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After the horrific attacks in Brussels, especially coming as they did so close to the Festival of Purim, I’m revisiting these thoughts from 2005. Lest we forget.
Pogroms. Genocide. Jihad.
These are the devices our enemies have directed against us throughout the ages, for no other reason than because we are Jews. Yet for all that, the commitment to mercy and justice that defines us as a people and sets us apart from the other nations of the earth ensures that we would never seek the destruction of another people simply because of who they are.
Or wouldn’t we?
You shall erase the memory of Amolek from beneath the heavens. So the book of Deuteronomy commands us — a command renewed from generation to generation across the span of Jewish history — to strike down the nation of Amolek and obliterate its memory from the consciousness of mankind.
How is such a precept defensible? How can we claim the moral high ground over our enemies if we resort to the same tactics that they employ against us?
The decree against Amolek, however, is based upon neither racial hatred, ethnic struggle, religious ideology, nor even historical justification. Many nations have differed from the Jews in belief, practice, and culture, and many of these have waged war against us and sought our destruction. But only the nation of Amolek warrants such condemnation, not only that we seek out and destroy it, but that we never forget the reason why.
Remember what Amolek did to you on the way, as you departed from Egypt: How they fell upon you in the desert, when you were tired and weary, and cut down the weak who trailed behind you.
Why did Amolek attack us? Why did they descend upon us in the desert, unprovoked, and attempt to annihilate us?
At the time of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, 3328 years ago, the entire world witnessed an event both unprecedented and never to be repeated: The miraculous destruction of the most powerful nation on earth and the even more miraculous supremacy of a small and oppressed people. No one in the world doubted the involvement of the Divine Hand behind the upheaval, nor could anyone fail to recognize the significance of this fledgling nation: the rise of the Jewish nation introduced human civilization to such ideals as peace, collective conscience, social responsibility and, above all, a standard of moral values that would become the foundation of all ethics and human virtue.
Such ideals, previously unknown to human society, did not find immediate universal acceptance. Indeed, the values of Judaism have been rejected and discarded time after time throughout human history. But in the wake of the miraculous destruction of Egypt, every nation and every people recognized what the Jewish nation represented. And every nation stood in awe of them. Every nation except one.
The nation of Amolek despised the very concept of moral standards. They would accept no moral authority, would make every sacrifice to protect their moral autonomy, and would employ any tactic to strike out against the nation who, by teaching morality to the world, threatened to render them a pariah.
Why is it important that they cut down the weak who trailed behind you? What does it reveal that they chose the moment when an unsuspecting people were tired and weary to attack? What perverse strategy drove them to embark upon a hopeless campaign of violence that had no hope of success?
In short, Amolek introduced the world to the tactics of terrorism, launching a suicide campaign against the defenseless, against the tired and the weary, just as their ideological descendants would later blow themselves up to murder women and children, waging brutal physical and psychological war upon a civilian population — not for clearly defined political gain, but to spread chaos and the moral confusion of disorder.
In response, the Torah teaches us the only possible answer to terror: Not negotiation, not compromise, not appeasement, not even military conquest and domination — none of these will ever succeed against the terrorist who seeks nothing less than the obliteration of his enemies, the terrorist driven by such singular purpose that he will sacrifice everything to achieve it and will stop at nothing until he has attained it. He will use others’ desire for peace, their respect for human life, and their confidence in the ultimate goodness of mankind as weapons to destroy them; he will make any promise and offer any gesture of goodwill to gain the opportunity to take another life, to cripple another limb, to break the spirit of all who stand between him and moral anarchy.
In confronting terror, little has changed over the course of 33 centuries. Four centuries after Amolek’s attack upon the Jews in the desert, King Saul showed a moment’s mercy to the king of Amolek, thereby allowing both that nation and its ideology of terror to survive. Five centuries after that, when the Jews of Persia thought to appease Haman, a descendant of Amolek, they very nearly brought about their own destruction, saved only by the miracle of Purim. Similarly did the governments of Europe seek to appease the greatest criminal in modern times, empowering him to send millions to meaningless death in pointless battle and incinerate millions more in an incomprehensible Holocaust.
And today, Western governments and ideologues continue to promote negotiation with and concession to terror, even as more and more innocents are murdered and maimed. Like King Saul, they prove the talmudic dictum that one who shows mercy at a time for cruelty will show cruelty at a time of mercy. For all its insistence upon compassion, upon virtue, upon love for our fellow man, Judaism teaches the cold practicality of confrontation with terror, that there can be no peace with those committed to violence, that there can be no offer of good faith to those who renounce faithfulness, that there can be no respect for the lives of those who devote their lives to dealing out death.
For those who live and die for the sake of terror, only one course of action exists to preserve the society that makes peace and justice possible: to erase their memory from beneath the heavens.
Seemingly without end, political groups, government officials, and media outlets continue to blame Israel for unrest in the Mideast. At best, they lament the “cycle of violence,” suggesting that both sides are equally to blame.
With so many outlets providing platforms for misinformation, it’s no surprise how many people believe that Israel is at fault for denying the rights of the Palestinian people to live peacefully in the land that has been theirs since time immemorial.
However, as New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
So here are the facts.
Before 1920, even the concept of a Palestinian people did not exist. Arabs living in the region considered themselves part of greater Syria, until the French and British divided the region and ended hope of a single commonwealth. Only then, in a desperate attempt to create a national identity out of whole cloth, local Arabs proclaimed themselves Palestinians and begin lobbying for a country of their own.
And they got what they wanted. The next year, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill divided the region into what are now Jordan and Israel. The Arabs received 76% of the land. The rest was reserved as a Jewish homeland.
But even that was not enough. In 1947, the United Nations divided the remaining territory roughly in half, leaving Israel with 13% of the original Mandate. The Jews accepted the compromise. The Arabs launched a war against the Jews.
Between 540,000 and 720,000 Arabs fled Israel, encouraged by leaders who promised that they would return to their homes after the Jews had been pushed into the sea. Over 70 years later, about 5 million Arab refugees remain, many in squalid camps, unsettled by their own people because of their value as a bargaining chip to demand repatriation or restitution that Israel cannot afford to give.
All the way back in October, 1949, Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah A-Din told the Cairo journal Al-Masri that, “In demanding the return of the Palestinian refugees, the Arabs mean their return as masters, not slaves; or, to put it quite clearly — the intention is the termination of Israel.”
You can’t make peace with people who don’t want peace. On, 11 Dec 1948, the UN passed Resolution 194, frequently invoked by Arab leaders b/c it calls for repatriation of (or compensation for) all refugees (Article 11). Every Arab country voted against the resolution, which also guarantees access to holy sites (Article 7) and calls for commitment to peace.
Of course, no one ever mentions the 860,000 Jews who fled for safety from Arab lands at the same time, resettled by Israel without ever receiving restitution from the Arab countries that expropriated their homes and property.
We also don’t hear how, in 1949, Israel agreed to repatriate 100,000 Arabs as part of a peace negotiation; 35,000 were allowed to return, until repatriation was halted b/c of Arab refusal to make any compromises toward peace. In early 1950, the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, with an annual budget of $54 million. Arab governments refused to cooperate. In 1959, only $7 million had been used while another $28 million lay available in a fund that was never used.
In fact, as early as 1960 King Hussein of Jordan admitted that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner… they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”
Khaled al-’Azm (Prime Minister of Syria 1948-49) wrote in his memoirs in 1973: “We have brought destruction upon a million Arab refugees, by calling upon them and pleading with them to leave their lands, their homes, their work and their business, and we have caused them to be barren and unemployed though each one of them had been working and qualified in a trade from which he could make a living.”
But the strategy of Arab leaders has always been to use the refugees as a pretext to reject peace in pursuit of their ultimate objective: genocide. Even after getting 87% of the mandatory territory in 1920 and 1947, they still rejected the UN partition, then tried to exterminate Israeli Jews in 1947, 1967, 1973, and have continued terror attacks until today.
By rejecting peace and inciting bloody uprisings, Arab leaders have condemned their own people to lives of poverty and violence. For years, families of suicide murderers were paid tens of thousands of dollars to encourage their “martyrdom.” Murders of Jews are celebrated and their perpetrators turned into heroes by naming streets and schools after them. Yasir Arafat, founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which was established in 1964, three years before Israel had control of the West Bank region, Gaza, or the Golan Heights), embezzled billions of dollars that could have helped his own people.
There are many Palestinians who truly want peace, but any suspected of disloyalty to the power structure and the status quo are executed as sympathizers or collaborators, or else have their families threatened if they don’t “prove” themselves. And Palestinian children grow up in schools that teach hatred of and victimization by Israel, attend paramilitary camps that train them to kill Jews, and learn that the Holocaust is a myth fabricated by Jewish sympathizers in the Western World.
But facts don’t matter. Instead, again and again, Israel is smeared with the same slanderous refrain: occupation, oppression, expansion, apartheid. It doesn’t matter that Israeli Arabs enjoy greater prosperity, literacy, and life expectancy than the Arabs in the surrounding countries. Not to mention freedom. Just as it doesn’t matter that Israeli Arabs have been represented in every walk of life, including an Arab captain of the Tel Aviv football team, an Arab deputy speaker of Knesset, an Arab Supreme court justice, and an Arab Miss Israel.
It doesn’t matter that Hamas leaders used their new autonomy to launch missiles against Israeli civilians, while using their own people as human shields in order to win over public opinion. It doesn’t matter that Hamas embezzled millions in humanitarian aid to build sophisticated terror tunnels under the border to attack Israelis.
It also doesn’t matter that the IDF goes to lengths no other country in the world would ever consider to minimize the collateral damage to Arab civilians, dropping leaflets warning of impending attacks and placing its own soldiers in far greater danger than the rules of warfare require or that make sense from a military point of view.
Instead, the propaganda campaign against Israel goes on, even when the casualties are Palestinians themselves. Like when a Palestinian girl stabs a Palestinian man whom she mistakenly believed to be Israeli, the headlines scream Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli forces. And like the 900 workers losing their jobs because the BDS zealots managed to coerce Sodastream to relocate over the green line; it doesn’t matter if a few hundred more martyrs are reduced to poverty if the ideologues can score a PR victory against Israel.
The European community and the Obama administration have ignored these facts and evidence to embrace political correctness and moral equivalence, thereby enabling Palestinian violence against Israeli Jews and prolonging the suffering of Jews and Arabs alike.
No one could say it more clearly or simply than Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
I wish there was no reason to repost this essay. But with “random” violence becoming a cultural norm, we can’t run away from the root causes of radicalization, whether Muslim or otherwise. President Obama may not be totally off the mark in his belief that the West created this problem — but our contribution is not what he thinks, and his policies are only adding fuel to the fire.
Read the whole article here:
This morning’s terrorist attack by a Palestinian who rammed his car into Israeli soldiers at a bus station struck a little closer to home. Both of the injured soldiers had just drafted into the army and were friends of my son from the same Lone Soldier group. They were released on leave a day before my son was, or he probably would have been standing right beside them.
At least one of them will be disabled for months: the Guardian reports this as “light to moderate” injury.
The story in the Guardian led by stating that the attack took place in the “occupied West Bank,” implying a John-Kerryesque legitimacy, then went on to report that the “incident raises the number of Palestinians killed since 1 October to 98, including an Israeli Arab.” In the interest of balance, the story did concede that, “More than half of them have been alleged perpetrators of stabbing, shooting and car ramming attacks aimed at Israeli civilians and security forces.”
However, the story neglected to mention that after ramming his car into the crowd, the Arab attacker was shot as he tried to stab one of his victims.
Not the worst example of media bias by far, but shoddy journalism by any account. Our children who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others from violence deserve much better.
More unprovoked murders today in Israel: this time the victims included men in the act of prayer.
The approach taken by the Obama administration and much of European leadership, differentiating between terrorism and Islam so not to further alienate the Muslim world, might sound plausible. But the incontrovertible evidence from Paris, Beirut, and Tel Aviv is that it’s not working. Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes a case no thinking person can refute.
But, of course, that’s the point: people aren’t thinking; they’re feeling. If only the rich and powerful Western nations would humble themselves before the oppressed peoples of the third world, then there would be peace. If only the intransigent Israelis would stop their illegal occupation, then there would be peace. If only the culture of white supremacy in America would confess and atone for its evil ways, then there would be peace.
From the United Nations to the European Union to the White House to many of the elite universities around the country, Utopian ideologues bury their heads in the sand and ignore reality so they can persist in their chants of kumbaya and we are the world, reaching out to embrace people who want nothing but to watch the world burn.
In every aspect of our lives we are becoming more confused: we alienate our friends while we appease enemies who want to kill us; we disdain the blessings we have while chasing shadows in pursuit of happiness; we preach tolerance while attempting to silence all who disagree with us; we dream of a perfect world while we stand idly by and let madmen tear down the world our fathers and grandfathers worked so hard to build.
The chaos of our times didn’t start this week in Paris. It won’t end there, either, unless we open our eyes and start confronting the moral anarchy that is eating away at the heart of civilization.
So says James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute. But Mr. Zogby offered an additional insight in a recent interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.
“Palestinian lives matter,” declared Mr. Zogby.
“Look, there’s a bit of Ferguson going on here. Maybe a little bit more than a bit of Ferguson… Unless we find a way for those who control the occupation — it’s not the Palestinians, it’s the Israelis — to give these kids a ray of hope, to say that there is a future for you that’s different than what you’re seeing right now, this isn’t going to end… The violence is the result of a situation of despair that is eating away at the lives and souls of both peoples.
“Palestinians are at the end of the day the ultimate victims.”
Mr. Zogby’s comparison is absolutely right. But he’s right for all the wrong reasons.
Earlier this week, James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC that “Palestinian lives matter,” drawing a comparison between the violence in Israel and Ferguson, Missouri.
I was asked to comment on the Crane Durham radio program in a discussion about the historical and political origins of Mideast violence.
You can listen to the interview here.
Palestinian leaders appear to have little control over the actions of the mostly young attackers. – Washington Post, October 13
Anyone who pays attention to history and politics knows that exactly the opposite is true. Arab leaders have carried on a propaganda campaign to foment violent hatred against Israeli Jews since long before the state of Israel even existed.
In 1929, Arab riots culminated in the Hebron Massacre in which 67 Jews were murdered without provocation. In 1941, the Mufti of Jerusalem approached Adolf Hitler offering to help bring the Final Solution to the Mideast. In 1964, Yasser Arafat founded the PLO and began terrorist attacks against Israel — three years before Israel captured the so-called West Bank from Jordan in a war Jordan began.
And, after relinquishing Gaza to Arab control in 2005, Israelis watched from across the new border while Gaza Arabs, incited by the incendiary rhetoric of their leaders, demolished the hydroponic farms left by the Israelis that could have fed communities now increasingly dependent on international aid.
If that weren’t enough, Hamas leaders in Gaza then accused Israel of restraining trade as an excuse to launch rockets into Israel; at the same time, they diverted uncounted millions earmarked for humanitarian relief to build sophisticated tunnels from which to stage terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
So this new intifada has little to do with Israeli provocation or “occupation” and everything to do with Arab leaders eager to create young Arab martyrs so they can continue to hold the reins of power and profit from the suffering of their own people.
“If Palestine were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.” – Benjamin Netanyahu
Man Suing Over Injury From Giant Pine Cone in San Francisco
Missile Brought Down Malaysia Airlines Plane in Ukraine, Investigators Conclude
Our hearts should truly go out to the U.S. Navy veteran who had the misfortune of relaxing in a national park when a 16-pound pine cone fell on his head. The story would be comical were it not so tragic. After serving their country, our servicemen deserve respect and appreciation, not traumatic brain injury from freak accidents.
But that’s just the point. This was an accident, and accidents happen.
I suppose lawyers will wrangle over whether the Park Service was negligent for not posting warning signs and fencing off the area, or for planting a non-native species that might threaten unsuspecting visitors. I suppose one could also make the case that the Park Service should assume a measure of responsibility by covering the victim’s medical expenses.
But what does it say about us when our natural impulse is to litigate every mishap, to turn to the courts, assign blame, and make others pay? Life is full of scrapes and bruises, and sometimes more painful twists of fate. How we deal with the apparent randomness of our world comes down to personal philosophy and theology, but it isn’t always someone else’s fault.
In truth, it reflects a kind of collective arrogance, resulting from the delusion that we are in total control of our lives and our world, and that anything bad that happens to us must have been inflicted in some kind of criminal act. Why fate smiles on some and torments others is a question we can’t expect to answer in this world. But there isn’t always a man behind the curtain whom we can haul into court to demand restitution.
Even worse, when we attribute wicked intent to every whim of fortune, we lose some of our contempt for true acts of evil. The recent finding that it was a Russian-built Buk missile that killed 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last year confirms what everyone expected. There is true evil in the world, and we dare not conflate incidental suffering with that perpetrated by authentic villains.
We live in a world full of contradictions. When bad things happen to good people, we owe them our comfort and sympathy. When bad people spread suffering among the innocent, we are duty bound to hunt them down and exact justice.
But we should never confuse the two.
Originally published by Jewish World Review in September, 2001, two weeks after the attacks on the Twin Towers.
Once upon a time there were three little pigs. One built a house of straw, until the big, bad wolf blew it down and gobbled him up. One built a house of sticks, until the big, bad wolf blew it down and gobbled him up. But one built a house of bricks and was safe from all the huffing and puffing of the big, bad wolf.
Society teaches values to successive generations through its children’s stories. The story of the Three Little Pigs is one of our most enduring fables, teaching the importance of good planning and disciplined effort. But it also carries with it a more subtle message, that safety rests in our own hands and our own labors, that security can be bought for the price of a pile of bricks and a bucket of mortar. This ideal, if it was ever true, went up in flames together with New York City ‘s skyline and Washington’s military nerve center on September 11.
More appropriate now than the Three Little Pigs is Robert Burns’s adage about “the best laid schemes of mice and men.” Indeed, the World Trade Center towers were each designed to absorb the impact of a 727; what the architects failed to factor in was how the fuel carried aboard a transcontinental airliner would create an inferno capable of compromising the structural strength of steel support beams. Of course, we don’t blame the architects; none of us imagined the acts of incomprehensible evil that brought down those towers.
Which is precisely the point. We cannot imagine the design and the reach of evil. We can make our best effort, erect walls of brick around ourselves and roofs of steel over our heads, but we will never be completely safe. The world is too unpredictable an arena, the mind of the wicked too dark a cavern.
As if to drive home the instability of temporal existence, observant Jews around the world will disrupt their normal lives this week by moving out of their homes into little stick houses to live as our ancestors lived in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. But more than an attempt to recreate the experience of a fledgling nation traveling toward its homeland, the holiday of Sukkos offers us an opportunity to attune our minds to a most fundamental principle of Judaism — that however great our strength and the might of our own hands, however elaborate and well conceived our plans, life strews unexpected obstacles in our path that can scuttle our most certain victories and demolish our most solid edifices.
A sukkah may be built of virtually any material: wood, brick, steel, canvas, or even string may be used to construct its walls. But no matter how stable or how precarious its walls, the roof of a sukkah must be composed of s’chach, thin strips of wood or leaves, through which the light of the stars can shine at night. And when one sits in the sukkah and looks up at the s’chach — the barest representation of a roof that won’t protect him from even the lightest rainfall — he is inspired by the recollection of his ancestors who trusted in the protection of the Almighty, the One who took them out from under the rod of their oppressors and guided them through the inimical desert before bringing them safely home.
In his visionary writings, the prophet Ezekiel describes a great battle on the eve of the messianic era, when the all forces of evil in the world combine themselves into a great army called by the name Gog and Magog. The brilliant eighteenth century thinker Rabbi Samshon Raphael Hirsch interprets the prophet’s vision not as a military battle but as an ideological war between the philosophy of gog — “roof”– and the philosophy of sukkah, where those convinced that their fate lies in the power of their own hands and their own resources will attack the values of those who recognize the limits of human endeavor to influence the world.
In the immediate wake of the World Trade Center destruction, cries rang out for vengeance and military retribution. Since then, more measured voices have asserted that this war will be like no other, without defined enemies or defined borders, without clear strategies or decisive victories. This is an unfamiliar kind of crisis, where we find our capacity to respond in our own defense or to secure our own future profoundly diminished in a new world order.
So now the citizens and leaders of the world’s last remaining superpower must grapple with the uncertainties of a violent present and a murky future. Some will respond by declaring that we must work harder to take control of our own fate. Others will concede that we will never be secure again. And they will be right: no building, no bunker, no shelter made of brick or concrete or iron will guarantee our safety from the perverse imagination of extremists who can rationalize indiscriminate mass murder.
Yet for all that, the Jew sitting in his sukkah will look up at the heavens and be at peace. He will recognize that the best laid schemes often come to naught and that, after doing all that can be done, we are best off leaving our fate in the hands of the One who placed the stars in their courses, the One from whom protection ultimately comes for those who trust not in their own strength, but in the source of all strength.
As the winds of autumn blow with the first hint of winter, we may shiver with cold but never with fear. The illusion of the roof we can see reminds of the invisible reality of the wings of the Divine presence. We neither abandon ourselves to fate nor try to seize hold of it, but turn with confidence to face the future, secure in the knowledge that we have prepared ourselves as best we can to meet whatever life holds in store for us.