Last Wednesday, President George W. Bush, addressing a crowded press conference in London in the presence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, called on Israel to stop what he termed the "daily humiliation" of Palestinian Arabs at checkpoints where IDF troops and Israeli police conduct security searches of Palestinian Arabs before they can enter Israeli cities.
I asked a U.S. consular official in Jerusalem why Bush would claim that Israel was subjecting Arabs to humiliation at checkpoints. The U.S. consular official took offense at the very question. "I think that it is obvious that if my staffers from Bethlehem are made to wait an inordinate amount of time in their cars at the checkpoint, then that would be a clear matter of humiliation," he retorted.
The U.S. consular official went on to say that his staffers had clear IDs as to who they are and where they worked. Since Bethlehem is well known for spawning industries that produce countless counterfeit documents, I asked the consular official if it was not understandable that Israeli security officials be extra careful in examining all identification, as an added measure of caution, before allowing vehicles to pass into the nation's capital.
The U.S. consular official took even greater offense at that question, indicating that he hoped I would not write about this issue. I could only take that as a blessing to explore the matter further. What was of particular concern was that the U.S. consular official did not seem to be aware of what had transpired on Tuesday at one of the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The incident took place at 6 o'clock Tuesday morning at the checkpoint near Beit Jalla, just south of the tunnel road that goes through Beit Jalla into Jerusalem. The sun had just risen. A Palestinian Arab from Bethlehem, who looked familiar to the young IDF troops at the checkpoint, proceeded to get out of his car with a prayer blanket. This was the last week of Ramadan, and the young, devout-looking man made a hand signal that he wanted to pray. The IDF troops at the checkpoint afforded him the opportunity to pray and did not conduct a security search of his vehicle nor his person. The man then knelt to the ground, spread out his prayer blanket, and proceeded to pull out an AK-47 and murder two young IDF troops at point blank range. Moshe Belsky, age 23, who was speaking on his cell phone with his mother, and Shaul Lahav, age 20, the checkpoint commander, were killed instantly.
The killer then hopped into his car and sped back to Bethlehem, where he donned his uniform as an officer in the Palestinian Authority police force. The news media overseas only reported that two Israeli soldiers had been killed at the entrance to the Jerusalem tunnel by a "militant." Arafat's Fateh Tanzim took credit for the murder on the official PBC Voice of Palestine radio.
Israel had granted the PA the use of Israeli radio air waves in 1993 and still does so in order to foster a "voice of peace" for the PLO. The message communicated on the Voice of Palestine over the past ten years has hardly been a "a voice of peace."
I met Shaul Lahav on the day before his death. I had stopped by the checkpoint for a few minutes with tourists from the U.S., and they were pleased to meet Shaul, because he knew English. His parents had moved to Israel at roughly the time that I had moved to Israel, in the early 1970's. He was the oldest son in the family, their first "sabra," and was almost the same age as my oldest son (who just turned 21 and also serves in an IDF combat unit). Shaul interrupted his conversation with us at the checkpoint to receive a call from his girlfriend from his Kibbutz. Shaul might have married, raised a family and led a happy life. At the age of 20, everything is just ahead of you. What can be more of a "humiliation"? A young man cut down by the PLO in the prime of his life or the enforcement of strict security measures so the PLO does not murder another young man in the same exact place?
Other examples of alleged Palestinian "daily humiliation" at the hands of the IDF, duly reported to the U.S. consulate, are the sIDF's trict searches of Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances. People tend to forget that the Red Crescent is run by Fatchi Arafat, Yasser Arafat's brother, and that the IDF has reported numerous instances in which the Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle armed terrorists and weapons in a terror campaign that has seen 20,000 armed attacks in Israel in three years.
Most recently, Jerusalem's Alternative Information Center, funded through the Ford Foundation and the New Israel Fund, and run by self-proclaimed Trotskyite Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, provided a film for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. The film documented the "humiliation" Arabs in East Jerusalem must endure at these security checks. It depicted an iron gate that Arabs have to go through for security checks that lead into the East Jerusalem offices of the Israel Ministry of Interior and the Israel Ministry of National Insurance. Both of these offices provide vital health, education, registration and welfare aid to the local population.
What the Alternative Information Center film "forgot" to illustrate was that the iron gate and the severe security restrictions on entering Israeli government offices in East Jerusalem did not exist until three years ago. That's when Aish Kodesh Gilmore, a part time Israeli security guard, was shot in the neck and killed by an officer in Arafat's Fateh Tanzim militia. The Fateh Tanzim issued an immediate press release to the media, praising the murder of Aish Kodesh Gilmore, the same as was done after Shaul's murder.
I knew this young man, Aish, whose unusual name stuck with me. He was named for a Rabbi known as the Aish Kodesh - A Rabbi in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. His weekly stenciled prayer sheets and Bible commentaries kept up the spirits of the starving Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto throughout their ordeal -- until Aish Kodesh was himself banished from Warsaw. (He later perished from famine.) Aish Kodesh's writings were found preserved in a jar after World War II and were of great inspiration to the musically inclined Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who was the Rabbi of Colorado-born Reuvein Gilmore.
Reuvein Gilmore later became one of the founders of the Moddiin collective community that Rabbi Carlebach's students pioneered just north of Jerusalem. Inspired by Rabbi Carlebach's stories of the Aish Kodesh, Reuvein gave the name of his little boy Aish Kodesh. I remember him well as a little fellow with long blonde curls, who would sit on Rabbi Carlebach's knees and listen as the Rabbi played songs of hope and Hassidic inspiration on his guitar. I had lost contact with Aish Kodesh, until I heard of his murder. I interviewed his young widow, shortly after the tragedy.
When I went to interview Zahava Gilmore, Aish Kodesh's widow, just one month after he was murdered in his role as a security guard in East Jerusalem, the person who ran to greet me at the door was Talia, Aish Kodesh's orphaned three-year-old daughter. Zahava explained that Talia always runs to the door, expecting her father to come home. If that is not the ultimate of humilation, what is?
Aish Kodesh's widow remarked that Aish was proud of the special role he performed in helping the people of East Jerusalem get the government benefits that they deserved.
You sometimes have to ask over and over and over: Which is the greater "humiliation": a young man cut down by the PLO in the prime of his life, or the enforcement of strict security measures so that the PLO does not murder another young man in that exact same place?
President Bush must be understand that the staff of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem may need to take some lessons on the meaning of "humiliation" during a time of war. U.S. troops are busy learning the lesson of constant terrorist harassment the hard way in Iraq.
After all, Bagdad and Basra are not very far from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Shaul and Aish Kodesh were no different than American boys serving their country against a lifelong sponsor of terrorists. And Moshe Belsky's mother feels the pain as much as any dead soldier's mother -- maybe more so, since she was speaking to him at the moment of his murder.
President Bush should know well that Israel deserves the right to protect its sons at the checkpoints. Ask the mothers of Shaul, Moshe and Aish Kodesh.
A security check is not humiliation. It is protection.