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A Letter from the Intifada

Monday, 06 November 2000 12:00 AM

I hesitated before writing this letter; however, the interpretation of recent events in my part of the world by the media (e.g., CNN and BBC) prompted me to tell you MY side of the story, which I see from a very close distance. My goal is to balance the very biased view one may get from watching the media.

Yesterday I watched the official Palestinian Authority television station broadcasting a live Friday sermon from a Gaza mosque. The mullah commanded every Palestinian and every Muslim not to have mercy on the Jews and kill them everywhere they are found. Not Israeli "aggressors," mind you, but the Jews. Then he added that Jewish lackeys, such as Americans, should be killed as well.

I was thinking to myself that to my recollection this was the first state-sponsored call for annihilation of Jews since the Third Reich. This must be the first item on the news, I thought to myself.

Apparently, calls to genocide sponsored by the official Palestinian Authority TV are not newsworthy, since neither CNN nor BBC reported it.

This sermon cannot be viewed in isolation. At the time of its broadcast, the funeral for Vadim, a 33-year-old Israeli newlywed, was taking place. Vadim was one of the two reservists (both were truck drivers in the army) who arrived by mistake at a Palestinian police checkpoint on Thursday, were kidnapped at gunpoint, taken to Ramallah, and then released to the mob. To the cheers of hundreds (including women and children), "brave freedom fighters" repeatedly stabbed and beat the two men, threw them out of the second-story window, gutted at least one of them, tore off the arms and plucked the eyes of another, and dragged one of the bodies behind a car through the streets of Ramallah and then torched it.

When the unsuspecting wife of one of the men called him on his cell phone, she was told by a proud Palestinian on the other side that he had just "butchered" her husband and was going to burn him next. The Palestinian Authority quickly claimed that these were undercover Israeli agents and that they suffered the rightful anger of the people.

In a brief intermission, let me explain how close to home this is for me. I (as well as most Israeli men under 45) serve in reserves, and each of us could have easily taken the wrong turn off the road. You could have been reading my obituary in your Friday morning paper. The two soldiers were kidnapped two miles from a large Jerusalem suburb and were lynched in the middle of Ramallah – 10 miles north of my house.

The Israeli response to this atrocity was to bomb the police station and three military installations in Gaza. This was done only after informing the Palestinian Authority about these events in advance, to prevent human casualties. If this were a declaration of war, as the Palestinians charge and CNN repeated after them, I would like to know about other examples of wars declared under these conditions.

We only know about the lynching because a cameramen from Italian television happened to arrive late at the scene and by accident was not cordoned off like all the other TV crews.

Palestinian police did not defend the two soldiers and they took care not to let the events be documented. Following the broadcast, the Italian TV personnel in Gaza received a death threat.

This prompted an apology from the head of Italian TV in Gaza, published in a Palestinian newspaper. He stated that it is not their policy to film "such events" and that he assures the public that in the future they will abide by the "rules of conduct." This makes you wonder about the nature of reporting from our neighborhood – one side could blow you up if you present them in a bad light, the other will never threaten or harass you no matter what you report. Bear this in mind when you watch your next news broadcast.

The media you see tells a very simplistic story: strong Israeli army fights against weak yet determined Palestinian children. This story plays well during two-minute intervals on the nightly news; however, it is highly inaccurate and simplistic.

It is true that Israel is stronger than its neighbors militarily for the first time in over 2,000 years. The strength of our military is the only guarantee for all of us not to follow the fate of the two soldiers, or of the unarmed Rabbi who went alone to protect the Tomb of Joseph against the looting mob and whose bullet-ridden body was found a few hours later.

The French president recently pronounced that Israel is to blame for this outbreak of violence, citing as evidence that many fewer Israelis had died in clashes. I would like to extend my sincere apologies for my compatriots' unwillingness to die so that scores are more even and we look better on television; I think we have done enough dying in the past.

We do not apologize for our strength; it is our only way to survive in this part of the world. It is also true that Palestinians do not pose an existential threat for Israel as a country. However, the small size of the country, the proximity of populations, and the constant instigation by the Palestinian Authority and its new ally, the Hamas, make the acts of violence a constant threat to every Jew as a person, especially in Jerusalem and its surroundings.

The recent violence did not start because Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. This was a lame pretext. In fact, the violence came the next day, when the mullahs issued a call to defend the Islamic holy sites from the Jews. The violence came about because Arafat's refusal to reach a compromise had cost him the support of the European countries and the United States.

When the Palestinian leadership understood that they achieved as much as they could at the negotiating table, they decided to obtain more by violence. Unfortunately, the world seems to buy this ploy and rewards their tactics.

Israel took big risks by withdrawing from the Palestinian cities and large villages since the 1993 Oslo agreement. We have armed the Palestinian police with tens of thousands of weapons (which are currently used against us), and they became responsible for security in large portions of the West Bank. Over 100,000 Palestinians work in Israel every day, and transfer their payroll taxes to the Palestinian Authority.

In return, the PLO just agreed to sit down and talk to us, and to stop (apparently only temporarily) the military and terrorist activity. They never took any real risks. We were hoping to bring peace, but at the end we have to live under constant acts of violence.

The pictures of wounded children on TV are very disturbing to me, as well as to most Israelis. However, let me point out a few facts.

Israeli military withdrew from all the Palestinian cities a long time ago. The only presence is left in places where Jews still reside or in holy places (as we have seen recently this is perfectly justified). The responsibility for security in the cities is in the hands of the Palestinian police.

However, their understanding of police duties is quite different from what you might think. Let me illustrate by example: Imagine that Mexican farmers are angry at some U.S. policy and decide to protest by marching on San Diego or El Paso. Mexican police, of course, will stop them before they reach the border, and the demonstration will take place in Mexican territory. Suppose, however, that the Mexican police let them attack the U.S. border guards. The latter will shoot, defending themselves, and be justified by any international standards.

If the Mexican police start firing at the U.S. border guards to protect their fellow citizens from this "aggression," I doubt that public opinion in the U.S., and the world, would be very sympathetic to heavy casualties among the protesters and the Mexican police. This scenario is unimaginable anywhere (try applying it to your own country) but in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority incites the population, mostly children and young men, to attack Israelis. The Palestinian police and militiamen hide in the back, occasionally opening fire. Israeli soldiers, stationed to protect the access to roads and Jewish villages, come under barrages of rocks and Molotov cocktails. They defend themselves with tear gas and rubber bullets. When shot at, they return fire: the orders are not to open fire with live ammunition unless attacked.

Anybody who has served in the military, however, understands that surgical precision is not possible in high-pressure situations, and erroneous casualties are inevitable. If not for our restraint, the casualties on the other side would have been much higher. I claim that to a large extent the responsibility for these fatalities lies with those who close schools and send children into dangerous situations.

Judging from the Palestinian Authority's constant calls for further violence (not shown on your CNN channel) aimed at impressionable children, one cannot help but wonder whether this is a cynical use of dead and maimed children in a very successful PR campaign for the Palestinian cause. In such a case the media is partially responsible for their deaths, since it plays along.

As some of you know, I live in a neighborhood about one mile from the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University. My windows face one Arab village on the north and another on the south. These villages have been fairly quiet during the last three weeks. Nobody has been shooting into my windows with automatic weapons, or throwing Molotov cocktails at my car.

However, my experience is very different from that of my neighbors 10 miles to the north and those in southern Jerusalem neighborhoods, whose houses are being fired at nightly. I have to thank Chairman Arafat for the relative calm of my existence, since he chose to instigate the violence now, rather than waiting a few months and signing an agreement with us. Under Barak's Camp David proposals in July, Arafat was to get full control of the villages around my house. Then, rather than lying awake at night hearing the echoes of gunfire, I would be dodging bullets coming through my windows from houses located 600 yards away.

Right now people living in these houses shop in my neighborhood rather than shoot at it, and I prefer to keep it this way. You tell me whether I should agree to allow the Palestinian Authority to place its militia in these villages and test this "peace" arrangement on my children, following the experience of recent events. This is what it is all about for me.

I, like the absolute majority of Israelis, understand that we need to come to some kind of arrangement with the Palestinian people living around us. It is our interest that Palestinians run their own affairs, and we had gone a long way toward this goal. We intended to do much more, but we also have our legitimate security concerns (founded, I would say) and are not willing to compromise them.

The Palestinian leadership and some of the grassroots movements have not yet abandoned violence as a way to achieve political goals; thus, at this time they do not constitute a partner for peace. When Palestinian children are no longer taught that the "final solution" for the Jewish problem will come with our death, or at least expulsion from Palestine, the peace may come. In the meantime, we will have to defend ourselves and hope for better times.

I hope that this little piece of information helps you form a more balanced view on what happens in this region. It is a small reminder that not all you see in the press is the truth.

Thank you for the attention.


Eugene Kandel

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I hesitated before writing this letter; however, the interpretation of recent events in my part of the world by the media (e.g., CNN and BBC) prompted me to tell you MY side ofthe story, which I see from a very close distance. My goal is to balance the very biased view one...
Monday, 06 November 2000 12:00 AM
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