New Republic, October 18, 2002

TEL AVIV DIARIST The Pride by Martin Peretz

Post date: 10.18.02 Issue date: 10.28.02 I'd spent ten days in Israel, and there had not been a (successful) suicide bombing since I arrived. In fact, there hadn't been a successful bombing since September 19. Peaceful times, you might say. Until, that is, rush hour at roughly 8 a.m. on a Thursday, when a driver stopped his bus and--with a medic who happened to be nearby--ran to help a man who'd fallen from the vehicle's back entrance and hit his head on the street. It wasn't until they loosened the man's clothes to help him breathe that they saw the belt strapped with explosives. The medic and the driver pinned the bomber to the ground and shouted for everyone to run. Finally, once the passengers and the crowd had largely dispersed, these two everyday heroes let him go ... to paradise, I suppose. (You can read about the incident in riveting--and affecting--detail in an article by TNR alum James Bennet in The New York Times, October 11.)

It's difficult to imagine a people more practically alert to danger or a people more determined to triumph over it than the Israelis. For years, U.S. editorialists and talking heads have been prophesying that Israel would be sundered by pressure from without and differences from within. Instead, the country has never been more united. And what most galls those critics who ring their hands over Israel's inner soul--but care not a fig for its defense--is that this unity is to a large extent the work of the man they hate most, Ariel Sharon. The intifada seems to have summoned in him the capacity to govern from Israel's emotional center, which means he is--like the country--fierce when necessary, accommodating when possible, sober always. When the time is right, I suspect he will surprise his enemies again by proposing a reasonable political and territorial peace.

Ehud Barak was no pushover either. But he misjudged not only the Palestinian leadership but Israel's Lebanese neighbors as well. When he withdrew Israeli troops from a narrow security zone in southern Lebanon 29 months ago, he assumed that Beirut would reassert its sovereignty. That hasn't happened. Look across Israel's northern border, as I did last week, and you see Hezbollah rather than Lebanese government flags. Abutting two Hezbollah encampments were two utterly passive platoons of Ghanaian troops attached to the mostly "avert-your-eyes" UNIFIL units--whose handling of the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli soldiers just after Barak's withdrawal is another stain on Kofi Annan's resume, a resumé already tarnished by his shameful inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda.

Is there a border anywhere like that between Lebanon and Israel? There is no no-man's-land between the two countries, no protective zone. The children of Misgav Am, Manara, Metzuba, Metullah, and Margalit--legendary kibbutzim and moshavim of the northern Galilee--now face, up close, the barbarous killers of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards besides. When I came to the border, militiamen photographed me from the other side--something they do every time a strange face appears on the Israeli side. Huge billboards with photographs advertise the savagery across the border. One showed a Hezbollah recruit carrying the decapitated head of an Israeli soldier.

But Hezbollah does not limit itself to one-on-one killing. It now possesses an estimated 10,000 rockets, many long-range--these provided not by Iran via Damascus, as in the past, but by Syria itself. In other words, they are the direct work of Dr. Bashar Assad, the "new generation" leader who was supposed to bring moderation to Syria. The rockets are capable of hitting Haifa and thus seriously damaging Israeli industry. This is the shield behind which Hezbollah, in one of its rare joint ventures with the Lebanese government, has now embarked on a scheme of diverting the waters of the Wazzani River from the reservoirs of Israel. Hezbollah wants to provoke Israel in advance of the impending U.S.-U.K. war on Iraq. For now, Sharon will likely exercise restraint. But only for now. After Saddam Hussein, Israel may decide that Syria's air defenses, such as they are, must be taken out. And don't be surprised if you start hearing talk about regime change in Damascus as well. It will not be long, I suspect, before the two Baath tyrannies both become what they have long deserved to be: bad historical memories.

You will soon hear plenty about Oriana Fallaci's new book The Rage and the Pride (Rizzoli), and you can read in the October issue of Commentary a remarkable narrative by Christopher Caldwell about the great stress it is causing European intellectuals. Long ago, Fallaci was a contributor to TNR and a personal friend. What we quarreled over, I do not remember. But I do remember that she was a hero to all of my progressive friends for tangling, in question-and-answer format, with the Shah, Henry Kissinger, and others. I suspect they will be much less happy with her latest work. Her controversial new feuilleton is not about Islam and Israel, although Israelis will understand its anger. It is about Islam and the West, Islam and modernity, Islam and joy and joylessness, Islam and curiosity, Islam and women. Her book is--how shall I put this?--idiosyncratically translated, idiosyncratically punctuated, and certainly idiosyncratically argued. It is extreme, and some of the extremes tarnish its message. But Fallaci was always willing to go to the edge, where truth borders on hysteria. That was her strength then, and it may be her strength now.

What the world is experiencing these days may not exactly be a clash of civilizations. But there is no doubt that large segments of the Islamic world are at war with the tolerance and liberalism of the West, with its curiosity and its learning. The warriors aim to demoralize the West and those--including those Muslims--who find Western ways to their liking. But the West still does not grasp the danger. European leaders blithely assume that mass Muslim immigration does not threaten Western values, and those who suggest otherwise--such as Holland's Pim Fortuyn--are derided and shunned.

I was reading The Rage and the Pride when I heard news of the nearly 200 dead in Bali, a confirmation of Fallaci's dread. This was not an attack on Jews or Americans but on Hindus and Christians, Australians and Europeans. It is not accidental, as the Marxists used to say, that the target was a nightclub--a place where people of different races and religions were dancing and drinking, lusting and even lovemaking. For these sins, as punishment to the sinners and as augury of the blazing sword to come, was the conflagration visited on Bali. This is not just a war between Islam and the Jews or Islam and the West. This is a war of cosmic losers against all that offends them. It is a war of zealot Muslims against everyone else. We are all feeling and fearing what Fallaci calls "the bad smell of a Holy War," a war with real weapons, and its consequence is incinerated flesh.

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief of TNR.

Copyright 2002, The New Republic