Flunking With Flying Colors: Failing the Moral Test of Our Times

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The Middle East crisis offers the world an ethical litmus test for our generation in a variety of historic ways. Legitimate arguments can arise about the proper borders between Israel and the proposed independent state of Palestine — no doubt an eventual autonomous realm of somewhere between 92 percent and 97 percent of the present West Bank.

Yet if simple land and the idea of a self-governed West Bank nation were the primary points of contention then the dispute would have been settled long ago through reasoned negotiations. Israel, after all, for the first third of its 60-year struggle had nothing to do with those on the West Bank; and for the last four decades has offered them independence in exchange for recognition, peace, and normalization.

Instead, there is clear asymmetry in the conflict that even transcends the wealth and power of Israel and the relative poverty and impotence of Palestine — and also goes beyond the historical quagmire of two warring peoples juxtaposed a few miles apart. The fault line really is increasingly a moral one, and it should be evident to almost any sane observer. The government of Israel is legitimate and consensual. Thus it is far more likely to enforce agreements than its antagonists in Palestine.

Palestine, in contrast, is a Potemkin democracy, with the sham facade of elections and republicanism but the dreary reality of an uninterrupted dictatorship since its inception under the Oslo accords. Arafat’s initial election was rigged and the absence since then of a real opposition, parliamentary debate, and an independent judiciary proves that — along with the creation of a corrupt clique of hangers-on and often-murderous sycophants. The nature of the Palestinian Authority in and of itself lies at the heart of the entire crisis. Of course, there are sober and responsible leaders in Palestine, but they have no chance to come to the fore through a democratic and legitimate process.

Because there is an opposition and a free media in Israel, Mr. Sharon’s policies are the subject of constant scrutiny and debate — again not so with Mr. Arafat’s. When an Israeli missile goes astray and kills civilians, an elected government apologizes and the military undertakes an investigation; meanwhile the opposition party gears up to capitalize on such a blunder.

In contrast, when Palestinian murderers butcher innocent civilians in a university, 10,000 turn out in the street to cheer, and a variety of groups claim credit — all either ignored or tacitly condoned by the Palestinian authority. Imagine the world’s reaction if Jews had deliberately blown up dozens of young Palestinian students as they ate in their school cafeteria, prompting a mass demonstration of Israeli glee in streets of Tel-Aviv.

It is popular for the Palestinians to claim that the American-supplied Apaches and F-16s of the Israelis are terrorist weapons, because when the IDF hunts down suicide-murderers collateral damage and unintended death often occurs. But destruction that is the accidental byproduct of rooting out murderers is not the same as intentionally targeting innocent civilians. That key distinction should be recognized by the world community also as one of the key moral tests of our era — as we should have learned from September 11 and its aftermath in Afghanistan.

There are a variety of other macabre differences that are now apparent as well. The mothers of Israeli pilots do not chant hymns of praise and give ecstatic interviews to the world press when they learn that their sons have bombed a residential house and by mistake killed women and children. Not so with the mothers of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. For nearly two years now we have seen family members of their deceased in spooky asides praising the “martyrdom” of their murderous offspring.

Israeli peace activists and pro-Arafat Arabs are not lynched as turncoats. Dozens of suspected “collaborators” have been so executed without trial on the West Bank.

Jewish children do not march in parades with plastic M-16s and helicopters strapped to their tummies; Palestinian kids have been filmed dressed up with toy explosives.

Arabs are far safer walking in Israel than are Jews on the West Bank.

Should Israeli soldiers soak their bullets with rat poison, they would find themselves the target of a court martial and U.N. condemnation. Meanwhile Palestinians also mix in glass, screws, and scrap metal for good measure with their toxins.

Only a few rightists and extremists in Israel have maps that show the West Bank as part of a greater Israel. In Palestine the schools and government itself issue atlases that show all of Israel absorbed by Palestine.

Besides these obvious contrasts, there is also the relationship between September 11 and the terrorists on the West Bank. Mr. Atta’s crew mouthed gibberish not like Jewish extremists, but identically to Islamic fundamentalists who seek jihad, are promised virgins, and win popular acclaim in Arab countries for blowing apart Western civilians. No wonder Israelis mourned September 11, while many Palestinians cheered; the evil of the World Trade Center resonated with the Israeli public even as it was either condoned or praised by the Palestinian street.

The history of the region should bring moral clarity as well. Wars #1-3 were fought not over Palestine — but for the elimination of the Jewish state itself. For two decades Arab countries hated Israel not because the West Bank peoples suffered under Jordanian control, but only because there were any Jews at all in the new state of Israel. Unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon did not bring praise from Hamas and Hezbollah, but contempt. Offers to turn back up to 97 percent of the West Bank were seen as foolish when an intifada could get 100 percent — or more. Iraqi guided missiles raining down on Tel Aviv disappointed cheering Palestinians only because they were not laced with germs or nerve gas. All this the world ignores, as it seeks in vain to fabricate a holocaust in Jenin.

For these reasons and more, the current prejudices of the United Nations and the equivocation of the Europeans, who should know better, are nauseating — and in the end simply shameful. In the latter case, the sanctimonious hedging indeed finally becomes too much and is abjectly reprehensible: Europe, after all, is the great, eternal cemetery of the Jewish people, where six million were incinerated through the evil of the Nazis and the complicity of millions of timid and opportunistic other Europeans. In almost every European city, there are no longer Jews, but the ghosts and shades of the dead who surely still flutter among the simulacra of their former houses, synagogues, and streets — for the most part now expropriated or obliterated

Europe, then, because of its own culpability in the extermination, will always have a unique moral responsibility to ensure that once more we do not see Jewish women, children, and old men machine-gunned in sealed buses or blown apart on the street because they are Jewish. The very idea that Saddam Hussein once boasted that his Israeli-bound scuds were equipped with gas, that today’s Palestinian murderers fortify their bombs with chemical poisons, thatMein Kampf sells well on the West Bank, and that Swastikas now routinely appear at pro-Palestinian rallies should send shivers up the collective spine of all mindful Europeans.

But instead, we get evasion at best from the Dutch and Scandinavians, and defiled Jewish cemeteries, random violence, and warnings for Jews not to be so ubiquitously Jewish in public in Austria, France, Germany, and Italy.

Various reasons explain this moral lapse, which — along with the world’s past misguided tolerance for and appeasement of Stalin’s Soviet Union and its murderous satellites in Europe and Asia — constitutes one of the great ethical failings of the last century in the West.

Oil, of course, explains much. The West has little. The Arabs who pay bounties to the families of the suicide-killers have a lot.

Fear should not be underestimated. Many terrorists, whether Palestinian or fundamentalist, whether contemporary or of 1970s and 1980s vintage, found Europe hospitable, precisely because the Europeans were terrified of their threats to kill and maim — especially when they did not possess the requisite military resources to strike back abroad at the countries who sired such killers. Munich and their shameful reaction to a series of hijackings have never quite left the European mind.

Nor should we discount demography and the recent phenomenon of mass immigration from the Islamic countries into southern Europe. In democracies, politicians pay attention even to 10 percent of the electorate — especially when it is known to be mercurial and prone to violence.

Proximity is also a peripheral concern as well. Less than 200 miles separate Europe from many millions of poor and angry would-be emigrants, who often on arrival and in frustration fan hatred for the very West they so desperately seek to live in.

Because Europe is militarily weak but culturally influential it has put much of its clout and capital into the United Nations, the World Court, and a host of international collective organizations that it sees as precursors to a new utopian world order. But mostly because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it no longer sees any need to work with American interests. Consequently, its own identity and sense of purpose are tied to supporting asinine U.N. resolutions, to paying attention to the world’s lawyers and activists, and to hectoring the United States — no matter how absurd the cause and how really creepy becomes the company Europeans keep. And, of course, anti-Semitism is always lurking in the background as well — the age-old resentment of the clannish Jews, the envy of their talent and material success, and the bitter religious memories that surround the birth of Christianity.

So here we have it: fear and profit, the one leading the other all argue for appeasing the Palestinian terrorists. Nothing other than principle and the burdens of history urge support for Israel in its dire hour of need. So far the Europeans have flunked the test with flying colors — and as a morality tale to guide us we should remember that abject lapse in all the future questions that involve the Middle East.

©2002 Victor Davis Hanson

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