Why is Israel losing American Jewish youth?

Yesterday, Jewish activists belonging to the “If Not Now” (INN) group, a more-militant offshoot of J Street, held a demonstration in Washington outside the annual AIPAC policy conference, and even blocked the doors of the convention center for a time. They accused AIPAC of promoting “endless occupation and Islamophobia” and of maintaining a “cozy relationship with the Trump administration.”

Their complaints are wrong. AIPAC does not advocate any particular policy for Israel to follow toward the Palestinians: it supports the policy of the government of Israel. Today that calls for direct negotiations with the PA to create a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty (demilitarization, limitations on airspace and control of borders, etc.), not an especially “right-wing” policy. AIPAC isn’t ideological; to oppose it is simply to oppose Israel.

AIPAC also works to develop bipartisan support for Israel and its policies. It would be hard to do this if it adopted an antagonistic relationship with the current administration, and indeed it bent over backwards to try to stay on the good side of Obama’s anti-Israel one (including the embarrassment of acceding to his request to lobby Congress for military action against Syria in 2013, from which Obama pulled back at the last moment).

INN found AIPAC a very visible and convenient target to express their anti-Israel views, get national exposure for their organization, and energize their activists. And so they chained themselves to doors, called on Israel to “free Palestine” and otherwise demonstrated their strong negative feelings toward Israel and US support for it.

But it isn’t the facts that motivate them. Which is not surprising, because they don’t know them.

What is clear about almost all American Jews (except for the less-than 10% of them that are Orthodox), especially younger ones, is that their attitudes are not fact-based, they are ideologically driven. They do not know or choose to ignore the strategic and geographical facts that determine Israel’s security situation. They do not understand the motivations behind the Palestinian movement, and the intentions and goals of Palestinian leaders, nor the daily life of Palestinian Arabs. Whatever sketchy understanding they may have of the historical events leading up to and surrounding the establishment of the Jewish state is distorted.

If they did have that knowledge and understanding, then that would imply that the INN people are consciously calling for another genocide of the Jewish people. But I give them – at least the rank and file, if not the leadership – the benefit of the doubt and treat them like fools and not villains.

The leader of “If Not Now” is Simone Zimmerman (27), who was Bernie Sanders’ national Jewish Outreach Coordinator until someone found a year-old Facebook post in which she viciously and obscenely attacked PM Netanyahu. It’s interesting that she at least claims to have been a pro-Israel activist when she entered Berkeley, but quickly switched sides when her arguments “were not convincing to the other side.” She also noted the preponderance of “people of color” with the Palestinians, which seems to be important to her. She joined J Street, and later became National President of J Street U, J Street’s student group, which is more extreme than the parent organization. In a 2014 video, she comes across as a sincere but ill-informed person who internalized the Palestinian story when it was presented to her forcefully and in personal terms. Clearly the Jewish/Israeli point of view, despite her years of Jewish education, was not.

INN falls ideologically between J Street, which opposes the BDS movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which endorses it. INN takes no position. Like these other “Jewish” anti-Zionist organizations, it seems flush with money, with a sophisticated website, training programs and mass meetings; however in its filing as a  501(c)(3) organization it claims an income of less than $50,000 annually, and is not required to file a full IRS Form 990. J Street, by contrast, got $3.15 million in 2015 and its separate education fund received more than $9.7 million. JVP had more than $2.5 million in contributions and grants in 2015. None of these organizations is required to divulge their donor list (although J Street has an associated PAC which, because it supports political candidates, does list contributors, some of whom are associated with Arab and Iranian organizations).

I’m expecting that this organization will go somewhere. Perfectly in tune with the campus mood (for example, representing “Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi, secular and religious, queer and Jews of color”), with enthusiastic but not too scary followers, it has a young, attractive woman leader who speaks the language of her student constituency. Jewish students who feel the pull to belong to the social justice movement, but who have difficulty achieving the self-abasement necessary to join with black and Hispanic students in anti-racist activities, and who still have a strong enough Jewish identity to reject Students for Justice in Palestine, will find INN a perfect fit.

How did we lose Simone Zimmerman? And how are we losing her followers?

We have allowed the other side to put on the mantle of oppression. Supporting the Palestinians becomes a matter of social justice. Today’s university students are immersed in a conceptual scheme of oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and colonized. To get them on our side, we have to turn this around. And that requires both factual knowledge and emotional impetus.

Accurate and honest historical analysis of the Jewish and Arab peoples in the region, the creation of the Jewish state and its relations with the Palestinian Arabs would deprive the Arabs of their status of victims (except insofar as they have been victimized by Arab political leaders). It would also show that the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy is wrong; both sides act and are acted upon. And it would replace the image of a powerful Israel and a weak “Palestinian people” with one of a small, vulnerable Israel – despite its power – surrounded by a sea of implacable Arab and other Muslim enemies.

We do not provide this background. And if they don’t get it before they go to the university, there is no hope that they will learn it there.

But even more importantly, we have neglected the emotional element that is essential to persuasion. In her video Zimmerman tells about how Palestinians presented her with one powerful personal testimony after another – how they felt when “the bombs fell” in Gaza, how the speaker was “beaten at a checkpoint” or subjected to “racist” profiling at the airport. These testimonies had emotional impact that she didn’t get in her Jewish day school classes. She tells about numerous trips to Israel, but did she meet with the families of the victims of Arab terrorists? Did she try sprinting for shelter when the alarms blare in Sderot? Did her Israeli relatives describe digging graves in Tel Aviv before the 1967 war? That would be a start. Facts are necessary to win arguments, but emotional experiences are what move people to action. One of the reasons for the degree of success found in programs like Birthright is that they make such emotional encounters possible.

The last time American Jewish young people took action on behalf of a Jewish cause was to help Soviet Jews emigrate. They were encouraged to do so by personal stories, like that of Natan Sharansky, as told very effectively by his wife Avital. We have to find ways to bring emotionally powerful experiences to them again, this time from Israeli Jews.

The other side is ahead of us both in the intellectual and emotional realms. We rely on historical arguments from the 1960s that they have learned to refute. It’s as if the pathologically apologetic “new historians” of the 1980s (and the Zionist response to them) didn’t exist for us. But even worse, we let them take control of the emotional narrative.

No wonder that Jewish university students end up supporting, in the name of justice, the ones who would happily murder them.

Posted in American Jews | 2 Comments

No deal, Donald

Donald Trump likes deals. He likes the idea of brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and thinks that he can do it. He can’t, and here’s why:

The insurmountable obstacle to a deal is that the essence of the Palestinian movement is the denial of a state belonging to the Jewish people (they don’t even agree that we are a people) in any part of the land between the river and the sea. Questions of borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian unity, and settlements – no matter how difficult – are all secondary to this major problem.

This is why the Palestinian understanding of “two state solution” includes a right of return to Israel for the descendents of Arab refugees, and why it does not include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or a renunciation of their claim to all of the land. This is the Palestinian bottom line.

Israel is willing to make many compromises (including some that are extremely stupid and dangerous to our security) but we are not prepared to agree to disappear. This is the Israeli bottom line.

Neither side can go any lower.

Mahmoud Abbas understands this very well. This is why he correctly considers direct negotiations with Israel a waste of time. This is why he insists that PM Netanyahu does not accept the two state solution, because he understands that he and Netanyahu mean different things by that expression. This is why he favors getting the Europeans and the UN to force Israel to give him what he wants. He knows that deep down (or not so deep down) many of these elements believe there should not be a Jewish state and would be happy to see it disappear.

There is no hope of changing the bottom line of Abbas and the PLO. But couldn’t we appeal to the ordinary Palestinian, the man or (very occasional) woman on the street? Don’t they want to succeed like all of us, to raise their children in peace, to be secure economically and physically?

No. Or maybe they do want these things, but other things are more important.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab citizen of Israel, often writes about the repression of Palestinian Arab journalists by the PLO and Hamas. He has written about the corruption and brutality of the Palestinian Authority and the attitudes of the Palestinian “street.” Unlike “pro-Palestinian” Jewish writers like Gideon Levy, he understands the language and culture of the Palestinian Arabs and has contacts that provide information rather than propaganda.

So when he tells us that PA Arabs favor armed struggle against Israel, despise Mahmoud Abbas as a collaborator with Israel and the US, and reject the idea of a peace agreement, we should pay attention. Last week, he reported on a demonstration against Abbas in Ramallah:

On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

“Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone,” the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a “coward” and an agent of the Americans. …

Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.

“No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets,” some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The protests also reflect Palestinians’ rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.

In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.

This has been clear since Arafat’s intifada in the early 2000s. Polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that “an armed intifada … would help achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.”

It’s interesting to note that polls show that a majority of Palestinians also say they favor a “two state solution.” This is because they define it just like Abbas, with a right of return, no recognition, no end of claims. This is why they too consider negotiations fruitless. When they are asked, a majority also say that the two state condition is only a temporary step on the way to the “unification of ‘Palestine’.”

But despite the fact that both the leadership and the population do not want a deal, the Trump administration still thinks one is possible, and this week we have been hearing about it in the context of a “regional solution” involving the Arab league. The theory seems to be that the PLO will make concessions like recognizing a Jewish state or giving up their demand for a right of return if the Arab states tell them to. Abu Toameh believes that this approach is probably even less likely to succeed than direct Israel-Palestinian talks.

First of all, Palestinians don’t trust the Arab regimes, who have always preferred to talk about how badly Israel treats Palestinians to doing anything for them themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have all oppressed and even killed Palestinians. Palestinians in those places today are second-class inhabitants (in Syria, most are dead or have become refugees). They also provide little or no financial help to the PA. What the PLO wants, Abu Toameh explains, is for the Europeans and the US to force Israel to give in and meet their demands. But this is not going to happen, regardless of whether the Arab League is involved in the negotiations or not.

Secondly, most of the Arab countries don’t see anything good for them in a possible deal. Jordan is afraid that it might end up with the Hashemite regime replaced by a Palestinian one; Lebanon worries about possibly being forced to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees it presently treats like dirt; and Egypt fears being asked to cede part of the Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. The Syrian regime is presently in chaos, hates Palestinians and Jews almost equally, and isn’t likely to be a constructive partner.

Finally, Abu Toameh notes that,

Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a “traitor” who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.

Abbas has been straightforward about rejecting negotiations. But Israeli leaders have acted as though they believed that something positive could come out of them. They have done this either out of naïveté or because they wanted to placate the Americans who were demanding it and threatening to withhold diplomatic or financial support. Israel paid a high price for this: murderers were released who murdered again, and Israel’s honor vis-à-vis her enemies was weakened; Israel froze construction in Judea and Samaria and weakened her claim to be a sovereign nation. But even despite this, the Palestinians didn’t change their bottom line.

Trump should know from his real estate experience that a deal is only possible when both sides think they are getting something that they want. But what the Palestinians want is something that Israel isn’t selling.

It doesn’t matter how persuasive you are. It doesn’t matter what sweeteners one side or the other can throw in. It doesn’t matter how hard you push or what you threaten. Sometimes there just isn’t a deal.

This is what Netanyahu should explain to Trump. There isn’t a deal here.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Middle East politics | 2 Comments

But seriously…

On Friday, Israeli aircraft bombed targets in Syria in order to prevent the transfer of what PM Netanyahu called “advanced weapons” from Iran to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. This has occurred on numerous prior occasions, and there has been no response from Syria or Russia, and no confirmation or denial by Israel. Russia and Israel have developed protocols to avoid accidental confrontations between Israeli and Russian forces over Syria; and Syria was satisfied to pretend that these incidents had not occurred.

This time, things were different. The Syrians fired anti-aircraft missiles, probably from an S-200 battery (also called SA-5). These are large, powerful missiles which could cause significant damage on the ground if they miss their targets. Israeli fighter-bombers have the capability of avoiding such missiles, but apparently one of them looked like it would land in a populated area, so Israel intercepted and destroyed it with an Arrow anti-missile missile – the first use of the Arrow system under battlefield conditions.

Detonations were heard in the Jerusalem area, and possibly for this reason or because of the first use of the Arrow, Israel broke precedent and publically took responsibility for the strike. Russia then called in Israeli Ambassador Gary Koren, for ‘consultations’, the first time Russia has taken such a step. The Syrian regime also protested to the UN for the first time.

So what is going on? There are several possibilities. One is that the Israeli strike was close to or even hit Russian assets in Syria. Another is that the Russian protest was due to the fact that Israel took credit for the attack, which would send the message that Russia was not capable of protecting its client, Syria. Syria, of course, could not be silent after Israel admitted having bombed its territory.

Frankly, nobody cares what Assad says or thinks, but there is a great deal of concern in Israel over the Russian protest. Israel cannot afford to allow the free entry of what it considers “game-changing” weapons into Lebanon. But it is already deterred from striking such weapons on Lebanese territory by Hezbollah’s massive rocket arsenal. So it has interdicted Iranian shipments in Syria and even Sudan. Iran has been shipping weapons to Syria by commercial air carrier, which are then sent overland to Hezbollah. One of Israel’s quarrels with the Iran deal was that it removed sanctions from Iranian airlines that were involved in this activity.

If the Russians want to prevent Israel from hitting Syria, they probably can do so. They have recently installed more advanced anti-aircraft missiles (the S-300 and S-400 systems) in Syria, whose range covers most of Israel. I don’t know what countermeasures the IAF may have against these systems, but if it does have the ability to defeat them, it’s reasonable that it would not want to tip its hand, saving its tricks for emergencies such as an imminent nuclear breakthrough in Iran. In any case, Israel does not want to directly challenge Russia, which has become the most important power in the Middle East with the retirement of the US from the field.

Since 2006, the Iran-controlled threat to Israel from Hezbollah has become greater and greater, insofar as the UN simply laughed at its responsibility to prevent the rearmament of Hezbollah under UNSC resolution 1701. With the implementation of the Iran deal in 2016, Iran and therefore Hezbollah were able to take giant steps. Iran stepped up the flow of weapons to Hezbollah, as well as proceeding with its own development of missile technology in the face of pretenses of protest from the impotent West.

The Iran deal brought much closer a regional war between Israel and Hezbollah, with the possible participation of Hamas and Iran. The Russian intervention in Syria has had a mixed effect, protecting Assad and freeing up Hezbollah, but possibly restraining their activities outside Syria. I say “possibly,” because Putin’s full intentions are anything but transparent.

So one would think that Israel’s government would be focused practically full-time on countering this threat: strengthening home-front defenses that will be sorely tried by Hezbollah’s rockets, and building up its offensive forces that will need to strike quickly and with massive force against Lebanon (there is no longer a distinction between Hezbollah and Lebanon) and to “cut off the head of the snake” in Tehran.

One would think that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be spending at least 80% of his time pulling together the various resources that are essential to meet this threat, probably the gravest facing the country since 1967.

One would think that the Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, would be sitting with his General Staff on almost a daily basis, making sure they had what they need. One would even think that Israel had a Defense Minister that had some military experience, rather than one chosen – yet again – for the seats in the Knesset his party would bring to the coalition.

One would think these things, but one would be wrong about all of them.

The Prime Minister, who spends a great deal of time being investigated by the police for petty scandals, is now embroiled in an imbroglio about replacing the existing Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) with a new public corporation. Just today he announced that he had changed his mind about a compromise that he had finally reached with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Thursday, and that if Kahlon didn’t go along with him, he would call for new elections. New elections! Just what we need, massive political paralysis for interminable months of campaign and coalition horse-trading, while the home-front doesn’t get reinforced and the generals spend their time thinking about their own chances to someday be Prime Minister.

Just for irony, the left-wing Histadrut labor organization has come down on the same side as Netanyahu and has declared a strike of public employees today in solidarity with the IBA workers, so the post office is closed and the data processing department that collects taxes is not working.

I am not entirely blaming Netanyahu, although he should have known to be squeaky-clean, given the propensity of the opposition to use the police and prosecutor’s office as a weapon. And maybe he should let his Communications Ministry deal with the question of the Broadcasting Authority (Netanyahu himself was Communications Minister as well as PM until a month ago, when he temporarily placed it in the hands of a political ally, Tzachi Hanegbi).

Lieberman, the alleged Defense Minister, is also out on a limb, having climbed a tree when he threatened to remove IDF sanction from a pre-military program unless a rabbi who had made negative comments about women serving in the IDF isn’t fired. The rabbis and religious politicians closed ranks against him, and now nobody will come down from their high moral perches.

It’s almost funny. But as the great Milton Berle (and other comedians) used to say, “But seriously, folks…”

Posted in Israeli Politics | 2 Comments

Lieberman’s verbal bombing run

If you’re not catching flak, then you’re not over the target. And one good way to know that we are scoring points is when our enemies start screaming bloody murder.

So back in 2002, when Israel started building its security barrier, the PLO and its fellow travelers had fits. They had lots of excuses – it was inconvenient for them, it was built on “their” land, it was an “apartheid wall,” it was ugly, and on and on; but the real reason was simple: by making it easier for us to stop terrorists on their way to our buses and restaurants, we took away their best weapon. I know: my son was in the police counter-terrorism unit at the time, and they were going 24/7 to intercept and stop the bombers who were trying to murder us on almost a daily basis. The barrier made their job much easier.

This applies in many areas, not just physical barriers and military tactics. For example, how the Israeli Left squealed in pain when the Knesset passed a law that demanded transparency for foreign-funded NGOs! Even though the law was a pale version of what had been originally proposed, the idea that our country would dare to protect its sovereignty against foreign subversion, subversion that was a meal ticket for hundreds of operatives that spent their days provoking security forces and filming the interactions, informing to the PA about Arabs who considered selling land to Jews, filing lawsuits against the government and the IDF, petitioning the Supreme Court to dismantle Jewish communities – the very idea made them furious. It was undemocratic to let people know that anti-Israel governments in Europe were paying them!

Or what about the recent anti-BDS law? Among others, it’s the progressive Jewish community in America whose ox is being gored this time: the ones like Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism, who love Israel so much that they want her to be better, which they are trying to achieve by boycotting products from “settlements” in order to force her to create another Hamastan next to Route 6, so terrorists can hit the airport and Kfar Saba with mortar shells. How undemocratic it is to say that non-residents of our country who are (either deliberately or because they are useful idiots) working to help destroy it may not sit on the beach in Tel Aviv!

But one of the best examples of the hypocrisy of the Arabs and their friends is their spluttering reaction to this recent remark posted by Avigdor Lieberman on his Facebook page (Hebrew, my tr.)

At the threshold of a new attempt to start up diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, we must learn the lessons of the past, and the first lesson is: every attempt to solve the Palestinian issue on a land-for-peace basis is bound to fail.

The only way to a sustainable agreement is through the exchange of territory and population as part of a larger regional peace deal.

It is unthinkable that a homogeneous Palestinian state will be established without a single Jew – 100% Palestinian, and that despite this, Israel will be a bi-national state, with 22% Palestinians.

There is no reason for Sheikh Raed Salah, Ayman Oudeh, Basel Ghattas or Haneen Zoabi to continue to be Israeli citizens.

Lieberman has expressed similar ideas before. It’s essential to understand that he is not advocating that Arabs be expelled from their homes in Israel. His plan is that borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state should be drawn so that large Arab populations that today are in Israel – such as in the ‘triangle’ area near Umm al Fahm – would fall in Palestine, and Israelis today living across the Green Line will be in Israel. Such a trade would not require anyone to move, and would allow Arabs to live under Palestinian sovereignty and Jews under Israeli rule.

Leaving aside the legal complexities, one would think this would appeal to the Arabs. Don’t they want self-determination?  Unsurprisingly they hate it, calling it “racist and fascist.”

MK Basel Ghattas, who is presently facing charges of smuggling cellular phones to imprisoned terrorists, did his best to prove Lieberman right, saying,

…there is no doubt that Lieberman, an immigrant from Moldova, doesn’t understand the meaning of a homeland or its native people.

Under any possible future settlement there will be neither room for any land-grabbing settlers in a Palestinian state nor any room for racists the likes of Ivet [Lieberman’s Russian name]. The Palestinians living today in Israel are the masters of the land, and Lieberman is just a passing guest.

According to Ghattas, Lieberman doesn’t understand that the land belongs exclusively to Arabs, that the descendants of Arabs who settled here in the 19th and 20th centuries are “natives,” while the Jews living in places mentioned in the Bible are “land-grabbing settlers.”

Ha’aretz, in an editorial, wrote,

The defense minister believes that hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arab citizens don’t really belong to the state and should be transferred from sovereign Israeli territory to another country because of their ethnic affiliation. Practically speaking, under the guise of seeking a “sustainable arrangement,” Lieberman wants to convey to the state’s Arab citizens that they aren’t wanted by the State of Israel and that their citizenship is temporary and conditional. …

Lieberman knows that the right of those born here to maintain Israeli citizenship is no less than that of a Jew who is naturalized by way of the Law of Return. It’s not only that the idea of creating an Israel “cleansed” of Arabs is warped, but that even raising it as an option is unacceptable.

The word “transfer,” which usually refers to forced resettlement, is inflammatory, but that is how the editors of Ha’aretz like it. Nevertheless, their argument is faulty. Ha’aretz and the Arabs both want a chunk of sovereign Israel to be torn off and given to the PLO. So if boundaries need to be drawn, is it not more reasonable to do it on the basis of the ethnicity of the population? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if Palestinians were ruled by Palestinians and Jews by Jews? Why are the 1949 armistice lines a better choice? Why is physical expulsion of Jews from their homes acceptable, but drawing the border to include Arabs in the Arab state not?

Ha’aretz thinks that Lieberman’s proposal is just a stunt to make the Arab citizens of Israel feel unwanted. I don’t support Lieberman’s idea myself, for various reasons, including that it really does insult Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom – with notable exceptions, as Lieberman made clear – are loyal and productive citizens of the state. But whether or not you think it should be implemented, it makes a very important point: it emphasizes the blatantly racist nature of the PLO demand for a Palestinian state without any Jews in it. What’s sauce for the goose, in other words, should also be sauce for the gander.

And let’s face it: why do the Arabs prefer to live under Jewish sovereignty? Of course the answer is that they know very well that despite the alleged “discrimination” and “racism” of Israel, they are and will continue to be far better off in almost every way as Israelis than under the kleptocratic, corrupt, unjust and violent regime of a PLO or a Hamas.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Israeli Arabs | Leave a comment

The transformative power of the Palestinian narrative

The hundred-year war between the Jewish people and the Arabs that hate them will not be over any time soon.

There are a million stories that prove it. This is just one.

Most Israelis remember the heartbreaking tragedy that took place twenty years ago tomorrow, at the Island of Peace at Naharayim on the Israel-Jordan border. This lovely spot was owned by Jews before the War of Independence, and in 1921 an electric power plant was built there by Pinchas Rutenberg, “the man who brought electricity to Palestine.”

The area was cultivated by Israeli farmers. In 1969 the IDF blew up Rutenberg’s villa, which was used as a staging point for terrorist attacks into Israel. But in 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. The Jordanians got the island, but agreed to lease the land back to Israel so that the farmers could continue to use it. It is a beautiful place, and Israelis often visited it, including school groups. It was used as an example of what peace would be like.

A group of schoolgirl from Beit Shemesh was there on March 13, 1997. Jordanian Corporal Ahmed Daqamseh was insulted by their behavior, saying that they were making noise while he was praying. A driver, he took an M16 from another soldier and opened fire at them, killing seven 13- and 14-year old girls and injuring 6 others. Had the rifle not jammed, these numbers would have been higher.

Other Jordanian soldiers rushed to disarm him and to help the victims. It was reported that Jordanians donated blood at the Jordanian hospital where the girls were taken. In an unprecedented gesture, King Hussein personally apologized for the incident, and visited the girls and their families in Israel, and even offered compensation. “From all appearances,” wrote Efraim Karsh, “the majority of Jordanians disapproved of the attack and expressed sympathy” for the girls.

Daqamseh was sentenced to 25 years in prison, avoiding the death penalty because he was judged to be “mentally unstable.”

So far, one might say that this was a tragic incident, but that the Jordanians, both officially and popularly, responded in a humane and civilized way.

It didn’t last.

Although following the shooting Daqamseh said, “I don’t know what happened to me …I lost control and acted,” he gave an interview in 2004 in which he sang a different tune: “if I could return to that moment, I would behave exactly the same way. Every day that passes, I grow stronger in the belief that what I did was my duty.” Many Jordanians agreed with him. In 2011, when Ahmed’s mother pleaded for a pardon for her son, she was supported by then-Justice Minister Hussein Mjalli who called him “a hero.” In 2013, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian Parliament signed a petition calling for his release. In 2014, one Jordanian MP called him

…a rare man, peerless among men; of a knight who, mounted on glory, acted marvelously for his national cause … a prisoner who was a source of concern for his jailors [sic] and whose name is linked to the suffering of his nation. This man swore by Allah – and, later, by blood and by bullets of lead, like the martyrs – that Palestine is Arab, that it will remain as long as the Arabs remain, that history will have its reckoning… and that we live in the hope for his release and draw from him [our] principles and positions.

“[This man swore] that the history of the Arab-Zionist conflict over the sacred homeland would continue – the homeland stolen by those who steal countries from their good residents, whose blood has flowed like rivers for 100 years. Some [of these residents] were killed, others wounded, still others driven out – and some had their land occupied. This conflict is destined to continue until the rights are restored to [this land’s true] owners.

This, of a creature that shot down 7 schoolgirls in cold blood!

Although these are Jordanians, the story is the familiar Palestinian narrative. Such is the power of it that the most obscene, evil actions become praiseworthy and heroic.

Although there have been numerous attempts to get him released, none succeeded until now. This morning, Ahmed Daqamesh was released from prison early after serving 20 years of his 25-year sentence.

He was greeted “with celebrations, including music and singing around his home.”

Posted in Middle East politics, Terrorism | Leave a comment