Without getting into a polemic about who owns what and who was there first, the latest news flash out of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem that made it to the front page of the New York Times is simply shocking.
Netanyahu and his cabinet decided to withhold $100 million from the Palestinian Authority as a punishment for the Palestinians having gone before the United Nations in a quest for statehood. Further, the withholding of these funds which were taxes and custom payments due the Palestinians, was also a punishment because of secret meetings between the Palestinian Authority and the extremist group, Hamas. For weeks while the money was withheld, salaries of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza went unpaid. Children went hungry and men and women worked expecting to get paid and instead were told there was no money to pay them. How does that help to win hearts and minds?
This latest move by the Israeli government was shocking for several reasons. First of all, where is the understanding and sympathy for the Palestinians who did nothing different than the Israelis did decades ago when they went before the United Nations to claim a State for the Jewish people? And, where is the humanity within Israel, especially for a country and a people who understand suffering better than most, to create such hardship?
Israel claims it wants nothing more than peace and safety for their people. The Palestinians claim they want to live in peace on their own land. Both continue to use terror in all its forms to achieve their presumed goals. And, apparently when terror is not used and Palestinians take their cause to the United Nations, they are still punished with a more sophisticated form of violence.
For years, the reason that peace between Israel and the Palestinians has failed is complicated. Simply put, Israel refused to cede land and liberty because Palestinians were committing terrorist attacks and targeting Israeli civilians. When the attacks were aimed at Israeli settlements in what is considered occupied land, the result was mixed emotions—sympathy for the victims and sympathy for the attackers.
Some of us were outraged that Israel persisted in building settlements on disputed land when a moratorium on new Israeli outposts, villages or cities was an intricate part of any peace plan. When Palestinian attacks happened inside Israel—in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or any other Jewish city, the hearts and minds of most people went with the innocent victims.
That is not to say that land is not the fundamental issue to any peace accord. It is and will continue to be until the Palestinians accept the existence of the State of Israel, which means at worst, that the Jewish State retreat to the 1967 borders. Unfortunately, there are zealots on both sides. There are the Israeli leaders who continue in arrogance to build settlements. And, while the Palestinian Authority has recognized Israel’s right to exist, their partners, Hamas and other extreme groups, have refused. For years the joke around Israel was that Palestinian extremists want peace alright, a piece of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and every other centimeter of Israeli land. Retreat to the 1967 borders in not an option for extremists on both sides.
Perhaps the time has come to redefine terror.
Terror is used to shock, intimidate, harm, and terrorize one’s enemy.
The most common form of terror is violence—as in suicide bombs, attacks on schools, murdering sleeping parents and children, targeted killings, Katushya rockets aimed across borders into Israeli cities, hijackings, to list a few.
If people wonder why terrorists attacked a pizzeria in Jerusalem, or Saudi terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the answer is always, “because they could.” While terrorists do have a wish list of targets, it is mostly a matter of opportunity and more than often, the killers have to settle for second or third choices.
More subtle terror tactics are the weapons of the privileged. Financial terror, which the Israelis can and do use is because, once again, “they can.”
While it is true that Israelis do not strap on bombs and wander into a group of Palestinian civilians and detonate those bombs, it is also true that Palestinians use the only method of terrorism available to them. Strikes don’t mean anything. Refusing to work only means that there are hundreds of other Palestinians who are just waiting to take on any job available. There are no unions or organized labor forces. As for protests, they are a luxury in that part of the world and, as we have seen countless times, are met with bullets and tear gas.
To be perfectly clear, this is not an apology for blowing up innocent civilians. Rather, this is a warning that starving an entire population is as effective a terror tool as violence. Depriving people of food, shelter, medical care, and warmth is as violent a punishment as death—a slower and more angry death perhaps but still a death of hope, pride, and belief in the future.
What happened to a mutual understanding of wanting a homeland?
What happened to a mutual understanding of taking that quest to the United Nations?
What happened to memory?
More dangerous is what happens when both sides—Israeli and Palestinian—exert punishments that exceed the magnitude of the crime?