October 30, 2000

Barak Mechakkeh

It’s 4:15 in the morning and I wonder what has woken me up.

It’s not the wind and rain. London has had so much of it lately that its sounds are as soporific as wheels on a railway track. I struggle to recapture the dream that woke me. Fuzzily it comes back. It's Israel again.

Oddly, there’s a song from the Six Day War war playing in my head that I just can’t get rid of. It went: ‘Nasser Mechakke le-Rabin … ha, ha ,hah..’. It was about Egypt’s President Nasser waiting for Rabin’s next move.

These days it seems the shoe is on the other foot and Barak is always waiting for Arafat’s next move.

I conclude that it is a sense of despair and frustration that has been unsettling my sleep. Yes, and some fear too. I worry about my kids - aged 7 through 16 – and having had to ask them to wear baseball caps rather than kipot since the stabbing of a yeshiva student on a London bus. This time it seems we are all on the front line.

It is this last thought that gets me out of bed at 4:30 am with the urge to put it all down on paper. Because this time my family and I are on the front line. I feel this gives me the right to say some things that I have always been uncomfortable saying to those of my friends who have gone on Aliyah and who say: ‘It’s easy for you to talk … your kids are not in the army’.

This past summer was the first for my friend Matthew who had moved to Jerusalem. He was very much into the peace talks and confided his deep worries about army service when he tucked his kids into bed every night. My strong views against withdrawing from Lebanon did not therefore go down very well with Matthew and others who had recently made Aliyah. The unspoken message: "When you have kids in the army, then you can pontificate. Not before."

Within all the biased news coverage of the new intifada we still keep hearing the same old cliches. Ireland is the most popular one hereabouts. ‘If there can be peace in Northern Ireland there can be peace in Israel’. How little these pundits know about the Jews and Arabs. They cannot appreciate that if the British prime minister turns out to have made the wrong decision, he will have to cope with more violence, more bombing and having to round up all the prisoners he released. If the Israeli prime minister makes a mistake with the Arabs, Israel may cease to exist.

Barak said no less in his 20-minute interview with CNN’s Christiaan Amanpour. We are not living in the comfort of North America or Western Europe here. In the Middle East, there are no second chances. I was so impressed with Barak’s performance in that interview – expletives and all - that I immediately went out the front door to peel off the anti-Barak sticker from the back of the family car.

But Barak has gone downhill ever since. His vacillation and indecision is costing Israel and the Jews in the Diaspora dearly. A week later I was peeling off the ‘Nah … Nachman Me-Umman’ sticker from the back of the car after it had been violated in the West End of London.

It seems Barak is waiting for everyone and everything. Waiting for Arafat’s next move. Waiting for Sharon. Waiting for the opening Knesset debate. Waiting for the US Congress’s aid package. More ominously, he is waiting for the next suicide bombing. This cannot be right. This is no way to govern a country in crisis just as it is no way to lead an army in war.

And then there is the other comparison: David and Goliath. Most commentators remark how the tables have turned with the Palestinians using slingshots against giant Israeli tanks. It’s very bad press for Israel and it will only get worse as long as Barak allows this conflict to be fought on his opponent’s terms.

In truth the most telling portrayal of Israel’s predicament is Daniel in the Lions’ den. The lion is untamed and unpredictable. At circus-time it can appear docile and domesticated and, like the Palestinian leadership, it can do all sorts of cute tricks for the world’s media. But, faced with a piece of raw meat or the smell of blood the lion turns frighteningly into the savage beast it really is and it will tear a man apart just like that Ramallah lynch mob.

The lion tamer may keep a lion at bay with nothing more than a chair, providing there is a man with a rifle outside the cage in case of emergency. Similarly Israel may indeed share a home with the Palestinians so long as she has military supremacy at all times.

Unfortunately, Barak has forgotten the golden rule of the lion tamer: ‘never turn your back on him!’

Barak has shown himself too ready to turn his back on territory and principles. The appearance of being hounded out of Lebanon and compromises on the previously untouchable Jerusalem are signs of weakness that have turned the lion into a beast.

The only way to really tame a lion is to bring him up in captivity. Only when an entire generation of Palestinians is brought up on decent values instead of blood lust and propaganda will there be any chance of living in safety with them.

For the time being, Israel must stop waiting for the shoe to drop and should seize the initiative to run things on its own terms. A new lion tamer needs to enter the arena. One that the lion has not yet seen turn his back and one that will show who is boss. And, at least for the moment, few would disagree that Ariel Sharon is the one man who can look that lion in the eye and instil the requisite amount of fear.

I know this sounds very macho and gung-ho but I make no apologies for it. I am not a Sharon acolyte and I don’t think he has a cool enough head to be Prime Minister in normal times. But I am confident he is the right man for this moment as true peace can only be negotiated from a position of strength. As Nixon said at the time of the Hanoi bombings: ‘You have to stand up to them before you can sit down with them’.

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