I recently got a long, carefully composed e-mail from a reader, who begged me to circulate it among "other opinion-formers." It laid out a plan for peace in the Middle East. The writer, obviously an intelligent and well-informed person, had composed the e-mail with great care. With some passion, too — he really wants to find a solution to the Israel-Arab problem. Here was a public-spirited person doing his citizenly best to promote an idea that, he fervently believed, would put an end to the horrors.
And what was that idea? In a nutshell: The U.S. should lean hard on Israel to abandon the Jewish settlements in Arab land — i.e. beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders. These settlements (my reader argued) were the root cause of all the strife. Closing them down would remove the main casus belli; and the good faith shown by this act would open the eyes of the Arabs to the fact that peace with Israel is possible. The logjam would be broken.
I don't know what to say to people like this. Obviously they are decent, good citizens. Obviously they are trying their best — trying to be constructive, to give some hope to the world. How do I tell them what I feel? Which is, that they are floating in orbit between Uranus and Neptune — inhabiting some place that does not touch the real world at any point.
Look: Possibly there would be some abstract justice in closing down the settlements, I don't know. I don't see it myself, I must admit. Why should Jews not live among Arabs? Lots of Arabs live in Israel, and do very well there. There are rich Israeli Arabs; there are Israeli-Arab pop stars and comedians; there are Israeli-Arab intellectuals, teachers, writers, businessmen, athletes. Why, when the whole thing gets sorted out, should there not be Jews living in Arab territory — as there were for centuries past? What, exactly, is wrong with the settlements? I don't see it.
let's suppose there is some valid moral objection to the
existence of the settlements; and let's suppose my reader's plan were
carried out, and all the settlements were removed, their populations
transferred back to metropolitan Israel, their buildings razed, their
fields ploughed with salt. Does anybody think it would make a damn
bit of difference? There was no such thing as settlements, no such
thing as "occupied territories," before the 1967 war. There
were no such things in 1960, for example, when Adolf Eichmann was
abducted from his hiding-hole in Buenos Aires by Israeli secret
agents, an event recorded by Saudi Arabia's principal
government-controlled newspaper as:
The problem of the Middle East is not the settlements. It is not this piece of land or that piece. It is not the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem or Temple Mount. It is not oil, or land, or water, or history, or geography, or metaphysics. The problem is in plain sight. You know what the problem is, and so do I. The problem is that the Middle East hates the Jews.
I say "the Middle East" because I don't know any more precise way to say it. You can't say "the Arabs" (though of course the Arabs hate the Jews more than anyone), because the Iranians and the Pakistanis and the Berbers of North Africa hate the Jews too, and they are not Arabs. You can't say "the Muslims". That is a lot closer, I think, and there surely cannot be much doubt that institutional Islam is riddled with Jew-hatred. Still, Malaysia is a Muslim country, and they don't hate the Jews, except in a go-along, pro forma sort of way, to keep on good terms with the Saudis and Gulf Emirs.
And I am sure, before you write to tell me, that lots of people in the Middle East don't hate the Jews. Lots of Arabs, millions probably, don't hate the Jews. Probably lots of non-Arab Muslims don't hate the Jews, either. Yet it's hard to avoid the impression, from reading the MEMRI translations from looking at the kinds of things taught in schools all over the Middle East (and in Islamic schools here in the U.S.A.), from listening to the pronouncements of Middle East politicians (remember the Syrian foreign minister explaining to the Pope — to the Pope! — that: "When I see a Jew in front of me, I kill him!") and from random conversations with New York cab drivers, that visceral, murderous Jew-hatred is awfully widespread among Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians, and North Africans. Awfully widespread.
In between getting that e-mail and answering it, I did two unrelated things, by way of my daily work. One was to prepare an editorial snippet for the print National Review about Islamic schools here in the U.S., based on a long study in the Washington Post of February 25th. There are estimated to be between 200 and 600 private Islamic day schools in the U.S., with up to 30,000 students in attendance. They use textbooks imported from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. One in use at the Islamic Saudi Academy in suburban Virginia instructs readers that a sure sign of the Day of Judgment will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees that say: "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him." School authorities did some fast damage control when the Post confronted them (as the Saudis are doing over the now-famous Blood Libel <kopel031802.shtml> article). The textbooks are in process of being replaced with special versions more suitable for American students, they assured us, with the kill-a-Jew-for-Allah stuff left out. Presumably that stuff remains untouched back home in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Libya,... Their kiddies will get the right message, you can be sure: "What do you mean, you don't hate Jews? Look, even the blessed trees hate them!"
The other thing I did was read Jeffrey Goldberg's article about Saddam Hussein in The New Yorker (titled "The Great Terror" in the 3/25/02 issue).
"Iraqi dissidents agree that Iraq's programs to build weapons of mass destruction are focused on Israel. 'Israel is the whole game,' Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told me. .... "[Saddam] thinks he can kill one hundred thousand Israelis in a day with biological weapons....' Students of Iraq and its government generally agree that Saddam would like to project himself as leader of all the Arabs, and that the only sure way to do that is by confronting Israel."
Seems to me, from what I read and hear, that those students are quite right: That by "confronting Israel" via killing a hundred thousand Israelis in a day, Saddam would win the hearts of the entire Arab world, and of the Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans and North Africans, too. (Does Hamid Karzai, Washington's new darling, hate Jews? Has anyone asked him?) I am sure Saddam himself believes this to be the case, and he is, with all his endearing little character flaws, a man who knows something about the Arab mentality.
It is not too difficult to envisage a plan by which the spoken grievances of the Arabs against Israel could be addressed, and some compromise struck. The chancelleries of the world — including Israel's — are in fact full of such plans, drawn up with loving care by legions of diplomats, experts, politicians, ambassadors, scholars and private do-gooders like my reader, across decades of time. In an atmosphere of goodwill, and genuine desire for a solution, the Palestine circle could be squared. You'd just have to pull one of those plans down from the shelf, blow the dust off it, and say: "Let's take this for a starting point, shall we?" The circle is not going to be squared though — not by George W. Bush, not by my e-mail pal with his elaborate scheme to shut down the settlements, not by another round of "shuttle diplomacy," not by any amount of work on a "peace process". It isn't going to be, because there is no goodwill, and no real desire on the part of Israel's enemies for a solution. Or rather, there is a widespread desire for only one solution — the extinction of Israel and the driving out, or mass killing, of the Jews. That's what they want, the Middle East; that's all they want.
I don't think we should be sending diplomats to the Middle East. I think we should be sending teams of psychiatrists. This is a diseased culture, a sick culture. Go back to that disgraceful recycling of the Blood Libel in the Saudi press. Do you think anyone in that newspaper's readership thought there was anything odd about it, anything deplorable about it, anything untrue about it? I don't think so. To the newspaper readers of Saudi Arabia, it was routine stuff, a statement of the obvious. If MEMRI hadn't brought it to the attention of the civilized world, do you think the Saudi authorities would have bothered about it? Do you think, even now, they really have a clue what all the fuss is about? Of course the Jews use gentile blood to make their cookies. Doesn't everyone know that? We'd best pretend to be shocked, though. Those Americans are so-o-o sensitive!
We are dealing here with people who are, not to put too fine a point on it, nuts. The Arabs, the Iranians, the Pakis, the Libyans: they are nuts, the great majority of them. Nuts. Not playing with a full deck. Not too tightly wrapped. One brick short of a load, one coupon short of a toaster. The smoke not going all the way up the chimney. Not quite 16 annas to the rupee. Nuts.
Is there anything we can do about it? Only what Peggy Noonan told us to do in her brilliant Wall Street Journal piece last week: Do what you do when you find yourself in a roomful of glittering-eyed lunatics down at the local funny farm. Keep smiling, talk softly, don't make any sudden moves, keep nodding and smiling, and keep a tight hand on the stun gun in your pocket. The Middle East contains three hundred million people, and most of them are crazy as coots. Glad I don't live there.
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