The people of Israel are confronting a crisis of credibility. Can they trust the people elected to lead them?
As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles.Â
- — Bertrand Russell, 1950
This week, almost a decade and a half after the Muhammad al-Dura incident at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip, the government of Israel has taken a stand, rebuting responsibility for the death of the then-12 year old Palestinian child.
Hardly a ‘silver bullet’Â
While hardly a “silver bullet,” definitively disproving the vicious blood libel against the IDF the incident triggered, the investigatory initiative, as a stand-alone endeavor, may arguably have some merit to it. AsÂ The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon points out in his astute analysis (May 21): “The [government] panel, as convincing as it might be, did not incontrovertibly demonstrate the truth. Rather, it put out — 13 years after the event — a strongly argued Israeli version of those events.”
However, when viewed in broader context, the handling of the al-Dura affair highlights the dismal performance of almost four decades of successive Israeli governments, frittering away the fruits — both physical assets and international stature — of Israel’s stunning military victory of June 1967.
Significantly, whatever one might feel regarding the wisdom of reopening the controversy after so much time, it is extremely doubtful whether the government would have instituted the recent inquiry and attempted to shake off blame attributed to it, without the tenacity of private citizens such as Philip Karsenty and Dr. Yehuda David, who fought unstintingly to expose the truth —largely at their own expense, with precious little official support, and not infrequently, despite official disapproval.
Indeed, the hesitant, lethargic and erratic response that characterized the way Israel dealt with the al-Dura episode reflects much of what has characterized the conduct of our national strategy over the better part of the last four decades, in the realms of both security and diplomacy.
Prima facie, it is easy to dismiss sweeping accusations of strategic incompetence against the Israeli leadership over recent decades as excessive alarmism, at best, and unsubstantiated hysteria, at worst.
After all, since its inception Israel has undergone astounding development. For anyone living under the rugged austerity that prevailed during the first decade of the state, the realities of today would surely have seemed an unattainable dream. Then, basic foodstuffs were rationed by government decree; waves of immigrants were housed in tents and tin shacks without running water or electricity; gnawing doubts existed as to whether the nascent, poorly equipped, largely untested IDF could meet the daunting challenges it faced.
In those forbidding circumstances of chronic scarcity and acute insecurity, no one could have pictured that within a few decades, Israel would be traversed by multilane highways, that household kitchens would be equipped with the latest modern conveniences, that foreign travel would be a commonplace experience, that consumerism would rival levels in many developed countries.