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Minor Atrocities

May 30, 2002

To hear some of Israel’s supporters, if you think the United States should stop meddling in the Middle East you must want to see Israel and the Jews exterminated. This is an accusation, not an argument. It denies the possibility of a middle ground. You must favor one bloody extreme or the other.

To hear some of Israel’s critics, on the other hand, Israel is the worst tyranny in recent history. Have they already forgotten Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Idi Amin’s Uganda? How about Castro’s Cuba, or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe?

For all its sins, Israel hasn’t even approached these monstrosities. During its recent crackdown on the West Bank, which was brutal enough, we heard words like genocide and massacre, which turned out to be wild exaggerations. True criticism requires a sense of proportion, not unbridled hyperbole.

My own view is not that Israel is evil, but that it’s a dangerous ally for the United States. September 11 proved that. It was confirmed by the absurd Israeli reaction, which was to insist at once that the terrorist attack had nothing to do with Israel. If that were so, why would it even be necessary to say it?

Sometimes little details are more telling than the stories that make headlines. To my mind, one such detail is the Israeli harassment of Palestinians at West Bank security checkpoints, where ambulances are often deliberately delayed for hours by Jewish soldiers. Several Arab women in labor have lost their babies as a result. One lost twins. Another was actually shot by a soldier, but somehow survived and delivered a live child.

Stopping women in labor from reaching hospitals! Such cruelty is hard to imagine. Most people couldn’t bear to treat an animal like that. But for the Israelis it seems to be not an “excess” but a policy. I haven’t heard of any official apologies or punishment of the soldiers.

[Breaker quote: Halting ambulances]These things were being reported long before the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism — in relatively normal times. They don’t make headlines; they are routine. But they help explain Palestinian fury.

They are unnecessary to Israel’s professed goals and the “values” Israelis are said to share with Americans: democracy, freedom, and so forth. But they may be necessary to a darker, unacknowledged goal: making life in “Greater Israel” unbearable for the Arabs. To Americans, democracy means majority rule with protection for minorities; to Israelis it means something radically different. What it does mean is all too clear in the daily experience of the Palestinians, in details of life that make little impression on outsiders.

Letting babies die at birth should especially concern Israel’s conservative, “pro-life” Christian backers in this country; but it doesn’t seem to merit their attention in the way China’s forced late-term abortions once did. Many of the Arabs, after all, are Christians too; but apparently they are the wrong kind of Christians, since some American Christians refer to them as “Christians” in derisive quotation marks, when they are forced to notice them at all. It seems that these Arabs are mostly Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, rather than “true” Bible Christians. No compassion for them!

Imagine the international outcry if any regime physically prevented Jewish women in labor from reaching hospitals! Nobody would dare defend such a practice, even if he were nasty enough to like it. But it certainly wouldn’t be ignored, or passed over in silence.

In my youth I’d heard all about the German concentration camps, but I’ll never forget my shock many years ago when I noticed that the sweet old Jewish woman at the local deli had a number tattooed on her wrist. I tried to picture her experience: I wondered what sort of man could make a living coolly tattooing numbers on young girls.

In the same way, I wonder what sort of man can bear to stop a screaming woman from getting medical care. Wouldn’t anyone’s natural and overpowering impulse be to rush the ambulance along? In the presence of agony, even a bigot should forget his animosities.

As atrocities go, this may seem a small one. It’s not nearly as bad as planting a bomb in a crowded restaurant, let alone flying a jet into a skyscraper. But it tells us something unnerving about what kind of allies we have gotten ourselves mixed up with, and are being held responsible for.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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