Never Been Mugged

This piece was excerpted from the writer’s “Maneuvering Between the Headlines: An American Lives Through the Intifada” (Other Press, 2005).

Over time I have learned to drive to a few locations in Jerusalem, but I am never sure when I start out if I indeed will reach my destination without getting lost, circling, poring over maps and asking person after person for directions. I have succeeded in mastering the twists and turns of Tel-Aviv, but driving into the hodgepodge of Jerusalem is as daunting as facing the illogic of Boston’s one-way streets after the comforting geometric symmetry of Manhattan.

In the door pocket of my car I have one road atlas of Israel, one map of the streets of Tel Aviv, one map of the Galilee and, at last count, no fewer than five of Jerusalem. I am always apprehensive of taking the wrong road, and winding up where I might be perceived as an unwelcome intruder.

One day my apprehensions were borne out in a way I couldn’t have predicted. All my life I have seen myself as a civil libertarian, a liberal, a peacenik. In sum, a Democrat. But my behavior proved me no better than the most hypocritical old salon communist.

I had driven to the capital to attend an evening meeting, but was delayed in traffic. Night had fallen and I was late. A double outsider, I was frightened of crossing the invisible borders of the “unified” city into intifada territory where, with my poor mastery of direction, I felt I might be an easy target.

I suddenly recalled advice given to me by a fellow American also based in Tel-Aviv: When in doubt in Jerusalem, leave your car in the guest parking lot at the old Hilton Hotel at its periphery and hop into a cab.

With relief, that’s what I did. Opening the back door I slid into the first cab of the taxis lined up waiting to collect passengers at the hotel entrance. I was just sitting back in the seat, starting to relax, when — through his accent — the driver revealed his nationality.

“Blease,” he repeated my destination back to me, “Hillel Street.”

In the mouth of a native Arabic speaker the English “P” turns into a “B”.

I froze, managed to mumble, “I forgot something,” then fled the cab.

Half panicking, I accosted the astounded hotel doorman and pleaded with him, “Get me another taxi.” I groped for words. “I want a driver with, with–” I searched for a euphemism.

Finally I blurted it straight out: “Find me an Israeli driver.”

Even as I stammered the words, I felt waves of shame rising. I was ushered into the next cab in line, obligingly driven by a Jew.

I kept my eyes focused on the ground, but I felt the dark stare of the Arab upon me as he stood idle beside his idling motor. Humiliation aside, he must have hated me for his lost fare. But however he judged me, it could be no harsher than my own verdict on myself.

My years of so-called convictions hadn’t proved strong enough to hold up a feather when it came to reality. I was too chicken to take a 10-minute drive in a registered taxi through western Jerusalem with an Arab driver at 8 p.m. And I was only going from the Hilton to Hillel Street — not from Jenin to Ramallah.

They say a liberal is a bigot who hasn’t yet been mugged, but my anxiety anticipated the unthrown stone. Unassisted, I put the dagger in the driver’s hand. By my blatant action and blunt words in those brief seconds, I did more damage to the cause of co-existence than I could ever counterbalance by a lifetime of dues to the Association for Civil Rights.

It’s no justification protesting that it was the prudent thing to do, an excusable overreaction, that “you never know,” or that I have a responsibility to my family as well as my ideals. For when I heard that driver speak and saw his dark eyes in the rear-view mirror, I was light years away from any convictions. When push came to shove, I was handed the opportunity to show where I stood, and I did. I failed the taxi test.

And I am doubly damned. For I know that, presented with the same test, I might again refuse the ride, again feel relief as I got out.

I can no longer whitewash my true colors. I, too, am a casualty of the occupation and the intifada it caused — and for that I ask the driver’s pardon. I used to just be waiting for peace. Since that abortive ride, I am also waiting for my conscience to give me peace.


Sharonism vs. Building a Wall

Any attempt to resolve the crisis in the Middle East forces us — the American people and American Jewry — to appraise the motives and the ultimate goals of the leaders involved.

Endless disputes have raged over whether Yasser Arafat and the other Arab leaders merely seek a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel or whether they continue to harbor the ultimate goal of exterminating what they once derided as the “Zionist entity.”

But just as important, perhaps even more so, is reaching an understanding of the true goals of Israel’s current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his close associates. They — even more than their Arab opponents — hold the fate of the Israeli people in their hands.

Consider the facts: Over the past 18 months, Israel has suffered over 400 civilian dead and thousands more wounded, primarily from the suicide bombings that have so horrified the world. These losses are the per capita equivalent of over 100,000 American civilian casualties.

During nearly all previous wars, danger in Israel had been largely confined to those in the military or civilians living on the border. Now all patrons of a pizza parlor or disco are suddenly on the frontlines. This change is inflicting terrible damage to Israeli morale. By any reasonable standard, Israel now faces the gravest threat to its survival since 1967, perhaps even since 1948.

Israel’s leaders have certainly recognized this threat by their rhetoric and by their actions, launching punishing military strikes against the Palestinian organizations and towns whence the suicide bombers have issued. Faced with resulting criticism from various world quarters, the Sharonists have defended themselves as the security-conscious guardians of a small, embattled nation, unwilling to take risks with their people’s very survival. They have reasonably asked how America itself would have responded to waves of attacks that together completely dwarf those of Sept. 11 in relative terms.

But perhaps this is the exact question that we ourselves should be asking. Suppose that over the past year and a half, over 100,000 American civilians had been killed or grievously injured by Mexican terrorists who crossed our border and filled our cities from Los Angeles to New York with daily explosions.

Certainly, we would have taken punitive military actions against the terrorist organizations claiming responsibility and also against any Mexican government that we judged complicit in these massacres. But surely the first and most obvious response on our part would have been — NAFTA or no — to completely fortify our Mexican border with the best possible safeguards, perhaps an electrified security fence studded with machine-gun turrets.

Israel has not. Today, America’s long border with Mexico is far better defended against the dire threat of Mexican nannies and gardeners than Israel’s own border is secured against suicide bombers. An unknown number of these recent attackers, perhaps even including the bomber who killed over two dozen at their Passover seder, simply walked across an unguarded frontier into Israel or else drove to their targets using well-known but unpatrolled back roads. This is madness, pure and simple.

Why have the Sharonists suffered through 18 months of terrorist incursions without building a simple fence? Such a fence would have provided much greater security than endless attacks on Ramallah and Nablus.

By all accounts, the Palestinians of Gaza are considerably more militant in their anti-Israel Islamic fervor than those of the West Bank, yet Gaza’s simple existing fence has prevented the infiltration of even a single suicide bomber and also kept ordinary terrorist attacks to a negligible level. If a border fence has worked so well in Gaza, why have the Sharonists not considered one for the West Bank as well?

Consider the above analogy. Perhaps an American president would have similarly done nothing if he and his close political allies firmly believed that God had granted them the land of Mexico, and that any American fence along that border would be a dangerous concession to the border’s legal validity.

Israel’s ruling Likud coalition contains a powerful political strain of individuals who fervently believe that the Palestinian territories of the West Bank — Judea and Samaria to them — are incontestable portions of the once and future homeland of the Jews, granted them by the One Himself. A fence would be a huge step backward from achieving that dream of a Greater Israel.

In support of this dream, Israeli governments have, for decades, encouraged some 200,000 Jewish settlers to make their homes in these Palestinian territories, and the ultimate disposition of these settlers is regularly cited as the most nettlesome part of any future peace agreement.

Most of these settlers are peaceable Israeli suburbanites, lured to the West Bank environs of Jerusalem by heavy government housing subsidies, many of which were established by Sharon in his past role as housing minister of the Begin government, and whose costs are ultimately paid by the American taxpayer.

But a hard core of these settlers, perhaps up to 50,000, are messianic and militant Jews, often from around the world, who are

absolutely convinced that God has commanded them to settle and thus control this portion of Eretz Yisrael, whether or not Palestinians have lived there for hundreds or even thousands of years. Although less than one percent of Israel’s population, these determined individuals are a powerful force within the Sharonist coalition, many of whose leaders publicly or privately share their views.

And these Jewish militants in their hundreds of small settlements do not merely restrict themselves to lobbying. A few years ago, Israeli Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Yitzhak Rabin became the first Middle Eastern leader in years to fall to an assassin’s bullet, killed by a Jewish militant for his impious desire to make peace with the Palestinians.

A year earlier, a Brooklynite settler named Baruch Goldstein massacred dozens of peaceful Muslim worshipers kneeling at prayer in their mosque, before he himself was overpowered and killed. Random acts of senseless violence occur throughout the world, but Goldstein’s grave is still venerated as the tomb of a holy martyr by thousands of other Jewish settlers, who treat it as a pilgrimage site.

Some of these Jewish militants possess beliefs that would strike most Americans as strange and extreme even by the standards of the Middle East.

For example, over the years Israeli security forces have discovered and thwarted various militant plots to destroy by explosives the Muslim world’s holiest mosques in Jerusalem, an action intended to help ensure the outbreak of the biblical battle of Armageddon and thereby the ultimate restoration of the Kingdom of David. And just recently, the birth of a red heifer has been widely heralded by some of these militant leaders as a divine portent instructing them to redouble their efforts to cleanse Jerusalem of its defiling Muslim religious presence.

By any reasonable criteria, many of these 50,000 militant settlers — and they include at least some of my own relatives — are best understood as being bearded, Jewish Taliban, as uncompromising and difficult as their Islamic counterparts in Afghanistan.

Yet they are also the heart and soul of the Sharonist movement, and while an Israeli border fence might effectively protect close to 99 percent of Israel’s population from terrorism, it would also leave these militant settlers on what was obviously the wrong side of the eventual border. This terrible dilemma between protecting Israeli lives and preserving messianic Greater Israel ideology has so far been resolved entirely in favor of the latter.

And this ideology represents an almost complete abandonment of traditional Zionism. The modern state of Israel was founded by secular socialists from Eastern Europe, men whose own attitude toward Judaism ranged from mild distaste to deepest hostility.

Israel was intended to be a national homeland for a long-persecuted people, a place of refuge and safety for Jews threatened everywhere else. Yet today, in part because of the policies of men like Sharon, Jews enjoy less physical security in their own country than perhaps anywhere else in the world, certainly far less than in our own America. The founders of the Jewish national movement would surely regard a successor who sacrificed Jewish lives and safety to his dreams of a Greater Israel as an absolute traitor to Zionist principles.

They would not be the only ones. For decades, numerous rabbinical scholars, of the deepest Talmudic learning, have regularly denounced the supporters of Greater Israel as individuals who have disgustingly perverted their Jewish faith into a nationalist golden calf that they worship in place of the Almighty. For centuries, such false Jewish prophets have periodically arisen and invariably led their misguided followers into disaster.

If the current leaders of Israel are indeed willing to continue sacrificing the lives of their own people — including those of young, innocent children — to their imperial dreams of expansion and glory, then according to these learned Jews they are committing sins on a truly biblical scale.

How would Americans view a president who regarded over 100,000 dead and injured American civilians merely as unavoidable collateral damage toward his ultimate goal of annexing Mexico? We would view him as a madman.

If Sharon continues to wantonly sacrifice the lives of his people for messianic expansionism, then his arms are the ones elbow-deep in the blood of innocent Jews. He faces the world not as a David Ben Gurion or as our own Washington or Lincoln, but instead as someone whose extremism leads his own followers to their doom.

Ron Unz, a software developer and a 1994 Republican candidate for governor, led the 1998 initiative campaign to dismantle bilingual education in California. He can be reached at

Learning Lessons

One of the most riveting – and controversial – photographs to have emerged from the recent violence in Israel was that of a bloodied and dazed young man with an angry Israeli policeman standing behind him shouting. While the young man was first identified by the Associated Press, the photo’s source, as a Palestinian, it soon became clear that he was an American studying in an Israeli yeshiva – a victim of Palestinians, who had dragged him from a car, beaten and stabbed him; the policeman had been shouting at the Arab assailants. The New York Times, which ran the photo and mistaken caption, published a subsequent correction and follow-up article. Grossman, who is recuperating and undergoing physical therapy for his wounds, feels not only blessed to have escaped his would-be murderers, but richer in a sense for his harrowing experience. He penned the piece below for Am Echad.

As the violence in the Middle East continues, we all have our opinions about the Arab uprising, the peace process and what might be done to halt the bloodshed. There are many lessons we might learn from the events of the past weeks, but an important one is the one I personally learned in a rather unwelcome way.Shortly after the violence first broke out, I happened to be traveling in a taxi in Jerusalem with two friends when our car was attacked by a mob of Arabs who stoned it, forcing us to stop. The crazed mob then dragged us out of the vehicle and proceeded to severely beat and stab us. Somehow – miraculously is the only way I can understand it – we were able to break away and escape to an Israeli Army position down the road.

As a Jewish American student studying in a Jerusalem yeshiva, I had little experience with the hatred that so many Arabs seem to have for Jews. Indeed, I had conflicted feelings about the Arab-Israeli conflict. But none of that would have made any difference to those who assaulted me and my friends. They wanted, to put it simply, to kill Jews. What they ended up doing, though, was to put me on the path to a lesson I will never forget.

The first indication of the lesson came as I lay in my hospital bed, recovering from a stab wound in my thigh, multiple gashes to my head, and a broken nose. I started receiving phone calls from Jews all over the world, each offering support and compassion. Total strangers showed up at the hospital to visit me and asked what they could do to help me. What I began to realize then is what it is that characterizes us Jews as a nation. The Hebrew word is achdut (unity): a connection that binds us all. As I learned in yeshiva, the sages of the Talmud teach that “kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh” (all Jews are intertwined with each other).That concept includes not only all Jews alive today, but all who ever lived, a thought central to the holidays we Jews celebrate. On Passover we are required to imagine ourselves as redeemed from Egypt along with our forefathers; the matzahs and bitter herbs we eat connect us – and have connected every Jewish generation – to the Jews who actually labored in and escaped ancient Egypt. On Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah, we rejoice with the same happiness as if we ourselves were standing at Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah today.

When my picture was published in The New York Times and countless other newspapers and magazines with the distorted caption identifying me as a Palestinian being beaten by the soldier who had actually saved my life, a powerful outpouring of complaints from Jews around the world compelled many of those papers, including The Times, to republish the photograph with a corrected caption and accurate story.I feel that the overwhelming response to the photo that led to that correction was born of the very aspect of achdut that I first realized in my hospital bed. Jews around the world felt that the bond holding us together had been somehow violated by the misidentification of one of our people, and simply refused to allow it to go unchallenged. It was as if the misrepresentation of any Jew was the misrepresentation of every Jew.That is the lesson I learned, the lesson I am still learning, the lesson all we Jews so need to learn. Even if we feel somewhat removed from the situation in Israel, we must all realize that the suffering of any Jew is the suffering of us all. The whole Jewish nation felt assaulted by my assault, and all of us must feel that we, not just our brothers and sisters in Israel, are under siege, threatened and despised. It is not, in other words, “what goes on in Israel”; it is what goes on in all of our hearts.

And as we share in each other’s suffering, may we merit to share in common rejoicing as well.

Defusing Tension

While violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have captured the headlines in recent weeks, Jewish and Arab leaders in major American cities are working quietly to forestall confrontations between their communities.

Their efforts are marked by some common guidelines.

Don’t try to solve – or even discuss – the basic issues roiling the Middle East. Acknowledge deeply felt differences and go on from there. Condemn any act of violence by their co-religionists in the United States. Build on the trust established in previous years in joint battles against discrimination.

In Jewish communities, the efforts are spearheaded by both mainstream and liberal organizations and are most fully developed in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, cities with the largest Arab and Muslim populations.

“We started establishing contacts with the Arab community after the signing of the Oslo accords seven years ago,” says Allan Gale, assistant director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The area holds some 200,000 Arab Americans, twice the number of Jewish residents.

“We have worked on such issues as discriminatory immigration laws, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling at airports.

“We’ve had some incidents and some vociferous Arab spokesmen, but on the whole relations are good,” add Gale. “The Arab community here is reticent to act in an unlawful manner.”

In Los Angeles, some 10 Jews and five Arabs met Oct. 17 in the sukkah of one participant. Although all were aware of the Mideast tensions, the meeting had been scheduled some time ago as one in a series of monthly meetings by the “Dialogue Group.”

The group was established more than a year ago, when representatives of the two communities signed a code of ethics in a public ceremony.

“We try to keep open our lines of communications open and learn about each other’s culture and faith,” says Elaine Albert, the urban affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The lines of communication do not include anything as dramatic as secure hotlines or red phones in case of threatening confrontations, “but we are constantly in touch with each other via e-mail or phone,” says Albert.

Jewish membership in the dialogue group include the mainstream Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, represented by Albert, and individual members of the Orthodox and Reform communities. Not surprisingly, the group has a strong liberal representation.

One member is attorney Gideon Kracov of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), who says, “We have a joint interest in dealing with hate crimes and maintaining an attitude of mutual respect.”

Douglas Mirell, the PJA president, observes that “we’re in a period when it’s easy to be carried away by emotions and to say things that we may come to regret later. We need to curtail the level of rhetoric here and the level of violence in the Mideast.”

Another liberal activist is Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, who says, “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community.”

A leading Arab voice within the dialogue group and on the Los Angeles scene is Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

Al-Marayati tends to attract controversy. A year ago, his appointment to the National Commissions on Terrorism was rescinded under pressure from mainline national Jewish organizations, which described him as an apologist for terrorists.

Many Los Angeles Jews who have worked with al-Marayati took issue with this description, and his organization strongly condemned the recent destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus by rampaging Palestinians.

“Our dialogue with the Jewish community is working,” says al- Marayati. “We are both free communities, and if we can’t talk to each other, how can you expect Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other? At all times, we must show zero tolerance for violence and hate crimes.”

Phone calls to other leading Arab organizations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Arab-American Institute, went unanswered.

Al-Marayati said that the lack of response did not indicate a reluctance to talk to the Jewish press, but simply that for the past few weeks, Arab spokesmen have been inundated by media calls. “I only get to answer one in 10 requests,” he said.

In New York, Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is one of the key figures in the “Coalition of Concerned Arab-Christians, Jews and Muslim New Yorkers.”The coalition will meet next Monday and recently released a statement, noting, “Although the tensions that currently exist in the Middle East can intensify emotions here in New York, we can not allow these events to divide our city.”

In addition, “isolated incidents must not be used as an excuse for scapegoating or reason to condemn entire communities,” the statement noted, adding,” By working cooperatively, this coalition can serve as a model for our children and a shining beacon guiding other groups toward resolving their differences.”

Dealing With Syria

This weekend’s Swiss summit between Bill Clinton and Hafez al-Assad is a make-or-break moment in the quest for peace between Syria and Israel. The American president will soon be a lame duck. The septuagenarian Syrian president is sick and eager to hand over the reins to his son, Bashar. And the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, the man in the empty chair in Geneva, is losing control of his coalition and his constituency.

If they don’t reach an agreement by the summer, it may be too late. That is why Israel greeted the summit announcement with extreme caution. The public signals from Damascus have been threatening and insulting. Barak’s circle remembers all too painfully the disenchantment after the last Clinton-Assad summit, also in Geneva, in January 1994. Assad wanted everything and offered nothing — not even a corner at the concluding press conference for Israeli reporters.

Not everyone is despondent, however. There have been enough credible leaks — from Israeli, Arab and American sources — to suggest that significant progress has been made behind-the-scenes on issues such as the Golan border, water sources, security and the nature of the peace. Now Assad has to show the political will to conclude a deal that Barak can sell to a skeptical Israeli public.

The Syrian leader’s performance so far has been as disturbing to the left, which is ready to sacrifice the Golan Heights for peace, as it is to the right, which wants to keep them. He won’t meet Barak. He won’t allow his foreign minister to shake Barak’s hand. Syrian officials call Israelis Nazis, while at the same time accusing Jews of fabricating the Holocaust. They hint that the proposed peace is only a way station toward the destruction of the Zionist enterprise. And Damascus keeps Hezbollah’s guerrilla war bubbling in Southern Lebanon.

As so often before, the eloquent Hebrew novelist Amos Oz has distilled the unease of the doves. They are peaceniks but not pacifists; Israelis who know they will pay their share of the price if the peace proves as flawed as the hawks predict. Assad has still to convince them.

In an impassioned interview with Ha’aretz last weekend, Oz accused him of making every effort to present Israel with a peace agreement in the form of an enema. “He is clearly determined to humiliate and degrade us,” Oz argued. “It is as if he was demanding not just peace, and not even just the Golan, but that Ehud Barak should go to meet him dressed only in his underwear, with his hands raised in surrender.”

Oz wondered aloud whether Assad wasn’t seeking peace with the United States, rather than peace with Israel. Was his real aim to free Syria from “the stranglehold of encirclement and isolation,” while pushing Israel into the international sin bin? “I see a worrying possibility,” Oz said, “that, following the initialing of an American-backed agreement, Assad will make very sure that it will not receive a majority here in a referendum. And he will do that by repeatedly spitting in our faces.”

Maybe it is all a difference of cultures. Assad is a dictator who doesn’t understand how democracies work. However, I remember that another Arab dictator, Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, did things differently, flying to Jerusalem, pressing the flesh, dining with Menachem Begin, addressing the Knesset (even if the things he said there rang pretty harsh to Israeli ears).

“Sadat,” Oz insisted, “understood that our problem, the problem of both the Jewish people and of Israel, was not merely a problem of land and security, but an emotional problem, our problem of isolation and humiliation. That is why Sadat began the peace process by establishing an emotional breakthrough.”

Assad has not even tried, but perhaps Assad is looking for a deal by the end of May. Barak, too, is not without hope. He urged his warring coalition partners to patch up their differences so as not to destroy the chances of peace.

On Winning the Terror War

Readers’ Quiz No. 2: Test your knowledge of Middle East terrorism. Simply identify the following incident:

It was one of America’s most controversial “victories” against international terrorism: a negotiated settlement with a gang of Arabic-speaking hijackers who were holding American hostages. After military action proved ineffective, a U.S. diplomat in the region decided — apparently without authorization — to pay off the hijackers. The hostages were released, but, in the ensuing furor, the diplomat, a Jew, lost his job.

Pencils ready? Name the year, the place, the terrorists and the diplomat, for five points each. For extra credit, explain the lessons for future terrorist confrontations.

Time’s up. Figured it out?

Answers: The year was 1815, the place Tunis. The hijackers were seagoing bandits known as the Barbary pirates. The diplomat was Mordecai Manuel Noah, U.S. consul in Tunis and the first Jew ever to head an American diplomatic mission abroad.

Extra credit: If you said nothing much ever changes in the Middle East, add five points. If you said things have a way of changing without seeming to, add 10 points. Fifty points if you said nothing is as it appears in the looking-glass war of terrorism.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Noah went to Tunis. America’s relations with the Moslem world have risen and fallen many times over. Jews have moved from center stage to the margins and back. America has become a world power. The Middle East has gone through independence, Arab nationalism, Islamic revolution and the discovery of oil. Yet here we are again, caught in another looking-glass war against shadowy Middle Eastern thugs who play by their own rules, or no rules. And, as always, Washington and the West are divided over how to respond.

The tactical dilemmas vary from case to case, but they boil down to one basic question. Should the fight against terrorism follow the niceties of civil society, or the cruder rules of the battlefield? Put differently, is terrorism a matter of statecraft or simple law enforcement? Are terrorists an international enemy, or common criminals?

It’s not clear-cut. Criminals enjoy elaborate protections from the moment of arrest, while battlefield foes are shot on sight. But enemies can sit down after the fighting and negotiate for their position. Criminals don’t get to have a position.

The United States today is fighting the shadow war on a half-dozen fronts, from interdicting terror at home, to chasing the Saudi-born terrormaster Osama Bin Laden, to making Libya give up the suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.

Critics say the war lacks a clear vision. “The Clinton administration and, to some extent, the Bush administration basically look at terrorism as a law enforcement problem, but it doesn’t really work,” says Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of anti-terrorism operations at the CIA. “On the other hand, the sporadic attempts at some kind of military response don’t really work either. You’re not going to destroy a terrorist infrastructure by bombing their barracks.”

Still, there have been victories. Just last week, the U.N. Security Council rejected a bid to lift the sanctions imposed on Libya after the Pan Am bombing. Some Europeans wanted the decade-old sanctions lifted because Libya has agreed in principle to surrender the suspects under a compromise deal. Washington wanted the sanctions kept in place until the suspects are actually delivered. The council backed Washington.

It was the second victory inside a week. Two days earlier, the Supreme Court upheld the Justice Department’s 12-year struggle to deport eight members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, detained in Los Angeles in 1987 for fund-raising for the terror group. The eight claimed that they were singled out for deportation because of their beliefs, violating their First Amendment rights. The administration replied that since they were in America illegally, they had no First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court ruled for the administration.

Victories like these send a firm message to terrorists and their supporters: You can run, and maybe you can hide, but the long arm of American justice will eventually reach you, if you don’t die of old age first.

The problem is that terrorism doesn’t really fit either a military or police mold. Military strikes are too blunt a weapon. Traditional police work is too polite and too slow. Terrorists slip across borders, kill with abandon and don’t mind dying. What’s needed is a third way.

Some experts say the answer is to rescind the mid-1970s executive order that bans assassination by U.S. agents. “We’re caught in this ridiculous position,” says conservative scholar Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute. “If somebody kills an American and runs away, you have a choice of bombing them or asking Interpol to arrest them. What you can’t do is go out and shoot them.”

Washington hasn’t returned to assassinations, but it has moved toward finding that third way. The solution: unconventional legal doctrines. One is extraterritorial jurisdiction, the startling notion that the United States can punish crimes committed on others’ soil. Another is the 1996 Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act, which limits the rights of terror suspects to lodge appeals, view the evidence against them, even talk to lawyers. Civil libertarians howl about the erosion of democratic rights. So far, the courts haven’t agreed.

The new law plays a key role in Washington’s current hunt for the Bin Laden gang. Indictments were drawn up last fall against 11 members, including Bin Laden himself. Six are in custody so far. Over the last three months, they’ve filed countless pretrial motions, claiming infringement of their rights in jail. The courts haven’t agreed.

The bottom line, then, is that for all the screaming headlines, we’re not losing the terrorism war. The Palestinians have largely abandoned terror in favor of negotiations. As for Libya, “it hasn’t directed terrorist actions against the United States in recent times, because the sanctions are working,” says Cannistraro. “The answer is a coherent, integrated approach that combines diplomacy and politics. You can’t let law enforcement drive the train.”

As for the remaining terror, get used to it. “Terrorism is a chronic phenomenon,” Cannistraro says. “But it’s not a serious threat to our national security. Someone like Bin Laden kills people, but he’s not going to cause the destruction of the United States.”

Cannistraro’s sanguine view, common among professionals, isn’t popular with politicians or the public. “The problem is that everyone wants to treat the symptoms and not the causes,” he says. “It’s a common problem in terrorism-expert circles.”

J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal.

A Drink from the Same Cup

If the pursuit of peace in the Middle East will not unite the parties concerned, then one life-sustaining element may. Israeli, Arab and American researchers and engineers have come together to find ways to produce more potable water for agricultural use, as demands for supplies of Middle Eastern and Californian freshwater continue to increase.

“Urban demands [for water] are increasing with the increase in population and standard of living,” said Uri Shamir, head of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Water Research Institute, a multidisciplinary research center that focuses on the science, technology, engineering and management of water. Fresh water that has been used for agriculture, said Shamir, must be shifted to the cities.

“If we want to maintain agriculture the way we have at the moment, we need water and more water,” said Raphael Semiat, head of the Rabin Desalination Laboratory at the Technion, a laboratory funded by Los Angeles businessman Rob Davidow, who’s a world leader in waste-water and sea-water desalination R & D.

With water resources limited throughout the Middle East, the Palestinian-Jordanian-Israeli Water Project has been launched to research new, safe, cost-efficient methods to irrigate crops. One of the more popular methods researched and employed by the project’s committee, which is composed of scientists from the Technion, Ben-Gurion University, Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society and the Palestinian A-Najjah University, is waste-water recycling, a method that purifies waste-water with minimal harm to the environment.

Soon, even this process will not suffice, and the more expensive sea-water desalination process will supplant it — especially in California and Israel, where sea water is abundant.

“It’s a solution that is not free of difficulties, but it is basically on your own territory, using an infinite source — the ocean,” said Shamir, who is currently conducting research in management of disputed international waters at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Sea-water desalination works in one of two ways: a thermal process, which evaporates and then condenses clean water vapor, and water membranes, which filter water through tiny pores about 0.1 micrometers small.

Researchers from the Rabin Desalination Laboratory have worked with I.D.E. Technologies (formerly Israel Desalination Engineering) of Ra’ananna, Israel and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California who have joined with Parsons Corporation of Pasadena and Reynolds Metals Co., to design a state-of-the-art, generic desalination facility that could purify up to 80 million gallons a day using the thermal process. After two years of R & D, the design of the 540-foot tower is now complete, and the partners are looking for investors to implement the design and construct a plant. The most viable locations for the plant are along California’s coast, since Israel’s coast is more populated.

The Jordanians and Palestinians are less likely to employ sea-water desalination because they have little or no access to the sea. Nevertheless, efforts are still underway to conduct joint research on desalination with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists. The Joint Palestinian-Jordanian Water Project, however, needs more funds as well as a more peaceful political environment to resume this research with full force.

“We are trying to continue unhampered,” said Shamir, who believes that cooperation for knowledge for society’s benefit will eventually override any disharmony caused by nationalistic strife.