Michael Kelly, August 15, 2001
The events of the past 11 months in Israel have been remarkably clarifying.
When the Palestinians, on the pretext of a visit by Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem’s
Temple Mount, began the second intifada last fall, it was still possible for the
aggressively delusional to pretend that the Israelis and the Palestinians equally
desired a workable peace.
That belief shattered under repeated, murderous attacks on Israelis that
clearly occurred with at least the tacit blessing of the Palestinian leadership.
Now the other great founding myth of the peace process is also dead. This is
the great falsehood of relative morality.
For decades, the European left has maintained that the Palestinians held
a morally superior position to the Israelis: They were an illegally subjugated
people who were striking back in what may have been violent but were also
The claim of Palestinian moral superiority ended when the world saw
Palestinians cheer in the street a young man holding up hands red with the
blood of an Israeli soldier beaten to death, or perhaps it was when Palestinians
stomped two boys, one a U.S. citizen, to death in a cave, or perhaps it was
some other moment of gross and gleeful murder.
What remained — the left’s final feeble resort — was a claim of moral
equivalency: The Palestinians might be engaged in terrible acts but so too were
the Israelis. Both sides were killing; indeed, the Israelis, with their better arms
and soldiers, had killed far more than had the Palestinians.
Now this too has gasped its last breath. It is not possible to pretend any more
that there is anything like a moral equivalency at work in this conflict. The facts
One: The Palestinians are the aggressor; they started the conflict, and they
purposely drive it forward with fresh killing on almost a daily basis.
Two: The Palestinians regard this second intifada not as a sporadically violent
protest movement but as a war, with the clear strategic aim of forcing a scared
and emotionally exhausted Israel to surrender on terms that would threaten
Three: As a tactic in this strategy, the Palestinians will not fight Israeli forces
directly but instead have concentrated their efforts on murdering Israeli
civilians. The greater the number, the more pathetically vulnerable the victims —
disco-goers, women and children in a pizza restaurant — the better.
Four: Israel has acted defensively in this conflict; and while Israeli forces
accidentally killed Palestinian civilians, their planned lethal attacks have all been
aimed only at Palestinian military and terror-group leaders.
Since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, Palestinian terrorists have killed
more than 400 Israelis. In June a bomber killed 21 teenagers at a Tel Aviv
disco; last week, a bomber killed 15 and maimed as many as a hundred in a
Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem; three days later, another suicide-bomber wounded
20 persons at another restaurant.
After the Sbarro bombing, Secretary of State Colin Powell, astonishingly,
lectured the Israelis in the language of the literally exploded idea of moral
equivalency. “I hope that both sides will act with restraint,” Powell said. “They
both have to do everything they can to restrain the violence, restrain the
provocation and the counter-response to the provocation.”
This official U.S. policy statement is beyond stupid. It is immoral, hypocritical,
obscene. It is indefensible.
Israel is at war with an enemy that declines, in its shrewdness and its
cowardice, to fight Israel’s soldiers but is instead murdering its civilians, its
women and children.
This enemy promises, credibly, more murders. In the face of this, in the
aftermath of an attack expressly and successfully designed to blow children to
bits, how dare a smug, safe-in-his-bed American secretary of state urge
“restraint” by “both sides?” How does the secretary imagine his own country
would respond to such a “provocation” as the Sbarro mass murder? (His own
country bombed Serbia to its knees for killing ethnic Albanians in distant
Kosovo, let alone Americans on American soil.)
And when you get down to it, why, exactly, should Israel continue to exercise
restraint? Why shouldn’t it go right ahead and escalate the violence? The only
point to waging war is to win. Israel is at war, and losing. It can win only by
fighting the war on its terms, unleashing an overwhelming force (gosh, just
what is called for in the Powell Doctrine) to destroy, kill, capture and expel the
armed Palestinian forces that have declared war on Israel.
So far, Israel has indeed chosen to practice restraint. But, at this point, it has
every moral right to abandon that policy and to engage in the war on terms
more advantageous to military victory. This is a matter for Israel, at war, to
decide one way or the other. Whether Secretary Powell purses his lips or not.