ISRAEL, MEMORY AND
IMAGINATIONS OF DISAPPEARANCE

C'est beau, n'est-ce pas, la fin du monde?

Giraudoux, Sodome et Gomorrhe

By Louis Rene Beres

Imaginations of the end of the world are often accompanied by visions of a terrible beauty. It is as if wholly catastrophic destruction were much more than the regrettable death and suffering of individuals, but actually a thoroughly appropriate instance of divine justice. With such apocalyptic imaginations, logic inevitably yields to passion, and technology can make the surrender complete.

Israel's Islamic enemies are animated by certain apocalyptic imaginations, by visions of a Third Temple Commonwealth that has been reduced to ashes. What is more, as this Commonwealth approaches the end of the Second Millennium, Israel's political leadership - in an ironic twist of circumstances - does a great deal to encourage these portentous imaginations. For Israel's regional enemies, the destruction of the Jewish State is now a positively beatific expectation, one made distinctly possible, even probable, by the combining of Israeli territorial concessions with assorted Islamic weapons of mass destruction.

More than anything else, Israel requires memory. Without memory, Israel will be unable to recognize the critical imperatives of justice and power. Without a concern for justice and power, Israel will be unable to survive.

Memory, not forgetfulness, is a plaintive reminder of the recently-celebrated Jewish New Year. But it is on all days, not only on the "world's birthday," that memory is indispensable to justice and power. Failing to remember, the Jewish State will charge blindly into the next millennium. It should come as little surprise, therefore, that the absence of memory is now leading Israel to death, diaspora and even apocalyptic disappearance.

There is an important lesson here for Israel, a lesson that draws productively upon centuries of Jewish victimization and upon millennia of international politics. Learn from the past! Do not place the very State at risk of annihilation! Recognize that the use of military force must always be limited, unavoidable and judicious, but that it assuredly has its proper place! Recall that previous Jewish suffering, no matter how terrible and total, generates nothing in the way of present sympathies. Recall that others will not recall!

Why, exactly, is Israel now in great danger, in existential danger? The most obvious threat lies in rapidly expanding ballistic missile and unconventional warfare capabilities among its several regional enemies. Terrorism, as a more routine and obvious threat to Israel, endangers the Jewish State not only by its steadily climbing number of casualties, but also because of its significantly synergistic connections to war. The State of Israel, the individual Jew in macrocosm, is - like an individual human organism - weakened by multiple "insults." Although singular acts of terror will not "kill" the State, it may weaken it sufficiently to encourage enemy-initiated acts of war.

Israel marches toward disappearance because so many of its leaders fail to understand this essential truth: The Jewish State is despised in the Islamic world not because of anything that it does, but because of what it is. There is absolutely nothing that Israel can do to diminish the apocalyptic imaginations of enemy states. For these states, any sort of peace settlement with Israel is inconceivable, an intolerable affront to Islam and a negation of their Islamic identity. Territorial compromise over "Palestine," therefore, is completely out of the question. As a Muslim land in the heart of dar-al-Islam, the abode of Islam, can be ruled properly only by a Muslim authority, Israel's "usurpation" of any Arab land must be met conclusively with Jihad, with Holy War. Described by Islamic leaderships as a "cancerous growth in the Middle East," Israel is approached as a malignancy not because of its particular policies, but because it is there.

Historically, the Islamic world's orientation to genocide against the Jews has not been limited to idle phrasemaking. Even before Israel came into existence in 1948, on November 28, 1941, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin, met in Berlin with Adolph Hitler. The subject of their meeting was "the final solution of the Jewish Question." This meeting, which followed Haj Amin's active organization of Muslim SS troops in Bosnia, included the Mufti's promise to aid German victory in the war. Later, after Israel's trial and punishment of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann in 1961, Iranian and Arab newspapers treated the mass murderer as a "martyr," and congratulated him for having "conferred a real blessing on humanity" by liquidating six million Jews.

All over the "civilized" world, violence and propaganda against Jews are again in fashion. In Germany, in Russia, in Hungary, in Latvia, even in Japan, Jewish life is emerging once more as extraneous and expendable. In the United States, nearly half the population feels that "the Jews have too much power," a belief that not long ago foreshadowed and precipitated mass executions.

Lest we forget that such murder, as an expression of anti-Semitism, has coexisted with civilization for a long time, consider this contemporaneous description of a typical day during the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1653:

"Some of the Jews had their skin flayed off them and their flesh flung to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were cut off, and they were flung onto the roadway, where carts ran over them and they were trodden under foot by horses....And many were buried alive. Children were slaughtered in their mothers' bosoms, and many children were torn apart like fish. They ripped up the bellies of pregnant women, took out the unborn children and flung them in their faces. They tore open the bellies of some of them and placed a living cat within the belly and left them alive thus, first cutting off their hands so that they should not be able to take the living cat out of the belly."

Unique and exceptional? Hardly! In a history overstocked with victims, the Chmielnicki pogroms were a very minor episode. As it was at Chmielnicki, so it was at Speyer, at Mainz, at Worms, at Cologne, at Prague, and, during the Black Plague, in all of Christendom. Dreadfully medieval? Perhaps. But was it any more unbearable than certain twentieth-century atrocities? Consider the testimony of Treblinka survivor Pinchas Epstein at the Demjanjuk trial in Jerusalem:

"He (meaning the notorious guard known as "Ivan the Terrible") worked in the vicinity of the gas chambers. I would come there to take corpses, andhe was there all the time. He would stand and look at the results of what he had done, the stabbing of girls, the gouging of the eyes, the cutting off of girls' breasts....He would stand and look at this with delight, as if he had accomplished something. Would look at the crushed faces, crunched...blood flowing. And he would stand and look at this with some sort of pleasure, as if he had accomplished something important. A healthy human mind cannot absorb what happened in Treblinka....Almost a million human beings, souls, were slaughtered, children, old people, and infants....and I ask - Why? Because they were Jews.'

In 1882, Leo Pinsker, a Jewish physician of Odessa, horrified by the pogroms of 1881, concluded that anti-Semitism is an incurable psychosis, and that the only available remedy for Jews lies in self-help and self-liberation. Later, Theodore Herzl, having witnessed the trial of Alfred Dreyfus and hysterical cries of "Down with the Jews" in Paris, wrote THE JEWISH STATE. An attempt to solve "The Jewish Question," Herzl's pamphlet was premised on the following idea: "The nations in whose midst Jews live are all either covertly or openly anti-Semitic." This means, he argued straightforwardly, that a perfectly simple plan is needed: "Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves."

The necessary grant of sovereignty took effect in May 1948. The portion of the globe encompassed by the grant was less than that occupied by certain counties in the state of California. The world continues to begrudge Israel this tiny portion. And portions of Israel's leadership, glib archeologists of ruins-in-the-making, express grudgingly identical sentiments.

It is time for Jewish memory. Recalling the precariousness of Jewish life before 1948, we must never forget that a world without Israel would be a world of darkness, a world of the sort forseen by the Irish poet Yeats: "There is no longer a virtuous nation, and the best of us live by candlelight."

The phrase "Death to Israel" is always uttered in the same breath as "Death to the Jews." The one implies the other. To assume that the former can be detached from historical anti-Semitism, that it is spawned by concerns over politics and land rather than by theology and immortality, is to validate delusion and to invite disappearance.

"Vain hopes delude the senseless," we learn from Ecclesiasticus, "and dreams give wings to a fool's fancy." Today, hopes for an authentic Israeli peace with sworn enemies of the Jewish State propel Israel's march to disappearance. Founded upon dreams that can only become nightmares, these hopes must quickly be countered by reasonable assessments of justice and power. Before these assessments can be undertaken, all who would seek survival of the Third Temple Commonwealth must first return to that most primary of all lands, to the extraterritorial domain of memory.

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LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) Professor of International Law Department of Political Science, Purdue University is author of the new book, FACING THE APOCALYPSE: ISRAEL'S "PEACEFUL" MARCH TO DISAPPEARANCE. He is also the author of fourteen previously-published books and several hundred scholarly articles in professional journals.


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