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Sunday, July 23, 2006

One Israeli's View (Bob Rosenschein)

Buried in the Washington Post's blog is this great posting: (H/T Rishon Rishon)
The great Yogi Berra once said, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

I am not a columnist - just an ordinary American citizen living in Israel - but I have gained some insight into both cultures, some might say mentalities. Here is what many Israelis are feeling nowadays.

The first point concerns some unwritten American values I grew up with:

* Problems are solvable.
* Good will is returned in kind.
* In general, favor the underdog over the top dog (unless you're the top dog).
* If two sides are fighting, they must both have some justification.
* Be reasonable; split the difference.

But what if you are living in a neighborhood where they are not quite as reasonable as you? Where your attempts to reason and split the difference backfire? Or worse, where concession is laughed at as weakness.

The second point concerns Israel in particular. We are 6.6 million people, toughened but pragmatic. At 8,020 square miles, we have an area 25% smaller than Maryland. The difference is that, unlike America's vast power, with oceans and peaceful neighbors on all sides, the Jewish state is surrounded on several sides with people who actually want to kill us. Not subdue us - destroy our country.

It would be convenient to think that this must be because of something we did. But Hamas and Hezbollah say it out loud and crystal clear. The "occupation" is the whole works. Their final solution is the total destruction of Israel. Iran, a member state of the UN, holds conferences called "A World Without Israel."

This is the backdrop against which most civilized countries would have us turn the other cheek. As social writer Eric Hoffer once said, "We really do expect the Jews to be the only good Christians in the world."

To put things in perspective, imagine, if you can, that Arlington lobbed 1,000 shells at Georgetown. Or sent suicide bombers. How exactly would you react? Imagine that Mexico was calling for the destruction of the United States, backing it up with cross-border raids and missiles.

The third point is that Israel already withdrew from every last inch of southern Lebanon and Gaza, as the international community demanded. But the provocations and terror - violence aimed intentionally against civilian targets - continued. This is why we entered this conflict. Enough is enough.

This is a horrible situation to be in, fighting Hezbollah behind its human shields. But before bombing southern Lebanon and the Hezbollah neighborhoods of Beirut, Israel dropped leaflets encouraging evacuation. Confronted with terrible choices, we are trying to fight while minimizing civilian casualties.

It was wishful thinking to hope that joining the government would make Hamas and Hezbollah more responsible. Sometimes putting the bully in charge of the playground works, and sometimes it doesn't.

The operative emotion in Israel right now is sadness, sadness for what is being done to us, sadness for what we must do to defend ourselves. The missiles shot at Haifa landed a few miles from the research labs of Intel, IBM, Microsoft and Google. Israelis would much rather continue working on desalination, stroke treatment, and alternative fuels (see www.israel21c.org). We would rather that our adversaries developed their own economies pragmatically.

We hate this conflict, but we will not commit suicide. As Golda Meir said, "We will have peace when our enemies love their children more than they hate ours."

My father was a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, was the most optimistic person I ever knew, but he once taught me, "Above all else, when someone threatens to kill you or your loved ones - just believe him!"

The lesson for America is simple. Do not hide from international responsibility. Do not assume the oceans offer protection. Iran is behind Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, and, of course, the insurgents in Iraq. If Iran gets nuclear bombs, do you want to bet they won't sponsor a radical Islamic group to eradicate American cities?

You want to know what Israelis are thinking? Theory and practice are intertwined. We are on the front line, but we will show patience and strength. That's why 89% of Israelis, Left, Right and Center, support the army right now. A mere 61 years and 10 weeks after V-E day, we know that evil and blind hatred exist. And that they can be beaten.

-- Bob Rosenschein is CEO of Answers.com (NASD:ANSW); he can be reached at rrosenschein at gmail.com; this piece reflects his own views