This week I spoke with my students about the Gaza war, in the context of a class on national security. One student, who had expressed rather conservative, accepted opinions – that is opinions tending slightly to the right – succeeded in surprising me. Without any provocation on my part, he opened his heart and confessed: «If I were a young Palestinian,» he said, «I’d fight the Jews fiercely, even by means of terror. Anyone who says anything different is telling you lies.»
His remarks sounded familiar – I had already heard them before. Suddenly I remembered: About 10 years ago they were uttered by our defense minister, Ehud Barak. Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy had asked him then, as a candidate for prime minister, what he would do had he been born Palestinian and Barak replied frankly: «I would join a terror organization.»
This is not my own answer; terrorism by individuals or organizations or states is always aimed at exacting casualties in a civilian population that has not drawn any blood. Not only is terror blind – consuming both the saint and the sinner – it also expands the circle of the hot-headed, whose blood rises to their brains: Our blood is on their heads, their blood is on our heads. And when an account of the blood of the innocent is opened, who can pay it in full, and when?
I hate all the terrorists in the world, whatever the purpose of their struggle. However, I support every active civil revolt against any occupation, and Israel too is among the despicable occupiers. Such revolt is both more just and more effective, and it does not extinguish one’s spark of humanity. And perhaps I’m just too much of an old codger to be a terrorist.
But, and pay attention to this but, if a normative young person has a spontaneous answer that is different from mine, and that answer also escaped the mouth of an Israeli lieutenant general, then every individual must see himself as though his son is running with the wrong crowd. If things were the other way around, our son-whom-we-loved would be a damned terrorist, almost certainly, because he is of the third and fourth generation of refugeehood and oppression, and whence cometh salvation? He has nothing to lose but his chains.
Whereas we, his mother and father, would be weeping for the departing son because he will never return to see the land of his birth and us, except in his photograph on the wall as a shahid, a martyr. Would we detain him before he carries out his plan? Would we be able to hold him back if we wanted to? Would we not understand what he is feeling? What Ehud Barak understood in his day – would that be impossible for us to understand?
Young people who have no future will easily give up their future, which they can’t see on the horizon. Their past as guttersnipes and their present as cursed unemployed idlers lock the opening to their hope: Their death is better than their life, and their death is even better than our life, as their oppressors – that is how they feel. From the day they are born to the day they leave this earth, they see their land ahead, to which they will not come as free people.
There are no good and bad peoples; there are only leaderships that behave responsibly or insanely. And now we are fighting those whom a goodly number of us would be like, had we been in their place for 41 and a half years.