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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 04, 2003

To the Princeton Class of ' 74
There is no URL for this letter. It was forwarded to me by a former student, a firm supporter of Israel, who lives in N.J. and works in N.Y. He reads Instapundit daily. I have to paste the entire letter since Hotmail will "vanish" otherwise.
For what it's worth, I offer this perspective from the Middle East. I read Verne's and Howard's comments with great interest and yet with growing despair. They like many others in the United States and Europe are wrestling with serious ethical, legal and moral issues concerning the propriety of war as an instrument of policy.

My reaction, as an Israeli and as an American, is that the debate in which you are engaged is a kind of luxury reserved for those who experience war in the abstract or as passive spectators of a media event. I have lived in this country (Israel) for 17 years with my wife and eight children. It seems as if it has been at least two lifetimes, primarily because of the whirlwind of events in which we have been trapped, usually as victims of a deep-seated, to a Western mind, inexplicable hatred aimed at our entire existence and way of life.

I remember hiding in our sealed rooms during the 1991 Gulf War wearing gas masks and putting, gas hoods on our babies all because the Iraqi leader, then as now, Saddam Hussein, decided that it was in his country's interest to incinerate Israel so as to weaken the US - led coalition of those years. I remember the shrapnel from the Iraqi Scuds plowing into the office building in Tel Aviv where I had my law offices then and the need to dash furtively for weeks on end from meeting to meeting carrying my anti-chemical warfare kit. I remember watching my practice wither for months while we sat hostages to Saddam Hussein's insane need to bulldoze over sovereign borders, committing rape and pillage and leaving behind an ecological disaster from purposely fired oil wells the vapors from which
filled our lungs for weeks afterwards. I remember my neighbors in nearby Arab villages running out to the streets in sheer ecstasy as they watched the SCUD missiles re-enter the atmosphere leaving fiery trails on their way to targets in Haifa, Ramat Gan and Dimona.

I am now watching my 18-year old prepare himself for the mandatory three-year tour of duty in the Israel Defense Forces, ready to take his turn in the fight to keep suicide murderers away obliterating innocents in hotels, cafes, schools and synagogues. Last month alone, the radio reported today, 57 suicide bomber attempts were thwarted by our young men and women in the IDF-- none of which I am sure was reported on CNN or even Fox News. Even as I write, Israeli boys my son's age are scouring the deserts of western Iraq in search of mobile SCUD launchers together with their British and American counterparts in the hopes of saving our people from the hail of metal, poison and destruction from Iraq. Only this time we know that, if Saddam has his way, the threat of death will not come from the skies packaged in some guided missile, but rather in a suitcase or spraycan.

For us in this part of the world who are desperately trying to hold on to our Judeo-Christian values in a sea that repudiates those very values, the prospect of war and violence is not an abstraction in constitutional law or humanistic ethics -- it is an ever present reality. It is paradoxically a solution ... a promise of a better day..

When those of us in this sliver of a nation watched as the great steel and glass edifices on Manhattan's south shore disappeared into smoke and ash on September 11, we wept with you out of empathy, not pity -- empathy spawned by five decades (in my case nearly two) of having to cope with ever present terror and, yes, war. I watched with tears in my eyes as your President, my President, addressed Congress and the world in his soft-spoken declaration of war on terror. He warned us then that this war would not be like any other undertaken in modern history. It would be fought in unconventional ways, on unconventional battlefields, over long periods of time -- often far from the penetrating view of television cameras and satellite telephones. We listened to his speech in the presence of an equally brave Prime Minister of Britain and thought, "Now our friends in America and Europe will understand what they are up against, what we have been contending with for half a century."

It has been less than two years since September 11, 2001 and judging from the proliferating news reports and well-meaning letters of protest, like those of Verne and Howard, the once impenetrable consensus has begun to disintegrate, at least in American intellectual circles and certainly on the European street. The resolve to fight the terror, the evil represented by Saddam Hussein and others of his ilk has weakened and is now threatening to put an all-too premature end to, what from this speck of a vantage point, appeared to be the most courageous development in American foreign policy since the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine.

Many of us here on the periphery of the debate watching the Europeans shrink from war to cleanse our region of the cancer called Saddam in the name of peace and other lofty principles cannot help but be reminded of another epoch in the not so distant past when the same people (indirectly aided by an indifferent American public) deluded themselves into sacrificing the tiny Czechoslovaks on an altar called Munich. Then, as now, a well-intentioned, heartfelt appeal was made to avoid the temptation to go to war, to bring peace in our time. Then, as now, the European masses cheered leaders who urged patience and restraint, ignoring cries of the firebrands. But as Winston Churchill, then a lone dissenter, later wrote of those fateful days: "there is no merit in putting off a war for a year if, when it comes, it is a far worse war or one much harder to win. These are the tormenting dilemmas upon which mankind has throughout its history been so frequently impaled." Millions of the human race paid dearly for the enlightened restraint of the West leaders of yore, among them the six million whose cremated corpses fueled the flames in which the State of Israel was forged. How easily mankind forgets.... to think it has been only 58 years.

I do not wish to delude myself into thinking that a few paltry words of an American-Israeli Jew will persuade you to reconsider the consequences of your elegantly argued philosophy of restraint. Who in his or her right mind does not crave peace? But I beg you to open your eyes to the world in which we are all living. It is a world in which all you take for granted and hold so dear is considered anathema by millions who would not hesitate for a second to send you and your families to hellish oblivion if given the opportunity, as they have tried and are trying daily to do in our small country. Your leaders in Washington have understood this and are trying to hold the line. A wake-up call was sent to you on September 11.

Please, for God's sake, do not ignore it.
Marc Zell