Things Fall Apart

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

— W.B. Yeats,
"The Second Coming"

So what exactly happened in Gaza this week? Did Israel strike indiscriminately in civilian areas in the strip, as Palestinians have proclaimed around the world? Or did the government surgically fire missiles to remove wanted terrorists?

Palestinians say that on Monday night Israeli helicopters launched one missile at the terrorists’ car, and after dozens of people ran toward it, they fired the second missile, killing 12 people and wounding 100.

But the Israeli air force immediately released a videotape that depicted a very different event: According to Ma’ariv newspaper, the tape showed the terrorists’ car moving, by itself, on the road when it was hit by the first Hellfire missile fired by the Apache helicopter. There was nobody in the vicinity. Only then was the second missile fired at the car. At the moment when the missile was launched only two figures could be seen, between 20 and 30 meters from the car. The first Palestinian rescue forces did not arrive on the spot until two and a half minutes after the second missile exploded. The Israel Defense Forces said at least seven of the dead were terrorists and that the attacks thwarted multiple-victim terrorist attacks.

Remember the so-called "Jenin Massacre?" After Israel’s 12-day foray into the refugee camp on April 3, Palestinians convinced the world that concentration camp-like carnage took place. Israel, denying the charges, closed off access to the site, and months later, only following an international investigation, was the massacre myth deflated. But it was too late: in the minds of the Palestinians (and many in this busy world who only remember splashier headlines and not apologies and corrections later on) the Jenin massacre was real, and to them it further mythologized their own power of resistance.

Apparently, Israel has learned its lesson in Jenin. Following the strikes in the Nuseirat refugee camp this week, Israel made public the video and the results of the photo analysis showing that no civilians were in the area at the time of the second missile. Whether the world will believe these results, or whether the Palestinians will, is a different story.

The story of what happened will probably emerge in the coming days and weeks. The Palestinians will argue the video was not sophisticated enough to show the collateral damage. Israelis will say Palestinians inflated casualty claims. But unlike Jenin, at least this incident was contained, as opposed to being dragged out for months to end with a whimper of a U.N. fact-finding commission. By next week, what happened in Gaza will probably fade into the background noise of all the events of the Middle East.

I was in Israel last week attending the Jerusalem Summit, a conference uniting conservatives and right-wing thinkers, activists and politicians hoping to offer an alternative to the "road map" (see story, page 18). In that atmosphere — one which Tourism Minister Benny Elon unveiled to a welcoming audience his not-so-new plan with Jordan as Palestine — it seemed as if the entire Israeli people (with American Jews egging them on) were on the verge of a hard-line path with no end in sight.

But at the same time the "Geneva Accord" emerged. Yossi Beilin, former justice minister and presently a mere citizen of Israel, secretly negotiated a peace plan that goes farther than Israel has ever gone before. Even though Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has denounced the plan, Beilin is shopping it around Europe. All this as stakes for the security fence are being laid.

Here in Los Angeles, "The People’s Voice" grass-roots peace initiative made its case at the University of Judaism on Wednesday night. Headed by former Shin Bet leader Ami Ayalon, and Palestinian Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the civil initiative has garnered 90,000 Israeli signatures and 45,000 Palestinian ones.

What’s that, you say? I haven’t mentioned the road map? You haven’t heard anything about America’s involvement in the Middle East (save the FBI investigation into the killing of three Americans)?

As Rabbi Hillel taught in Pirke Avot, "In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man." It can also mean that in a place where there is no leader, someone should step in and show leadership.

Nature abhors a vacuum. The vacuum in the Middle East will be filled by the most radical parties, until someone steps in to take a leadership role.