Americans Wouldn't Tolerate Terrorism at Home

Jonah Goldberg, Tribune Media Services
Aug. 20, 2001

A Mexican suicide bomber walked into a pizza restaurant in a Santa Fe, N.M., mall this morning, killing at least 15 people, mostly children. Up to a hundred others were wounded.

The bodies of two young boys who had been playing hooky from school were found in a cave outside of Phoenix. They had been beaten to death, and their bodies mutilated. Authorities are looking for Navajo separatists they believe are responsible.

Militia in Tijuana, Mexico, fired rocket grenades into downtown San Diego, killing 20, wounding 50 and, once again, snarling morning traffic. It's more than a little uncomfortable ascribing such barbarous crimes to completely innocent folk. Still, imagine if such things happened here instead of in Israel on an almost daily basis. How do you think the United States would respond?

Indeed, the comparison is less outlandish than you might think. After all, the United States took land from American Indians. It took land from Mexicans. In a sense, "we" even took land from the British. And, no matter how you slice it, America's claim to Texas and the Southwest is certainly far less morally compelling than Israel's is to its land.

When the European Jews not already living in Palestine arrived there after World War II, the area was largely empty. What is today called Jordan was the historic home of many "Palestinians." And, after all, even the most militant Muslim must concede that the Bible places the land as the historic home of the Jews.

Meanwhile, when European colonists came to North America, they had no historical claim to the land whatsoever and, besides, it was occupied.

But for the sake of argument, imagine if Mexican irredentists or Indian militants took it upon themselves to routinely blow up innocent civilians. America, conventional wisdom dictates, couldn't handle watching young (italics) soldiers (end italics) being killed in Vietnam. How would they handle seeing young girls shopping for the prom being blown to unrecognizable bits outside the Gap? Or US Army Reservists being killed by mobs of Mexican day-workers? Or old ladies being shot by sniper fire? My guess is that most Americans would see, with abundant clarity, that such violence would have to be stopped. Unfortunately, Israel doesn't get the same consideration. Last week, when a suicide bomber blew up a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem full of kids, killing 15 people and wounding 100, Israel responded by seizing control of some Palestinian military installations.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's response? "I hope that both sides will act with restraint," Powell said. "They both have to do everything they can to restrain the violence, restrain the provocation and the counter-response to the provocation."

This is the equivalent of saying that if someone sucker-punches you, you are just as wrong for punching him back in self-defense.

In fact, it's worse than that because Israel never (italics) intends (end italics) to kill innocents. When terrorists kill Israeli civilians, Israelis attack terrorist strongholds, military targets and bomb-making infrastructures.

Sometimes, they've even used rubber bullets. But even when the "payback" is unambiguously severe, it is always delivered to grown-up, declared combatants. Hence, when Palestinian innocents die it is virtually always an unfortunate byproduct of Israeli action. When Palestinians kill, innocents are the target.

And yet, night after night, the American media feel compelled to list Israel's unintended casualties alongside Yasser Arafat and Hamas' intended casualties. For example, when two Jewish boys (one of them American) were beaten to death in a cave last May, press reports linked it to the death of a Palestinian baby killed by accident in a crossfire two days earlier. "In a region seemingly numb to violence, the deaths of both Palestinian and Israeli youngsters have struck nerves on both sides of the conflict," reported a CNN correspondent. But the baby was shot by accident when Israeli soldiers were returning fire on mortars. The baby was, tragically, in the way. But the two Jewish kids were simply murdered. If an American cop shoots a kid by accident in a crossfire, would it then be OK to go out and shoot two kids because their parents are police officers? Well, that's precisely the moral equivalence we've established for the Middle East.

Israel offered a stunningly generous peace settlement to Yasser Arafat in the last days of the Clinton Administration. I thought it was foolish at the time, but it turned out to be fortunate, because it showed that the Palestinians cannot accept peace.

When Arafat turned down the ultimate land-for-peace deal, even Israeli doves knew, finally, that Israel is the only party willing to take peace seriously. If someone refuses to pay you $1 for your car, you know he was never serious about buying it in the first place.

So now Israel is in a situation where its enemies have declared war, but it cannot. Because even when Israel merely responds to terror, it is called no better than a terrorist. And that is a disgrace.