The Courage to Fight On
Editor’s Note: The following remarks are excerpted from a speech Iddo Netanyahu delivered in Washington, D.D., last year. He is the author of Entebbe: The Jonathan Netanyahu Story, which chronicles Israel’s famous 1976 hostage rescue in Uganda, commanded by Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, Iddo’s older brother. Yoni was thirty at the time and the only Israeli to lose his life. Dr. Netanyahu’s comments are particularly relevant for the current war on terrorism.
Yoni was two years old when Israel was created. He was born on March 13, 1946, less than a year after the most extreme and horrendous attempt—out of a long, almost unending line of attempts—to exterminate the Jewish people. But these attempts did not end with the Holocaust and the murder of most of Europe’s Jewry. For shortly thereafter, they continued, in the form of a relentless effort by the Arab countries to destroy the Jewish state that had just been born.
There is no question that such a destruction would have brought about the physical annihilation of Israel’s Jewish population. And while the end of Israel would have left the Jews outside the boundaries of their country alive, it would have meant, for all practical purposes, the end of the Jewish people as a nation.
Zionism gave the Jewish people back a part of their ancient homeland and the mechanisms of a state. With these two came something else, which we were lacking for many centuries—an ability to defend ourselves. Transformed from a people totally dependent on the goodwill and protection of strangers—and subject, with pendulum-like recurrence, to dastardly and inhuman acts by our opponents—we were now able to confront those who sought our demise and overcome them, for now we possessed an army of our own.
Any people, if it wants to exist as a nation and not as mere individuals, must be willing to fight for its survival. This is perhaps an unfortunate fact of life, and I know there are many among us who don’t like to be reminded of it, but that doesn’t alter the situation. This is how the world of men has been constituted since time immemorial, or at least since the creation of nations.
I’d like to quote now a passage from one of Yoni’s letters. He wrote it to our parents when he was studying at the Hebrew University, debating with himself whether to leave school and return to the army:
We must, we are obliged, to cling to our country with our fingernails, with our bodies and with all our strength. Only if we do that, if we give all we have for the well-being of the country, will Israel remain the state of the Jews. Only then will they not write in the history books that once indeed the Jews roused themselves to action and held on to their land for two decades, but then were overwhelmed and became once more homeless wanderers. (July 22, 1968)
Shortly after he wrote these things, he returned to the army, to serve as an officer in Israel’s elite commando unit. What could be more just than the struggle for the survival of a people? Yes, we are all aware of the attacks against Israel from all parts of the globe, every single day of the year, year after year, saying how wrong we are, trying to erode our sense of right and undermine our belief in our cause, and attempting moreover to convince us that we are an all-powerful country, fighting a weak and homeless people, rather than presenting the situation as it really is—that we are five million Jews surrounded by an extremely rich, highly populous and virulently hostile Arab world.
To give just one recent example: in Durban, South Africa in 2001, our nation was defamed and castigated as being “racist,” and thus, by more than implication, categorized as being an illegitimate entity to be shunned by the rest of the world and eventually dismantled. But I do not know of a people less racist than ours, willing to embrace as their own any person, of whatever race or color, if he accepts Judaism and shows a true desire to be an integral part of our nation.
Nor do I know of any other nation that embarked on a massive airlift in order to bring a sizable African community onto its shores, such as has been done with the Falash Jews of Ethiopia for more than two decades. Yet despite these facts, we are the ones called “racists.”
We are being defamed and vilified, while contrarily, those who seek our destruction are being lionized. Cruel murderers, men who judge justice by the amount of power one has and whose sense of right and wrong is intertwined with the amount of blood they can spill, are labeled freedom fighting “guerillas.” And men whose national heroes and official martyrs are the suicide-bombers who try to ensure that as many innocent victims as possible die with them—such people are to be considered legitimate, and even desirable, partners for “peace,” and are often looked upon not as what they are—killers of innocent men, women and children, that is, terrorists of the worst ilk—but as champions of human rights and freedom. At the same time, young Israeli soldiers, forced to fight such a brutal enemy, have been castigated as Nazis.
What hasn’t been said about us by our detractors? Almost everything imaginable. We have even been accused of attempting to poison the Palestinian population—not by defiling their wells, as we were accused of in the Middle Ages, but by literally poisoning the air they breath and the food they eat.
Many of you might remember the accusations hurled against us by the Palestinians twenty years ago, and the big to-do about it in the world media at the time. The media, mind you, did not turn against those who instigated this horrendous lie, but against us. And it doesn’t matter that it’s our enemies who have been using poison gas on others. All this doesn’t matter: for it is the Israelis (so they say) who are the poisoners.
And when Israel’s enemies admit to their heinous crimes of suicide bombings and political assassinations—for which they gloat (when not speaking to the Western media, of course), for in their eyes these are highly admirable acts— even then it is not they who are to blame for them. No, even on those occasions, it is Israel that is at fault, for it is our supposed “oppression” that has supposedly caused these acts to be committed!
Thus, no matter what, we are the guilty party. A very neat arrangement indeed.
But in truth, Zionism is as just a national movement as ever there was one. It is a movement that sought to ensure a permanent refuge for a homeless and persecuted people; and it did so not by taking anyone’s country, as did most other peoples, but rather by having us return to our ancient and beloved homeland, which was a virtual wasteland when we first resettled it, sparsely populated, consisting for the most part of swamps, sand, and rocks, and belonging to no existing nation and to no known people.
Indeed, during the years my mother grew up as a child in the land of Israel, it was she and her friends who were called Palestinians (just as my uncles and their Jewish friends, from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, when they served in World War II in the British army, were called by the British), for the Arab inhabitants of the land did not call themselves that and certainly did not regard themselves in any such way. If they had a national affinity whatsoever, it was to the larger Arab world.
The Arabs can say what they will until doomsday, but nothing will alter the fact that it is they, not us, who possess a huge land-mass, larger than the continental U.S., populated by hundreds of millions of people, and divided into twenty-two (!) states, each of which considers itself part of the greater Arab nation. All have a similar, if not identical culture, possessing the same religion, and speaking the same language.
Compare this with what we have—one of the smallest and most densely populated countries on earth. Yet despite that, it is we who are castigated as being “expansionist,” as being land grabbers at other people’s expense, and it is we whose country the world wants to shrink further, so that it may possess a waist comparable to the breadth of an ordinary American city.
The Arabs know full well why they want Israel to have such a narrow waist. It is for the very same reason that they also continually insist on the “right of return,” whereby Israel would be flooded with a hostile population. They know that a nation with such borders and such a population would be indefensible and collapse.
For who are our enemies? They are the Saddam Husseins of this world, the bin Ladens, the Arafats, as well as Arafat’s various other “comrades,” such as Waddia Haddad, the Palestinian terrorist who orchestrated the 1976 hijacking of the Air France airliner to Entebbe.
It is not by coincidence that the Palestinian and German terrorists who hijacked the plane landed it in Uganda. Idi Amin, Uganda’s ruthless and vicious dictator, with whom the hijackers had been colluding, was a natural ally for such people, a man of similar hue. (Incidentally, the mass-murderer Amin recently died, after more than twenty years in exile, living in luxury provided by his Saudi Arabian hosts.)
Yoni was waging a struggle beyond just that of Israel. It is the same as today’s world struggle, namely, the one that is going on right now between the West and those who seek to destroy it by terrorist means.
This current struggle against terrorism, if it is to succeed, needs one thing above all: courage—that of facing up to reality. One half of this courage lies in seeing what you are truly up against, the other half in admitting what needs to be done about it.
Unfortunately perhaps for all of us, neither the “end of history” nor the “new Middle East” has arrived. In many respects things today seem not much different from that of the ’60s and ’70s, when Yoni wrote his letters and served in Israel’s military. The essential problems are similar; and even more so, the solutions are similar.
It still remains to be seen whether we in Israel, or for that matter the people of America and other countries, are able to muster up the kind of courage that Yoni and many of his comrades had—both the physical kind and the spiritual or moral kind. The answer to this question will determine the preservation of our world.