"If this is how you treat your friends, after we fought with you for 25 years, no one will ever want to make peace with you!"
"We don't want land, we don't want money, we want honor for our blood!"
The above are a representative sampling of the signs that were held by 1,000 demonstrators who stood in the driving rain and cold outside the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday afternoon.
The demonstrators, former soldiers and officers in the South Lebanese Army (SLA) and their families, came to the Prime Minister's Office demanding, for the umpteenth time since Israel turned them into refugees in the aftermath of the IDF's precipitous withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, that Israel treat its friends with respect and dignity.
Michael, the 13-year-old son of a former SLA officer who now lives in Kiryat Shmona, told a reporter at the scene, "My father did not put down his gun for 25 years. Today we live like dogs. We don't have any food in our house."
640 SLA soldiers were killed and more than a thousand were injured during their 25-year fight at the side of the IDF, first against the PLO and later against Hizbullah terrorists.
As 31-year-old Fahdi Fadel said to me at another SLA protest in Tel Aviv in September 2000, "We had a choice, either the PLO and Hizbullah or Israel. All the Israeli politicians and all the IDF generals applauded us and told us, 'Kiryat Shmona won't be safe if Marjayoun is under attack.'"
P., a former deputy battalion commander said, "It was always clear to us that you Israelis were our brothers. When there was a Hizbullah terror attack against IDF soldiers in Tyre in 1983, 300 SLA soldiers and officers donated blood right then and there because it was clear that we were blood brothers."
And how did Israeli authorities respond to the SLA protesters on Sunday? By encircling them. Rather than standing by their side and supporting these men and their families in their hour of need, police forces surrounded them as if they were a threat, which they then became when for 20 minutes, they clashed with police.
For his part, Jerusalem police commander Mickey Levy said of the protesters, "You didn't behave nicely. I won't call off the police troops until you behave yourselves."
Since September 11, we have witnessed a debate in the US regarding the roots of Islam's war on America. The verdict is still out regarding where the Bush administration will ultimately fall on this issue. Far from a theoretical discussion, the ultimate determination of the roots of Islamic belligerency will determine both how the US prosecutes its anti-terror war and how it will decide the ultimate ends of its campaign.
On the one side are those, like US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who join Muslim dictators in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Ramallah, in insisting on continuing the old approach to terrorism. This group claims that the root of Islamic belligerency towards the US and the West is the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the other side of the ideological fence are voices like Johns Hopkins University Prof. Fouad Ajami and Princeton's Bernard Lewis who argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the source of Arab and Islamic hatred. In their view, the roots of Arab and Islamic belligerency towards the US are found in the failure of despotic regimes to address the real needs of their countrymen. These scholars, and their allies both in the Bush Administration and outside it argue that the only way to defuse the hatred that spawned Osama Bin Laden and his murderous cohorts in al-Qaida and Hizbullah, is to bring about a democratic modernization of the Islamic world regardless of the situation on the ground in Ramallah.
In an article in next month's edition of Foreign Affairs, Ajami argues that this transformation of the Arab and Islamic world can and ought to begin in a post-Saddam Iraq. There, he believes the US should shepherd in a new, pluralistic and federal regime that gives the majority Shi'ite and Kurdish populations of Iraqi society the ability to rule themselves rather than be ruled by the Sunni minority as has been their lot since the British created Iraq in the 1920s.
Ajami contends that in such a new, quasi-democratic regime, "the passion for a Palestinian vocation may subside." A new regime in Iraq, Ajami writes, "might find within itself the ability to recognize that Palestine and the Palestinians are not an Iraqi concern."
For his part, Princeton's Michael Doran advances Ajami's message in his own article in January's Foreign Affairs, writing, "Palestine is central to the symbolism of Arab politics, but it is actually marginal in its substance." Not to be shunted aside, Colin Powell, while willing to pay lip service to the idea that modernizing the Arab world is important for the combat of terrorism, argued earlier this month for a plan that would largely subvert the notion. Among the initiatives that Powell spelled out in an address before the Heritage Foundation, (which he opened by dwelling the importance of establishing a Palestinian state), was a new US initiative to provide technical assistance to Saudi Arabia in its bid to join the World Trade Organization.
As law professor E.V. Kontorovich pointed out in Thursday's New York Post, Saudi Arabia's economic policy of imposing not only a trade boycott on Israel, but of imposing secondary and tertiary economic boycotts on companies that do business with Israel, renders the dictatorship an economic outlaw state that "flouts both the letter and spirit of the WTO treaties that the Saudis are bidding to join."
The intensity of the intellectual debate in the US over the root causes of the Islamic terrorist war being waged against it is a healthy reaction to the new and tangible sense of vulnerability to Arab-Islamic aggression that the US awoke to in the aftermath of September 11. The no-holes barred examination of the rot in Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt that the US traditionally supported has given rise to increasingly powerful voices arguing that the US will remain vulnerable until these nations are transformed and their people are forced to accept responsibility for their fate.
America's deliberations calls to mind a 1959 Peter Seller's comedy called "The Mouse that Roared." In that cinematic parody, Europe's smallest country, the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the best way to save its economy is by making war on the US. The prime minister of the postage stamp republic declares war not because he plans to vanquish America, but rather because he trusts that the US will rebuild his economy once it defeats his army.
In the present intellectual battle in America, those who advocate continued appeasement of ideologically and politically hostile Arab regimes call up the fictional US policymakers who emboldened the Duchy's prime minister to strike. Those who call for recognizing that these regimes stand on the side of the terrorist forces arrayed against the US, are the voices of prudence and reality that Peter Sellers no doubt hoped were actually in charge of things.
All of this brings us back to the SLA demonstration on Sunday afternoon in Jerusalem. The SLA fighters, like brave Palestinians who worked with Israel to prevent terrorism and build a stable, peaceful society for themselves both before and since Oslo, were betrayed by Israel. These allies were set adrift by successive Israeli governments who have preferred to keep company with the PLO and negotiate with the Syrian occupier of Lebanon rather than remain loyal to those who truly were at peace with us.
The deafening silence with which our government greets both the meager demands made by former SLA members and the systematic li
quidation by the Palestinian Authority since 1994 of Palestinian friends of Israel is a mark of shame on our state and our nation.
And we continue to pay the price for our disloyalty. In the absence of the SLA and IDF in south Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Syria are arming Hizbullah with rockets and missiles capable of striking deep into Israel. As for the Palestinians, what voices of moderation can we expect to hear among them when our prime minister tells the world that the PA will be rewarded with statehood for its terrorist war against us?
September 11 was enough for the Americans to begin a systematic and brutally honest debate about the efficacy of coddling regimes that represent the antithesis of all their country stands for. Here in Israel unfortunately, our continuous battle against the same dark forces of blackmail and brutality has caused no reassessment of our abandonment of our friends and our embrace of our enemies.
In the end of "The Mouse that Roared," the Fenwickian army sails into New York harbor to surrender only to find the city deserted by an air-raid drill and so they claim victory. By accident they end up in possession of the ultra-powerful "Q-Bomb" and the whole world suddenly fears them.
In betraying our friends and rewarding our enemies in Lebanon, Judea, Samaria and Gaza, Israel has shown that absurdity is not necessarily funny. When life reflects parody, the result is not humorous – but treacherous, violent and tragic.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.