The military campaign against Israel and the Jewish People is not only fought on the battlefield, where soldiers in uniform clash with each other. More often, the war against the Jewish state is waged by fighters who, as was the case with Israel’s recent wars against Hamas in Gaza, fight in or around homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and churches.
These so-called freedom fighters and their leaders deliberately place the lives of non-combatants in harm’s way, knowing full well – and often counting on the fact – that some will be killed. And when civilians do fall, another battlefield opens up against Israel: the field of public opinion. In this campaign, the forces hostile to the Jewish state have found many useful venues, where they have achieved some victories.
There are, for example, the bogus claims made against Israel at the United Nations, its Human Rights Council and many other non-governmental organizations. There are the editorial pages of ideologically bent newspapers. And in the last decade, we have also seen a rise in the use of theatre in the battlefield of public opinion.
Of course, the main casualty in the fight for public opinion against Israel is usually truth. History, fact, context and reality are sideswiped, trampled and then buried by those for whom truth is irrelevant, inconvenient or dangerous to their cause.
The latest brazen piece of anti-Israel polemic that appears on stage is The Siege, a play about the 39-day occupation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by Palestinian gunmen in April 2002. The play is scheduled to open New York this month, after a celebrated, if not quite artistically successful, run in London. A reviewer for the Guardian rhapsodically wrote that “the very act of its telling speaks for the voiceless and forgotten.”
What was actually forgotten in the review, let alone in the play itself, was the truth. So let the truth, on these pages at least, be defended.
The “siege” of the Church of the Nativity occurred two days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 30 Israelis and injured 160 during a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Following that monstrous act of cruelty, the government of Israel decided to finally act against the terrorist intifadah unleashed by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2001.
As reported by the Times of Israel, “over 200 armed gunmen, mostly Fatah members and PA policemen fleeing the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), took refuge in the Church of the Nativity on April 2, believing they would be safe there. They forbade 46 clergymen and some 200 civilians present in the church to leave, effectively holding them hostage as the Israeli troops encircled the compound.” The church was fouled and holy books were desecrated.
The siege ended when a deal was struck, whereby 13 senior terrorists would be deported to European countries, 26 to the Gaza Strip and the remaining gunmen would be freed. According to one media report, “when the IDF entered the compound following the siege, it was asked by church authorities to disarm some 40 explosives left behind by the besieged gunmen.” The church, in other words, had been booby trapped.
In the battlefield of public opinion, knowledge and context are required, in addition to courage. For a more accurate reflection of Israel’s actions in the world, one might ask some of the people of Mexico. They actually cheered the nearly 100 Israelis from the IDF, IsraAid and iAid who arrived a mere 48 hours after the devastating earthquakes there last month, to help search for, and rescue, trapped individuals.
Truth is essential to the structure of democratic life. The moral standards and principles of our society are undermined by those who knowingly represent falsehood as fact for ideological purposes.
As we do for all the things we cherish, we must fight for the truth to be told. And it is not only for Israel that we do so.