Israel's Shadow Line

By Auerbach, Jerold S. | Midstream, April 2003 | Go to article overview
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Israel's Shadow Line


Auerbach, Jerold S., Midstream


September 11, 2001 marks the terrible shadow line that defines before and after in the American war against terrorism. Now, a year after the heinous Palestinian suicide bombing in Netanya at the Park Hotel Seder, we can better understand that atrocity as a defining moment for Israel.

The Passover massacre, killing twenty-nine Israelis and wounding more than one hundred, was the climactic act in a month of horrific suicide bombings that illustrated the very essence of terrorism: the intentional targeting of innocent civilians for political purposes.

But it was not merely the cruelty of the deed, nor even the human carnage, that sent ripples of metaphysical horror through world Jewry. Like the premeditated Arab attack against Israel in October 1973, the Netanya bombing was activated by the Jewish calendar. It was, precisely as Harold Fisch described the outbreak of war on Yom Kippur in The Zionist Revolution (1978), a stark "covenantal moment" when Jews could fully grasp the true nature of the war that is being waged against us.

The Arab-Israeli, or Israeli-Palestinian, conflict has never, of course, been "merely" a war between peoples, or even a normal struggle between nations. At its very core, as Fisch grasped twenty-five years ago, it is "a holy war," a religious war for "the liquidation of the Jewish entity in Palestine in the name of the integrity of Islam." The enemy is not merely Israel, but Judaism, and Jews. Just as the Yom Kippur war was launched "at the most sacred hour of the Jewish year," so the Passover massacre reminded even the most secular Jew that there are Palestinians, at least, who take the Jewish calendar seriously. Sufficiently seriously, in fact, to plunge the joyous annual celebration of Jewish freedom into a paroxysm of grief and lamentation.

Among a dozen college students who gathered at our family Seder, just after news of the Netanya suicide bombing had broken, there was a palpable sense of distress. The information was still too fresh, and too terrifying, to be fully absorbed. So we did what I suspect most Jews did that night: we acknowledged the tragedy and then immersed ourselves in Seder ritual, defying those who would choose to kill our people. But as we read the Haggadah, a fifth question percolated: why had this night, of all nights, suddenly become indistinguishable from so many other tragic moments in Jewish history? The question, of course, provided its own answer: because on this night, this year, Jews were brutally reminded how high is the price we still must pay for our own liberation as a people.

In the days that followed, reverberations from the Passover massacre rippled from Israel throughout the world like the aftershocks of an earthquake. They spread through the festering terrorist enclaves under Palestinian Authority rule, and on the Arab "street," where suicide bombings were celebrated; in chic European intellectual circles, where suicide bombers were exonerated; within a divided and ambivalent Bush administration, where on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays government officials condemned terrorism but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays they condemned Israel for responding to terrorism; in American universities, where anti-Zionism, antisemitism, and anti-Americanism were converging to become the new litany of the Left. Jews everywhere were understandably apprehensive about the gathering storm of international antisemitism, by far the worst since the Nazi era.

I absorbed the gruesome details of the Seder slaughter with a grim, unwanted sense of confirmation. For nearly a decade, I had been a resolute opponent of the Oslo process. My belief had never wavered that Yasir Arafat, the most notorious killer of Jews since Hitler, was unrepentant, and that the Palestinian goal was not merely the rollback of Jewish settlements from "occupied" lands in the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria, but the ultimate obliteration of the largest Jewish "settlement" in the Middle East, the State of Israel.

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