Blows to Israel Must Never Go Unanswered

Martin Peretz is editor in chief of the New Republic.

Jewish history had prepared neither Gentile nor Jew for the cosmic achievements the Zionist enterprise would make in the process of reconstituting a nation. These achievements are easily summarized: the ingathering of a millennially dispersed and diverse people; the regeneration of its ancient and near-moribund language; the fashioning of a lively and democratic polity and press; a genuinely independent judiciary; the mobilization of one of the two or three most proficient and scrupulous militaries in the world; the crafting of a commonwealth curious, open, tolerant -- a nation-state not unlike the United States.

At the end of a century of unthinkably cruel and ultimately empty revolutions -- Nazism, communism -- Israel stands virtually alone in the right to assert that, after the crackup of empires and rage for popular sovereignties, it is a success, and a decent one at that.

Now envision Israel in its actual neighborhood -- the tyrannical societies of the Middle East made even more twisted by corrupting and unproductive oil wealth -- and you have a standing reproach to the Arab hubris that lies to itself.


From the western Sahara to the deserts abutting the Persian Gulf, not a single regime beyond Israel has so much as even embarked, or allowed its entrepreneurs to embark, on the exacting beginnings of industrial advance. This wide swath of terrain on which a quarter of a billion people live produces with all its hands and brains just about what little Finland or Spain does. Remind yourself also that not one ruler across the region governs by consent of the ruled. Evoke the phantoms of lost grandeur put in the heads of miserable boys and girls by dogma and dogmatics.

Mesh all this together and you have some sense of why the West is resented on the Arab street and why, moreover, Israel has not been able to reach, for all its accomplishments, the one quintessential and existential goal articulated by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, that “the Jew be able to die peacefully in his own bed.” And maybe he never will.

It may be that Israel is doomed to live dangerously, even if a shooting, a stabbing, even a bombing on a bus or in a mall occurs only every few years. Maybe there is no enforceable peace treaty that can truly guarantee against crackpots and random fanatics.

Israel’s longtime enemy, and its enemy today, is of the very same terror that was launched on us on Sept. 11, but, if less confounding, more routine and more tolerated. It is the world’s acceptance of the routinization of this killing of Jews that has so affronted Israel and its allies.

One of the fundamental and actionable principles of Zionism is that Jewish blood is no longer cheap. It follows that the shedding of Jewish blood will not pass without an accounting, without being avenged. And not just for vengeance’s sake. But to bring about the elimination of the organized blood sport in Jewish lives.

The fact is that Israel has for years vacillated between responding to terror with exquisitely calibrated force and pacifying terrorists by giving them some of what they want -- for example, the release of prisoners. The latter option is, of course, always the preferred path of the peace process interlocutors, even the American ones.

But, alas, despite the eclat, there had been no actual cease-fire in place since the end of June, although that was the absolute precondition of the “road map.” Still, Israel had to pretend, not least of all to its own people, that there was. Otherwise it couldn’t go on making concessions to the Palestinians, whether textually obligated or not. And if it didn’t make concession after concession, everybody would know that the road map was a map to nowhere.

But no one could really pretend either that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had actually agreed to the famous hudna because day after day, week after week one or another of these groups (and sometimes two competing with each other and with the devil himself) would claim credit for some macabre death happening in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority itself renounced its obligation to squelch these murderous militias, at once asserting its impotence and claiming that any attempt to fight them would lead to civil strife it could not win. So it seemed almost ungentlemanly for the Israelis to insist that the Palestinian Authority try. After all, if the Palestinian Authority lost, Israel would be without a partner at all in the cease-fire that, as it happens, ceased very little fire, indeed.

But the keeping up of pretenses does not advance the cause of peace. Yet it is precisely the keeping up of pretenses that the high-minded folk are always recommending.

When Israel sent a helicopter gunship to kill a top Hamas leader in retaliation for the latest Jerusalem atrocity that claimed 21 Israeli lives, a New York Times editorial criticized Israel for its hasty response: “It is far from clear what would have been lost by giving the Palestinians more time.”

The United States is in great measure responsible for the moral ambiguity of peace-making between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian strategy is terror, pure and simple, like the terror of Al Qaeda and whoever bombed the center of Bombay on Aug. 25. George W. Bush has not quite admitted this, but he has come close. Still, his diplomats behave as if there are two different categories of terror: one with which we can never compromise and another that we will reward with a state.

This is a bankrupt program, both morally and practically.

The reasonable solution to the Palestine question has always been a partition, and there have been various partition plans proposed since the first one enunciated by Winston Churchill in 1922. Each and every one of them has been rejected, by the surrounding Arab states and by the Palestinians.

History moves forward, but not the Arabs.

The fervor for Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians is an expression of that rejectionism. The martyrology that attends it shows also that it is quite mad.

Israel has shown that it is willing to give up territories for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. It now must show that it will not tolerate a war of terror against the partition formula that, with caveats here and there, has been accepted since 1922.

The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Moshe Yaalon, warned recently that “every Hamas member must now be considered a candidate for liquidation.” Coming in the middle of a declared cease-fire, the Jerusalem bombing that killed 21 civilians has changed the ground rules because the ground itself has changed.

It is now abundantly clear that the Palestinian leadership, lubricated into power by the United States, is either unable or unwilling to fight its own terrorists. Its pledge to do so, like its pledge to reform, is either a trick or a failure. It does not really matter which.

The defeat of terror takes overwhelming force, and only Israel itself can provide it. Indeed, only Israel should.

When Israel undertook to root out the terror network in Jenin last year, it suffered 23 of its own dead, more certainly than the U.S. military would have inflicted on itself in a similar circumstance. Despite this, Israel was pummeled, not least by the United Nations, for committing atrocities that it did not commit. Now everyone knows the truth, although some still perpetuate the falsehoods. But Israel succeeded in decapitating the head of the viper from its body.

The rocket attacks of recent days on Hamas leadership in Gaza are an augury of what is about to occur: first, the building of the fence that will secure Israel’s population from their inveterate foes and, then, relentless attacks on the armed irreconcilables.

These attacks will come from the air and also be fought on the streets, deftly and precisely.

There will be ululating mourners and grim-faced youth waving the bloody shirts of their martyrs. But, in the end, they will learn that Jewish blood is not cheap at all and that those who shed it will pay a tremendous price, too high a price to go on with the killing that will bring on their heads only reprisal and not, of course, the prize of a state.