionistic speech (“Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people”) at the UN General Assembly, telling them that their rights can only be realized in peaceful ways, via genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.In that same speech, Obama designated the attainment of Israeli-Arab peace as his top global objective. An urgent, burning mission. This means that Israel is approaching fateful decisions; among the most fateful in its history.How ready are we for these decisions? Are we even interested in them? Karl Vick, the Israel correspondent for Time Magazine, captured the current Israeli mood in a cover story published two weeks ago under the headline “Why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” His answer: Israelis don’t care because they live well, surrounded by happiness and wealth, within a growing economy, with a rising standard of living, a strong currency, and lively culture.
Two points to note. First, Plocker’s casual reference to that September 13 Time cover story about Israelis and peace. The story has been slammed from here to Yenemsvelt as an anti-Semitic blood libel. Plocker mentions it as a pretty fair description of the way things are.
Second, Plocker believes Netanyahu is serious about reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians:
Israelis have repressed the issue of peace deep into their unconsciousness. However, the repression is nearing its end. The wake-up call is at our doorstep.You can ask Bibi Netanyahu about it. The prime minister, who has managed to build rare chemistry with the U.S. president, has grown serious and grim, and stopped dealing with nonsense such as bureaucratic renovation laws which he focused on earlier; his face conveys immense responsibility and intense deliberation. The horror of the great national test has taken hold of Netanyahu. Soon, it shall take hold of all of us.
Plocker gets to watch these things from up close, so he’s worth listening to.
His treatment of the Time article, though, is the real shocker. Everyone from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to the Aish HaTorah outreach yeshiva and feminist scholar Phyllis Chesler (writing on the pro-setter Arutz Sheva-Israel National News website) has attacked the article as a slander and a scandal.
And now comes one of Israel’s most cautious, sober journalists and cites the article as right on point.
Actually, what Time said wasn’t even new or shocking to anyone who’s spoken to a real live Israeli in the last five years or so. Newsweek carried an almost identical story this past January. Fortune magazine reported it all the way back in June 2005. Israelis themselves have been saying the same thing for years: There’s no point in trying to negotiate peace with the Arabs, either because it always backfires, or because the Arabs are bunch of bums and you can’t trust them, or because, as Time reports, things are fine the way they are and nobody believes it’ll get better.
The difference between the Time piece and all the others was that Time had it on the cover, so everybody saw it, and it makes Israel look bad. It’s true, as Andy Silow-Carroll points out in the New Jersey Jewish News, that the Time cover had a very unfortunate headline. It’s not that the Israelis in the story don’t care about peace — what they’ve lost interest in is the peace process. The process has let them down too many times before. The story inside the magazine made that clear. The headline might have been clumsy or it might have been knowingly snide, but that’s no reason to go on the warpath about anti-Semitism and blood libel. That’s how you lose credibility.
It’s also true that an influential minority of Israelis yearn for peace in the sense that they wish they weren’t getting shot at, but they don’t want to change any Israeli behavior to achieve that because they believe they’re entitled to the entire land and reject the idea of sharing it. It’s not enough to say you want something—you have to want it enough to do something about it. As the Psalmist said, Seek peace and pursue it. Or, to quote Hillel the Elder, Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing it [emphasis mine].
Speaking of misleading headlines, the Jerusalem Post published an account today of a new report totaling the number of persons killed in the conflict in that decade. The headline: “B’Tselem: Since 2000, 7,454 Israelis, Palestinians killed.”
Here’s the sub-headline: “According to human rights group report, 6,371 Palestinian, 1,083 Israeli causalities during armed conflict in last 10 years.”
It’s funny how differently the headline and the subhead sound. If you were just scanning headlines, as most of us do, you might not realize how lopsided the two numbers are.
Of course, if you read both headlines, a moment’s reflection would remind you that it was Israel that was under attack by the Palestinians and not the other way around. That puts the issue in an entirely different light.
Then again, if you kept reading, the picture might turn around again:
According to the report, 1,317 of the 6,371 Palestinians were minors, at least 2,996 of them did not take part in fighting when they died and 2,193 died while they participated in fighting. B’Tselem said it was unaware whether 694 of the Palestinians did or did not take part in fighting. Two-hundred and forty-eight were Palestinian police officers who died in Operation Cast Lead and 240 were targets of assassination.
That might not be clear. Here’s how the 6,371 Palestinian deaths break down: 2,996 (47%) were not participating in fighting, 2,193 (34.4%) were participating and 694 (10.9%) had unknown status. The remaining 8.7% were Palestinian police officers and targeted killings by Israeli security forces.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).