Reprinted for educational purposes from the New York Times of May 9, 1997
JERUSALEM, May 5 -- (What if) The Israeli Government announced today that Israeli Jews who sell land to Palestinians will face execution.
"The death penalty will be imposed on anyone who is convicted of selling one inch to Palestinians," said the Israeli Justice Minister in an interview. "Even middlemen involved in such deals will face the same penalty."
Change a few words and that is a real dispatch from Jerusalem by the Associated Press. The warning of execution was made -- but by the Minister of Justice of Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority, Freih Abu Medein. It was a warning to all Palestinians, inside its present control or not. It should be taken as a different warning by Israel and those who wish it well.
Imagine the worldwide denunciation had it been a warning of execution to Jews from Israel, for selling land to Palestinians. America and Europe erupt in justified fury. President Clinton is bombarded by press questions and does not conceal his shock.
Almost every newspaper and TV news program leads with it, carries editorials, columns, commentary, talk shows. Imagine the meetings at the U.N., the boycott demands of the Muslim countries, the mock horror of the budding China-Russia alliance. Christian church groups are publicly horrified, and so too the whole world of Jewish organizations.
And what happened after the real death warning was dispatched around the world? Why, nothing. No government, including those financially holding up the Palestinian Authority, said anything. Nothing from the American Friends Service Committee, the National Council of Churches and other church groups normally solicitous of Palestinian rights, no angry faxes flooding in from Jewish groups, except the alert Anti-Defamation League. From the U.N.: nothing.
U.S. newspapers I saw printed it not at all, or barely. I saw one editorial of protest, in The New York Post. Though the world refused to witness, the death warning was probably the most important statement the Arafat people have made since the Oslo agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 1993.
As David Bar-Illan, the Israeli spokesman, said, it recalls the Nazi Nuremberg race laws. But it is far more significant for what it tells us of the kind of regime that will rule the Palestine to be. Whether or not a peace agreement is signed, the Palestinian Authority made possible by Israel under Rabin-Peres is headed toward worldwide recognition as an independent state, whatever Israel might call it. And it will be one more Mideast racist despotism on Israel's borders. Time and again, and purposefully, the Arafat Authority has shown where it is going.
It jails political critics, makes deals with terrorists, talks repeatedly in their language of incitement and jihad. As I began writing this, I became aware of the U.N.'s Geneva meeting and the New York Times article from Jerusalem on torture of Palestinians by Israeli interrogators. Torture is wrong and unacceptable, any place, any time. Friends of Israel understand the terrorist danger in which it lives perpetually. They know that torture of Arabs by Arab governments is unspeakably worse. For these regimes, it is routine, always was.
But Israel is different. Using torture demeans its most important asset next to its defense force -- civilized democratic decency. But I will not allow the coincidence of the torture reports to prevent me from calling attention to the execution policy and what it should tell us all.
Before the execution policy was announced we knew that Mr. Arafat was creating a Palestinian despotism. What we did not know, or did not want to believe, was how readily, how silently, the world would accept and welcome such a Palestine. The world, including the West, cares nothing for Arab human rights unless violated by Israelis. Nor does it care that every despotism on its borders is by nature and intent one more security threat to Israel. Now the silence informs those who do care.
So whatever the result of negotiations, Israel will have to remain at arms until Palestinians achieve democracy, while perfecting its own. That will not be easy for Israel, but then it never has been.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
[Editor's Note: Israel does not "torture" anyone. The police use moderate physical and psychological pressure to get the necessary information form terrorists to save lives in a timely manner. The use of the word "torture" to describe these methods is not only deceptive but evokes images that are more common to the Arab world.]