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Bruce S. Thornton - Contributor

Bruce Thornton is a professor of Classics at Cal State Fresno and co-author of Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age and author of Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (Encounter Books). His most recent book is Searching for Joaquin: Myth, Murieta, and History in California (Encounter Books). [go to Thornton index]

THE RIGHT BOOKS: Equipping the California Conservative
The Case For Israel
A Right Books Review: The Case For Israel by Alan Dershowitz

[Bruce S. Thornton] 12/23/03

The Case for Israel
Alan Dershowitz(John Wiley & Sons, 2003)

Sometimes it seems that we Californians don't realize the nature of the war against terror in which this country is engaged. The terrorist attacks of 2001 happened 3000 miles away, removed by distance and now by time, and so perhaps are easily forgotten in the face of our current budgetary problems and election-year handicapping.

Yet there are good reasons for fearing a terrorist attack in our state -- a long coastline, a porous border with Mexico, a huge and camouflaging population of immigrants, and a plethora of highly symbolic targets all make us a natural for another 9-11 style attack. Remember, only sheer luck foiled the plot in 1999 to blow up LAX.

But we cannot understand the war on terror without first understanding the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, too many people, including at times the current administration in Washington, seem to think that Israel is a separate, self-contained problem like Northern Ireland: A tragic dispute between two claimants to the same land, both possessing historical justifications for that claim. The solution then seems obvious: give the Palestinians their own state, which would require removing the Israeli settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, and all will be well. Only extremists on both sides are preventing this solution from being implemented.

However, this interpretation of what's going on in Israel is dangerously deluded, assuming as it does that a majority in the Arab world really wants a Palestinian state -- something that could have have easily been created before 1967 when the West Bank was in the possession of Jordan.

The truth is, Israel is not hated for what it does -- building settlements in so-called "occupied" territories, or erecting a fence to keep out murderers, or establishing checkpoints that make life hard on Palestinians, all defensive measures to prevent its citizens from being murdered. Israel is hated for what it is: an outpost of the West whose success in creating a society of freedom and prosperity in a desert devoid of natural resources like oil is a constant and bitter reproach to Middle Eastern Islamic civilization's failure to adapt to the modern world despite its abundant oil wealth.

Thus nothing Israel does will change the Islamic need for it quite simply to disappear "from the river to the sea." The agitation for a Palestinian state then is merely a tactic, like terrorism or "cease fires" or "road maps," to be selectively employed in achieving that long-term strategic goal.

Israel is hated and attacked for the same reasons the West is hated and attacked: for its individual freedom, restraints on religion in political life, gender equality, and material prosperity, all of which challenge the power and authority of the autocrats, dictators, mullahs, imams, and other elites that dominate most Middle Eastern states and keep them underdeveloped, under-educated, and under-nourished. As such, Israel for fifty years has been the front line of the "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West, a struggle that started 1300 years ago when the Arab armies swept away the Greco-Roman, Christian, and Hebraic cultures that had existed in the Near East for centuries, a tide of war that subjugated Christian Spain for seven centuries and did not ebb until the 17th century when the Turks were turned back at the gates of Vienna.

Moreover, since the current political, social, and economic backwardness of the Middle Eastern states renders them incapable of challenging the West militarily -- as Israel has proven in three wars -- terrorism has become the weapon of choice for exploiting what the Islamicsts think is the West's fatal flaw: its willingness to sacrifice principle and right for physical comfort. If terrorism works in Israel, then it will work elsewhere.

And so to prevent terrorism from working elsewhere, we must ensure that it fails utterly and devastatingly in Israel. Israel is the canary in the coal mine, the state where the struggle between a dynamic modernity and a sclerotic medievalism is most intense, and where victory or defeat will first be manifested.

Perhaps first step in understanding Israel is to know the facts, and for this Alan Dershowitz's book is invaluable. Anyone put off by Dershowitz's reputation as a media-hungry celebrity lawyer and opportunist should set those prejudices aside. His book provides a reasoned and well-documented account of why Israel deserves our wholehearted support, and he details the simple facts that expose the shameless distortions that appear in the media.

The Case for Israel is organized around 32 loaded questions typically asked by haters of Israel. Some of these are obviously more salient to the issue than others, but taken together, Dershowitz's rebuttal of these typical reproaches make a powerful case that Israel is the aggrieved party and that the rhetoric of moral equivalency that dominates the media is a shameful distortion of simple fact.

For example, the mainstream media regularly report casualty figures from the current intifada that always suggest a disproportionate number of Palestinian deaths compared to Israeli casualties -- all with the implication that the Israelis are callous and brutal thugs with no regard for Palestinian life.

What the media rarely do, however, is discriminate between combatant and non-combatant deaths. So currently we hear that through the end of November 2497 Palestinians have died compared to 874 Israelis. But according to a statistical analysis by the International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism (, 911 Palestinian non-combatants have died compared to 679 Israeli: that is, 27% of Palestinian deaths are non-combatants whereas 77% of Israeli dead are.

Dershowitz approaches this issue of Israel's presumed brutal disregard for Palestinian life in his chapters ""Why Have More Palestinians than Israelis Been Killed" and "Has Israel Engaged in Genocide against Palestinian Civilians," the latter charge regularly made by Palestinian sympathizers such as University of Illinois law professor Francis Boyle. Dershowitz surveys the history of Arab assaults and terrorism against Jews and Israelis -- including the massacre of 60 Jewish women, children, and other unarmed civilians in Hebron in 1929; the chronic cross-border raids that murdered thousands of Jews before 1948; the shelling of Israeli civilian populations in the Six Day War; and the continuing massacres of the two intifadas. He then rightly concludes that even taking into account the rare Jewish terrorist attacks, the conflict is remarkable -- not for Israeli indifference to civilian casualties -- but for its restraint in the face of decades of attacks on its people by those willing to hide in ambulances, endanger their own families, and dress up as women in order to kill Jews. Indeed, the charge of genocide more accurately describes the incessant, publicly sanctioned and celebrated attempts to destroy the Israelis.

A typical example of Israeli restraint is its incursion into Jenin in April 2002 after hundreds of suicide bombings. As Dershowitz points out, Israel did not bomb from the air, thereby killing the innocent along with the guilty. Rather, infantrymen entered the city on foot, searching house by house for terrorists and bomb-making factories. The cost? Fifty-two Palestinians, many of them combatants, were killed, while 23 Israeli soldiers died -- a tally that could have been reduced to zero if Israel had simply bombed from the air. Yet United Nations Relief Agency head Peter Hanson, a long-time shill for terrorists, characterized this restraint that led to those 23 dead as a "human rights catastrophe that has few parallels in recent history," and even today the "Jenin massacre" is a staple of Palestinian propaganda.

The fact is, as Dershowitz shows in his discussion of the remarkable restrictions Israeli forces operate under, no other nation in history has fought against vicious murderers while operating under similar self-imposed restraints. Yet this willingness to risk its own people to reduce non-combatant deaths is ignored or, worse, in Orwellian fashion transformed into "massacre" and "genocide."

Another frequent distortion of fact that has become the received wisdom of those who hate Israel is that the Jews are quasi-colonialists and imperialists. These Western interlopers, advance agents of European powers hungry for oil, infiltrated Palestine and stole land from the Arabs and displaced the rightful inhabitants. Israel is thus a "bastard child of imperialist powers," as a professor at Northeastern University has put it. Several of Dershowitz's chapters address this lie, perhaps the most important in the arsenal of those who want Israel destroyed. And it has been a shrewd lie, as it taps into many Western intellectuals' guilty obsession over the West's presumed bad treatment of indigenous peoples "of color."

The facts of history tell another tale. For millennia Jews have lived in the regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River and Lebanon and the Negev desert. The first immigrants to Palestine in the 19th century were returning to their ancestral homeland to escape the persecution and pogroms of the European powers whose minions they supposedly were. They were refugees, not imperialists. Moreover, they did not "steal" the land and displace the rightful inhabitants. Most of the land the immigrants inhabited was purchased legally from absentee landlords; one analysis quoted by Dershowitz has established that three-quarters of the parcels purchased by Jewish immigrants between 1880 and 1948 were from "mega-landowners rather than those who worked the soil."

Nor were large numbers of Arabs displaced, if only because there weren't that many living in that desolate land, as the reports of 19th century visitors like Mark Twain attest. Furthermore, the people who were living in Palestine were not all Arabs-Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Bosnians, Druzes, Circassians, Egyptians, and many other groups all had villages. In fact, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica counted fifty different languages spoken in Palestine. The Arab population began to increase only after the Jewish settlers had created a land worth living in, one with better health care and more sanitary living conditions.

But what about the so-called "occupation" of the West Bank? That very word "occupation" conceals a distortion, as this region, historically as much or even more Jewish than Arab, is disputed territory whose final disposition awaits a peace treaty. As Dershowitz writes, "there is no good reason why ancient Jewish cities like Hebron should be Judenrein." And if the Palestinians really do accept the legitimacy of Israel and its right to exist, why should it object to a quarter million Jews living in Palestine when more than four times that many Arabs live in Israel?

This is just a small sampling of the corrections of anti-Israel propaganda Dershowitz provides in this useful book, covering everything from allegations of torture to the so-called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, whose numbers have swollen over the years to fantastic proportions, even as the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab lands since 1948 are forgotten. By the end of his book Dershowtiz's case for Israel is powerful indeed: a Western civilization that in the face of constant murder and three full-scale military attacks has created a thriving polity in a desert, an oasis of political freedom and prosperity in the midst of autocracy, oppression, and economic backwardness. And that is why Israel is hated and attacked by even the supposed moderates of the Middle East: because the richest, freest Arabs in the Middle East live in Israel.

The war that we think began on 9/11 Israel has been fighting for a century, and until we accept that the front-line of this war is in Israel we will never win. Rather than carp at Israel's attempts to protect its citizens from murder -- a criticism smacking of hypocrisy, given that since 9/11 we have invaded and overthrown two governments --we should make it clear to the rest of the nations in the Middle East that we will see to it that terrorism against Israel never works, and that any nation refusing to repudiate utterly terrorism will pay a terrible price. If we don't, 9/11 will not be our past, but rather our future.

copyright 2003 Bruce S. Thornton

Searching for Joaquin
by Bruce S. Thornton

Greek Ways
by Bruce S. Thornton

Bonfire of the Humanities
by Victor Davis Hanson, John Heath, Bruce S. Thornton

Plagues of the Mind
by Bruce S. Thornton

Eros: The Myth of Ancient Greek Sexuality

by Bruce S. Thornton






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