|Familiar scenes – from seven years ago [Image Source]|
In a punchy New York Times column published this past Friday [“Jewish Power at 70 Years“], Bret Stephens starts out talking about a hate crime – with an intriguing twist – in today’s Germany. But then he heads off in the direction of the Middle East and the challenges posed to Israelis by the people on the far side of our borders.
Here’s a first extract:
On Friday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the fourth time to the border fence with Israel, in protests promoted by Hamas. The explicit purpose of Hamas leaders is to breach the fence and march on Jerusalem. Israel cannot possibly allow this — doing so would create a precedent that would encourage similar protests, and more death, along all of Israel’s borders — and has repeatedly used deadly force to counter it. The armchair corporals of Western punditry think this is excessive. It would be helpful if they could suggest alternative military tactics to an Israeli government dealing with an urgent crisis against an adversary sworn to its destruction. They don’t. It would also be helpful if they could explain how they can insist on Israel’s retreat to the 1967 borders and then scold Israel when it defends those borders. They can’t.
He’s right. We’re old enough to remember the coordinated Arab assaults on multiple Israeli borders seven years ago in conjunction with Naqba Day – May 14 and 15, 2011 and around the same time as the ill-fated and unfortunately-named Arab Spring.
A BBC report at the time [“Palestinian protests: Arab spring or foreign manipulation?“, BBC, May 15, 2011] said the not-so-peaceful “protestors”
undoubtedly embodied the same kind of risk-taking, confrontational people-power ethos that has fired the revolts in many parts of the Arab world.
How did that risk-taking confrontation play out?
- In Lebanon, some 30,000 people were pulled together by the organizers near Lebanon’s Israel border and walked towards it just opposite the northern Israeli town of Avivim. Soldiers of the Lebanese army first fired into the air to deter them. But then, as they headed recklessly into and across a border minefield throwing stones towards the Israeli and shouting into the hills for a “right of return”, the Lebanese forces shot at them with assault rifles and tear gas. Before the retreat was completed, 11 participants were dead and about 100 injured.
- On the Egyptian border, thousands were reported to about to make their way from Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other points of origin toward the Rafah crossing with Gaza. But the military regime then in power intervened, warning bus companies not to answer the convoy organizers’ requests. The few buses that did set off were stopped by the military and in the end, according to Ma’an, only some 80 individuals equipped with flags and an arsenal of angry demands and slogans got to the border.
- According to Wikipedia, around 300 West Bank “protesters” assembled at the Qalandiya Crossing – a busy crossing point – to demonstrate, forming human chains, staging sit-downs, hurling rocks. About 120 were said to be affected by tear gas, stink-spray and other crowd-dispersal means. BBC: “Clashes at the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah continued for hours, with dozens of Palestinians injured. Palestinian protesters threw stones at Israeli security forces, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.“
- In Jordan, about 500 Palestinian Arab Jordanians were prevented by Jordanian army and police forces from doing harm at the Allenby Bridge, the major crossing point into the West Bank and Israel. They used tear gas and other similar tools and some 25 people were reported injured, including 11 Jordanian police. A Ma’an report said the Hamas-aligned Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and what Ma’an called “the powerful Islamic Action Front” termed this “shocking” and turning reality on its end demanded “an end to such policies that have harmed Jordan’s image“.
- On Israel’s Syria border, 20 buses of “protestors” arrived from Damascus on Naqba Day, May 15, 2011. According to the BBC, the IDF said it “had only fired warning shots as a large number of protesters tried to breach a border fence near the village of Majdal Shams. But reports said at least two people had been killed and dozens injured. Israel’s army says this is a “serious” incursion. Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai said soldiers were still trying to control the crowds and that dozens of protesters had crossed. The army has reportedly sealed off Majdal Shams and is carrying out house-to-house searches for “infiltrators”… “We are seeing here an Iranian provocation, on both the Syrian and the Lebanese frontiers, to try to exploit the Nakba day commemorations,” Gen Mordechai said… Syria denounced Israeli actions in the Golan Heights and Lebanon as “criminal”, Agence France-Presse news agency reported. “Israel will have to bear full responsibility for its actions,” the foreign ministry said.” The NY Times said “some 13 Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded from thrown rocks.” And Ynet, quoting an IDF enquiry, said “nearly 1,000 Syrians approached the fence, with Syrian border forces unable – or unwilling – to stop them. About 300 protesters, including children, rushed the fences and crossed over onto Israeli soil…”
- Some weeks later, those May 2011 events in Syria were revealed to have actually been planned ahead of time by the Assad regime. This is all documented in an expose [“Report: Document Reveals Nakba Day Clashes Planned by Syria Government“, Haaretz, June 14, 2011]. The bused-in attackers had attempted to breach Israel’s border which was the plan. The Haaretz report quotes a Syrian government memo: “Permission is hereby granted allowing approaching crowds to cross the cease fire line (with Israel) towards the occupied Majdal-Shamms, and to further allow them to engage physically with each other in front of United Nations agents and offices. Furthermore, there is no objection if a few shots are fired in the air.” There are clear parallels with what’s happening now on Israel’s Gaza frontier.
- Then in June 2011, again on the Syria side of its border with Israel, large numbers of assailants purporting to “protest” were again bused in from Damascus. A Jerusalem Post report quoted Syrian officials saying 23 were killed and 350 injured “as they attempted over the course of several hours to breach the barbed-wire border”.
The Bret Stephens essay dwells as well on the intriguing case of Adam Armoush. Thought, when the story initially emerged, to be a young German Jew, he is in reality a 21-year-old Israeli Arab living in Germany
who, on a recent outing in Berlin, donned a yarmulke to test a friend’s contention that it was unsafe to do so in Germany. On Tuesday he was assaulted in broad daylight by a Syrian asylum-seeker who whipped him with a belt for being “yahudi” — Arabic for Jew. The episode was caught on video and has caused a national uproar… There were nearly 1,000 reported anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin alone last year…
Stephens then connects Israel and Europe:
To be Jewish — at least visibly Jewish — in Europe is to live on borrowed time… There’s a limit to how many armed guards can be deployed indefinitely to protect synagogues or stop Holocaust memorials from being vandalized… There are many reasons to celebrate the date [of Israel’s 70th anniversary a few days ago], many of them lofty: a renaissance for Jewish civilization; the creation of a feisty liberal democracy in a despotic neighborhood; the ecological rescue of a once-barren land; the end of 1,878 years of exile. But there’s a more basic reason. Jews cannot rely for their safety on the kindness of strangers… Hence Israel: its army, bomb, and robust willingness to use force to defend itself. Israel did not come into existence to serve as another showcase of the victimization of Jews. It exists to end the victimization of Jews… Though not Jewish, Adam Armoush was once one of the nonchalant when it came to what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. Presumably no longer. For Jews, it’s a painful, useful reminder that Israel is not their vanity. It’s their safeguard.