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From the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 11)

Two September Days



Elisa Ben-Rafael
World Press Review Correspondent
Jerusalem


Late in the afternoon of Sept. 11, 1993, I received a phone call from the office of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The caller wanted to know if I would accept the prime minister’s invitation to travel to Washington, D.C., to witness the signing of the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the White House. This honor was not bestowed upon me because of any direct contribution I had made to the Oslo peace process. It was an honor bestowed upon me because of the circumstances of my life.

I am one of four Israelis whose spouses, all of them Israeli diplomats, were murdered in the terrorist car-bomb attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 17, 1992. That terrorist attack, executed by Islamic extremists backed by Iran, was the worst and largest on an Israeli installation; it left 129 people dead and more than 500 people injured.

After the attack, many Israelis began calling for revenge. I remember wondering where exactly it was that they wanted to send Israeli air force planes to carry out the act of military revenge, as the enemy who had carried out the attack was well hidden and well protected. I had a choice: I could call for revenge, or I could continue believing in the dream of peace that I shared with my late husband and so many other Israelis. I chose peace.

Since it is customary for the Israeli media to interview the family members of those murdered in terrorist actions, in every interview I gave I called upon the leaders and diplomats of Israel to continue negotiating with the Palestinians. My only contribution to the peace process had been that I, an Israeli who had been personally affected by terrorism, refused to be caught up in the cycle of hate, which dictates that the only response to a terrorist attack is a military action of revenge. I believe that it was for that reason that Yitzhak Rabin decided to invite me to the signing ceremony.

At the moment I accepted the prime minister’s invitation, I remember feeling that God in His infinite justice and loving-kindness had bestowed upon me a joy that perfectly paralleled the pain of my loss.

I think of all of this after Sept. 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was destroyed and the Pentagon was attacked by Islamic extremist terrorists. Since that day I have witnessed only one real act of courage: The people on United Airlines Flight 93, which went down in an open field outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, acted courageously out of love of country and not out of hatred for the enemy. Those passengers, realizing that the plane was headed toward Washington and fearing that their plane would be used to attack either the White House or the Pentagon, chose to try to overpower the hijackers and force the plane down far from its target. Does the American Operation Infinite Justice match their act of selfless loving-kindness and patriotism?

Here in Jerusalem, we do not hear the American voices calling upon their government to react with level-headedness, balanced diplomacy, and limited military response. We know they exist, because it was with the help of the Americans that we, Israelis and Palestinians both, were able to touch peace.

It is with the help of the Americans that Israelis and Palestinian leaders continue to search for a path to peace despite the yearlong Al-Aqsa Intifada, despite enduring more than 50 years of terrorism and war.

Peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians do not understand how it is that those at the highest levels of the U.S. government can continue to advise and demand that Israel and the Palestinian Authority find a way to negotiate while they prepare for the “infinite justice” of war.

The Israeli national unity government is facing a deep crisis. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the left-wing members of the government believe that they must find a way to reopen negotiations with Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the right-wing coalition members point to Operation Infinite Justice and President Bush’s comments to justify their refusal to negotiate and their military action against the Palestinians. This, they believe, perfectly mirrors current U.S. policy.

And it leaves me the bereaved daughter of a bereaved people who is sibling to another bereaved people, all of us together suffering the pain of terrorism and war but still searching for peace, with only one option. I ask you to remember that infinite justice is empty unless it is tempered by loving-kindness.

Yes, America, stand tall, have the courage to be like the people on Flight 93. Do not repeat on a grander scale the mistake that Israelis and Palestinians have made for so many years. Do not act out of hatred of the enemy, but instead out of love for your country.



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