June 20, 2002
No More Herring
Why should Israel have to explain that suicide bombing is a bad thing?
Shouldn't the information problem be a Palestinian thing?
About a month ago, when the battle in Jenin was at its height, I received a call from a Norwegian radio station. "How," I was asked, "is the Israeli media covering the massacre in Jenin?"
"Are you so sure there is a massacre in Jenin?" I replied.
"Of course I'm sure, I read it here in our morning papers and see it on television: Hundreds have been killed. It's a massacre."
"You think Israeli troops would commit a massacre?" I asked.
"It looks like it," he responded.
"Are we on air live?"
"Yes," he said.
"Well f--- you," I said.
And that's exactly the way I feel about the Norwegians, whose unions have imposed a boycott on Israeli goods; the Danes, who are no longer buying Israeli oranges; the Germans -- bless them -- who are holding back on tank parts; and the Belgians, who couldn't even leave politics out of the Eurovision song contest.
When the NATO allies, including the above, went to war against the former Yugoslavia, they pounded the country into the ground. They left hardly a bridge or building standing. The Chinese embassy, radio and TV stations, electricity grids, water supplies, roads, trains, infrastructure were all reduced to rubble in order to rid Europe of Slobodan Milosevic. And then, only then, when the war had been won from the air, did the ground troops go in, mainly in the role of peacekeepers.
In Jenin, as we now all know, 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand combat in the narrow alleys of the refugee camp; there were 54 Palestinian dead, many of them armed men. We could have learned from NATO in Yugoslavia, but we didn't, and the Danes won't eat Israeli oranges?
People ask what is wrong with Israel's information efforts? Why is the country's image so bad?
The real question is, I believe, somewhat different. Why should Israel have to explain that suicide bombing, men and women blowing themselves up in kindergartens, buses, pizza parlors, is a bad thing? Shouldn't the information problem be a Palestinian thing? Someone having to explain to a Norwegian or Dane that indelible image of a mother screaming at the television cameras that she wants all 10 of her children to be shaheeds -- martyrs. In most societies, mothers would be throwing themselves at the enemy to protect their children. Here the equation has been flipped, but the meaning has not penetrated the European mind.
Think back to the picture of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Dura being killed in the opening hours of this war. The boy was huddled beside his father, desperately seeking safety in the cross fire of bullets. His father was crouching behind a barrel, the boy clinging to his back. Wouldn't you have placed your son between the barrel and yourself?
Saddam Hussein buys himself a suicide bomber for $15,000; Moammar Kadfi gets one for $10,000. The Palestinians sell their children to them and it's the Jews who have to explain their values? It's Israeli oranges they don't buy?
The people of Norway or Denmark have never suffered from living under the constant threat of terror -- a situation where a child cannot go to a birthday party, or even to school, without fear of being killed or maimed. You never know where and when terror will strike. Its victims are indiscriminate. Not soldiers, but men, women and a disproportionate number of children and young people, considering the targets that have been chosen.
Jenin was a bomb-making factory. Dozens of attacks were planned there, including the Passover-night massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya. And, yes, that was a massacre, and it emanated from Jenin. The Israeli army had every right -- in fact duty -- to go in there and stop the murder. They did so without the excesses of NATO and at great personal cost.
The Europeans are now, apparently, committed to helping the Palestinians reform their society. They are going to help them write a constitution, set up an independent legal system and a stable democratic structure. Their ability to achieve this is in Israel's interest. We are all sure Yasser Arafat just can't wait to cooperate.
In the meantime, however, it may help the Europeans further in implementing their democratic ideals if they stopped their de facto support of terror and the message they are sending the Palestinians that suicide bombing is a good thing. It would be useful, too, if some of the bleeding hearts out there in the European Union would say something about the synagogues being fire-bombed in France, Britain, Belgium and other E.U. countries.
The Europeans, and the European press in particular, owe Israel an apology. They lied. There was no massacre in Jenin. There was probably less collateral damage in almost two weeks of fighting in dense urban areas than in one day of NATO bombardment of Belgrade. It took 18 months of violence and almost 500 killed, two-thirds of them civilians, before Israel went into Jenin. The allies did not wait that long before they reduced Milosevic's Yugoslavia to rubble.
So if there is going to be a boycott, perhaps Jewish caterers should stop serving Norwegian salmon and Danish herring and Belgian chocolates and French champagne, and Jewish tourists choose other destinations for their vacation this year. As for those Germans who seemed only too happy to start Jew-bashing again, perhaps there is still some work to be done on that Holocaust thing. Remember?